Written by Staci Layne Wilson
Published by Running Free Press
If you consider yourself a horror fan, and certainly you are if you’re a regular Dread Central reader, then you’re no doubt familiar with the name Staci Layne Wilson. Staci is a respected reviewer and interviewer for such websites as TV-Wire, About.com, Horror.com, Fantastica Daily, and Cinescape. She’s contributed a thing or two to us as well. You’ll often see her at premieres and other red carpet events. In addition, she’s an award-winning author in her own right, my personal favorite of her books being Dark Lullaby (review here).
But not only is Staci one of horror’s best friends, she’s also a big supporter of man’s (and woman’s) best friends. As you’d expect, I’m referring to dogs and cats, but for her it includes just about all breeds of animals. As such, she set out one day to track down an overview of animals in film, more for her personal enjoyment and edification than anything else. Amazingly, there was nothing available that wasn’t incomplete and/or terribly outdated. Lucky for us, Staci made it her mission to compile the “definitive” reference book for lovers of films and furry critters alike: Animal Movies Guide.
I saw an abbreviated advance copy several months ago and loved it; when I finally got a finished copy of the Guide in my hot little hands, all I could say was “Wow! – and thanks.” Ms. Wilson fills a long neglected void in the movie trivia arena and doesn’t skimp in the least. Her obvious enthusiasm for the project is contagious. The first third of the book is comprised of 90 complete reviews of films in which animals portray major characters split equally between theatrical and home video versions. There are also nearly 1,000 synopses and capsule reviews of animal films from practically the beginning of cinema itself all the way up to the present day. Next are interviews with celebrities like Don Coscarelli (The Beastmaster); Crispin Glover, James Wong, and Glen Morgan (Willard); Bai Ling (The Breed, pictured below); Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves); and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) and respected animal trainers Anne Gordon, Nancy Bacon, Samantha Martin, Rob Bloch, and Steve Martin.
The best supplemental segments of the Guide are Staci’s “Trivia Tidbits,” little nuggets of information gleaned from her convenient access to the actors and filmmakers involved in the movies that receive the full review treatment, and her list of “Film Folks’ Faves,” which is provided as a sidebar in the synopses section. I was pleased to see I share with Andy Garcia a love for (as well as a deep-seated phobia of, at least in my case) Hitchcock’s The Birds. Horror fans especially should enjoy George A. Romero’s tidbit with regard to the chilling Monkey Shines. There are even more sidebars scattered throughout including such subjects are “Horsy Horrors” detailing movies in which horses are treated … well … horribly, “Positive Piggies,” and “Ferret Movies: Few and Far Between,” undoubtedly a call by ferret-lover Staci for more films about her favorite furballs.
Which brings us to the question of whether or not Animal Movies Guide is in fact a horror book and belongs in a horror fan’s library. Absolutely it is and does. While it’s not limited solely to our genre, it certainly accords it the love and respect it deserves, and I can’t imagine that any horror fan wouldn’t also enjoy reading about beloved (and feared) animals in dramas, comedies, westerns, etc. Where else can you learn about both Cujo and Old Yeller? Cat People and The Cat From Outer Space? Apes like Curious George and Amy from Congo? All in one convenient, easy-to-read, and extremely entertaining package. Who among us hasn’t spent a Sunday afternoon or two watching a cheesy Nature-Run-Amok extravaganza on the Sci-Fi Channel or elsewhere?
Truly, the key to enjoying Staci’s Guide is appreciating the bits and pieces of her personality that shine through. Her favorite films are easy to detect (just look at the names of her own pets if you aren’t sure), but I tend to write rather subjectively myself so have no problem there. While she admits right upfront that she doesn’t enjoy giving negative reviews, she pulls no punches, and you can count on her honesty and unaffectedness. The full reviews are catalogued according to alphabetized genre (Staci’s a woman after my heart with her thoroughness and attention to detail): Adventure, Animated, Comedy, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Tearjerkers, and Western. As you can imagine, there’s a great deal of crossover among the horror, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and adventure categories.
The flash reviews, on the other hand, are grouped according to animal type (i.e., Assorted, Cat, Canine, Horse, and Manimal). Even though Manimal’s subtitle is “Beastly Transformations” and is about people turning into animals in one form or another, don’t get too excited. You won’t be reading about An American Werewolf in London or Interview with the Vampire. As Staci explains, with literally hundreds of films about vamps and lycans, including them here would be too unwieldy. Perhaps another time.
When I reviewed Ms. Wilson’s other recently released compilation, 50 Years of Ghost Movies (review here), one of my biggest complaints was the lack of illustrations and/or pictures. The Guide more than makes up for that shortcoming with an abundance of movies posters, screenshots, and celebrity photos. It’s also noteworthy that a portion of the proceeds from the Guide will go to Actors & Others for Animals and The American Humane Film-Monitoring Division as well as a few other charities that focus on “exotic pets” (i.e., ferrets, hedgehogs, rats, etc.) in need of help. That alone should encourage you to seek out the book.
Staci has imposed a “fur only” rule for the Guide and only covers those films that include mammals with an emphasis on cats, dogs, and horses. This means there’s no mention of classics like Jaws, the aforesaid The Birds, Kingdom of the Spiders, and Squirm. Okay, so maybe that last one isn’t quite a classic, but certainly those lowly worms deserve as much recognition as the rats in Willard. Definitely Spielberg’s shark does. Fortunately Staci doesn’t preclude the possibility of a Volume 2, which makes me hopeful. After all, where can one expect to find the most “feathered, finned, and forked-tongued” creatures, beasts, reptiles, and insects besides in a horror movie? If things go our way, we’ll easily take up at least two thirds of the sequel!
5 out of 5
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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