Watch This Movie: Drug War (2012)

I absolutely love foreign action movies. Especially movies filmed in Hong Kong or Japan. My love for these movies definitely started with the work of John Woo. I’d still probably consider Hard Boiled to be my favorite action movie of all time. (I change my list of favorites frequently. Even if Hard Boiled wasn’t at the top of my list, it’s still incredible.)

While I am still a huge fan of John Woo’s work, the unfortunate thing is that his last great movie was Face/Off which came out in 1997. Since then he hasn’t really made any movie worth noting.

There is, however, a spiritual successor to Woo. His name is Johnny To.

drug war

Johnny To, unlike John Woo, is an incredibly prolific filmmaker who makes movies in a wide variety of genres. (This is something I was actually unaware of. I thought he had only made violent heroic bloodshed movies. I plan on investigating his other work in the near future.)

All the movies of To’s that I’ve seen are action movies and they’re incredible. They’re definitely violent. I think theĀ  draw is how the action is always clearly defined on screen. Even better is that To has a strong sense of style that makes the action always quite unique.

On top of that, To knows to give the character’s in his films a lot of care. Too many times an action filmmaker will forgo character work and pile on the action — much to a film’s detriment.

This all brings me to To’s latest movie, Drug War.

The story is about a high ranking anti-drug cop who makes an uneasy alliance with a high ranking meth manufacturer. It’s a tried-and-true premise, but what really sets it apart from other movies is the characterizations of the cop and criminal.

The cop is a no nonsense type who will do just about anything to stop the drug trade in his city. The thing is, he’s kind of a show off. He puts on this stoic demeanor but for most of the movie he’s adopting different personas while undercover. During the movie you get the sense that he might really enjoy that part of the job.

The criminal is also stoic. What sets him apart from being a cliche is a bit spoiler-ish. All I’ll say is that his character’s personality seems to be all over the map but it all comes from a place of consistency. He’s a wily one. It’s very entertaining to watch him look for all the angles in whatever he’s doing.

Another great part of the movie is how tense it is. The movie is pretty much one long series of encounters where the cops get themselves into a situation and barely scrape out. In an interesting creative choice, most of the movie’s most tense scenes play out in relative silence. There’s not much in the way of a musical score. The characters only seem to talk when they absolutely have to. In fact, two supporting characters are deaf. Silence is important stylistically and thematically.

Even the few action scenes in the movie play out to silence. Most of what’s heard on screen is dialogue and gunshots. The lack of musical score somehow increases the tension in the movie.

Drug War is an absolutely amazing piece of straight forward genre cinema. It’s a simple yet tense movie that has a surprising amount of depth to it.

Considering Johnny To has such a wide range of films under his belt, this could be a great introductory movie to watch if you’ve never seen any of his other work.

Wrapping Up the 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

First of all, I’d just like to thank anyone who read any of the articles during the Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular. I had a hell of a lot of fun writing them and I hope you had fun reading them.

Also this whole Fear-a-thon experiment is an homage to film critic Brian Collins’ Horror Movie A Day website that he ran from 2007 to 2013 daily. I discovered the site a bit too late, but it’s still a really fun website with great reviews.

This wrap up post will be presented in three parts. The first parts are my thoughts on the process, the second part is my rankings of the movies I watched, and for the third part I thought it might be interesting to list my five favorite horror movies of all time.

PART I

I hope this doesn’t ruin the magic but I didn’t exactly watch each movie the day an article was posted about it. Most of time throughout the month I was ahead of the curve by one to two days. I did really watch all the movies though. And it was the first time I had seen any of those movies. There’s 10 million articles online about The Shining and Friday the 13th. I figured it would be better to write about movies I hadn’t seen, even if they were movies that not a lot of other people had seen either (like Ghoulies).

I think about two weeks into the process I really hit a groove with how to write each post and what sort of info should be presented in the post. I kind of want to go back to the earlier posts and rewrite them. I didn’t want to do a dry plot recap. I wanted to hit the good parts and bad parts of the movie in a way that didn’t totally spoil said movie. For some movies like The Lords of Salem the most interesting part is the theme of the movie. So spoiling it is a little unavoidable. I hope I didn’t ruin any movies for anyone!

If I were to do this next year I think I’ll try to plan out the movie’s I’d be seeing instead of being at the whims of Netflix’s selection. They have a decent selection in the horror subcategory, but it’s not as robust as I’d have liked. Considering the direction Netflix is going, by next year they’re selection might exponentially increase. I also might try to expand it to a horror movie every day instead of just the weekdays. Although that might kill me. I’m not sure how Brian Collins did it for 6 years.

I think the thing that’s surprised me the most about this experiment is that I haven’t yet burned out on horror movies. I’m someone who very easily burns out on things. For example, I just went through a huge surge of reading comics. I still love comic books dearly but I needed to take a break from them for a bit. This happens to me all the time with my interest. I get a surge to completely envelope myself in, say, video games, do that for a month or two and then I need a break. But after watching nearly 25 horror movies I still have a desire to see them. Just maybe not at a daily rate!

PART II

I feel like the best way to rank these movies isn’t to put them all up against each other, but rather to separate them into categories (no particular order within the categories).

AMAZING HORROR MOVIES

You’re Next
Mama
V/H/S/2
The Lords of Salem
Rosemary’s Baby
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness

Not only are these great horror movies, they’re just great movies in general. The Lords of Salem and Prince of Darkness were especially great. They were both these dark, moody, and creepy movies perfect for the Halloween season.

AVERAGE HORROR MOVIES

Rabid
V/H/S
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Dracula (1931)
The Innkeepers
The Mummy (1932)
Hellraiser
Land of the Dead

Average to me always means that it’s a perfectly fine movie to watch but the good parts and bad parts equally balance each other out. Maybe the good parts give a slight edge to the movie as a whole. They’re not good, not bad, just average.

SKIPPABLE

Evil Dead (2012)
Ghoulies
The Serpent and the Rainbow
Maniac (2012)
Ju-On: The Grudge
Pumpkinhead
Leviathan
No One Lives

Some of these movies are just forgettable. Others are actively bad. I’m trying not to contribute to the overly negative dialogue that happens with movies on the internet. All I’ll say is that if given the choice to watch these movies, you might want to skip them.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS

Silent House
Black Rat

These two movies are a bit frustrating to think about because they both showed so much promise! Especially Silent House. Up until the last 15 minutes I was absolutely convinced that it was this horror masterpiece. Then the ending unraveled all that good will. With Black Rat the movie petered out halfway through. It was less of a sting but they still squandered a really good mash up of genres.

PART III

Perhaps I should have done this before the Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular started so the readers would know what my tastes were. A small oversight. This was the first year after all.

Anyway. Here are five of my favorite horror movies presented in alphabetical order.

Evil Dead 2

Sure, Evil Dead 2 is firmly in the comedy/horror territory, but it’s so chock full of gory fun that it’s hard not to hate. Maybe if you’re a horror purist and can’t accept goofball humor in horror, but come on. Seeing Bruce Campbell laugh maniacally as he chops off his own hand? That’s golden.

Not to mention Sam Raimi’s infectious sense of goofiness. You can’t help but enjoy the ride he presents in this movie.

Scream

I’ll admit. The first time I saw Scream I thought it was legitimately scary. Granted, I was maybe 12 or 13 when I first saw it (I was 10 when it was released). But I think that’s the power of Scream. Like You’re Next it perfectly blends horror and humor. It doesn’t hurt that it completely reinvigorated the slasher genre either. I’m really glad Wes Craven was the point man to take the genre in a new direction. I’ll be honest. I almost substituted out Wes Craven’s New Nightmare for this one, but I felt Scream was all around better.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

If I were ranking these five movies this would be at the top of the list. There’s no other movie I can think of that induced such a sense of disgust and fear that I never want to re-watch it. I mean, I’m sure at some point I will but I’m in no rush.

This movie seriously messed me up. And I was probably 17 when I first saw it! I’ll always remember two things. One, when Leatherface clunks the guy on the head with the mallet and the sickening thud that follows. Two, the sense of despair and creepiness when the whole family is sitting around the dinner table.

The Thing

I love this movie. I don’t even remember where or how old I was when I first watched this movie. Its scares have long since dissipated, but it speaks to the power of this movie that it is still watchable. Every time I watch this movie I want the research team to figure out the alien menace quicker and deal with the problem. But every time they fail and succumb to it.

And you can’t forget the ending. It’s such a nihilistic, hopeless ending. What’s great is that neither the characters nor the audience really know if the two humans left are truly human.

You’re Next

When I wrote about You’re Next I said it completely reinvigorated my interest in horror. That still holds true. I check weekly to see if the movie has been given a release date for its Blu Ray. It’s a fantastic movie with great characters, great fun, and great scares. It’s a modern masterpiece.

I think other critics have given a similar sentiment but I can totally see people slowly discovering this movie as its released on home video and it becoming a powerhouse cult hit. To give you an idea of how much I like this movie: I think it’s better than Cabin in the Woods. (Not that the two movies are similar or comparable.)

So that’s it. Will I do a Fear-a-thon next year? I sure hope so! This was a ton of fun. My goal between now and next October is to become even more well versed in the horror genre so I can speak about it in a more complete, in depth manner. Right now I feel a bit like a tourist. I really like horror movies so it shouldn’t be too hard to increase my critical skills in the genre.

Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #23: Pumpkinhead

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

I never knew Stan Winston directed a movie. I mean, it makes sense and everything but I just never knew. It’s too bad the movie largely wastes his talents. Of course the creature effects are superb — that’s a given. The rest of the movie surrounding the monster is what falters.

I feel like the biggest problem with this movie is that it has two narratives. One is the Henriksen’s arc from grieving father to realizing the errors of this ways. The other narrative is the deaths of the teenagers who directly and indirectly cause the death of Henriksen’s son.

Lance Henriksen does a good job as the role of a grieving father driven to resurrect Pumpkinhead for revenge. I also appreciated his character arc where he realizes the errors of revenge and attempts to right his wrongs.

The teenage victims in the movie are largely forgettable. Except for the the one guy who runs over a Henriksen’s kid. He’s so despicable it’s hard to forget. I mean, seriously, this character has a back story where he got in trouble for drinking and driving, the proceeds to drink and drive again which ends up killing a kid.

The two story lines converge in a weird way that deflates any sort of horror in the movie. Once Pumpkinhead is released he dispatches with all but two of the teenagers in the span of like 20 minutes. From that point the two survivors plus a random townie run away from Pumpkinhead while Henriksen tries to stop it.

So yeah, the movie is pretty forgettable. Even the creature design of Pumpkinhead isn’t up to the snuff of Winston’s work on Terminator or Jurassic Park (obviously). Of course Winston’s going to create better work when he has a bigger budget, so why restrict him to a low budget horror movie? I will say this. As a filmmaker, Winston was competent in crafting a visual narrative. Everything on screen was clear and easy to process. He didn’t succumb to any sort of desire to be inventive or wacky with the visuals.

I wish there was one good redeeming value to this movie. I’d gladly promote if it had a really good, groundbreaking creature design or if the on screen deaths were super gruesome. That’s not the case. It’s just a wholly average movie. The only real draw is seeing what Winston was able to do in the director’s chair.

-Harrison

Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #22: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

We at Movie Debaters are huge fans of John Carpenter’s work. How can you not be? He’s not called the Master of Horror for nothing. Not only that, but it’s just a great genre filmmaker. Now, I can’t speak on behalf of Josh, but I actually haven’t seen all of Carpenter’s movies. Most, but not all. That’s because I’m so impulsive in what I watch that I don’t have the patience to work my way through all of a given filmmaker’s work. Hell, I haven’t seen all of Stanley Kubrick’s movies yet even though he’s Stanley effing Kubrick.

The point is this is the first time I’ve seen Prince of Darkness. It was amazing.

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Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #21: Land of the Dead

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

I’ve always liked the George A. Romero Of the Dead series. In fact, I finally saw Day of the Dead a few weeks ago. (It was great.) I even liked Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead.

When Land of the Dead came out I was kind of skeptical. It had been so long since Romero had made a zombie movie. Would it hold up? Would he still have the magic? Upon its release the movie got pretty middling reviews. Ever since then I’ve kind of ignored it.

Well it turns out my fears were a bit unfounded. The movie is a perfectly average, serviceable zombie movie. It’s got some interesting social commentary that’s not nearly as strong as Dawn of the Dead’s, but it’s still there. I liked that in the movie the zombies and lower class people represent the same side of the economic divide.

The gore and special effects are great and to be expected. I liked the look of the zombies too. Especially the yellow eyes and teeth of the Big Daddy zombie. And the scene where partially decapitated zombie swings his head down onto a soldier’s arm is an instant classic.

One thing I really liked about the movie was that it was a commentary about the dangers of complacency. In the film, the rich folk feel safe and secure. They’ve pretty much gone back to their regular lives of eating dinner in fancy restaurants, wearing suits, being catered to by servants, etc. Once the shit hits the fan — of course it does — they’re completely powerless to stop it.

This is great subject matter for a horror movie. Did you ever notice how in horror series they tend to get less scary and more action oriented as the series progresses? Or maybe instead of staying scary they get funnier and campier? It’s because a basic tenant of horror is the feeling of helplessness. Once the audience and characters become more accustomed to the danger, they have less reason to be surprised by it. If you’re not surprised by it, then it’s not as scary.

So the people in this movie become complacent. They’ve adjusted and learned to sneer at the danger around them. Of course the lower class people and soldiers are still on edge for the danger. They’re still aware of the danger around them.

Real quick: The rest of the movie surrounding these themes is a little generic. Like I said above the movie is perfectly serviceable. It’s not like the movie is a train wreck or anything. The cast does their job, the story moves at a steady pace; it’s just not as groundbreaking as the previous in the series.

I was really glad to see Romero still mostly had the touch with Land of the Dead. I think between this movie and the previous three, they’re perfect studies on how humanity would react to a zombie apocalypse.

-Harrison

Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #20: Black Rat

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

I like watching lesser known, underground movies. It’s not so much a hipster thing like “I am better than you for seeing obscure movies.” It’s because I love championing underground movies and helping to get them more well known.

For the first half of Black Rat I was convinced I found a really awesome movie. Unfortunately, the back half of the movie threw away the good will created by the first half.

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Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #19: Leviathan

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

If you want to be uncharitable to Leviathan you can call it a ripoff of Alien and The Thing. “Ripoff” is pretty harsh term in of itself. It’s not like Alien or The Thing have a stranglehold on that type of movie. Other people are allowed to make a movie about a strange monster picking off people one by one while they work in an extreme environment. But on the other hand, Leviathan is about crew members of a mining operation who battle a monster that absorbs the features of a host. Not only that, but the corporation in charge of the mining expedition is less than ethical in their intent.

In other words, Leviathan is a ripoff.

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Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #18: Hellraiser

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

You know, I’ve always wondered why I never saw any of the Hellraiser movies. When I was a kid I watched a bunch of the Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween movies super late at night on cable. (Seriously, in the late 90s/early 2000s the USA Network seemed to love showing horror movies at 3am.)

After watching Hellraiser I now know why they were never shown. It’s a sadomasochistic S&M body horror movie. It’s very reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s work. There’s no way it could ever be shown on any form of tv.

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Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #17: Ju-On: The Grudge

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

Confession time: Back when Japanese horror films were all the rage, specifically, I mean, when Hollywood was adapting Japanese horror movies, I was just beginning my journey as a film nerd. That’s a long sentence to set up the fact that I shunned the Japanese horror movies just because they were popular at the time. I know. It’s terrible. I’ve always had a bit of a hipster streak in me.

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Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #16: The Mummy (1932)

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

Pop culture is a funny thing. When you think of a mummy who here doesn’t think of a humanoid shape wrapped in old, tattered bandages? I know I think of them that way.

So imagine my surprise that save for the opening scene, there’s no real depiction of a mummy like that. Most of the movie is just Boris Karloff dressed up like a guy whose skin is really, really dry. To be fair, it is good make up effects.

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