M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Four of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2013 and going through September 30, 2014. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!

How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2013 and September 30, 2014 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number—31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on June 6, 2014. Available on digital download, On Demand, and DVD/Blu-ray!


Directed by Juno Mak
Written by Lai-yin Leung, Philip Yung
Starring Anthony Chan, Siu-Ho Chin, Kara Hui, Hoi-Pang Lo, Richard Ng, Hee Ching Paw
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here

With the inundation of vampire and zombie films that all of us have grown weary of, I long for an undead film that is different from a tired Bram Stoker rewrite, a trendy teen comedy, or a pairing of zombies with some other obscure group. Close to twenty-five years ago, I was lucky enough to happen across a copy of MR. VAMPIRE, a chop-socky masterpiece that not only had amazing kung fu, but incorporated horrific Hong Kong legends, the rituals to raise the dead, and the horrors these spells are capable of inflicting. In MR. VAMPIRE, a complex tale is told involving ghosts, vampires, undead, and diabolical humans. Almost thirty years after MR. VAMPIRE was first released, Juno Mak brings the classic hopping vampire and all of the mysticism that made MR. VAMPIRE so much fun all those years ago back for RIGOR MORTIS, a new take on ancient Hong Kong lore that plays like the perfect mix of old and new, pulling from a variety of genres to dazzle the eyes and ears and shoot a full body shiver straight down one’s spine.

Fuck the vampires that knock on your door, asking to come in and then getting all romantical. Hopping vampires don’t sparkle, they terrify. More undead zombie than actual vamp, the origins of these creatures of the night lie in mythology and mysticism. But while most vamps want to tap an artery, this one is liable to kung fu your ass in two and drink from the ensuing spatter. For ages, I’ve waited for someone to come along and shed some light on this classic version of vampires and with most recent vampire flicks that have failed to have anything resembling teeth (I’m looking at you DARIO ARGENTO’S DRACULA, TWILIGHT, and VAMPIRE ACADEMY), RIGOR MORTIS offers up a specific species of undead that is uncommon and refreshing, baring enough resemblance to the vampires we know, and giving them a much needed goose.

Like MR. VAMPIRE, the story of RIGOR MORTIS is rather complex. A washed-up actor moves into an apartment complex with the intention to kill himself, but instead finds that this building is teeming with dormant and not so dormant spirits, two of which are just itching to possess anyone with a hint of blackness inside of them. These two souls are the restless spirits of twins who used to live in the building and died violently.

But that’s not all of the story. On different floors of the building live a pair of exorcist/vampire hunters who are on the outs and have hung up their stakes and totems in retirement. When the mystic stuff starts to splatter across the floor and all over the walls, they are called out of retirement to help cleanse the building of evil spirits. But that’s still not all, as on another floor, an elderly man takes a tumble down the stairs, and not wanting to let go of her husband, his wife chooses to use an age-old ritual to bring him back to life and unknowingly creates a hopping vampire in the process. The real problems begin when all of these forces clang together violently in the third act—and this clang is almost deafening.<br.
Visually, RIGOR MORTIS is a feast and a half–everything from ultra-slo mo shots of the twin ghosts bouncing up and down the hallways to the ever-changing claustrophobic interiors which turn from water to mud to fire, depending on what spells are being cast. There are parts of this film that were reminiscent of THE MATRIX, and while some may criticize that these lifts are too on the nose, I found it to be refreshing to be experiencing a film which may be on par for horror as THE MATRIX was for sci fi in terms of visual delight.

This is a scary-ass film as well. There are some scenes, especially the ones involving the twins, which again are reminiscent of THE SHINING meets THE GRUDGE, but altogether original in their presentation, nevertheless. Director Juno Mak puts together some utterly terrifying sequences that caused goose bumps in ways few films have been able to do for me. Sure, it’s tapping into some primal fears as the twin ghosts move in a skittering, rat-like manner while the long shots of the imposing vampire hovering across the corridors dragging his feet behind him push different fear reflexes. Mak certainly isn’t all for flash all of the time and is able to set up a tension-filled scene just as masterfully.

The fact that some of the elder actors in this film were also actors in MR. VAMPIRE makes RIGOR MORTIS a must see for fans of the hopping vamp subgenre. While there are all sorts of lifts from other fear and action films, RIGOR MORTIS does so and incorporates it all brilliantly. The film also serves as a wonderful gateway into a wonderful world of horror that is probably unfamiliar to most but will most likely be a welcome change to vamps in this worn out age of the hoodie-wearing, navel-gazing variety. Mak is fantastic, as are all of the cast, and successful at bringing a different type of horror film to light. Full of acrobatic and absorbing sequences of horrific elements, I hope RIGOR MORTIS is a new trend in horror that plumbs the less-charted corners from the past and gives them a shiny new coat of visual dexterity and power. RIGOR MORTIS hits you like a whirlwind with horror from baser levels of darkness in ways that feel fresh and all together terrifying.

THE 2013-2014 COUNTDOWN!


M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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