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Final Destination (2000)


Is it possible to cheat death? Could you avoid a grisly fate if you just had enough warning, a premonition that things were about to go horribly wrong? What if you did? What if you were able to prevent a handful of deaths on the eve of a horrifying disaster? Now, Death’s books must be balanced, and he doesn’t like things to be left untidy. It’s nothing personal. Just business.

Final Destination is an American horror film writted, produced, and directed by James Wong, based on an idea written by Jeffrey Reddick and originally pitched as an episode of The X-Files. It was distributed by New Line Cinema (the House that Freddy Built). It stars Devon “Idle Hands” Sawa, Ali “Heroes” Larter, Kerr “Lucid Days in Hell” Smith, Kristen “Stay Tuned” Cloke, Daniel “The Fugitive” Roebuck, Roger Guenuer “No, that’s not The Rock” Smith, Chad “Disturbing Behavior” Donella, Seann William “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Scott, Amanda “Saving Silverman” Detmer, and Tony “Voice of the Antichrist” Todd.

Alex Browning (Sawa) is about to go on a high school field trip to France with his French class. Shortly after boarding, Alex has a vision of the plane exploding shortly after takeoff (in a terrifying sequence depicted more or less from Alex’s point of view – that is, from inside the fuselage… yeep). He wakes from this nightmare and, finding that events are unfolding just as he saw them in the dream, he appropriately freaks out, screaming that the plane was going to explode. His freakout and the resultant brawl in the aisle gets himself and a handful of others removed from the plane, including French teacher Ms. Lewton (Cloke), jerkass Carter Horton (Smith) and his girlfriend Terry (Detmer), and his friend Tod (Donella). Billy (Scott) is caught out due to being in the airport bathroom, and Clear (Larter) leaves of her own accord, sensing something wrong. Airport security, naturally, takes this thing very seriously, especially after the plane actually explodes as predicted. The survivors are devestated, and two FBI agents (Roebuck and Smith) question them, especially focusing on Alex’s vision.

A month passes before Alex starts to see the darker consequences of his apparently miraculous. As his entire class has heard about the incident, he is treated as a pariah already, so when Tod apparently hangs himself in the bathroom (actually a freak accident) Alex is blamed, bit Clear isn’t so sure. After a brief encounter with the mortician in charge of preparing Tod’s body for burial, Mr. Bludworth (Todd, as himself), Alex and Clear learn that Death has a design – and that Alex has messed up this plan. As a result, Death is trying to set things right by making sure that those that were scheduled to die, do die, by accidental methods as intended. Fortunately, Death still has a pattern, and if Alex figures that if he can figure out this pattern, he might be able to cheat death a second time – but how long can he outrun Death?

Final Destination was a pleasant surprise when I first saw it in theaters. After nearly a decade of unscary gorefests, I was delighted to finally find a horror movie that genuinely put the fear of death in me. Much of the paranoia fuel come in not knowing where or when the deaths would come – and because it’s Death himself stalking the leads, there is literally no escape – if he wants you, he will get you, and it will virtually come out of nowhere. The randomness of the accidents was most believeable (though Ms. Lewton’s death seemed like teabagging after a certain point), and I found myself walking into a room afterwards and subconsciously counting the ways it could kill me. On an interesting note, when I first saw FD in theaters, I was in this state of situational paranoia when I went to drive home, and discovered that it had started pouring down rain during the movie. And I had to drive home in that. Yaaaaay.

Another pleasant surprise was the quality of the acting. While many horror movies I’ve seen feature Bad Bad Acting, the leads were plausible as survivors of one disaster trying to outrun others. Sawa seemed a bit flat at times, but this is easily excusable as residual shell shock. They appeared to be believeable, rounded people, so that even Carter’s increasing douchebaggery when confronted by a threat he couldn’t fight seemd to fit. I felt genuinely bad for Alex as his class and fellow survivors turned on him, but fear does strange things to human nature. Tony Todd, the only actor I recognized during my first viewing, makes a very creepy Mr. Exposition without his scene seeming shoehorned (and he would reprise his role as Bludworth in FD2).

Final Destination was the first movie I’d seen in a long time to genuinely scare rather than simply shock. Therefore, it ranks amongst my favorite horror movies, and I would definitely recommend it for people who want a scary movie that doesn’t rely on gallons of blood to make its point.

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Cabin Fever (2002)


Gorehounds rejoice, for you have a new god in Hollywood, and his name is Eli Roth, here to bring you another reason not to go into the woods. You might know the rules for dealing with cannibal rednecks, angry spirits, and hockey-masked psychos, but what do you do when the killer is a billionth your size?

Roth’s first movie, Cabin Fever is an American horror movie inspired by Roth’s real-life experience with a skin infection he contracted on a trip to Iceland (but of course taken to its gory upper limit). It draws upon elements of many of Roth’s favorite horror movies like The Evil Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It stars Rider “Boy Meets World” Strong, James “Scary Movie 2” DeBello, Jordan, “Never Been Kissed” Ladd, Cerina “Not Another Teen Movie” Ladd, Joey “Super Troopers” Kern, and Matthew ” PANCAAAAAAAAKES” Helms. The movie was shot on a relatively small budget of $1.5 million.

A man walking in the woods encounters the rotted corpse of a dead dog. He turns it over and is sprayed in the face with blood. Sometime later, five college friends, Jeff (Kern), Marcy (Vincent), Paul (Strong), Karen (Ladd), and Bert (DeBello) have rented a cabin in the woods. On their way to the site, they stop at a local convenience store to stock up, and Paul has an encounter with Dennis, a mentally handicapped boy with three apparent interests: Pancakes, kung fu, and biting people, as Paul discovers. At the cabin, Jeff and Marcy have sex, Paul and Karen swim in the nearby lake, and Bert goes squirrel hunting. Instead of squirrels, Bert encounters the man who found the rotted dog, whose condition has deteriorated. Like, a lot. Terrified and disgusted, Bert shoots him to try to drive him off and runs back to the cabin. The man follows him back to the cabin, begging for help, and tries driving off him their car but vomits blood inside it. Ultimately, he exits the car and Paul sets him on fire, whereupon the diseased man runs off, dying in the lake. A local deputy offers to call them a tow truck. After that, things start going rapidly downhill for our intrepid heroes…

Karen drinks a glass of lake water and starts feeling ill. That night Paul discovers rotten spots on her thighs, and the other quarantine her in a nearby tool shed. Fearing that they are also infected, the others argue about what to do. The next day, Bert realizes that he is infected but does not tell anyone. When Paul and Marcy insist on helping Karen, Jeff bails on them, taking all the beer (currently the only reliable drinking source), while Bert drives off to try to find a doctor. In revenge for Jeff abandoning her and because she figures they’re both doomed to die anyway, Marcy has sex with Paul, assuring him that she is healthy but later finding red patches where he touched her. Paul, rightfully worried about the disease going around, tries to disinfect himself with Listerine. Bloody medical carnage lies in both their futures, though, and once the townsfolk catch wind of things it looks like nobody’s going to make it out of the woods alive…

Cabin Fever is a unique twist on the “slasher in the woods” premise, and in my opinion it was done well. In overall ambience the plot feels like both a zombie movie (who’s infected? How long before the infection gets us?) and a slasher movie (merciless quantities of blood), in an affectionate throwback to the gory, tit-filled horror movies of the 80s. I’ve alway enjoyed the idea of a slasher movie without a concrete antagonist, somebody specific that you could try to escape, and the breakdown of the protagonists’ friendship added a lot to the paranoia of OMG FLESH EATING BACTERIA. The main characters were not well-defined, but here they didn’t need to be. I did get the impression that the locals had battled this disease (or similar ones) before, which made me wonder why they didn’t insist that the kids pick up lots of bottled water.

The disease FX were wonderfully nauseating. In addition to Roth’s own experience with skin-eating diseases, one of the sound mixers had also survived a bout with flesh-eating bacteria, and maintains that the makeup is 100% accurate. I actually found myself writhing in discomfort during the leg-shaving scene (scraaaaaaaaaape… EUGH!), even after seeing other characters with decomposing sores. It was possibly the best justification for death by sex ever, too – I mean, you shag someone with a highly contagious case of the rot, of COURSE you’re going to die too!

In all, Roth’s premier movie is a delightfully stomach-turning addition to the horror genre. I would recommend it to all gore fans and those with strong stomachs who enjoy a nice scary romp in the woods.

Knowing (2009)


Imagine finding a document that predicted every natural disaster for the last fifty years. Imagine seeing proof that it’s for real. Now imagine that the number sequence ends in a few days. What happens when the numbers run out?

Knowing is a science fiction film directed by Alex Proyas. It stars Nicholas “Face/Off” Cage, Rose “28 Weeks Later” Byrne, Chandler “Se7en” Canterbury, Laura “Saved” Robinson, Nadia “Danny Deckchair” Townsend, Ben “Vertical Limit” Mendelsohn, Alan “My Brilliant Career” Hopgood, Adrienne “Shutter” Pickering, and Liam “Triangle” Hemsworth. The film was originally written by novelist Ryne Douglas Pearson.

In 1959, a young girl named Lucinda Embry stands in the playground, hearing whispers from an unknown source and staring into the sun so intently that she does not hear the teacher calling the students in from recess. Later, as the students are drawing pictures of what they think the future will be like to place into a time capsule that will be buried for fifty years, Lucinda covers a sheet of paper with a series of seemingly random numbers, though her teacher takes it away before she is done. Later, after the capsule is buried, Lucinda disappears, only to be found later in a closet, having clawed at the door until her fingernails are torn out. Fifty years later, John Koestler, a widowed MIT astrophysicist, talks with his son Caleb about the likelihood of life on other planets, leading to speculations on where Caleb’s mother (who died a year ago) currently is. The next day, Koestler discusses determinism vs. randomness with his class. Caleb, attending the same school that Lucinda attended fifty years before, is present for the opening of the time capsule and receives the sheet of paper that Lucinda covered with numbers half a century before. He sees a mysterious black-clad stranger staring at him and hears whispering; it is implied that he has been hearing the whispering for some time, as he wears a hearing aid due to hearing “confusing noises”. At home, Koestler finds Lucinda’s paper in Caleb’s things and examines the numbers, noticing the sequence 911012996 among them. He looks up the September 11 terrorist attack and quickly sees that the numbers include the date and number of deaths: 9/11/01/2996. After a sleepless night of research, Koestler discovers that every sequence of numbers can be matched to a disaster from the last fifty years, and it appears to have predicted every single one. However, there are numbers between the dates that he cannot figure out, and there are three dates remaining on the page, taking place in the immediate future.

Koestler, looking into the apparent predictions, tries to find Lucinda but learns that she recently died of a drug overdose. Caleb is visited by more black-clad strangers, and shown visions of destruction. Koestler, on his way to pick up Caleb from school, has a plane almost crash right on top of him, apparently predicted by the next sequence of numbers, and realizes the mystery numbers are GPS coordinates. He tries to recruit Lucinda’s grown daughter for help, racing against time to try to avert the other disasters predicted by the rest of the numbers (and witnessing a horrifying subway crash as one of the trains jumps the rails), until he learns the chilling truth about the final sequence of numbers…

I wasn’t too sure about Knowing when I rented it. I’d heard reviews ranging from lukewarm to negative, but the premise sounded interesting and I’d seen Nicholas Cage is some good movies. The trouble was, I’d also seen him in some bad movies, but it was only a dollar through Redbox, so what the hell. The overall impression I got was if M. Night Shyamalan decided to remake Final Destination. The idea that thinsg like these had been predetermined was chilling, especially paired with the absolute knowledge that they could not be stopped, but this was mitigated slightly by the discovery that somebody – or something was trying to lessen the tragedy to the best of their ability. The acting was a little hit and miss, especially towards the end, and some of the special effects were also a bit iffy, particularly the CGI plane crash (which was not made too much less chilling for all that, I mean, they dropped a plane on a traffic jam). However, the visuals toward the end were quite impressive, and the reveal of the true nature of the strangers was absolutely beautiful.

While I was not quite as wowed by this movie as I have been by others with apocalyptic themes, this was worth renting. Nicholas Cage was mostly effective as the traumatized widower and tortured dad, and the premise was sound. So, if you’re in the mood for something thought-provoking and pretty, keep this one in mind. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth watching.

Audition (1999)


She is the woman of your dreams. She is a beautiful and demure woman, the flower of grace and beauty, but with a dark and tragic past. You listen sympathetically, commiserate with her pain (being a widower yourself) and when she asks you to love only her, you agree, because who wouldn’t want to love such a beautiful and delicate flower for the rest of your life?

She’s going to hold you to your word… no matter what.

Audition is a horror film by Takashi Miike, based on the Ryu Murakami novel of the same title. It stars Ryo “Suicide Club” Ishibashi, Tetsu “Border Line” Sawaki , and Eihi “Tokyo Gore Police” Shiina. It ranked at #11 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, which is probably the main reason most people in the West have heard of it. A number of Western horror directors found it too disturbing to watch, including Eli “Cabin Fever” Roth and Rob “House of 1000 Corpses” Zombie. But if you’re feeling brave, read on.

Seven years ago, Shigeharu Aoyama’s wife died of an illness. Now, as a middle-aged widow, he is unsure of his dating prospects, despite the encouragement of his son Shigehiko (Sawaki), who intends to move out when he finishes school and does not want his father to be alone. Aoyama’s friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, a film producer, proposes holding a mock audition, encouraging young, beautiful women to audition for the “role” of Aoyama’s wife, but actually being vetted as actual marriage material; the plan is for Aoyama to marry one of the finalists. During the auditions, Aoyama’s eye is drawn to one Asami Yamazaki (Shiina), age 24, a quiet, demure, soft-spoken former ballerina who was forced to stop dancing after an injury. Aoyama is enthralled, but Yoshikawa isn’t so sure: her job history is shaky and none of the references on her resume can be found. Aoyama is blinded by his own infatuation and calls her back, and we see her sitting in an apartment on the floor next to the only two things in the apartment besides her: the ringing telephone, and a lumpy burlap sack that lurches across the room as the phone rings. When she finally answers, Asami confesses that she didn’t expect him to call back. They begin dating, and he learns of her tragic past: she was physically and sexually abused by her stepfather, leaving scars that remain to this day, as she shows him. She asks him if he will love only her, and the infatuated Aoyama tells her he will, and they make love.

The next day she vanishes without a trace. Aoyama, using her resume, tries to track her down. He visits the ballet studio where she supposedly trained for 12 years, finding only a disabled old manin a wheel chair (who caused the scars on Asami’s legs). He visits the bar where Asami worked, only to find it had been closed for a year because the manager, the wife of a record producer, was found dismembered there. Amid the mess police found three extra fingers, an extra ear, and an extra tongue. Meanwhile, Asami is doing her own research, and she doesn’t like what she finds at all: an old photo of Aoyama’s dead wife prominently displayed on his desk. Aoyama is going to learn the dark side of an abusive childhood, and it isn’t going to involve rescuing her from her demons…

Not being familiar with Miike’s work when I first heard about this movie, I didn’t know what to expect when I rented Audition from Netflix, except for the infamous ending sequence. It starts off deceptively tame, as a very sweet and heartwarming romantic comedy, but even knowing how badly it would go didn’t prepare me for how gleefully psychotic Asami would turn. Fatal Attraction? Please. Alex Forrest is an amateur. Asami was giggling as she tortured Aoyama. Giggling. The Joker doesn’t even giggle like that. And if earlier scenes are any indication, she intended Aoyama to remain alive afterward, helpless and mutilated, totally dependent on her for everything. I bet none of you had exes quite that far around the bend. The violence is completely unflinching and unmerciful, involving muscle relaxant, acupuncture needles, and razor wire used in combinations that are likely to make you clench in sympathy.

I would call this a stealth horror movie. If you knew nothing about the movie going in, you would see nothing in the first two thirds to indicate what the last third would be like. I had never even heard of Takashi Miike before 100 Scariest, so afterwards I looked up some of his other stuff (which I haven’t seen yet). Apparently this guy has been compared to Davids Lynch and Cronenberg, as well as over the top violence and gorn. In other words, not an ideal date movie unless your SO is similarly minded and, you know, not secretly a psycho.

Saw (2004)


Hello. I want to play a game.

What would you do to survive? If you had to kill a complete stranger or mutilate yourself to save yourself or a loved one from a horrible fate, would you? How much do you value your life? How willing are you to survive?

Jigsaw wants to know. And he’s willing to put you to the ultimate test.

Saw is an Australian-American horror movie directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, based on an idea by Wan. It stars Cary “Dread Pirate Roberts” Elwes, Danny “I’m getting too old for this shit” Glover, Tobin “Mississippi Burning” Bell, Shawnee “The Desperate Hours” Smith, and Leigh “The Matrix Reloaded” Whannell.

The primary plot revolves around two men, photographer Adam Stanheight (Whannell) and oncologist Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Elwes), who wake up in a dilapidated bathroom, each man chained by the ankle to a pipe at opposite ends of the bathroom. Lying between them is a corpse in a pool of blood, with a revolver in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. Adam and Dr. Gordon each have a cassette tape in their pocket; using the tape recorder, they learn that Adam has been tasked with escaping the bathroom, while Dr. Gordon must kill Adam before six o’clock or his wife and daughter will be killed. Congratulations, guys, you’ve been taken by the Jigsaw Killer… you’re both screwed.

As the movie progresses, we learn more about the mysterious Jigsaw Killer. Believing that people don’t truly appreciate their lives, Jigsaw places them in elaborate, poetic deathtraps and challenges them to escape. The only known survivor of one of these traps is Amanda Young (Smith), a heroin addict who had to cut open her dealer’s stomach to retrieve the key to a device locked onto her head, designed to tear her lower jaw off when time ran out; in her statement to police she asserted that the experience “helped” her. Jigsaw would frequently observe these games, directly or otherwise, apparently enjoying having a front row seat. Dr. Gordon’s heard of him, having briefly been accused of being him when his penlight was found at the scene of one of the traps.

Meanwhile, Gordon’s family is being guarded in their home by a man who is watching the prisoners’ plight through a camera behind one of the bathroom mirrors. The Gordon house in turn is being watched by Detective Tapp (Glover), who became obsessed with finding Jigsaw after viewing Amanda’s testimony, but an illegal raid on one of Jigsaw’s hideouts left his partner dead from a shotgun trap and Tapp himself discharged from the force. As Adam and Gordon learn what their connection is to each other and to the mysterious Jigsaw, they are forced to come to a dire conclusion: Play Jigsaw’s game, or suffer the consequences.

While Saw has been credited with inspiring the “torture porn” subgenre of movies that subsequently became popular, this first movie actually contains very little gore, and most of the violence is offscreen. Others have compared Saw to other psychological thrillers like Se7en, both favorably and unfavorably. I found Saw to be a tight little suspense movie that gave you every reason to sympathize with the subjects of Jigsaw’s experiments. They are real, flawed people who may have made a single mistake that landed them in this mess, but none of them seemed unrealistically whiny about it.

The traps themselves are cruel and efficient, and the traps were often “real” devices: the reverse beartrap of Amanda’s test, for example, was made of metal and fully functional. The gritty, rusted appearance of all the traps, as well as the used, “abandoned” look of the rooms made them look inherently more dangerous than a sterile setting with clean, polished traps might have been.

Saw holds a special place in my dark little heart. While the rest of the franchise has become largely hit-and-miss, the original introduced me to a truly demented villain in Jigsaw, and I enjoyed putting the pieces together as the ending came from a surprising direction. By all means, see this movie. You won’t be sorry.

2012 (2009)


In any natural disaster, one is likely to find stories of heroism and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, tales of people rising to the challenge of that one day they really shouldn’t have gotten out of bed at all. Civilians turned brave heroes, banding together to save as much of their world as the possibly can, willingly sacrificing themselves if it means saving the lives of others – deep, inspiring tales that hopefully spur us mere mortals to re-evaluate our own lives and maybe set our sights on a higher purpose.

This is not one of those stories. This is a Roland Emmerich movie.

2012 (or, as I like to call it, Roland Emmerich Breaks Shit Part IV) is an American disaster movie directed by the modern god of disaster movies, Roland Emmerich. It stars John “1408” Cusack, Chiwetel “Kinky Boots” Ejiofor, Amanda “Saving Silverman” Peet, Oliver “Lake Placid” Platt, Zlatko “Pusher” Burić, Danny “Lethal Weapon” Glover, Thomas “Conspiracy Theory” McCarthy, Liam “Psych” James, Morgan “He’s Just Not That Into You” Lily, Thandie “The Pursuit of Happyness” Newton, and Woody “Zombieland” Harrelson. There’s a bunch more people in this movie, of course, but most of them die. Anyway.

In 2009, geologist Adrian Helmsley (Ejiofor) learns that neutrinos from a recent solar flare are causing the temperature of the Earth’s core to rise. These are special neutrinos that can do that. Seriously. He tells White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Platt) and President Thomas Wilson (Glover) of these findings, and of his conclusion that this will cause a little bit of an apocalypse. The following year, a secret project is started to ensure humanity’s survival: 400,000 people are chosen to board a series of arks to be constructed in Tibet, a project funded by the sale of tickets for seats on the ark at about 1 billion Euros a pop. By 2011, humanity’s great treasures are moved into storage in the Himalayas under the guise of protecting them from terrorists. In 2012, the plot kicks into gear.

Jackson Curtis is a divorced science fiction writer who works part time as a limo driver for billionaire Yuri Karpov (Burić). This weekend, he is taking his kids, Noah (James) and Lilly (Lily) camping at Yellowstone Park. While there, they meet conspiracy theorist and pirate radio host Charlie Frost (Harrelson), who says that the world will end that year, but the government has prepared for it, offering as proof maps of the ark project and news clipping about people who were killed for trying to inform the general public. Curtis initially dismisses him as a paranoid wingnut – but the funny thing about paranoid wingnuts, especially in movie land, is that occasionally they’re right, as Curtis learns when an earthquake starts nibbling away at California. Curtis can see the writing on the wall, and rents a plane to save his family, picking up his ex-wife Kate (Peet) and her new fiance Gordon (McCarthy). They escape Los Angeles in a spectacular and hair-raising sequence as the earthquake quickly goes from nibble nibble to NOM NOM NOM and huge chunks of the Pacific coast slide into the sea. They pop over to Yellowstone (which, incidentally, sits on top of a supervolcano) to pick up Charlie’s map. Charlie elects to stay behind to broadcast the impending disaster, and Curtis escapes with his family as Yellowstone goes up.

At this point, we have to be honest with ourselves. Sure, there’s a lot more plot after this, but it easily takes a backseat to the real point: Lots and lots of shit will get broken. The Cristo Redemptor crumbles in an earthquake. The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica gets dropped on a square full of terrified Catholics praying for salvation, after a bit of cosmic teabagging by having a crack appear in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel between the respective outstretched fingers of God and Adam. The White House gets an aircraft carrier dropped on it. Hawaii? Chain of active volcanoes says SCREW YOU! Tibet gets eaten by a tidal wave. The magnetic North Pole winds up somewhere around Wisconsin. (Apparently, Emmerich had plans to take out Mecca as well, to prove that Christians were not the only ones who lost religious landmarks, but he didn’t want to cause a jihad. No kidding.) And the audience revels in every minute of it.

Inspired by the theory that the world will end when the Meso-American calendar ends in mid-December of 2012, Roland Emmerich sought out to make his (apparently) last disaster movie something truly epic by putting as many disaster movie conventions as he possibly could into a single film. As epic popcorn movies go, 2012 delivers. The special effects are well-rendered and the action sequences are thrilling. In the early stages of the California earthquake sequence, he even broke the usual convention of shaking the camera and having the actors throw themselves around, by building a suburban neighborhood atop a series of motion-controlled platforms to fling the actors around for real. The conspicuous CGI is at a minimum here, mainly in parts where it honestly couldn’t be helped, like CGI water next to real water.

The casting was largely well-done, with John Cusack reprising his 1408 role as the unlucky everyman caught in circumstances beyond his control, and doing it well. Platt as Anheuser is reasonably skeptic at the beginning, but willing to consider the evidence when it’s presented to him, while remaining practical about the whole thing (he didn’t secure a ticket on the arks for his elderly mother with dementia, reasoning that she was 92 and would want to die on her own terms). The subplot between Gordon and Tamara was a near-miss, though, and its tragic ending just seemed sadistic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get attached to any of the characters, which was a shame, because it would likely have enhanced the sense of danger in having the laws of physics suddenly decide they hated your guts.

All in all, 2012 is an effective entry to the disaster subgenre. It might seem a bit overlong at times, but the spectacular special effects will soon bowl you along until you actually might look forward to the end of the world.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)


There are certain noises that will always inspire a certain level of fear in a sane human being. Explosions. Thunder. Someone screaming. And since 1974, the sound of a chainsaw being powered up. Thanks, Tobe Hooper. Thanks for making an entire generation afraid of power tools.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an American independent horror film by Tobe Hooper, starring Marilyn “I Had Laryngitis For a Week After This Movie” Burns, Edwin “He Looks Trustworthy” Neal, Paul A. “Can’t we just leave him on the side of the road or something?” Partain, Allen “I won’t survive the movie” Danziger, William “Why am I wearing this red shirt?” Vail, Teri “granola girl” McMinn, Jim “I loves me some barbecue” Siedow, William “You dumbass” Vail, and Gunnar “Holy shit get in the car!” Hansen, with a stunt voiceover by John “Night Court” Larroquette.

Presented as a true story (it’s not), the movie follows Sally Hardesty (Burns) and her brother Franklin (Partain) as they travel with three friends, Jerry (Danziger), Kirk (Vail), and Pam (McMinn) to the cemetary where the Hardestys’ grandfather is purported to be buried, after hearing reports of alleged grave robbery and vandalism. Afterward, they decide to visit an old Hardesty property; on the way there, they pick up a hitchhiker, but he turns out to be deranged and slashes himself and Franklin with a razor before they force him out of the car. They stop at a gas station, only to be told that the tanks are empty, but the refueling truck should be by that afternoon. They continue to the homestead, planning to stop at the gas station on the way out. When they arrive, Franklin tells Kirk and Pam about a watering hole nearby, and they decide to check it out and go for a swim. Instead, they find a house, home to a gruesome family that all share a common taste in meat.

Having picked this movie up to round out my experience in classic slasher movies, I walked into this movie knowing that it had influenced a whole subgenre of horror, and was considered a horror classic. After all, who hasn’t heard of Leatherface and his deranged clan, and how many cannibal redneck movies had been inspired by this one? The tiny budget (around $60,000) and the sensibilities of the mid-seventies naturally limited how much could be shown, but I’d seen campy horror from the seventies and eighties before, so I thought I was in for more of the same.

Afterward I was left with a single thought:

What the hell did I just watch?

This movie is uncomfortable to watch. The protagonists are bland and unremarkable (except for Franklin, who is whiny and obnoxious) and appear to exist only to get butchered. While most of the slasher conventions had yet to be created in 1974, some of their actions seemed beyond stupid (like picking up a hitchhiker who appears to have mental problems and blood smeared on his face, or not being alarmed by the discovery of a human tooth on someone’s porch, or taking a guy in a wheelchair out sightseeing in the middle of nowhere). Leatherface & Co. seemed to be more interesting than the heroes, and only then because they actually seemed to have personalities. The violence, though abundant in the second half was largely bloodless (and one would expect some of the red stuff when a guy is getting stabbed in the abdomen repeatedly with a chainsaw.

Now, I will grant that for a first effort Hooper overall did a decent job. He had a tiny budget to work with and did the best he could. The camera angles are tight, the directing is good, and the antagonists are terrifying and more or less realistic enough that you could imagine something like this happening somewhere on the fringes of civilization (and sort of did, as Hooper’s inspiration was the real-life serial killer Ed Gein). As far as slasher movies go, I would call this one an acceptable entry on most lists.