Five years ago today I decided to start watching a horror movie a day, an action I put capital letters on a few weeks later and began the site you might be vaguely familiar with today. Once I started writing reviews I made up a few “rules” of sorts – movies had to be new or seen so long ago that I couldn’t remember them, the movie had to start between 12:01 am and 11:59 pm each day, etc. Those are pretty damn firm; I swear on my father’s grave that I’ve only broken the 2nd rule once (Feb 16th, 2007), and never on the other (since my memory sucks it’s not so hard – I’ve already forgotten most of the movies I watched that first year). But there’s one rule I break on a case by case basis, and that is the one about unreleased movies.
See, when I started the site (HMAD from here on out), the main goal was not to write traditional reviews per se, but to use a few talking points as a means of kicking off an online version of my favorite part about watching a horror movie: talking about it afterward. Without the site, I’d probably be bugging my fellow writers more often than I already do, because there’s something about even a bland horror movie that can lead to some fun discussion, even if it all just boils down to “that head squeeze was hilarious." When I saw the midnight movies at the New Beverly, even if it was cold and my contact lenses were starting to get all gooey, I’d still stand around at 2 am and chat about the flick with some folks – many of them strangers – under the marquee outside. Thus, I was hoping to capture that fun with folks who may also enjoy talking about the newest DTV Saw wannabe, but weren’t able to do so in real life (because, if you’re like me, most of your friends have better things to do than watch DTV Saw wannabes).
Well, in order to do that, the movies have to be out there. Thus, I tried to keep it to just commercially released movies that were available through legitimate means, because it’s kind of hard to talk about a movie that hasn’t been shown to the public at large. But a few were just too tempting to pass up, and thus I’ve made exceptions via “screeners” over the years. Normally I don’t like watching screeners even just for the hell of it – watermarks and poor compression are the devil as far as I’m concerned. But also I’d like to hold out hope that eventually every movie would get a screening somewhere, and (as long as it’s projected properly) that is the best way to watch a movie, and thus I don’t want to ruin that “first time” experience with some crappy screener.
That said, even some of those theatrical showings are from festivals, where the movies are often still seeking distribution. It’s always a bit weird to me when I see a press release about an upcoming DVD release for a movie that I saw at Screamfest years before, but it’s still better than the sadness I feel for a movie that hasn’t even gotten that far.
So, to celebrate five years of daily watching, I will list the five best movies I’ve watched over the years that have still gone unreleased in the US, in the hopes that I can pull this article up a year from now and laugh at how “dated” it is. Some of them have been released in the UK or whatever, but I think it’s time we ALL got to talk about these movies.
1. ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (reviewed March of 2007)
I keep thinking that if any of Amber Heard’s post-Mandy leading roles are a big enough hit that whoever is currently holding the US rights to this “alt-slasher” flick will capitalize on it by finally using some common sense and doing everything in their power to release it to a hungry audience. But sadly, for one reason or another, nothing that gives her a big showcase (Playboy Club, Drive Angry, And Soon The Darkness) makes much of an impact, which probably doesn’t help this movie’s commercial prospects after such a lengthy delay. A screening at Comic Con in 2010 seemed to suggest things were finally looking up, but no real movement has been made since.
And it’s a shame, because the movie is quite good. I’ve seen a few other attempts at “indie drama/slasher” in the years since (most recently Entrance), but Mandy Lane delivers the body count the slasher fans demand without ever resorting to the generic, cookie-cutter thrills of “modern” slasher movies (i.e. almost all of the ones that came along after Scream). It won’t be for everyone, certainly (the ending seems to be a big red flag for some fans who have gotten sick of waiting and imported a DVD from a country where it’s been released legally), but any true slasher fan will have to appreciate the fact that it sticks out from the pack, mostly for the better.
2. THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (reviewed September 2007)
Here’s another head-scratcher – is there any sub-genre in horror that is hotter right now than “found footage”? While some of the acting is bad and the attempts at making the footage look “dirty” are far too overzealous (for a guy who films everything – why is his camera so shitty?), it’s STILL a unique entry in the genre even after five years of other films stealing its once obscure format. Hell, I think this was the first movie I tagged with the “mockumentary” tag on HMAD, as I saw it even before I saw Paranormal Activity at its first screening, two years before Paramount released it. Unlike Cloverfield or Devil Inside, the footage here isn’t “found” – it takes the shape of an actual documentary about a serial killer who filmed his activities. In addition to some decent plot twists (a certain real world tragedy plays a wonderfully weird role in one), it also contains one of the all-time creepiest scenes in the sub-genre, as the mother of one of the victims slowly realizes that the man she is talking to is in fact her daughter’s killer.
As far as I know, cash starved MGM is still holding on to this one, though what they plan to do with it at this point is anyone’s guess. Unlike Mandy Lane it still hasn’t even been released on DVD in other countries; a few public screenings (including a disastrous one at Butt-Numb-a-Thon where they tried to convince everyone it was a real documentary) has been pretty much it. Ironically, this movie actually has one of the lengthiest talkbacks in HMAD history, however, as two or more “anonymous” (read: folks involved with the movie in some way) readers trying to drum up interest kept posting links to the “real” story and debating over the film’s merit in depicting the facts properly. I eventually told them that I wouldn’t post any more of their comments (all HMAD comments have to be approved so I can be sure to read them) until the movie was released. Needless to say, they haven’t been back since. I almost miss them – at least then I knew that someone was TRYING to keep this movie afloat.
3. THE REVENANT (Reviewed October 2009)
The saddest thing about this movie is that I saw it on the same day as The Canyon, a woefully idiotic survival thriller that hit DVD less than a year later. Meanwhile, the funny, offbeat, and (maybe overlong but) largely original horror comedy The Revenant has languished in limbo for over two years. Granted, horror comedies are tough sells, but at the same time Zombieland was kicking all sorts of ass at the box office, so that theory doesn’t really hold. At any rate, there is SOME good news for this one – Arc Entertainment picked it up last November and plan to release it “sometime in 2012." Of course, MGM has given specific release dates for Poughkeepsie (posters were up in theater lobbies at one point) and we know how much that means. Hopefully they’ll stay true to their word and get it into your hands in the next 11 months – you’ve waited long enough for this fun hybrid of vampire and zombie movie.
4. BEDEVILLED (Reviewed August 2010)
I had to go all the way to England to see this one! Kidding. One of my favorite experiences in the past few years has definitely been going across the pond (and out of the continent for the first time ever) to UK’s Frightfest in August of 2010, where I was finally able to see a movie I had worked on (Hatchet II) and meet the bulk of my readership, apparently – more people told me they read the site in five days over there than they have in five years here.
Like any festival, the lineup was hit or miss, but one standout was Bedevilled, a Korean revenge/horror film that is unlike most Korean horror films that I’ve seen in that it’s a) very much a slow burn and b) totally coherent. Taking place mainly on an island where women are marginalized and basically treated like shit, one woman finally has enough after a tragic accident involving a loved one, at which point she basically becomes Jason Voorhees. It’s a great blend of tragic drama and thrilling horror flick, and fairly suitable for a regular audience, which makes me wonder why I haven’t heard a peep about US distribution. It’s certainly more “commercial” (for a lack of a better word) than I Saw The Devil or Tale Of Two Sisters amongst the K-horror films I’ve seen, and those were given high profile releases here (and a remake, in the latter’s case). Luckily this one wasn’t THAT long ago; I would be very surprised if it still wasn’t set for Stateside release by the end of 2012 (I believe it has been released in a few other countries, however).
5. F (Reviewed August 2010)
Same festival, same result. F basically takes the “students vs. teachers” motif of 187 or The Principal (!) and presents it as a slasher flick, as a group of hoodie-wearing students lock a motley group of teachers and students in their school and pick them off one by one, with an alcoholic ex-teacher (a terrific David Schofield) being their primary target. Unfortunately, this British flick is possibly the hardest sell on this list because the US has a bigger real life problem with students killing people in schools than other countries, and thus making “entertainment” out of this sort of situation might be too questionable an endeavor for the likes of Lionsgate or “Dimension Extreme.” It also has the most obnoxious title in movies since 9, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a title change was part of whatever eventual deal brings it to the States.
Oddly that same day I saw a movie called The Tortured, which was laughably bad but the exact sort of thing that should be an easy sell here: some recognizable actors (including genre vet Bill Moseley), some of the Saw producers, and a bunch of obnoxious torture scenes instead of anything that one could consider scary or suspenseful. But that’s still sitting on someone’s shelf somewhere, where it belongs.
Hopefully the new year brings good news for some or all of these flicks. Even if you aren’t a fan (interesting that nearly all of them have had polarized “love or hate” type responses), one thing that they all have in common is that they are original properties, which are always welcome in a genre beleaguered by sequels and remakes. And even looking past the genre, we’re in an age where movies tend to suck because their release dates and MPAA ratings were set in stone before a script was written (if one ever actually was), and yet here are some good movies that are already shot and edited that can’t seem to (legally!) find their way out there. Something’s broken, I think.
Anyway, I’d say “here’s to another 5 years!” or something but I already announced an end date for the site (roughly April of 2013, or 2500 movies). So let’s just hope I don’t ever have the need to add to this list and leave it at that.