I’m Afraid of Americans (and Other Countries that Happen to Produce Killer Horror Films)

Have you ever watched a movie and just had a distinct feeling that there was no way possible that it had been produced in Hollywood?  There’s just something about a foreign (to Americans anyway) film that sets it apart from the often stylized output of the American movie.  Don’t get me wrong…I love American cinema – and often I’m a huge fan of American horror movies.  But there’s just something about a little production from outside of the ol’ U S of A that makes my spine tingle a bit in anticipation of what’s to come.

Perhaps it’s that so-called foreign films tend to be more liberal in what is shown or said.  Or maybe it’s the opposite…so many horror films from around the world are horrific because of what they don’t show.  Of course that’s not the case of every non-American horror film.  The bad films will always outnumber the good for some reason…I suppose because for every good film, there are a slew of bad ones that follow it in the hopes that some money will be made off of the hype of the good movie.  And therein lies the problem for so many movies.

In any case, the movie that brought this to my attention was a not so well-known monster flick by the name of Monsters that was released in 2010.  I remember hearing about it and becoming quite excited about it with Ian.  It sounded like an interesting prospect…the border being shut down between the US and Mexico to prevent unwanted visitors…a tongue in cheek shot at the immigration and border issues currently being faced by the two countries?  Likely…but the story focuses more on two American individuals attempting to return to the country from Mexico who are forced to travel through the “infected” zone.

Source: Starseeker.com

While the movie was partially filmed in the US (Texas to be precise; as well as Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica) and the actors are definitely American, the production is actually British.  Considering the scope of the movie, its budget came in at under $500 000.  There are points of the film that are visually stunning and were created by the writer/director/special effects guy extraordinaire, Gareth Edwards using software that even we own (Adobe, 3D Studio Max, ZBrush…nice!).  The return on the film so far has been over $4 000 000, so not too shabby of an investment on behalf of the production company.

Source: Moveehd.info

One of the most poignant scenes comes at the end of the film as the two characters stand on the property of a gas station after they have encountered a few of the ‘monsters’, and a sound cue occurs that ties the whole movie together from beginning to end.  Very effective…and a little sad.  While the movie is classified as a horror/science fiction film by many reviewers, it’s really just a story about two ordinary people trying to get ‘home’ set against a highly political backdrop…with aliens!

Fun fact 1:  The two co-stars (Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able) had pretty decent charisma and played off of each other well.  Apparently they were already a couple when they were hired for the roles, and married in July 2010, so I guess I wasn’t the only one to think that.

Fun fact 2:  I’ve been making a list of songs that I like when I hear them from the Galaxie digital stations on the satellite…I most often listen to The Chill Lounge – it’s filled with down tempo, laid back jazz and ambient sounds.  The other day I added a song by Jon Hopkins to my list called ‘Nightjar’ and I tracked it down last night.  And here I am today, discovering that he also did the soundtrack to Monsters.  Rather serendipitous, I thought.

Other Worthwhile Horror Films from Around the World

Source: Time.com

Ôdishon (Audition, 2000, Takashi Miike, South Korea/Japan)

A widower expresses the sadness he is experiencing to a friend that works as a film producer.  His friend helps him stage an audition for a movie that will never be made to help him fill a role – that of his new wife.  After sitting through performance after performance, he falls for the last actress of the day, a young ballet dancer.  He becomes infatuated with her, but the innocent young woman is not all that she seems.  Miike is one of my favourite directors…hands down.  His work is provocative, full of sexual taboos and ultra-violence – he’s definitely not for everyone.

Source: Oldschoolreviews.com

El Espinazo del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone, 2001, Guillermo Del Toro, Spain/Mexico)

Set in 1939 at the conclusion of a bloody civil war in Spain, a young boy is left at an extremely isolated orphanage in the care of the headmistress and a professor.  He finds himself bullied by some of the students, overcoming this challenge only to encounter further problems – the violent caretaker of the orphanage and the ghost of a former resident.  The ghost becomes inexplicably drawn to the young boy, predicting the deaths of many of the children there.  As the time passes and the prophecy begins to take shape, the children of the orphanage are forced to confront the true nature of danger that they face.  This is one of Del Toro’s earlier films, before his work on Blade II, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage.

Source: Werewolves.com

Ginger Snaps (2000, John Fawcett, Canada)

Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are outcasts in their school; suburban goth girls fascinated with all things death.  At 16, Ginger finally begins her menstruation cycles – about the same time as she is bitten by a creature in a local woodlot.  The changes brought on by both of these turns of events turn her into a girl who her sister no longer understands and Brigitte vows to find a cure for what Ginger has become.  Halloween and the next full moon approach, and soon enough, it’s not just the local dogs that are no longer safe.  This movie is worth the opening scene for the sisters’ special school project alone.

Source: Fearnet.com

La Horde (The Horde, 2009, Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher, France)

A police detective is found murdered by a local gang led by a Nigerian man named Markudi.  The detective’s partners plot to avenge the death of their coworker and friend and descend upon the abandoned building where the gang members are hiding.  As their surprise attack goes horribly wrong, a development outside of the building changes the tempo and outcome of the war on the gang, and would-be enemies are forced to come together to escape the building…and the horde that has assembled outside their doors.  A fantastically gritty and intense zombie thriller.

Source: IMDB.com

Marebito (2004, Takashi Shimizu, Japan)

A man captures on film the suicide of another man after being obviously frightened out of his mind by something.  He becomes obsessed with discovering the fear the man experienced and finds himself within the labyrinthine tunnels beneath his city where he encounters a feral girl whom he rescues and dubs ‘F’.  He brings F home where he discovers she does not speak or eat, but survives off of something else – the story plays out as he does unspeakable things to sustain the girl’s life.  This is the same director who filmed Ju-On and The Grudge, both the original Japanese version and its American remake.

Awesome quote:  “They didn’t see something that terrified them.  They saw something because they were terrified.”

And just to be fair

Here’s an American horror film that I adore for its low-budget appeal…

Source: Threatquality.com

The Signal (2007, David Bruckner, Dan Bush & Jacob Gentry, USA)

Set in three separate acts, the story is weaved around a woman in an unhappy marriage who is planning to escape the city of Terminus with her lover.  During their last night together before the escape, a strange signal begins transmitting across the airwaves – to televisions, radios and telephones.  The signal causes those that see or hear it to begin to display erratic behaviour that often ends in violence.  Each act is told in a different style:  violent gore horror; black comedy and finally a horror-love story full of sorrow.   The ambiguous of the several endings shown allows the viewer to determine their own reality of the final events of the film.  Extremely effective, and I still think about it every once in awhile…not sure what I believe.


How To Make a Monster

I don’t like Nicholas Cage.  I don’t think he’s particularly talented in the art of acting.  However, I found myself intrigued in watching the last five minutes or so of Knowing.  And in watching the end credits of the movie, I may have discovered why – the company in charge of  visual effects for the “strangers and chariot” was Tatopoulos Studios.  While I’m not certain if Patrick Tatopoulos himself was involved in the creation of the effects, I’ve been noticing as of late that when I appreciate a really good creature special effect, it’s likely Tatopoulos behind it.

I personally first started to take notice of him and his designs in 2006 when he was involved in the production of Silent Hill.  Touted as one of the most faithful and best video game to movie adaptations at the time (and I think still is), Silent Hill owes some of that credit to Patrick.  The creature effects are incredible.  They along with the atmospheric effects combine to give viewers the sense that they are in the world of Silent Hill.  Creepy. 

In addition to Silent Hill and Knowing, Patrick Tatopoulos Designs and Tatopoulos Studios have been creating organic effects and creatures in loads of movies:  Independence Day; Godzilla (1998); Pitch Black; They; Underworld; I, Robot; The Messengers; I Am Legend; 10,000 BC; The Ruins; Trick ‘r Treat; among others.  Some of these movies aren’t the most stellar examples of storyline, plot or acting, but there’s no doubt that the creatures and effects are brilliant.  On top of his creature designs, Tatopoulos has recently begun a foray into the world of directing with Underworld 3:  Rise of the Lycans.  He is currently working on I, Frankenstein, and has also been tapped to direct upcoming eco-horror The Colony.  To be honest, I’m not sure of his directorial skills, as I’ve not seen the Underworld sequels.  However, it takes a great imagination and vision to create believable film, and I’m certain Tatopoulos has both.  I look forward to his future design work – particularly the Stan Winston produced Speed Demon, scheduled for a 2012 release. 

Below are a few comparisons between the Silent Hill catalogue of games creatures and those created by Tatopoulos.  Copyright for the images goes to Konami, Sony, Alliance Atlantis, etc.  

Top two images are nurses from the game (Silent Hill 2 from the looks of it); third image is a still from the movie. I don't recall the nurses looking like this when I've been in the hospital...though I suppose that's a good thing.


Mumblers from Silent Hill (left); Grey Child from movie (right) - played by dancer Yvonne Ng with digital effects to burn her up. I feel like this some mornings before work...


The lying man from the game (top); armless man from the movie (bottom). Either way, you're not going to have a good day.


Mannequin from Silent Hill 2 (top); janitor from the movie (bottom). The mannequins didn't make an appearance in the movie, and the janitor wasn't in the game, but I wouldn't want to run into either in a dark alley or bathroom stall.


Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2 (top); the live(?) incarnation in the movie (bottom). Arguably the most badass being in the Silent Hill universe, if only for its first appearance in the game - a "how'd he do that?" exploit of a four-legged, no-torsoed mannequin (similar to the one posted a few pictures above). Fantastic.