July 1, 2011

Horror documentaries on Netflix

I've been pretty quiet on Blogger for the last week owing to the fact that I've become addicted to watching all the horror documentaries on Netflix. The saying, "When he's quiet, he's up to something", has proved itself to be correct since I've learned all sorts of things which I didn't know before.

Here's a quick recap of everything I've found so far and which I recommend that you all check out for yourselves.

1. Zombie Girl: The Movie (2009)

Youth and inexperience were no deterrents to 12-year-old Emily Hagins when she set out to make her first full-length feature, the zombie flick Pathogen. This 2008 documentary chronicles her two-year endeavor from start to finish. With cameras focused on Emily and Mom - who acts as agent, crew, producer and No. 1 fan - the film illuminates indie moviemaking challenges and the wonder of being a plucky adolescent to whom anything seems possible.

Although the documentary wasn't put together very well and had the horrid Harry Knowles appearing in it, I quite enjoyed watching the enthusiasm which went into making yet another appalling handycam zombie film. This time the filmmaker had an excuse though - she's only 12 years old! It's a pity that you don't get to see the actual zombie film that she makes, but I have a feeling that it turned out so bad that you probably wouldn't want to anyway. I don't like amateur films no matter how much dedication went into making them (and never come away from them feeling anything but contempt), but if a kid wants to make something like this to put on YouTube then I can't fault her for her hobby. She might even end up working on a real movie one day unlike all the other sad acts who are old enough to know better and have less than half the ability.

2. 100 Years of Horror (1996)

Christopher Lee hosts this chilling anthology of clips with commentary from stars such as Robert De Niro and Charlton Heston, assessing some of the most memorable - and horrific - scenes in cinema history. This collection rounds up more than 10,000 monstrous moments featuring scream queens, maniacs, demons, sorcerers, witchcraft, the walking dead, Frankenstein and many more.

Fascinating stuff but a bit repetitive and not something which you can (or should) watch in one go. Some of it is a bit dry and superficial but the biggest problem is that most of the clips come from B and Z grade movies which you wouldn't want in your collection anyway. I learnt a few things from it but I'm sure that anyone who was just getting into the genre would enjoy it a lot more especially if they don't know very much about the old guys and classic horror. If you never really got into the Universal monsters or Hammer then there are worse ways to educate yourself.

3. His Name Was Jason (2009)

Exploring the legacy of a villain who's fueled a franchise for nearly 30 years and is on a first-name basis with horror fans everywhere, this documentary pays tribute to Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked star character of the Friday the 13th films. Hosted by special effects legend Tom Savini, the film includes movie clips, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with actors, filmmakers and devotees.

Quite a good documentary in places but flawed by being rushed through and containing far too many plugs for the awful remake. There isn't any new information for true fans of the "Friday the 13th" movies (especially for those who watch all the "special features" on the DVDs), but it still makes a good introduction for anyone who doesn't know too much about either "Friday the 13th" or slashers in general. I watched this when it first came out and was quite disappointed, but, with hindsight, it's not really as bad as I first thought.

4. The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made (2004)

An entertaining look at some of the truly terrible moments in film history. This documentary consists of clips from what many believe to be some of the worst movies ever to make it - or not make it - into theaters. Laugh through scenes from "Howard the Duck," "Plan Nine from Outer Space," "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," as well as many others. This really is the best of the worst!

Only an hour long but it feels like a lot longer owing to the subject matter. As amusing as it all tries to be, I don't agree with some of the choices and could easily replace them with different titles. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you try to be make a list based on the most popular choices without really thinking about them too much. There are no real surprises here and, if you own a lot of Mill Creek packs, you know most of these films and how awful they are already.

5. Nightmares in Red, White and Blue (2009)

Horror and sci-fi veteran Lance Henriksen (Alien) narrates this fascinating look at the history of the American horror film, examining the earliest monster movies of the silent era up to the scariest modern-day masterpieces. Highlights include interviews with genre masters Roger Corman, John Carpenter and George A. Romero, plus clips from classic films like The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary's Baby.

This documentary came across more as a thesis about the relationship between horror films and politics than a bog-standard retrospective. As much as I think that the more erudite horror fan would get a kick out of it, I found it to be a little bit too preachy and smug at times and, of course, I don't entirely agree with how neatly they tried to tie it all together. All movies provide some social commentary just by reflecting the time that they are made in, but I felt that subtle details were being stressed too far just to fit into the pattern. You could do exactly the same thing (and come up with the same results) by comparing horror movies with ancient Greek drama so there's nothing you haven't already thought about before here even if it is presented well.

6. Starz Inside: Bloodsucking Cinema (2007)

The undead come out to play in this spine-tingling documentary about the history of vampire movies that originally aired as a Starz Inside special. Highlights include clips from genre classics such as Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, The Lost Boys and Blade, plus commentary from actors Corey Haim and Cheech Marin, directors John Carpenter, John Landis and Joel Schumacher and film critic Leonard Maltin.

Although not as good as the later "Starz Inside" documentaries and re-covering a lot of ground from the "100 Years of Horror" series, I quite enjoyed this though I wish that they'd chosen better vampire movies to talk about. It was more surprising because of the famous vampire movies which were ignored rather than the ones which were included. There was no mention of "Daughters of Darkness", "The Hunger" or even "Near Dark", which was absolutely shameful.

I've also watched a few non-horror documentaries (though it depends on your definition of horror!) including "Confessions of a Superhero" (2007), "Starz Inside: The Face Is Familiar" (2009), "Starz Inside: Unforgettably Evil" (2009), "The Cats of Mirikitani" (2006), "The End: British Gangsters" (2008) and "Marwencol" (2010). Most of these were either moving or disturbing (or both), and I highly recommend them for when you just aren't in the mood to watch yet another horror movie.

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