Tuesday, August 11, 2015

CRITTERS 2 (Review)

CRITTERS 2 (1988) 

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Mick Garris

Starring: Terrence Mann, Don Keith Opper, Cynthia Garris, and Scott Grimes


I may be in the minority here, but I actually prefer Critters 2 to the original. Maybe it's because I saw this film first. Maybe it's because the film had a larger budget and could pull off more elaborate effects and more over-the-top humour. Maybe it's because, as a young boy, I witnessed Roxanne Kernohan's huge breasts burst out of her leather suit and I realized with divine clarity that I would forever be from that day forward a devote breast man. It's probably best that we don't look too much into this. I really like Critters 2. 

The hungry, spine-shooting alien furballs are back for seconds! And who can be surprised? After the first film ended with that lingering shot of preserved Krite eggs incubating in a barn, a sequel was all but  inevitable. Critters 2 comes in a few years after the krites first attacked. Since then, the Brown family has moved out of Grover's Bend to escape the scrutiny and ridicule of their neighbors. However, Brad Brown (Scott Grimes reprising his role) returns to his hometown to visit with his Grandmother for Easter. Little does he suspect that a batch of Krite eggs have been uncovered and placed carelessly close to a warm, gestation-friendly stove. Inadvertent incubation occurs, and soon a new generation of carnivorous alien hairbags hatch. With the help of his old pals the Alien Bounty Hunters (don't forget Charlie), Brad attempts to prevent the hungry jaws of the Krites from devouring all of Grover's Bend....again.

Oh no! This shit again?
While I contend that the original Critters is surprisingly violent for a PG-13 creature film, Critters 2 certainly ups the ante in terms of violence and sexual content. The Krites get a lot more screen time this go around, and their designs are much improved and full of  personality. They also pull off bloodier kills. The one everyone remembers is the death of the town Sheriff. Not the lovable Sheriff Harv (now played by Barry Corbin) from the firstmovie. No, the Krites tangle this time with the new Sheriff (David Ursin) who is roped into playing the Eater Bunny at a church function. Unfortunately, he can't get the zipper of his bunny suit to close and a bunch of baby Krites hop in to chow down on his meat and two veg. While we don't see the actual feast, when next we see the Sheriff his body (still in the bunny suit) comes crashing through a church window and sprawls out bloody and dead for all the traumatized parishioners to see.

What do we tell the kids? I know! T'was a farm accident!
Other people end up on the menu as well, leaving behind a trail of bloody corpses like discarded bones at an all-you-can-eat rib buffet. While we see the Krites bite into people here and there, most of the shocking violence is seen in their aftermath. In the film's final set piece, the Krites form together into a giant ball of fur and hungry mouths. Several townsfolk get run over and, well, let's just say they won't be having open-casket funerals.

Not only did they take the shirt of his back but the skin as well!
I'm a gore fan, don't get me wrong, but the real reason Critters 2 holds such a special place in my horror heart comes down to one woman: Roxanne Kernohan. As in the first film, Ug and Lee are Alien Bounty Hunters with the ability to shapeshift. Ug (Terrance Mann) has a preferred look (that of an 80s rock star). Lee, however, can't decide on a form and is constantly replicating the people he sees. When they arrive on Earth in Critters 2, Lee finds the image of a nude centerfold. Suddenly, Lee starts to transform. His chest begins to swell and expand. Slowly, two large, full, glorious, gravity-defying breasts tear through his leather outfit. When the camera pulls back Lee has turned into a blond bombshell: nude model Roxanne Kernohan. And she's got a big techno-cannon with a barrel that extends when she activates it (suggestive!). You don't see a lot of full-frontal breasts in PG-13 films these days, but that scene awoke something in me at an early age. I still find the whole transformation scene quite fascinating to this day.

Unfortunately, Roxanne Kernohan doesn't stay topless for long. Slipping into a very revealing leather outfit, she goes about killing Krites sans mercy. Then, to completely screw with prepubescent boys everywhere, she transforms again. 

She goes from this: 

To this: 

Ladies and gentlemen, the erotic face of actor/comedian Eddie Deezen. Deezen plays the manager of burger joint in Critters 2, and Bounty Hunter Lee takes his form for a brief time. Thankfully, Lee turns back into Roxanne Kernohan for the character's last appearance, but still .... why ruin a good thing?

Double Cannons
Not only does Critters 2 crank up the gore and the sex, but it also cranks up the comedy. The Krites take a steep slide from vicious furballs to ridiculous goofballs. Much like the Gremlins in Joe Dante's 1984 film, the Krites get up to all sorts of wacky puppet hi-jinks. They munch on telephone wires, they invade a burger joint, and they eat hamburger patties. They fall into deep fryers and get the tops of their heads singed bald, to which one Krite exclaims, "Bitchin!" For the tone of this film, however, the silliness works. In order to get mileage out of the Krites for a sequel, you have to go over-the-top by necessity. And I still maintain that the Krites are far more interesting in design and character than any of the other Gremlins ripoffs (I'm calling you out Ghoulies! Stay in the toilet where you belong)

Critters 2 is just a lot of fun. Cheap, disposable, grotesque fun. Literally based on that tried and true formula of tits and giggles, Critters 2 embraces the inherent silliness of its premise and gives horror-comedy fans a film that's just this side of Troma on the bizzaro scale. Director Mick Garris gets a lot of shit for his disappointing Stephen King adaptations, but with Critters 2 at least he nailed it.
A version of this review originally appeared on monsterchiller.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Win BACKCOUNTRY Advance Tickets: Toronto and Vancouver (Aug 12)


Just when you thought it was safe to go camping, terror strikes in the heart of the Canadian wilderness in the harrowing and pulse-pounding new survival horror film BACKCOUNTRY!

"In this terrifying thriller based on a true story, a young couple’s romantic camping trip becomes a tale of survival as they face the dark side of nature: a man-eating bear."
Horror in the Hammer wants you to see BACKCOUNTRY before it hits theaters in wide release. We are giving away 6 double passes in Toronto and 5 double passes in Vancouver to see BACKCOUNTRY at an exclusive advance screening on Wednesday, August 12 at 7pm.


Email horrorinthehammer@gmail.com with BACKCOUNTRY CONTEST in the subject line along with your name, mailing address, and the market in which you'd like to win tickets (Vancouver or Toronto).

Vancouver Location: Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas - 88 West Pender Vancouver, BC, V6B

Toronto Location: Scotiabank Theatre - 259 Richmond St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3M6

This contest is open to residents of Ontario and British Columbia, Canada only. Eighteen years and older. Contest deadline is Thursday, 11:59PM, August 6, 2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


SUNDOWN (2014)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Starring Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope

Slashing its way onto Canadian home media today, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) deserves all the praise I can give it for not only being a well-executed and impressively stylish slasher whodunit, but also a novel and refreshing way to launch a sequel / reboot.

In the town of Texarkana, which straddles both Texas and Arkansas, a masked serial killer dubbed "The Phantom" went on a killing spree in the spring of 1946. Yes, this really did happen. It had the entire town terrified out of its mind, and to make matters worse, the killer was never captured or officially identified. The killings eventually stopped on their own, and the murders became their own kind of local legend. The flames of paranoia were further stoked in 1976 when filmmaker Charles B. Pierce released The Town that Dreaded Sundown, a very loose dramatization of the so-called Texarkana "moonlight murders." The Town that Dreaded Sundown went on to perpetuate its own mythos, muddying historical fact with fiction and pop-culture folklore. Despite its obscurity and dubious claims to historical record, the original The Town that Dreaded Sundown still holds an cult status among horror fans, but few fans were hungering for a sequel. Enter director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with a slick and stylish re-launch of the legend that gives the old Texarkana Phantom an unexpectedly smart shot in the arm...

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) opens in fictional modern-day Texarkana on a balmy Halloween night where Charles B. Pierce's The Town that Dreaded Sundown is being treated to an annual screening at the local drive-in despite the protestations of the town's vocal religious moral authority. Two high school kids on a date -- the beautiful but socially withdrawn Jamie (Addison Timlin) and the all-American quarterback Corey -- decide that the big screen blood and guts aren't their cup of tea, so they head out to lover's lane....an old haunt, so to speak, of the infamous Phantom of yesteryear. When things get hot and heavy, however, the past comes to life. They are brutally and viciously beset upon by an imposing figure in a sackcloth mask who tortures and violates them. The Phantom is back! 

The Phantom spares Jamie's life so she can "make the town remember." Jamie, who is no stranger to trauma and has a tragic past tangentially tied to the legacy of the Phantom, makes it her mission to unmask the killer. She's joined by an ex-classmate (Travis Tope) and together they race to uncover the identity of the new Phantom before he can commit another copycat murder. But in a town with a long civil history of art imitating life imitating art, everyone is a suspect.

Deftly balancing brutal horror violence with an engaging murder mystery, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) is an exciting and refreshing meta-sequel that works perfectly fine as a standalone film but is all the more richer and stylistically layered if you're familiar with Pierce's original. With a great supporting cast of character actors --  Veronica Cartwright, Gary Cole, Denis O'Hare, and Edward Herrmann in his final feature film role before his death last December -- The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) will have you guessing every step of the way; that is, if you can bear to look out from behind your hands when the Phantom strikes during some truly terrifying and gruesome kill sequences that are right up there with the best slasher films of the 80s and 90s. The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) is a film that needs to be seen, in the most literal sense. Do not look away or you will miss the gorgeous frame composition and the slick editing that juxtaposes clips from the original Town with the present-day action. Yes, sometimes style can make up for substance. Sometimes.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) may crib a bit too much from fellow meta-slasher Scream, and it certainly lags in the middle, but in a film market that's over-saturated with cheap, thoughtless remakes and make-money-quick nostalgia ripoffs it's wonderful to see a film that get's it right. No one was begging for a return to the The Town that Dreaded Sundown, but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa found untapped potential in the story and decided to build on Charles B. Pierce's original film. Instead of simply rehashing the tale, they manage to breathe exciting new life into the legend of the Phantom.

Whether it's your first visit or you're looking to make a repeat trip, don't wait to experience The Town that Dreaded Sundown, now available in Canada on DVD and Bluray from Video Entertainment Inc. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

HEIR (Review)

HEIR (2015)


Directed by Richard Powell
Written by Richard Powell

Starring  Bill Oberst Jr.Robert NolanJane Pokou

Ladies and gentlemen, those maniacs at Fatal Pictures have done it again. The folks that brought you the classic horror shorts Familiar and Worm are back with their final short film: HEIR

Writer/director Richard Powell's newest nightmare of nastiness stars Fatal Pictures staple Robert Nolan, along with genre film vet Bill Oberst Jr. (Papa Corn from Circus Of The Dead). Fatal Pictures has once again enlisted the special FX wizardry of The Butcher Shop (Carlos Henriques and Ryan Louagie), who have repeatedly proven to be Canada's premiere peddlers of the perverse. Writing, acting, and FX come together to assault the senses with rabid ferocity, leaving the viewer's grey matter ravaged.

I have watched this film three times over the last twenty four hours, and it still remains stuck in my head, like staple stitches holding a gaping wound closed. This short is visceral filmmaking at its finest. HEIR is a monster movie that boils over with tension, knotting up the stomachs of those bold enough to bear witness. If HEIR doesn't elicit an honest to god physical reaction upon viewing, you need to check yourself for a pulse. Powell's beautifully brutal brand of horror is reminiscent of a young David Cronenberg on steroids, commanding attention and respect. What more do you need to know?

If given the chance to see HEIR, run and jump at that chance! Just like Familiar and Worm before it, HEIR is destined to be remembered as a Canadian indie horror classic, thus bringing the 'box cutter trilogy' to a close. In this writer's humble opinion, a feature length film from the Fatal Pictures gang cannot come quick enough. So here's to hoping that someone with deep pockets smartens up and gives these fine upstanding individuals enough cash to make their magnum opus.

Screw it, I'm going to the store for a lottery ticket.

HEIR will be making its World Premiere in Montreal at the Fantasia International Film Festival: July 14th – August 4th, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015



review by AARON ALLEN

Directed and written by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brough, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Ben Fransham, Stuart Rutherford

To begin this review of Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows with cliche vampire puns (i.e. "this is a movie with bite," or "here's a vampire comedy that doesn't suck") would do an unforgivable disservice to the level of wit, humour, and charm on display in this awesome vampire mockumentary. Based on a ridiculously simple premise -- what if a bunch of vampires were followed by a documentary film crew? -- What We Do in the Shadows absolutely elevates its material with fantastically funny performances, hilarious horror hi jinks, and that wonky Flight of the Concords wit without ever losing sight of the emotional center at stake. (I'm so sorry....)

What We Do in the Shadows is This is Spinal Tap meets Dark Shadows
Vampires live among us, but you know what? They're not as suave as the movies make them out to be. Vampire flatmates Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brough), Vladislav (Clement), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are the subject of a documentary about the undead living in New Zealand. Despite their ageless power, the foursome struggle to fit in with the modern life they left behind. Viago's an 18th century German dandy and anal-retentive neat freak. Deacon's a turn of the century wildman. Vladislav's a medieval tyrant. Petyr's an ancient basement-dwelling nosferatu ghoul. So when it comes to paying rent, doing the dishes, or deciding on the best nightclub to stalk, you know that flareups are bound to happen. By flipping the cool and romantic image of the vampire on its head, What We Do in the Shadows explores the squabbles and nuisances of everyday urban life from the point of view of these out-of-touch and out-of-their-minds bloodsuckers.

Nobody said being a vampire was easy.
Rife with gags and improvised tangents, What We Do in the Shadows is the vampire comedy I never knew I wanted. It finds endless fun in exploiting vampire genre conventions while also remaining reverent to the decades of vampire lore in fiction and film without a hint of ironic condescension. When a botched dinner / massacre accidentally turns a would-be-meal (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a new vampire, the film really gets hilarious as the newbie introduces the guys to the wonders of the interent, selfies, and the modern nightclub scene. New Zealand is known for producing some great horror-comedies (Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, evil animal film Black Sheep, the recent comedy thriller Housebound come to mind), and What We Do in the Shadows is so on-point that it easily joins the ranks of these killer Kiwi cult films.

When 8000 years old you reach, look as good  you will not.
What We Do in the Shadows is currently available on VOD and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray May 26th from Video Services Corp loaded with over 100 minutes of bonus features including unused interviews, deleted scenes, and promo videos. Rise up from your coffins and tombs to pre-order your copy today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

PROM NIGHT (Blu-Ray Review)


review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Paul Lynch
Written by William Gray and Robert Guza Jr.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens, Anne-Marie Martin, Michael Tough

The disco lights have never been brighter, and the blood has never been bloodier than in the Synapse Films Blu-ray special edition release of Prom Night. Packed with special features and boasting a new 2K high-definition transfer from the original 35mm camera negative, this release of Prom Night should be considered an immediate pick up for any Canadian horror or slasher film fan.

22-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis still playing high school girl in Prom Night
It's time for prom at Hamilton High School. Girls are getting their dresses and finding their dates. Boys are primping their hair and perfecting their disco moves. Too bad that this prom night also coincides with the 10th anniversary of a tragic death shrouded in conspiracy. Now, a group of teens led by final girl supreme Jamie Lee Curtis find themselves being knocked off by a masked killer over the dark secret they share about what really happened ten years ago. Is it the escaped and disfigured sex-offender lunatic? The creepy groundskeeper? The school's sociopathic local bully? Red herrings abound until the mystery is finally unmasked to tune of some killer disco beats and a string of violent murders that turn the prom into a night of polyester pandemonium.

It's okay to lose your head over this Blu-ray; it's that good
Prom Night was filmed in Toronto and part of the early boom of North American slasher films that began in Canada with Black Christmas (1974) and was fueled by further Canadian contributions such as Terror Train (1980), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), My Bloody Valentine (1981), and Curtains (1983). As such, Prom Night's a decidedly classier slasher with more emphasis on mystery and suspense than gory kills and much more time spent developing the relationship of its young cast. Jamie Lee Curtis obviously shines on screen -- but everyone who saw here in John Carpenter's Halloween knew that already. The rest of the cast is perfectly lovable or despicable depending on their characters, but few others really jump off the screen...that is except for Sheldon Rybowski as Slick, the chubby Romeo with the sweet van. Prom Night's real claim to fame is its slow-burn tension added to its bustling original disco music score and dazzling giallo-inferno light cinematography. It's these latter features that are best served by Synapse's blu-ray restoration of Prom Night. The colours are bright and captivating in HD while Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer's original score thumps in a 5.1 Surround Remix.

"Killers are coming....."
The rest of the disc is rounded out with a very satisfying bounty of special features including  an audio commentary with director Paul Lynch and screenwriter William Gray, a "THE HORRORS OF HAMILTON HIGH" making-of featurette (in which Jamie Lee Curtis is sadly and conspiciously absent), additional scenes added to the TV broadcast, trailers and tv spots, and exclusive to the Blu-ray release a collection of outtakes and a stills gallery.

Not the goriest movie, but definitely very cheeky at times
Prom Night has been available on Blu-ray for some time now, but if you still have not added it to your own collection, there's no better time than the present. Not only has the film never looked or sounded better, but it's readily available online for a decent price and you can even pick up Synapse's Blu-ray release of Curtains for your own double bill of cult Canadian horror.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

88 (Review)

88 (2014)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by April Mullen
Written by Tim Doiron

Starring Katharine Isabelle, Christopher Lloyd, Tim Doiron, Kyle Schmid, Michael Ironside


Canadian filmmaker April Mullen unleashes a whirlwind of violence and cryptic chronologies in the mostly-entertaining action-revenge film 88. Despite its relatively surprise-free plot and exhausting narrative structure, 88 does succeed in one big way: cementing star Katharine Isabelle (American Mary) as one of Canada's top female badasses.

Some girls you pick up. Some girls fuck you up.
Gwen (Katharine Isabelle), a bar tender at a shady strip joint, regains consciousness in a diner with no clue of how she got there except for a bloody stump for a pinkie finger and a backpack full of gumballs and a deadly hand gun. In a panic, Gwen begins to retrace her steps and piece together her fractured memory. She comes to realize that she's been living in a violent dissociative personality fugue under the the identity of "Flamingo": Gwen's unbridled, destructive, cigarette-smoking, ass-kicking, trigger-happy killer of an alter ego. Remember that scene in Tim Burton's Batman Returns where Michelle Pfeiffer goes nuts in her apartment after getting pushed out a window into an alley of cats? Yeah, it's a whole lot of that.

The rest of 88 plays out in three directions:

  • 1.) a post-Flamingo chronology following Gwen as she's swept up by violent encounters with cops (Michael Ironside), former criminal employers (Christopher Lloyd turning in a wonderful performance as the film's heavy), and fellow unhinged revenge seekers (Tim Doiron) she's befriended or pissed off as Flamingo.
  • 2.) Gwen's "Famingo" chronology, detailing her hot-mess of a bloody kill-spree and obsession with revenge
  • 3.) Flashbacks in both chronologies to the pre-Flamingo incident that caused Gwen to suffer such a tragic, dissociative personality break in the first place.
On our block all of the guys call her flamingo / Cause her hair glows like the sun.
As you might imagine, this kind of narrative structure can get quite complicated and overstuffed with characters. It's an interesting concept at first -- a trashier, late-night version of Christopher Nolan's Memento -- but by the middle of the second act the nauseating back-and-forth between timelines begins to wear both the plot and the characters perilously thin. By the end, things get back on track as the film's action-revenge narrative finds the tragic, emotional ground it's been lacking all this time. Alternatively, if 88 had allowed itself to get even more bonkers, it would have been even better. Director April Mullen makes a cameo as a taxidermist / arms dealer in an absolutely bananas scene that's just this side of brilliant but, sadly, only a whisper of the crazy originality unrealized in 88.

Great Scott, Christopher Lloyd is bad-ass in 88
Despite its wearying narrative structure, 88 boasts some thrilling performances by Lloyd, Isabelle, and Doiron. and it showcases an electrifying visual style that should have genre fans sitting up and taking notice of director April Mullen. 88 is flawed in many respects, but it crosses the finish line as an indie with attitude that is bound to satisfy some of your late-night cable TV or VOD cravings for tawdry tales of revenge.