Screen Junkies » Horror Films Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Tue, 05 Aug 2014 20:11:39 +0000 en hourly 1 The Film Cult Presents: Shaun of the Dead Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:12:09 +0000 Philip Harris Warning! Spoiler Alert!   There’s a lot a competition for best zombie movie. Some might say the best was the racially tinged horror classic, Night of the Living Dead. They...

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Warning! Spoiler Alert!


There’s a lot a competition for best zombie movie. Some might say the best was the racially tinged horror classic, Night of the Living Dead. They wouldn’t be far off the mark. If you’re a sixteen-year-old girl you might say it’s Warm Bodies. If you’re a bro obsessed with Bill Murray, you might go with Zombieland as your fave. Mine, and frankly the best, is Shaun of the Dead. I love Simon Pegg. In his down time from acting in blockbuster behemoths he’s always crafting together a brilliant gem close to his, and our, nerdy heart. These gems are invariable entertaining: Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Paul—all great, but none are as brilliant as Shaun of the Dead.

A hapless dote with a shite job and a lovable slob for a best friend realize they have to save their loved ones when the zombies attack. Such a simple premise. It’s those simple premises in the hands of brilliant writers that always turn out for the best. For instance, a newly wedded couple moves into the Dakota and gives birth to the Antichrist? Done and done, Rosemary’s Baby was a hit novel, a classic horror film, and even an upcoming miniseries staring Zoe Saldana. Simple premises lead to esteemed legacies. And Simon Pegg is on his way.

Zombie movies rise several times a year, always reminding us that the dead are never really gone and  that what our true natures are brutal and savage. It’s the vanquishing of the zombies, the chopping off of their heads or the burning of their rotting bodies, that reassures us that we may might just hold off the end times (that horrid moment when we devour each other) just a little longer. The human race demands an endgame, and zombie narratives (along with comets, disease epidemics, and natural disasters) are our favorite art form in which to experiment with the our own demise. And it’s the most personal. We can’t fight comets. We can try to fight aliens. We can’t see diseases, but just ask Brad Pitt what happens when the disease turns people into zombies. We can seek shelter when the tsunamis, earthquakes, and storms come, but look how well that went for the dinosaurs. A zombie apocalypse is personal because it’s us. How do we fight ourselves when we’ve suddenly become a danger to each other? I mean, besides with a cricket bat.

Taking this theme and concept to a British suburb, Shaun of the Dead is characteristic of many zombie narratives in that it uses the undead invasion as a prism in which to see Shaun’s closest, interpersonal relationships: the girlfriend he is doomed to disappoint, the loser friend he should have ditched years ago, and the mom and stepdad for whom he’ll never be good enough. While essentially a loser in the beginning of the film, he becomes the leader of his kith and kin’s survival party, showing us through humor and heart that it might just take the most dire of circumstances to reveal one’s heroic nature. This heroic nature is tester (spoiler alert) in the movie’s greatest moment in which his mother becomes a zombie and he must kill her. It’s a heart-wrenching moment tucked exquisitely among the action and humor.

And speaking of humor, we can’t forget that Shaun of the Dead is simply funny as hell. A feast for the observant nerd, the film is typical of other Simon Pegg vehicles in that subtle jokes are paid off hours later, delightfully telling details are thrown in for those watching close enough, and references to B-plots and other narratives are scattered among the bloody river of English Wit. It’s generally difficult to translate British humor into American lexicon, so I get it if some don’t find this movie as entertaining as I do. It might help to know that instead of saying a phone line is “busy” the Brits say “engaged.” It may help to also know that a common nickname for men called David is “Davs”, pronounced like “calves.” That said, most of the jokes work just fine, and what starts as a series of awkward situations slowly turns into hilarious, action-packed romp.

Actors to watch out for. Shaun’s mom? Yup, that’s Penelope Wilton, more commonly known as Mrs. Crawly, Mathew’s mother on Downton Abbey. When Shaun’s crew meets their counterparts in the alleyway? Yup, that’s Martin Freeman, before he became Dr. Watson and Bilbo Baggins, as Shaun’s doppelgänger. And be sure not to miss a sutble Bill Nighy as Shaun’s stepfather.

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The Film Cult Presents: Battle Royale Fri, 28 Mar 2014 17:10:28 +0000 Philip Harris WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! Battle Royale got a lot of press when the first Hunger Games movie came out. Hipsters were up in arms with protestations of “Rip off!” and “It’s...

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Battle Royale got a lot of press when the first Hunger Games movie came out. Hipsters were up in arms with protestations of “Rip off!” and “It’s been done!” I like to give The Hunger Games the benefit of the doubt. It’s not exactly the same movie. Don’t get me wrong, the similarities are striking: both based on a novel about a bunch of kids thrown together and forced to kill each other. There the similarities end, though. I know; I know. Those are big similarities, practically the entire premise of both movies being identical. True. True. But, The Hunger Games is a YA movie about Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth looking really hot in melodramatic circumstances. Battle Royale isn’t about heartthrobs. The Hunger Games is also a meditation on the nature of reality television. Battle Royale is about discipline, about keeping children in order, which I’m all for. I wouldn’t say I’m all for letting them go at each other with automatic weaponry, but I’m all for keeping them in line.

But, back to melodrama for a moment. Both of these movies thrive on melodrama. Where The Hunger Games uses melodrama in the District Twelve—the gray tones, the glory of being a baker of stony bread—Battle Royale uses melodrama in flashbacks fit for a Lifetime movie. These flashbacks, however, are used to establish and deepen characters. Does it work? Hard to say. The flashbacks are shot with enough feathered filtering to make Robert De Niro look like Nicole Ritchie. It works in that we now know more about the characters, thus making us more invested than we were before. Could the flashbacks be better? Oh, sure. But, then again, this is Japanese horror we’re talking about. Character development is hardly a subtle venture.

I’d be remiss to discuss the violence in Battle Royale. Talk about melodrama! People are gettin’ sliced and shot all over this island. You’re definitely expecting it, but it’s still totally unnerving when they shoot the first kid in the briefing room. Once out in the wild of Okishima, the blood and flesh fly like a haircut by Edward Scissorhands. Operatic in its ubiquity, the violence of Battle Royale starts off unnerving, moves into being almost humorous with its schlocky goriness, and then, which I’m assuming was director Koushun Takami’s ultimate point, becomes everyday, natural.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Stellan Skarsgard discusses his latest controversial take as Seligman in Lars von Trier’s much-hyped Nymphomaniac films. Discussing the ubiquitous  body parts, he states,  “Showing body parts…eventually becomes as normal as eating porridge in the morning.” And so it is with the violence in Battle Royale. It’s exciting at first, disturbingly graphic, but by the end, you understand that these are the rules. This is the world. People kill each other, and they’ll do it to survive, and they’ll do it to love whom they want.

While a meditation on the discipline of children and a statement on the numbness we experience in the face of constant violence, Battle Royale is also about how children hold the passwords to the future. It’s a beautiful comment on the technological gap between the current first-world youth and the generation before them. In any school in the world, in any family, it’s the nerdy kid who has the power. He or she instinctively knows what their adults will never master when it comes to using modern-day technology. Have you ever tried to teach your father how to use Instagram? I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s the nerdy kids that will save the world. They’re the ones who will override the security system and beat the game developers at their own game.

Battle Royale hits all the notes The Hunger Games didn’t. There are no heartthrobs or politically disenfranchised hillbilly’s trying to scrape a life together coal mining and studying mushrooms in the Appalachia . Battle Royale is about uniformed children learning to fend for themselves on a deserted island, an island whose natural beauty is the perfect backdrop for the kinds of exquisite murders and suicides that are the meat and potatoes of any self-respecting Japanese fairy tale. Currently available on Netflix live, Battle Royale deserves a night of your attention. Just make sure you’ve already eaten.

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The Film Cult Presents: The Wicker Man Fri, 28 Feb 2014 19:12:46 +0000 Philip Harris Oh, to go back to the days when naked people sang songs in circles on the solstice.

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Let’s get the bad part out of the way. Nicolas Cage and the great Ellen Burstyn remade The Wicker Man in 2006 to devastating results. While the original holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the half-baked, pathetic remake maintains a strong 15% rating. If you ask me, that’s about fourteen percentages too generous. Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist. OK, great.

The Wicker Man is shrouded in mystery. Different versions of the film have floated around for years, the holy grail of which being an apparently 102-minute version that’s been lost for decades. A 99-minute director’s cut is the version upon which I base this review and the current standard. Perhaps one day we’ll all get to see the original 102-minute version. Then again, maybe one day we’ll all meet on Summerisle and have an orgy in the park. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The plot is simple and like any great story can be summed up in one sentence: A virgin police officer named Sergeant Howie travels to an island called Summerisle, populated by pagans, to investigate the kidnapping of a girl called Rowan. Weird ish goes down from the jump-off, when first no one on the island claims to have heard of Rowan, yet she has a mom, an empty grave, and a desk at the schoolhouse. Then, after being offended by all kinds of awesomely debauched pagan stuff—the aforementioned orgy in the park, the girl who must put a frog in her mouth, the umbilical cord on the tree—Sergeant Howie discovers a ritual human sacrifice is set to take place on May Day in order to bring back the island’s failed crops. After he’s presumably left the island, he dons a customary costume for the big day and (surprise!) it’s actually he who will burn in the wicker man on May Day.

Pagan Parade - The Wicker Man

This movie works for several reasons. The first is that it’s so straightforward. The viewer wonders, “No, this can’t be happening. Wait a tick, it is happening!” And then it happens. Bam! Roll credits. Its natural progression comes from writer Anthony Schaffer using as his source material the 1890 anthropological study by James Frazer called The Golden Bough. The annotated 1922 edition is worth picking up on Amazon. Within its hundreds of pages, Mr. Frazer describes the pagan rituals of tribes and communities from all over the planet, making his seminal work a grab-bag for weird human behavior. The point is, the rituals in The Wicker Man are real. Much like The Godfather is a compendium of mafia lore and stories, The Wicker Man is a smorgasbord of pagan fun. Oh, to go back to the days when people sang songs in circles on the solstice.

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Evil Movie Clowns Thu, 07 Jul 2011 14:15:45 +0000 Breakstudios Drought, famine, disease all pale compared to the scariest evil clowns from movies.

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Drought, famine, disease all pale compared to the scariest evil clowns from movies. These creatures walk the world freely without regulation, showing up at birthday parties and used car auctions and no one has risen up to stop this oncoming storm. Put your plans for the zombie apocalypse on hold and wake up to the very real threat of clown propaganda and infestation.



Easily one of the scariest evil clowns in fiction to this day, Pennywise wasn’t content to just kill children, he emanates fear and horror into others thereby stripping them of a normal life. Taking the horror up a notch, this clown also appeared as a giant spider that combined two phobias into one for the audience. Pennywise even affected the idea of drainage as many who have viewed the television movie It came to fear storm drains for a very long time if not still to this day. A clown that oozed menace and death with every word, Pennywise did more for clown loathing than any amount of balloon animals could wash away.


Captain Spaulding

Captain Spaulding smiling

Give Rob Zombie some serious dues as he created a clown and an environment in House of 1000 Corpses that feels real to anyone who has taken a long road trip through rural areas. Captain Spaulding takes any and all horrors as just another part of reality and then mixes in logic and a dark intelligence to the recipe of his personality. His delight in all atrocities magnifies the fear throughout the movie thus adding to the importance of his role.


Shakes the Clown

Shakes being restrained by clown

Bobcat Goldthwait is an alcoholic clown with serious depression in Shakes the Clown, and if that doesn’t terrify you then you have probably never needed a night light in your life. Sure he isn’t running around covered in blood, but a sad clown is twice as scary and evil as a happy clown. Add in a murder and the tribal mentality of performers like mimes and you have a movie that speaks of a hidden culture out beyond your door. The exact door you’re now thinking about buying new dead bolts for.


The Joker

The Joker holding the joker

A psychopath with a sense of humor, albeit a twisted sense of humor, just needs a clown visage to be truly terrifying and that’s what you get in The Dark Knight with the Joker. With a panache and talent for bloody mayhem that propels him into the category of  evil clowns, the Joker keeps his enemies and his allies on their toes as there is no understanding of what will set him off next. Heath Ledger took the Joker to new heights with his portrayal of the mania behind the unwavering smile and brought a new generation into the clown fearing fold.


Pogo the Clown

Pogo the Clown waving

With the large majority of evil clowns safely locked away behind the screen, Gacy shows that there’s plenty to fear from clowns in reality as well. A true beast in every sense of the world, Gacy’s penchant for performing as a clown makes for one of the scariest evil clowns that humanity has ever known. A solid lesson that it’s the man and not the makeup that hides the monster.

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Scare the Bra Off Of Them Wed, 06 Jul 2011 04:51:00 +0000 Breakstudios Choosing scary monster movies to watch with girls is not only the perfect Saturday night activity, it's also the perfect way to covertly put her in the mood.

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Choosing scary monster movies to watch with girls is not only the perfect Saturday night activity, it’s also the perfect way to covertly put her in the mood without having to soil your HD flat screen with some sort of sensitive thinking person’s movie.  If you’ve ever watched a scary movie with a girl in your life, you know you can expect your lady (or ladies) to inch closer and cling tighter as the fear builds. If you’re lucky, you’ll have her in your lap by the time the movie ends, while having seen some darn good effects in the process.



Rob and Beth talking to the camcorder

A perfect blend of two parts monster madness and one part sappy romance, Cloverfield‘s plot revolves around a massive creature of unknown origin as it ravages downtown New York. Instead of evacuating, a young man goes to rescue an ex-girlfriend with the help of some friends. Being a hero at heart he goes back knowing full well the monster still lurks the area. A word of caution, the director went with the “shaky cam” style of filmmaking—one or both of you may end up puking, unless you have a stash of Dramamine on hand.



Alien stuck to crew member's face

A spacecraft lands on a distant, unexplored planet to answer a distress beacon after which an alien creature boards their ship. While some may consider this to be a little too “old-school”, it still delivers the chills even if you have already seen it a few times. The H.R. Giger-designed alien is frightening enough, but most of the scares are delivered through Ridley Scott‘s masterful use of mood and atmosphere. Even if it is the “oldest” film on this list, Alien set the bar so high when it was release in the late ’70s that horror flicks today, in all their CG glory, still struggle to match its quality.


28 Days Later

Zombie on fire chasing Cillian Murphy

Most think 28 Days Later is a zombie-type flick. The truth is, the “zombies” are actually still alive, having been transformed into monstrous, bloodthirsty savages by a strange virus. The creatures roam the streets of England hunting down the few survivors who remain in the country. 28 Days Later is so frightening and so disturbing that there is a strong possibility it will be you that ends up inching towards your girlfriend as you watch in fear.


The Mist

From the mind of Stephen King, The Mist features a plethora of monsters that all but guarantees to give you and your girlfriend some major goosebumps. A handful of civilians are trapped in a local grocery store as a strange mist engulfs their entire town. The mist not only clouds the area it covers, it is also home to an unknown number of fiendish monsters. You may have to watch this movie at least once before watching it with a lady friend just so you know what to expect. The last thing you want to do is scream like a little girl in front of her.


Dog Soldiers

Werewolf in the woods in Dog Soldier

Last but not least is the 2002 British release, Dog Soldiers. A squad of special forces are training in the Scottish Highlands when they find the remains of another group of soldiers who had trained in the area. The troops then go into battle mode only to find that their adversaries are not men but werewolves. The movie does start slow but by the 30 minute mark, you and your girlfriend will be clinging to each other in mutual fear…which will hopefully lead to some other mutual activities.

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