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What We Do in the Shadows (2014) R

whatwedoA "mockumentary" about (very) old-fashioned vampires living in a modern world. Fans of HBO's Flight of the Conchords (which also stars Jemaine Clement) will love the similarly understated, dry humor of the film. Equally satirical of pop culture's current love affair with the undead and our obsession with reality television at the expense of our privacy, What We Do in the Shadows has the making of a cult classic.

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood (2004)

ghostwriterA young Australian boy searches out the mysterious past of his mother in postwar England based on the clues revealed in the ghost stories composed by his great-grandmother. A few of the ghost stories are included, and it becomes increasingly hard to discern if art is following life, or life is following art in John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (2011)

index.aspxKendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood is THE dark, twisted romance story for fans of the television show Supernatural. I appreciated gruesome moments that made me both throw up in my mouth and say “aww” at the same time.

The Uninvited (1944)

uninvitedRoderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) move to a house on the English coast. Young Stella (Gail Russell), who was born in the house, can't enter it without being terrorized by a malevolent ghostly presence. As Roderick and Pamela become more determined to uncover the secrets of Stella's past (as Roderick finds himself falling for her), the ghostly apparitions intensify, culminating in one terrifying night. Roderick, a composer, plays the movie's theme, the haunting "Stella by Starlight." The Uninvited is a good old-fashioned ghost story.

The Dead Zone (1983) R

This 1983 film is described as a horror film and in some ways it is, but it is very difficult to slap a label on this film. To be truthful, many hardcore horror film fans probably wouldn’t like it. If asked, I could not give a one or two word description of this film. The Dead Zone is sort of a time travel movie, it’s a love story, and a tragedy, but it also a story of redemption and a story of hope.

Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is a young teacher very much in love with fellow teacher Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams), who is very much in love with Johnny. While coming home from a date, Johnny gets into a horrific car accident. He goes into a coma and when he awakes, he finds he has lost five years. He is physically disabled in that he has very limited walking abilities, and he finds that Sarah has married and has a son. As crushing to his spirit as this is, he soon finds that he has undergone another dramatic change. He finds that when he holds a person’s hand, he can see a part of either that person’s past or their future.

Walken gives a great performance. There is a haunting melody that plays off and on through the movie and for its time, there are some great special effects. The film is an adaption of Stephen King’s novel The Dead Zone. Many people have described this movie as the best adaption of a King novel and I agree. If you have never seen the film or read the book, I suggest you do both.

Hyde by Daniel Levine (2014)

In this novel based on Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde seizes control. Though Hyde’s ramblings on the dark streets of Victorian London are often told with brutal detail, the novel takes an intriguing concept and tells an intelligent tale. The boundaries between good and evil are blurred and a dark and brooding re-imagined story emerges.

This retelling is a richly detailed and engrossing portrait of Stevenson’s characters, but Daniel Levine’s Hyde is not the first novel to re-spin Stevenson’s original. Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin told the tale from the point-of-view of Jekyll’s household maid.

The Awakening (2011) R

This supernatural thriller is set in London, 1921. Florence Cathcart is a published author on supernatural hoaxes who works with the police to expose the frauds and charlatans claiming they could contact the “other side.”

She is approached by Robert Malory, a boarding school teacher, to investigate the death of a student and to determine if it was related to seeing a ghost. She travels to the school and at first thinks the ghostly sightings are a prank played by the boys at the school. But as she continues her investigation, science fails to give her answers to the unexplainable supernatural events that manifest and entrap her. Rebecca Hall, Imelda Staunton, and Dominic West star in The Awakening, a delight of a horror story!

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (1948)

This eerie short story will make you question your faith in any long standing traditions. The whole town has gathered for the annual lottery, but no one seems too happy about it. There is a general uneasiness about the crowd which Jackson masterfully cultivates until the final shocking moment. You will never look at your neighbors the same again. Check out The Lottery today.

The Walking Dead Compendium One by Robert Kirkman, et al. (2009)

Clocking in at over one thousand pages, The Walking Dead Compendium One includes the first eight volumes of the Eisner Award-winning comic and a six-page Christmas special (which, when you remember this is a series about a zombie apocalypse, should give you a good indication of exactly how uplifting and Christmassy it is), and is about as heavy as a small bag of bricks. When comic books are collected into omnibus editions like this, they can be a bit daunting at first glance – but once you realize that eight volumes means 48 issues, you'll remember that you are actually holding four years' worth of stories in your hands.

The Walking Dead (and authors Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard) is deeply indebted to the zombie genre pioneered by George A. Romero in his original Dead Trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead). Die-hard (pun intended) zombie fans may notice some subtle thematic nods to Romero and others' films in the comic, but for the most part, it's a story all on its own. There are touching moments, there are funny moments, and there are horrific moments – but that's life, even without a zombie plague.

At the heart of all zombie stories is a reflection of ourselves, at our worst and at our best, the consumerism in us and the heroic in us, and in that, The Walking Dead is a successful addition to this genre.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is listed as one of the top ten sci-fi films of all time by the American Film Institute. It is probably my personal favorite sci-fi film and far superior to the subsequent remakes. And this is despite the fact that the special effects are very limited and there is very little action.

So what makes this film so special? It's the story, the acting, the musical score, and
perhaps the cinematography. And it contains maybe one of the scariest scenes you'll ever see in a film that does not involve a monster, a slashing knife, or something that jumps out at you.

And a word of warning, you may have trouble sleeping after you see this film, but if
you haven't seen this film, you should. Also, just before you do go to bed, you might
want to check your basement, under your bed, in your car, and any other place in or
around your home where a body might be waiting.

The Haunting (1999) PG-13

The Haunting, starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and, Lili Taylor, is a combination of horror, fantasy and mystery. Three people are lured into participating into an insomnia experiment but what is actually an experiment in fear. The experiment takes place in a creepy mansion. However, not even the professor conducting the experiment knows that the house is haunted.

It’s a fun movie. It is scary in the traditional sense, the mansion is spectacularly
creepy, the special effects are wonderful, and there is a mystery to be solved. I have noted there is a lot of criticism of this movie because it is unlike the 1963 film. In the 1963 movie you don't actually see the ghosts and critics of the 1999 film say the 1963 film is better because you have to rely on your imagination. However that is only true if you don't like the way the director of the 1999 film imagined the ghosts andother effects which are much more visual. Others criticized the acting with the exception of Lili Taylor's performance. Taylor gives the best performance, Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones are good. I would have to say I would have preferred someone else in the Owen Wilson role, either someone more handsome or more sinister and perhaps even changed the character.

If you have not seen either version, I suggest you see the 1963 film first and then see 1999 film and make up your own mind. (Also if you are squeamish about blood, you may wish to close your eyes or fast forward a few minutes when the piano wires begin to undo themselves.)
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Diary of a Madman

Diary of a Madman (1963)
The DVD cover of this film describes it as "the most terrifying motion picture ever created." While it's true that this film starred Vincent Price at the time of his reign as king of the horror pictures, I could name several motion pictures which were scarier. Nevertheless if you watch the film late at night, with the lights out and the sound up, the
film will give you a bit of a fright.

In 19th century France, Magistrate Simon Cordier (Price) sentences a man to death for committing several murders. The murderer claims that he did not recall the murders and that he is possessed by an evil being called the "Horla." While speaking with the magistrate, the murderer suddenly becomes demented and attacks him. During the struggle, the murderer dies. A short time after this, the horla begins visiting the magistrate.

The horla is an interesting monster. He is invisible, physically quite strong, has the ability to read minds, and can bend the will of his victims. And usually, the Horla wants his victims to kill others.

Nancy Kovack plays the female lead in this film. She appeared mostly on television shows in the 1960s and 70s. Her biggest movie role was in Jason and the Argonauts as Medea. In Diary of a Madman, she plays Odette, a schemer married to a promising but poor artist. Odette wishes to advance her station and pursues the magistrate.

Vincent Price gives a very admirable performance. He is much more restrained in this role than in many of the other films he made at this time, and I felt great empathy for him and found myself rooting for him to defeat his powerful foe.

The photography in this film is beautiful. In addition to the rich color, I loved the sets and the costumes. I recommend this film, which is new to our collection.
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The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed (1956)
The Oscar-nominated movie is based on the book and the play with the same title. It follows both fairly closely with the exception of the ending. Most of the actors were performers in the play before doing the movie. I won't describe the plot at all because the movie is much more enjoyable if you don't know what's going to happen – don’t even read the back cover.

Don't be put off by our description of the film as a "horror film." You won't find any monsters or vampires or witches or even the devil in this movie. You won't even see a drop of blood. What you will see is some great acting, a film that will make you cry and make you laugh, some very suspenseful moments, and a very unusual ending.

Although Henry Jones did not get an Oscar nomination, he plays one of the most memorable characters I have ever seen and he has some of the most memorable lines. 10-year-old Patty McCormack gives a brilliant performance. In fact, all of the actors (including Nancy Kelly, Evelyn Varden, and Eileen Heckart) give wonderful performances.

If you haven't seen this film before, do so; and if you can, watch it with someone else as the story is a very thought-provoking as well as entertaining.

Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow (1999) R
This Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci borrows characters and the setting from Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but otherwise bears no resemblance to the story. Although I am usually unhappy when Hollywood drastically alters a classic, I was happily surprised with this film.

Depp plays Ichabod Crane, a New York City police detective rather than Irving’s schoolmaster. The time is 1799. Crane is despised by the New York authorities because he uses scientific methods to solve crimes as opposed to the old-fashioned methods of beatings and torture. To get him out of their hair, he is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate three grisly murders. All of the victims have been decapitated.

The film is very atmospheric and you get the feeling of gloom that sets in during the late fall after all the leaves have fallen from the trees, the days are short and dark, and winter will soon arrive. The Oscar nomination for best cinematography is well earned.

Sleepy Hollow is not for young children or sensitive viewers as there is a lot of blood and gore, but everyone else should enjoy this film – especially if viewed in late October or early November and of course at night.

Jennifer’s Body

Jennifer’s Body (2009) R
After winning an Oscar for writing Juno, Diablo Cody enters the horror genre with her take on high school for those old enough to watch this R-rated comedic bloodfest. The ending doesn’t disappoint. Jennifer is “the body” that also wowed you in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Megan Fox). Also starring Amanda Seyfried and Adam Brody.

Check out reviews by Roger Ebert, in The Washington Post, and in TIME Magazine.