Fallen: Underrated Horror at its Finest

When a list of great modern horror films is made the 1998 supernatural thriller Fallen never seems to make the cut.  This is a serious shame because Fallen has a sophistication and concept lacking in most modern horror films.

Starring Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, and with a terrific cameo by Elias Koteas, Fallen tells the tale of detective John Hobbes.  Its introduction follows one of Akira Kurosawa’s best pieces of advice.  Kurosawa once stated that all samurai movies start the same, a rider gallops up to a watchtower and shouts a greeting and a guard in the tower shouts back; a scene immediately followed by set up dialogue.  Kurosawa said to add dynamism, he wanted to start at the guard’s response.  Immediately immersing the audience in the world and story.  Fallen does this wonderfully.  As the film begins we see Hobbes (Washington) speaking with a serial killer he has caught, Edgar Reese (Koteas) on the day of his execution.  Reese makes statements, speaks unusual languages, and seems surprisingly cocky for a man about to meet his end.  All while terrific moody narration from Washington enhances the scene.

Koteas is terrific as Reese
Koteas is terrific as Reese

It all sounds like typical police procedural story telling until Reese is executed and we see in first person POV his spirit leave the dead body and take residence in a new one…setting up the true narrative, a demon, Azazel, that can possess bodies via touch, continuing his murderous ways.

As the narrative continues we follow Hobbes as elements from the Reese case begin to appear in new cases, and he pieces together than there is something going on beyond just a normal crime.

The film is absolutely filled with amazing performances and memorable scenes.  Washington and Goodman as terrific as always, truly selling their decades long partnership effortlessly.  Hobbes’ brother and nephew bring additional dimensions to the character and further explain without boring exposition why Azazel’s selected Hobbes as a target.

Washington and Goodman both bring their A game to this movie and are 100% believable as long-time police partners.
Washington and Goodman both bring their A game to this movie and are 100% believable as long-time police partners.

Azazel’s string of victims is also impressive, as each pick up the mannerisms exhibited by Koteas in the opening scene, always being believable as the same character inhabiting different bodies.  Not only is the character always the same, but each one of his victims sings or whistles The Rolling Stones’ “Time is on My Side,” a perfect song given ominous subtext by the crafty demon.

My favorite scene involves the character Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz) is being stalked by Azazel.  She flees through a crowd and Azazel chases her by touching successive members of the crowd each one closer and closer to her.  It’s a tense and extremely creative chase scene.

The ending also has a legitimate twist.  Not an M. Night Shayamalan twist, but a legitimate one that you is wonderfully executed (except for one piece of early narration that doesn’t quite fit).  I won’t spoil it here but it alone makes the film worth watching.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Fallen, especially during the Halloween season.  Watching it now you can see where subsequent films and TV shows took some of their ideas (Supernatual’s entire founding story is very similar to Fallen with the demon even sharing the same name)  It’s not your typical dumb slasher movie and at times runs a bit slow, but the care it took to craft its world and story is remarkable and it is by far one of the best supernatural thrillers I’ve seen.

From Dusk Till Dawn Puts the Bite Back in Vamps

Photo: IMP Awards
Photo: IMP Awards

Some wouldn’t consider From Dusk Till Dawn a horror movie, but I’m not one of them. IMDB has it listed as “action, crime, fantasy,” which makes it sound like a mob movie with dragons. However, From Dusk Till Dawn contains several horror movie elements, and some scenes are quite scary.

The movie ranks pretty high in my favorite vampire movies list. It premiered in an era with so many awesome movies, known as the 90s, when other vampire movies were celebrating the beauty and sexiness of the vamp culture. Think Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Interview With a Vampire (1994). However, From Dusk Till Dawn brings the monster element back. Let’s dig in. (Contains spoilers.)

Quentin Tarantino’s Character

I love Tarantino movies, so the fact that he co-wrote and co-stared in From Dusk Till Dawn automatically wins in my book. But what makes this so special is his character, a horrifying human being with no soul.

Tarantino (Richie) and his brother (Seth), played by George Clooney, seek refuge in Mexico after committing a violent crime and take several hostages in the process.

From the opening scene, you realize Richie is insane and possibly a psychopath. He is paranoid, has no problem killing, and leers at every woman who crosses his path. And not in the ‘I hate women’ way but in the ‘I’m going to rape and kill you way’. You realize if his brother wasn’t supervising, Richie would be one of the most dangerous serial killers in the world.

I love this element because as you watch the movie, you never feel safe. You actually fear for poor Juliette Lewis (Kate) because you know they are one bathroom break away from a disaster. Tarantino plays a creepy murdering/rapist so well, he absolutely steals the spotlight from Clooney and Harvey Keitel and makes the audience very nervous through the first half of the movie.


Killers and crime aside, From Dusk Till Dawn is at its core a vampire movie. The group eventually makes it to Mexico and stops at late-night bar that’s rowdy and packed … packed full of vampires.

At first watch, you’re not sure where the movie is going because you know it’s not going to be that easy. Once they arrive, the audience can sit back, enjoy the music, get into the party atmosphere, and get lost in a very seductive dance by Salma Hayek. And then all hell breaks loose.

When the people change, these vamps are anything but pretty. They are vicious monsters that hunt and kill, and when it all goes down, you know they have been here a long, long time. I also enjoy that the audience can clearly see how Rodriguez and Tarantino pay homage to the lore and look of vampires. These monsters come in all shapes and sizes, and resemble bats, wolves, and zombies, all honoring some of the best things about the genre, makeup and costumes. Some are scary, some are funny, some are gross, and they all know how to do gore.

Scare Factor

Is From Dusk Till Dawn scary? Maybe to some. If being isolated in the Mexico desert with robbers, killers and vampires scares you, then yes. Vampire movies don’t scare me, but I find them very entertaining and they are some of my favorite horror movies to rewatch.

From Dusk Till Dawn is different because it’s also action-packed and funny (if you like Rodriguez and Tarantino humor) and makes sure the audience has a good time. You won’t have long intimate conversations about the vampire curse or romantic love twists. From Dusk Till Dawn keeps your heart racing and your tickle bone happy.

Haunted Houses: How to Correctly Bring the Scary Back

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street at 6 years old cured me of fear.  I simply don’t scare now.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good scary movie or haunted house attraction.

I’ve been to a fair few haunted houses and, while there weren’t any I didn’t enjoy, the elements that each got right still stick in my head.  I thought I’d share what I think are the best elements of haunted house attractions and what can be improved.

Waverly Hills does a Haunted House every year.  Perfect location.
Waverly Hills does a Haunted House every year. Perfect location.
  • Atmosphere: The best element of the most effective haunted houses is the atmosphere. Nothing takes me out of a good horror experience than something that doesn’t fit.  A lot of haunted houses either have a theme or have various themes; so you either go to a “haunted factory” or go to a big building that has sections, each with its own theme.  Either can work as long as they stay artistically cohesive.  Your spooky clowns shouldn’t be wandering around your industrial buildings and you’re the Ring inspired escaped mental patients shouldn’t lurk in the Frankenstein castle set.  Likewise the best haunted houses make excellent use of props and setting.  Sometimes the best part of the experience is seeing the environments they’ve put together.  I’ve seen great cemeteries, houses, and even car wrecks in good haunted houses.  When these elements combine it creates a memorable event.
Making non-standard, unexpected characters adds a lot to the scariness.  Familiarity is anti-horror.
Making non-standard, unexpected characters adds a lot to the scariness. Familiarity is anti-horror.
  • Characters: I’m not referring here to just famous horror characters, though that can be an element. This refers more making the best use of your performers.  Don’t overdo it on lurching zombies and chainsaw guys.  We’ve all seen the guy without a chain on the chainsaw coming after us, so how do you make it different?  One of the best I’ve seen is a “stalker” where the “same” chainsaw character (likely played by different people but all similar and representing the same character) randomly reappeared throughout the maze, sometimes in front of us blocking out path, sometimes breaking through walls, sometimes behind us.  It was like being hunted by Nemesis from Resident Evil 3.  He could be anywhere, it kept us on our toes and we never knew where he would come from.  Also see above concerning where your characters fit.  Your Freddy Kreuger really should be in the right place, so should your Michael Meyers.  Understanding the best use of each character you have really goes a long way…

  • Lighting: Ok this is an important one. Don’t make the entire place one color, one brightness, and one mood of lighting.  Going from bright areas to super dark areas is unsettling.  Or having a well-lit hallway with sharply dark alcoves or ending in a pitch black tunnel build suspense.  See what effective lighting techniques are used in movies and even great horror games.  When everything is the same level of dark your eyes adjust and the spookiness loses its effect the longer your there.  Also the more realistic the lighting is for the place your in (having a school hallway lit like a school hallway) is far more immersive.  And here’s a big one…  Strobe lights people.  Ok strobe lights can be very scary.  One of the scariest images I’ve witnessed was a horror trailers in Las Vegas as a kid.  The strobe was perfect.  Just choosing the epileptic seizure setting doesn’t usually work.  Having it set to flash slowly, so characters seem to disappear and appear close to you like a movie missing frames is the best use of strobes.  There’s a reason this imagery became so prevalent in films!
  • Choreography: This ties closely with characters but it is just as much about the design of the rooms and events.  Mediocre haunted houses have people in makeup standing in corners jumping out saying “boo!” from each dark corner as you pass by.  They aren’t so much scary as pestering.  Arranging performers for maximum effectiveness is something to really consider.  Some great positioning recommendations: having a narrow grate bridge in a long cylindrical room with a single character blocking the way; going through a ceiling so low you have to crouch and finding characters meandering in front of you and turn to find more stalking up behind you, being surrounded is deeply unsettling; my friend Mike saw a child performer portraying a cut-in-half adult dragging himself toward the guests, no matter what that’s creepy!  Remember there’s more to scaring than jump scares.  Use the entire range of fear (claustrophobia, the unknown, tension, sound) to make a memorable series of set pieces.
Ruby Falls Haunted Cavern is terrific.  A great use of environment to create a unique haunted house.
Ruby Falls Haunted Cavern is terrific. A great use of environment to create a unique haunted house.
  • Creativity: I can’t stress this one enough. Don’t just set up free-standing drywall, throw some farm tools on it, and have people in Goodwill clothes jump out.  What is unique about your location?  One of the best I attended was in a cave; another was in an abandoned school. Do you have any specialist performers who can do interesting things?  Is there something prevalent in horror pop culture right now?  What are the trends in horror movies and horror culture?  Can you put your own creative spin on them or even do something completely different to set yourself apart from the pack.  If everyone is doing zombies…maybe more zombies aren’t such a good idea.

I love haunted houses and a great attraction will be something guests will remember for years.  The more quality haunted houses there are the better a Halloween season it is!




halloween night fun decoration

Let’s Put the Fun Back in Halloween

Many adults I know have outgrown Halloween. They don’t dress up, decorate, do anything festive, etc. It’s supposed to be the scariest and, for people like me, the most fun holiday of the year. It’s the only time of year we can be anything we want and embrace the spooky side of things without looking like a freak.

What’s caused this lack of interest and participation? Who knows. But I refuse to let it bust my Halloween bubble. So let’s put the fun back in the holiday!

Decorate A Little or A Lot

I was delighted to see Halloween decorations in stores in early September this year. I don’t put up a lot, but what I do has purpose. My dining room table has a back lace runner and purple placemats. I have purple gothy lights over the patio doors (inside), Halloween-themed pictures on the walls, and every window and bathroom mirror has Halloween glass stickers. I keep my decorations confined to a couple of rooms for easy clean-up and to keep it simple.

This year I decorated in early September because why not? I dedicated space to Christmas for two months a year, so Halloween deserves the same treatment. Also, the decorations are an easy way to mix things up and break the monotony of everyday living.

Watch New Things

Most of us have seen the classic horror movies, but try mixing it up some. There are several good TV shows out there now. We suggest Stranger Things (recent), Harper’s Island (2009 and on Prime/Netflix), and Are You Afraid of the Dark? (volume 1 is $3 bucks right now on Prime). If you haven’t seen any of those, that’s more than 10 hours of festive TV. I’ll also recommend the Halloween TV episodes/cartoons from the 80s and 90s, such as Roseanne, Home Improvement, Spongebob, and older Disney TV movies like Halloweentown. Not everything has to be blood, killing, torture and guts.

Side note: YouTube also has a large selection of fun videos if you’re short on time. A personal favorite of ours is Cinamasscre’s Monster Madness, which reviews a movie a day throughout October. This year marks the 10th anniversary and final season, so don’t miss out on the spooky fun.

halloween fun shirt

Show Your Spirit

Costumes can be a lot of fun because they allow you to transform into anything you dream. Some of my most creative costumes came from the opportunity to dress-up at work, so if you have that option, go for it!

If you don’t (eg: those who work from home or have strict dress codes), you can still show your Halloween spirit. All you have to do is wear some type of Halloween attire. I picked up the one above at a comic con, but there are tons more out there. When I wear this shirt, people know I’m in the Halloween spirit.

Try Something Artistic

I enjoy carving pumpkins, but it’s really time consuming and messy. This year, I decided to paint them, which is much easier and something everyone can do. It’s safer for kids and those accident prone (me), and it doesn’t take any real skill. You can paint it all black. You can paint anything you want on them. And they’ll last a long time.

This year, I also bought a Halloween adult coloring book. I haven’t colored a Halloween scene since I was a young child, so this was surprisingly refreshing. The first time I sat down with the book, I felt 20 years younger. There are tons of books out there, but I recommend this Halloween book based on quality, price and reviews.

Have Fun

The most important thing to remember is to have fun. Halloween is the last holiday before the insanity of “the holidays” begins. There’s no shopping, no crowds, and people are normal grumpy, not full on evil. Do things that make you happy, and try new things. No one is ever to old to have fun!

And remember this is the only time of year when the veil is lifted between the living and the dead …

Feel free to share how you celebrate in the comments, and Happy Halloween season!

The Strange Brilliance of Stranger Things

Stranger Things was sold to me inaccurately.  I came to the show very late (I just watched it last week) but I was told by multiple parties “If you love 80s horror you’ll love this show!”  That couldn’t be less accurate.  A more true statement would be “If you love the 80s AND love horror you’ll love this show!”  I do love both and, like everyone else who has seen it, I love this show.  At its core it’s just a story about a missing boy, but surrounded by excellent high-concept storytelling that takes it to the next level.  It’s part Goonies, a little X-Files, some Monster Squad, with a bit of Twin Peaks thrown in for good measure.

So what makes this series another spectacular notch on Netflix’s already festooned original content belt?

  • Characters: it always comes down to characters. You can hang the simplest story on phenomenal characters and make something special (Star Wars anyone?), but a complex epic story is just white noise if the characters are flat and useless (looking at you Jupiter Ascending).  And this is where Stranger Things gets it all right every time.  A dorky science teacher is 100% accurate, but science dork isn’t ALL he is (he knows DnD, he helps with a search, he’s on a date).  Surly Chief Hopper has a reason to be surly, but he also has backstory with other characters (that’s rumored and speculated and nothing more) and also an obvious reason to be obsessed with the disappearance of Will Beyers.  Even the characters on the periphery have deep characters built up, like Steve the would-be boyfriend.  He’s not Johnny from Karate Kid who’s just kind of a jerk to be a jerk. Steve has good qualities and his character arc isn’t what you expect it to be.  The same is true for Nancy and Jonathan, who have realistic and believable character arcs.  The show is stolen by Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers and Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, and Noah Schnapp as the main child leads.  Ryder’s performance as a frantic, but determined and brave mother is terrific and I can’t recall when I’ve seen such authentic child characters.

  • Tone: The show is a masterpiece of pacing and tone. It’s set from the opening battle with monsters in a make believe fantasy setting during a Dungeons and Dragons game.  It then becomes a battle with real monsters and a real fantasy setting and never loses its authenticity.  You believe in this world, its characters, and its lore.  You believe in interdimensional monsters and psychic kids.  Strangely the tone isn’t one of traditional “horror” either.  While yes there are monsters and victims, I never found it to be scary in a normal way.  It has a feeling of tense suspense, with the tension coming from a desire to see as little harm as possible come to these great characters.  Or alternatively see the deserving ones get the chop.

  • Concept and Execution: This is a story that is unique and original. It’s not based on a treatment of a comic book or from the characters featured in a novel.  It’s a new idea encompassing everything we love about the time period and bringing in elements of modern science fiction horror from films like Super 8.  It even gives subtle nods to period-specific media, from the music (which isn’t ALL accurate, some of that is post 1983 people…) to movies (kids riding their bikes from imposing authority figures anyone?)  It’s a slickly made, well-executed piece of storytelling that again continues the gradual shift from single-narrative feature films to the expansive mini-series formula as the potential preferred medium of up-and-coming creators.  And it also shows just how well it can be done.

It’s not all roses of course.  I think the creature is significantly scarier the less we see of it (it was never more frightening than the first glimpses Will sees of it while riding home) and even though they may have needed to show the creature for the themes they were going for, I think less is more for it.  Also the vague “government” enemy is a little bit of a cliché, but it does tie in nicely to the 1980s Cold War fear mongering prevalent in the period.

Stranger Things shows just how much can be done when the right group of creators, meets the right distributor, and mixes the perfect cast with the right idea.  It’s perfect for the Halloween season, and if you haven’t seen it yet catch it right now!  If you have seen it, hell catch it again;  I definitely intend to!

4 Scary Scenes from the Jurassic Park World

Happy October, everyone! For many, this month means changing leaves and cooler temperatures, but for us at RevPub, October means horror season. And this year’s theme is whatever inspires us, so sit back and get ready for the surprise!

To kick off the season, I’m going to discuss a few scenes from two of my favorite Sci-Fi thrillers, Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. These movies aren’t technically horror movies, but both have the right elements and several scenes that effectively scare audiences. If you’re heart doesn’t race during these, you may want to check your pulse. (Contains spoilers)

Jurassic Park Scary Scenes

I was around 11 or so when Jurassic Park premiered, and I’m pretty sure I saw it on the big-screen. I still remember the trailers, and any time I think of the movie, I think T-Rex. However, for me the scariest scenes both involve a game of cat and mouse.

Kitchen scene: Most recall the Jeep scene where T-Rex attacks the children. The water shaking in the car, the eye in the window. But the scene that scares me the most is the kitchen scene with the raptors. Watching that scene 20 years later still makes my heart race. When the raptors first enter the kitchen, you know they’re saying, “Ready or not. Here we come!”

But this is way more intense than a game of hide-and-seek. These raptors will find and eat you. That’s what scares me the most over the famous T-Rex scene. Instead of being protected by a car (sort-of), the kids are in the open with lots of things that make noise. When you’re being hunted, the last thing you want to do is make noise. Then if you’re caught, your death is going to be way more painful than a one-chomp fatality from T-Rex. Those raptors will shred you and have fun while doing it.

Nice boy: Although I’m pretty happy when Dennis (Wayne Knight) meets his demise, the scene itself is pretty intense. It’s raining, the Jeep is stuck, and he loses his glasses, which he’s probably close to blind without them. When you’re trying to escape, being able to see is No. 1 priority.

But what makes this scene scary is the dinosaur itself. First, it looks like a gremlin on steroids, and it makes sounds that remind me of Predator. If you’ve seen both of those movies, you know this won’t end well. Then, this “cute” little guy goes on the hunt, shows his true colors and shoots poisonous muck on his victim. Now that Dennis is blind, he’s free to be attacked and eaten inside the Jeep. What a way to go!

Jurassic World Scary Scenes

I didn’t see Jurassic World until this year, but it didn’t make me enjoy the movie any less. The film is fun, suspenseful and honors Jurassic Park in so many ways. And just like the first, there are a couple of very scary scenes.

The jungle: Although Jurassic Park does a jungle-hunt scene very well, Jurassic World makes it even better. Imagine you’re in the jungle trying to hunt something that can camouflage itself and your beloved raptors have turned against you. You know as soon as the raptors decide to hunt, it’s game on. Everyone will be picked off one at a time.

This scene ranks as one of my favorite modern horror scenes because you see the team’s point of view. Through individual cameras, you get an up-close look at the raptors and hear the screams, making you feel as if you’re the one being attacked. With each kill, a camera dies and it cuts to the next and so on. Add to that, it’s complete chaos and war.

Red flare: Even though this scene made me squeal with happiness, when Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) grabs the flare and releases T-Rex, my heart pounds through my chest. T-Rex is just as loud, mean and threatening, and he’s really ticked off.

The scare factor here is really the homage it pays to the original. The moment you see the flare and the door opens, you know exactly what’s coming out and what that means for the characters. You know it’s a get-safe-or-get-eaten situation, with not only one but two predator giants. You feel the intensity as Claire runs for her life, in high heels no less, and one small mistake could cost a life. The scene effectively shows that one movie can cause a fear factor based on paying homage to another. Pure genius.

If you haven’t seen either of these movies or only one, I highly recommend watching them. Just make sure you’re prepared for the suspense, a little blood and a whole lot of dinosaur fun!