Nearly every week, DVD labels like The Weinstein Company and Lionsgate flood the market with horror movies, some of which had short theatrical runs, some of which played festivals, some of which aired on cable, and some of which are strictly straight-to-DVD. But are any of them any good? Hesitant to consign to the landfill the next Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Night Of The Living Dead, we endeavored to watch as many of these relatively unheralded horror titles as possible over the course of a week, and to determine which might become the horror classic of tomorrow. The "potential classic rating"—on a scale of 1 to 10—judges in part the overall quality of the movies, but also the possibility that horror fans will discover them and make them staples of dorm rooms and sleepovers for years to come.
By the end of the week, The A.V. Club discovered at least two movies—one American, one Italian—that should be at the top of every horror fan's "to watch" list. And we found a lot of recurring themes in the horror of 2008, including the enduring appeal of zombies, a fondness for hospitals, and a shift away from torture-porn and towards Rob Zombie-like studies of underclass sickos. We also learned that Dimension has greenlit 18 more direct-to-DVD horror movies to be released in 2009. So we may see you back here next Halloween.
Asylum (David R. Ellis, 93 min.)
Familiar faces: Cody Kasch, the creepy kid psycho from Desperate Housewives, here playing a nerdy incoming college freshman nicknamed "String" because—honest-to-God—he excels at Cat's Cradle.
The marrow: String joins a handful of other newbies who use part of their orientation weekend to explore a part of their state-of-the-art dorm that the tight-ass grad student counselor has declared off-limits. Thanks to String's hacking skills, the gang learns that the building they're in used to house a mental institution, where a rogue psychologist tortured troubled children under the guise of "trying to relieve the stress of childhood trauma." After the students break into the forbidden wing, they're plagued by nightmares rooted in their own pasts. When they're not having nightmares? They play poker and crack jokes about how horny they are.
Typical scene: String flashes back to the alcoholic white trash mother who mocked his interest in computers.
Typical dialogue: A jocky pothead played by Travis Van Winkle—whose idea of a hilarious gag is to throw a butterfly net over String's head and say, "Look! A human condom!"—introduces himself to a fellow orientee by barking, "You have really nice tits! Just wanted to throw that out there!"
Potential classic rating: 1. Ellis made the more-fun-than-it-had-a-right-to-be Cellular and the not-as-fun-as-the-internet-had-hoped Snakes On A Plane, but his latest effort went straight to DVD for a reason. From the generic "college" setting to a cast of characters who look like they just stepped out of a Clearasil commercial, Asylum is as plastic and empty as a spent syringe.
Brotherhood Of Blood (Michael Roesch & Peter Scheerer, 87 min.)
Familiar faces: Cult icon Sid Haig, asthe sarcastic ringleader of a vampire gang.
The marrow: Victoria Pratt plays a vamp-hunter who tracks down a cult so ancient and organized that they have their own Christ figure (complete with a torture device that they've turned into an icon). Co-directors/co-writers Roesch and Scheerer aim for a kind of gritty realism with Brotherhood Of Blood, which manifests in quiet muttering, hazy light, prominent vampire fangs, and scenes that go on forever.
Typical scene: In one of those interminable scenes, Pratt and her cohorts trap a black pirate vampire, chain him to a door, then snip his fingers off while he speaks in tongues. When the vampire begins to starve, Pratt cuts herself and feeds him so that he'll stay alive long enough to give them the information they need.
Typical dialogue: "We're vampire hunters, not fucking accountants!"
Potential classic rating: 3. Brotherhood Of Blood admirably tries to deepen the conventional vamp thriller, by hinting at a richer mythology while also focusing on the mudane day-to-day. But the film's jumbled timeline adds nothing, and the dialogue, acting and visual style range from dreary to dreadful. In the end, no matter how noble Roesch and Scheerer's intentions, Brother Of Blood amounts to a lot of inane muttered tough talk connected by scenes of people walking through underlit halls while ominous music plays.
Dance Of The Dead (Gregg Bishop, 87 min.)
Familiar faces: Only small-time character actors like Jonathan Spencer. (Who? Exactly.)
The marrow: A suburban nuclear power plant irradiates a nearby cemetery, causing the dead to come bursting out of their graves like salmon swimming upstream. Meanwhile, the local high school prepares for prom night, which means the usual high school movie allotment of geeks, jocks, burnouts and overachievers have to join forces to ward off the zombie onslaught. "I'm sorry I was a dick," one thug says to his nerdy former prey, in a touching act of contrition. Then they all play baseball with dismembered zombie parts.
Typical scene: A garage band opens their door to face the surging zombie hordes, and stops the undead in their tracks with a blast of kick-ass guitar.
Typical dialogue: "To the prom! To kick some zombie ass!"
Potential classic rating: 5. Bishop combines EC Comics and The Breakfast Club in a way that's breezy and good-natured, but not especially deep. Dance Of The Dead is easy to like, but there's not much here to love.
Dark Floors (Pete Riski, 86 min.)
Familiar faces: Masked Finnish heavy metal band Lordi, taking on the roles of all the movie's beasties.
The marrow: Noah Huntley plays a frustrated father who yanks his autistic daughter Skye Bennett out of a hospital treatment program because he thinks the staff is unnecessarily endangering her life. On their way out the door, Huntley, Bennett, a security guard, a mentally disturbed patient, a nurse and a hospital visitor get stuck on an elevator, and disembark on a strange, under-construction floor where snarling ogres wait around every corner.
Typical scene: All the technology in a room goes bananas, with cell phones and radios shrieking and repeating short phrases over and over. Then the whole gang is chased by an ethereal creature who resembles a rotting Ben Franklin.
Typical dialogue: Whenever Bennett gets upset—which happens quite often in this freaky dimension she and her dad have entered—she repeatedly mutters, "I want the red crayon!"
Potential classic rating: 3. The Lordi monsters look awesome, but Dark Floors' scares are few and its story practically nonexistent. After the first few mundane set pieces, the audience may start feeling that they're trapped inside Bennett's obsessive-compulsive routine.
The Devil's Chair (Adam Mason, 90 min.)
Familiar faces: Veteran pompous British character actor David Gant, as a psychology professor willing to sacrifice his grad students in order to advance his interest in the occult.
The marrow: Andrew Howard plays our narrator and hero, an everyday bloke whose girlfriend disappears while they're exploring an abandoned mental hospital, and who returns to the facility with Gant and his assistants years later to uncover a portal to another world (populated by Lovecraftian monsters). Meanwhile, Mason pumps in lots of brash "lad film" attitude, primarily by letting Howard comment sardonically on the action and take the piss out of the audience. "D'ye ever get the feelin' ye've been cheated?" Howard asks at one point, borrowing a piece of punk-rock history that the movie hasn't earned.
Typical scene: Not to be glib, but The Devil's Chair's best scene is its last one, which serves up a wicked twist. But prior to that, its most effective moment comes when one of Gant's students sits in the titular chair, and feels tentacles snaking under her skin before she winks out of existence. This happens more than halfway through the movie, which doesn't speak well of The Devil's Chair's pacing.
Typical dialogue: "I guess you've seen Hellraiser, I'm guessing you've seen all those kinds of films. Pumpkinhead or whatever. 'Sprob'ly why you're watching this."
Potential classic rating: 4. The monster effects look great, and Mason throws in some nice, squirmy moments, like when Howard slowly fingers the opening in one girl's slit neck. But the gimmicky style adds little, and Mason reaches too far when he has Howard say to the audience, in the middle of one brutal scene, "Are we prick-teasin' you enough? Is there any truth in this B-movie banality? Is this what you came to see?" Come off it, mate.
Home Sick (Adam Wingard, 89 min.)
Familiar faces: Devil's Rejects/Carnivale star Bill Mosely, playing a grinning, bleached-teethed, Jim Carrey-esque maniac known as "Mr. Suitcase," who arrives at a party with a case full of razorblades, asking questions.
The marrow: In particular, Mosely asks the party, "Who do you hate?" They blurt a few names in hopes that the creep will leave, but in the days that follow, the people they claimed to hate start dying off in absolutely disgusting ways. Since the partiers constantly watch horror movies, they process this turn of events a little… differently than most. For example, when one girl discovers her mother's mutilated corpse, she rubs Mom's blood all over her own naked body, then vomits up some pink goo.
Typical scene: The last half of Home Sick offers one loosely connected hyper-gory kill after another, but for genuine shock value, the movie peaks with the Mr. Suitcase scene, as Mosely slices his gloved arm with a razorblade every time someone yells out a name.
Typical dialogue: When the partygoers' "hates" start dying off, they panic and ask for the help of a local militiaman, but he needs their help first, deciding whether he should name his chili "Alabama Red" or "Johnny's Alabama." After taking a brief pause, one of the kids says, "Either one of those will work."
Potential classic rating: 7. Equal parts Rob Zombie, Takashi Miike and John Waters, Home Sick is easily one of the boldest gorefests to show up in video stores this decade, even if it's ultimately a little too choppy and tongue-in-cheek to reach "classic" status. With its deadpan performances, aloof slacker characters and small-town setting, Home Sick comes off at times like a typical indie-quirk film, only drenched in viscera. (And come to think of it, most indie-quirk films would be improved with a few graphic impalings.)
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (Jon Knautz, 85 min.)
Familiar faces: The inevitable Robert Englund, playing a chemistry professor who gets infected with a primordial hunger.
The marrow: Trevor Matthews stars as the title character, a plumber who lost both parents to a monster attack when he was a child, and responded to the tragedy by becoming a rage-aholic. (Ah, but how does he feel about taxes? Or the state of Israel? How much do we really know about this plumber?) When Matthews' night-school prof Englund transforms into a ravenous creature, Matthews does his best Ash impression, using the tools of his trade to rid the campus of snarling ogres.
Typical scene: Englund gets "the hunger" after he's compelled to dig up and swallow a mummified heart. Within 24 hours he's stuck in a cycle of binging, purging, and trying to use a pair of scissors to sever the tentacles that keep bursting out of his stomach.
Typical dialogue: The old man down at the hardware store tells Matthews the story of the heart, and how decades ago it cost him his left hand, which prompts Matthews to ask how he managed to bury the cursed organ with only one good hand. "Well, goddamnit," the shopkeeper hisses, "It wasn't easy!"
Potential classic rating: 6. Matthews is a pretty generic young-hunk actor, and the attempts to add color to his character by sticking him in a jean jacket, a trucker cap, and a skimpy beard come off as a little desperate. Still, Matthews' blind rages are frequently funny, Englund is certainly game enough as the reluctant villain, and the creature effects are suitably squishy. Between the rousing adventure score, the polished look and the steady pace, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer feels like the work of a seasoned pro, not a first-time feature director. Knautz is a talent to watch, even though this movie is merely solid.
The Last House In The Woods (Gabriele Albanesi, 86 min.)
Familiar faces: None.
The marrow: Two mawkish young Italian lovebirds—the type prone to say things like, "I want to make love, but I want you to draw… I want to see what your mind comes up with while we're making love"—are harassed by three drunken louts on a back country road, then rescued by a strange couple who invites them back to their remote, well-appointed manse to recuperate. The male rescuer (played by Gennaro Diana) tries to calm the nerves of his female rescuee (played by Daniela Virgilio) by asking her questions that get increasingly personal. ("The boys must like you a lot," he says, insinuatingly.) Diana and Viriglio are interrupted by Diana's son, who rumbles down the stairs and flashes his jagged, red-stained teeth. "Hi. What's your name?" he says, with a chipperness that's less reassuring than he means it to be. Then out come the chainsaws. Typical scene: Viriglio flees Diana's estate and seeks refuge in a mobile home… populated by two creeps even scarier than the ones she just left.
Typical dialogue: Viriglio is tied to a chair and forced to witness Diana's family having a stomach-turning feast. "I didn't want you to see any of this," Diana says to her calmly. "But you just wouldn't listen. And now… you'll see it all." Then out come the chainsaws, again.
Potential classic rating: 9. Cruddy retro-synth score and occasional broad acting aside, The Last House In The Woods is almost punishingly effective, marked by unexpected twists, lurid gore effects, nerve-jangling camerawork, and the chilling message that there's never a situation so bad that it can't get a hell of a lot worse.
No Man's Land: The Rise Of Reeker (Dave Payne, 88 min.)
Familiar faces: CHiPs authoritarian Robert Pine, playing a small town sheriff; and Veronica Mars sheriff Michael Muhney as Pine's son, also a lawman.
The marrow: Like Payne's earlier film Reeker, No Man's Land: The Rise Of Reeker follows a group of not-so-nice people stuck in an ordinary-looking purgatory, where they're tormented—but not killed—by a foul-smelling, gas-masked, extra-dimensional being. This leads to a lot of scenes where characters walk into a room, hold their noses, and then discover a skunk, or an old man in a diaper, before they're finally confronted with the monster, who's depicted as a blurry, jittery special effect.
Typical scene: Muhney shines his flashlight around a motel room, until he sees a pair of legs sticking out from under a curtain. Then the legs take off and run away, with no torso or head attached.
Typical dialogue: Man: "What's that smell?" Woman: "I'm cleaning the grease trap" Man: "Did someone take a shit in the grease trap?"
Potential classic rating: 5. No Man's Land is tightly plotted and offbeat—sort of like the classic noir The Petrified Forest, but with more butchery—and the CGI-enhanced gore looks cool, if not especially gross. But the characters are way too overwritten, and compared to a true southwestern horror classic like Tremors, the milieu never takes on a life of its own.
Return To Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 86 min.)
Familiar faces:.Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore as a camp counselor, and Isaac "Hey, didn't I die recently?" Hayes as the camp chef.
The marrow: Hiltzik, who wrote and directed the wiggy B-horror favorite Sleepaway Camp 25 years ago, returns to helm this long-shelved sequel, and through some kind of arcane alchemy creates a movie that looks and feels like it could've come out a year after the original. While a group of jerky teenage campers spend their days picking on tubby, socially awkward Michael Gibney—who himself is kind of a jerk—a hooded killer concentrates on knocking off the staff at Camp Manabe, by dipping them in deep fryers, sticking their heads in a birdcage full of rats, et cetera.
Typical scene: One counselor is tied to a tree and has a thin stretch of wire attached to his penis on one end, and his girlfriend's jeep on the other. Then the killer chases the girlfriend. (Fortunately for the counselor, his girlfriend immediately gets stuck in the mud. Unfortunately, she discovers she has 4-wheel drive.)
Typical dialogue: Gibney is practically a quote machine, most notably in his lame default putdown: "Your ass stinks!" But Gibney's best line comes when he tells his brother that his best friends are the frogs down by the lake, because, "They don't care that I was sick." When his brother yells, "How long are you going to keep on with this rheumatic fever bullshit?" Gibney shrieks, "The doctor said there would always be effects!"
Potential classic rating: 6. The original Sleepaway was notoriously slipshod and silly, so Hiltzik embraces that reputation with Return, making a movie that's light, fun, and fast-paced. The characters are unlikable and the ending abrupt (with a twist that nearly everyone should see coming), but it's hard to hate a movie in which two campers take turn after turn peering through a knothole where a spiked stick just poked through, until one inevitably gets impaled.
Room 205 (Martin Barnewitz, 91 min.)
Familiar faces: None.
The marrow: Neel Ronholt plays the shy newcomer to a Copenhagen university, struggling to fit in with her catty dorm-mates, lest she be rejected like the "nerd" they just hounded into moving out. But after she gets a nasty prank pulled on her, Ronholt and her neighbors alike start to hear unnerving sounds and see hideous reflections in their mirrors. Then they begin dying, one by one.
Typical scene: One co-ed gets so frightened by the visions that she falls backwards through a glass table, severing her jugular.
Typical dialogue: Ronholt's dorm-mates help her pick out her outfit for a party, then after she's all dressed up, one cackles, "You look a bit like a holiday decoration."
Potential classic rating: 2. Room 205 develops its heroine's character a lot more effectively than most movies of this type, and Barnewitz creates a palpable sense of loneliness and a craving for conformity. The scarred sound design is a plus too. But man is this movie ever dull. It's like a freshman mixer with no booze. And in Denmark.
Sick Nurses (Thospol Sirivivat & Piraphan Laoyont, 82 min.)
Familiar faces: None.
The marrow: A low-rent Thai hospital hosts an organ-selling scheme run by a respected young doctor and his staff of giggly bombshells. When one of the nurses dies under nefarious circumstances, her spirit returns after seven days to haunt her former friends by targeting their vanity: making one neatness-obsessed nurse brush her teeth until she gags and bleeds, for example, and inserting a cell phone under the skin of a talkaholic. The reason for the intensity of the ghost's ire? She was in love with the doctor, and wanted him for herself.
Typical scene: The ghost makes a nurse chew on a handful of razorblades until her tongue falls out and her mandible dislodges. Then she shoves a pickled fetus into her gaping maw.
Typical dialogue: In a flashback, the doctor strips one of the nurses with his scalpel in the morgue, while the ghost-to-be secretly watches. He tells his lover, "If the dead want to be jealous, that's up to them."
Potential classic rating: 7. Campy, sexy, stylish and strange, Sick Nurses would be a bona fide classic if it were scarier—or if it made any damn sense. Instead the movie is too beholden to the distinctly Asian notion that waifish women with long, snaky black hair are inherently terrifying. Also, all Sick Nurses' jumping to flashbacks and fantasy sequences makes the skimpy plot needlessly jumbled. But it's hard to deny the level of imagination in the revenge scenarios, or the haunting imagery in scenes like the one where a nurse poses in front of a projection of an anatomical drawing, then marks her perceived imperfections with a grease pencil.
The Sitter (Russell Mulcahy, 88 min.)
Familiar faces: NYPD Blue's Gail O'Grady plays an overtaxed working mother whose desire to have a career puts her children at risk.
The marrow: Also known as While The Children Sleep (when it aired on The Hallmark Channel), this surprisingly bloody made-for-TV thriller has one-time cult favorite Russell Mulcahy (director of Highlander and Razorback) ripping off The Hand That Rocks The Cradle for a story about live-in nanny Mariana Klaveno's attempts to become the female head of household. Anyone who stands in her way gets dispatched, with a curt, "Mind your own business, bitch."
Typical scene: The business partner of Klaveno's boss tries to blackmail her into sleeping with him, so she bludgeons him to death with a shovel. Just before he dies, he croaks, "I'm sorry," and she replies, "I know you are, sugar."
Typical dialogue: Klaveno confronts the father of a boy who's been bullying her charges, and when he shrugs, "Kids play rough sometimes," Klaveno leans in and says, "So do I… The next time your little bastard goes near Max, I'm going to skin him like a rabbit." Potential classic rating: 2. The Sitter's not bad for TV, but all the thriller beats are standard-issue, and the wall-to-wall synth score gets distracting. Domestic anxiety is a perennial thriller theme, but this version offers no kind of 21st century twist.
Steel Trap (Luis Cámara, 92 min.)
Familiar faces: None.
The marrow: At a New Year's Eve party in an abandoned skyscraper, a small group of loose acquaintances—including an advice columnist and a Rachel Ray-esque celebrity chef—are invited to an even more exclusive soiree on one of the higher floors. When they arrive, they discover name cards bearing insults based on their character flaws, and a series of clues that leads them ever-closer to death traps set by a black-masked killer. Meanwhile, they pass the time boasting about their sex lives. (One especially horny dude chants a version of "this little piggy" that includes the line, "This little piggy got his bone smoked.")
Typical scene: For the entire night, the advice columnist's boyfriend looks for a good time to ask her to marry him, but keeps getting distracted by all the murder. Finally he meets her in a pink-lined room that he says is like "being inside a vagina." When she shoots back, "Not my vagina," he jokes, "Of course not… yours has teeth," which causes her to take offense and say, "Well if that's the way you feel, you never have to see it again." But when he catches a face full of knockout gas just as he's getting ready to hand her the engagement ring, she breaks down and sobs, "I would've said yes!"
Typical dialogue: "You like nursery rhymes? I got a nursery rhyme for you: Fuck off!"
Potential classic rating: 4. Steel Trap gets off to a decent start, introducing the kind of hateful, smarmy people an audience is only too happy to see get slaughtered. But the kills aren't very imaginative, the ending's ridiculous, and we have to spend too much time in the company of these assholes before they start getting offed. Still, the dialogue's entertainingly cheesy, such as this exchange between the killer and a victim: "Isn't living well the best revenge?" asks the victim. And the killer replies, "I'd say killing people is the best revenge."
The Substitute (Ole Bornedal, 92 min.)
Familiar faces: Lars Von Trier favorite Paprika Steen, playing the mysterious new teacher at a small-town middle school; also Ulrich Thomsen, Steen's co-star from The Celebration, playing a concerned father.
The marrow: Nightwatch director Bornedal helms this dark-hued fairy tale about a chicken-obsessed alien race that comes to Earth to learn about this human emotion called "love." Their advance scout is Steen, who commandeers a sixth grade class, pries into their personal lives, and berates them for their weaknesses, all under the guise of getting them ready for a field trip to Paris.
Typical scene: The kids spy on Steen, and track her to a room full of chickens, which she begins to consume in a mad frenzy.
Typical dialogue: As the parents send the kids off on the bus to Paris, one flatly tells his folks, "You realize this is the last you'll ever see of your son."
Potential classic rating: 5. The Substitute skillfully mocks the contemporary culture of excessive sensitivity, and offers a strict, child-stealing alien as a viable alternative to namby-pamby psychologists and hand-wringing parents. But the movie isn't scary in the least, and at a certain point the satire gives way to a fairly blah plot. Still, Steen is quite funny, especially delivering deadpan lines like, "I'd like to visit the poultry farm tomorrow."
Trackman (Igor Shavlak, 80 min.)
Familiar faces: None.
The marrow: Moscow bank robbers grab two tellers and a cop as hostages and head down into the abandoned subway tunnels below the city, where they quickly get lost, and encounter a mutated serial killer "affected by the Chernobyl disaster."
Typical scene: The robbers and their hostages think they hear something, go off to investigate, and find jars full of severed body parts. Then nothing happens.
Typical dialogue: "Hey, have you heard the stories about a freak that's supposed to live down here?"
Potential classic rating: 2. For a low-budget Russian production, Trackman is Hollywood-slick, aided by a jittery score that includes both grinding hard rock and a creepy children's choir. But the story's a non-starter, the setting is dreary, the characters lack definition and the scares never arrive. The biggest problem: With such a small cast of victims, Shavlak has to wait until the movie's almost halfway over before he can start dispatching them. That's a lot of waiting around, even for such a short movie.
Trailer Park Of Terror (Steven Goldmann, 97 min.)
Familiar faces: In Plain Sight/The Riches bit player Nichole Hiltz stars as the perpetually put-upon pretty girl in her trailer park, and country star Trace Adkins plays the demonic force that offers her salvation if she takes up arms against her oppressors. (Also, Prisicilla Barnes plays Hiltz's prostitute mother, and in an early scene at a diner, My Name Is Earl's "daytime hooker" Dale Dickey appears as a waitress and Repo Man creep Tracey Walter shows up as a patron.)
The marrow: A group of troubled teens on a church-group outing break down in Trucker's Triangle, where cross-country shipments frequently disappear, and where the local trailer park is run by the vengeful ghost of Hiltz. She plays hostess to the kids for a while, telling them the horrific story of her humiliation and subsequent kill-spree, and then she summons her zombie hordes to wreak havoc.
Typical scene: Hiltz has sex with the church-group counselor, but when her face starts to drip off, he starts to freak out and lose his erection. So she decapitates him, claiming she wants to "get a little head."
Typical dialogue: The cackling rednecks, faced with a fancied-up dude looking to date Hiltz, spit, "We got ourselves an achiever!"
Potential classic rating: 8. Though the gaminess is sometimes forced, and the movie takes a hard turn to the disgusting in its final half-hour, Trailer Park Of Terror is a rare horror movie that feels like a movie, with atmosphere, character and performance playing as much of a role as shock and awe. Hiltz especially is a wonder, whether she's putting make-up over her "Love Hurts" tattoo before embarking on her fateful date, or she's screaming at her neighbors, "All I ever wanted was for someone to love me for me, not the fucking whore that you think I am!" At times, Trailer Park is like The Devil's Rejects crossed with The Vault Of Horror.
Triloquist (Mark Jones, 79 min.)
Familiar faces: Not a face, but Triloquist's evil dummy is voiced by Bruce Weitz, best-known for playing the scruffy Sgt. Belker on Hill Street Blues.
The marrow: The creator of Leprechaun is behind this slim, sick, frequently silly hunk of grimecore, which follows Rob Zombie's lead in combining a gritty visual style with seedy white trash tableaux. Narrated by the dummy, Triloquist follows the adventures of two teenage kids (Paydin LoPachin and Rocky Marquette) orphaned by their druggie mother, and how they travel the backcountry killing folks with the aid of their sentient doll. Their main goal? To find a woman Marquette can breed with, to keep the family line alive. When they settle on a likely candidate, the dummy leers, "You wouldn't happen to have a younger, wooden sister would you?"
Typical scene: The killers' victim thinks she's escaped when she finds a cop, but it turns out the cop is a corpse that LoPachin uses like a ventriloquist's dummy.
Typical dialogue: "Ever had your dick sucked by a 'triloquist? We can do it without moving our lips."
Potential classic rating: 6. Triloquist is certainly weird enough and stylish enough to be a new classic, but the pacing is super-sluggish, and the movie's never scary (and only rarely creepy). Love it or hate it though, Triloquist certainly isn't run-of-the-mill.
Voice (Equan Choe, 105 min.)
Familiar faces: None
The marrow: Also known as Whispering Corridors 4 and High School Girls Ghost Story 4: Ghost Letter, this subtle Korean fright flick begins with a student having her throat slit by a flying sheet of music and then proceeds to unravel who killed her. The girl herself participates in the investigation, by haunting her old classmates.
Typical scene: It may not be the freakiest scene in the movie, but the moment when the music teacher has individual members of her choir sing different notes in order demonstrate the concept of a chord is a strangely stirring one.
Typical dialogue: "If I don't listen to music daily, my ears go weird."
Potential classic rating: 5. There's a lot more personality to Voice than to the average Asian horror film, and scenes like the one where two girls compare MP3 players show a lot of concern with creating a believable world. But there's not a lot of horror in Voice, and for all Choe's subtle atmospheric effects, the plot is rooted in an impossibly bland mystery. Voice may have the most misleading cover art of any horror DVD ever—and that's saying something.
Wide Awake (Lee Kyu-maan, 115 min.)
Familiar faces: None.
The marrow: The scourge of "anesthesia awareness"—a condition in which the patient feels pain during an operation, but has no way to express it—goes under the microscope in the hushed, deliberate thriller, about a kid who suffers through just that experience and then grows up to be a potential serial killer. While a young doctor tries to investigate who's been murdering all the personnel involved with the boy's operation, he also looks for alternative ways to put patients under.
Typical scene: During an experiment with "hypnotic anesthesia," a doctor knocks over a tray of instruments and the patient starts to stir.
Typical dialogue: The hypnotist rushes to explain the sound of falling scalpels to the patient: "That was a warm wind."
Potential classic rating: 3. Wide Awake sports a lush symphonic score and a mood reminiscent of a classic Italian "giallo," but it's a thriller with practically no thrills, and a plot that's pointlessly jumbled. It also has a lot more surgery scenes than one might reasonably expect.
The Wig (Won Shin-yeon, 103 min.)
Familiar faces: None.
The marrow: Also known as Scary Hair, The Wig takes the Asian horror obsession with dark, face-covering long hair to its logical extreme, telling the story of two sisters—one mute due to an accident that sent a truckload of steel poles through her throat, and one bald from leukemia treatments—and what happens when a haunted hairpiece enters their lives.
Typical scene: The sick sister gains new confidence when she wears the wig, but she also starts getting horrific visions. At one point she collapses in the bathroom because she imagines tendrils of hair snaking out of a toilet.
Typical dialogue: "This is because of the wig. There's a ghost in the wig."
Potential classic rating: 4. Elliptical, absurdist and dreamy, The Wig boasts some amazing imagery and unsettling sound design. But it's slow as a turtle (and yet, oddly enough, much harder to follow).
The Zombie Diaries (Michael Bartlett & Kevin Gates, 80 min.)
Familiar faces: None.
The marrow: Fake news reports and actual "daily life in London" footage give way to man-on-the-street interviews with people who respond to the growing threat of zombie infection by saying, "It's not concerning me yet." Then The Zombie Diaries presents a series of vignettes, shot on videotape, as various groups of snippy young people record their responses to zombie attacks.
Typical scene: A documentary camera crew pans their camera and key-light across a room, finding a corpse with its guts eaten out on the floor, and then a zombie lurking in the corner.
Typical dialogue: The attempt to add social relevance to this premises reaches its nadir with this line: "Now I know what the people in the Twin Towers felt like. I know that sounds trite."
Potential classic rating: 4. In some ways, The Zombie Diaries is better than George Romero's similar Diary Of The Dead, because the characters and style are more suitably low-key. Still, between Diary Of The Dead, 28 Days/Weeks Later, Cloverfield, Quarantine and The Blair Witch Project, it's hard not to feel that we've seen The Zombie Diaries before. (Then again, isn't that the problem with most horror films these days?)