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 March 7, 2014. Available on digital download, On Demand, and DVD/Blu-ray!

GRAND PIANO (2013)

Directed by Eugenio Mira
Written by Damien Chazelle
Starring Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishé, Tamsin Egerton, Allen Leech, Don McManus, Alex Winter, Dee Wallace, Jim Arnold, Jack Taylor, Beth Trollan
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here

Putting some much needed class back into horror is GRAND PIANO, a tense thriller that would make Hitchcock stand up and cheer.

Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, a concert pianist and former protégé to a master pianist who recently died and while living wrote a concerto that was deemed unplayable. Suffering from stage fright years prior, Selznick returns to a stage in a performance put together by his movie star wife Emma (ARGO’s Kerry Bishé) as a means to get him back on his feet and out of his shell. But as Selznick takes the stage in front of an audience filled with anticipation, he notices a note on the sheet music that says if he misses one note in his performance tonight, he is going to die. Through a series of logical yet methodical events, Selznick must fight for his life doing what he does best which is playing the piano.

This is another film that, if in the wrong hands, would be utterly ridiculous. But in the hands of director Eugenio Mira, who himself is a composer, it is about as perfect a white-knuckle thriller as you’re going to get. Mira not only makes this film a spotlight for the music, but he also uses his camera to swoop and loom around the stage and across the crowd as if you are riding the musical notes themselves. What could be a boring film with a fixed camera on a guy playing piano for an hour and a half is instead a rollercoaster ride of exhilarating sound, swirling in and out of an anxiety-riddled pianist’s psyche being pushed to its limits. This movie is filled with so many things to please lovers of all things film—everything from ever-crescendoing pacing, to rapid fire editing, to jaw-dropping scene to scene transitions. There’s one in particular where a man is slicing across a woman’s throat with a shard of glass which immediately cuts to a bow running across the strings of a cello that took my breath away.

Of course, through the gigantic and emotive eyes of Elijah Wood, one can’t help but be enveloped by the waves of anxiety he conveys with his performance. Wood is utterly convincing as the anxious pianist fearing another bout with stage fright. And while I can’t be sure, it seems like he was actually playing piano in many of the scenes.

It’s also worth mentioning that Bill S. Preston Esquire himself, Alex Winter, returns to the big screen here in a minor yet crucial and utterly chilling role. Having not seen Winter in quite a while, a little age on him only makes Winter look all the more unique, and here’s hoping this means we’ll be seeing more of him in future films. Winter offers up an unconventional, yet solid performance here.

If there’s one criticism I had for GRAND PIANO, it’s that things get a bit over the top in the last fifteen minutes. I love films like Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL, which highlight the claustrophobia by trapping a person or two in a tight and tense situation. But when Tom Cruise and Jamie Fox left the cab in that film, everything that made it awesome trickled away. While the transition is not as jarring here with GRAND PIANO, when John Cusack finally shows his face and he has his final confrontation with Wood above the stage, I found myself longing for more moments of sheer tension that occurred in the first hour with Wood playing the piano. Sure there needed to be a resolution, but this ending goes way over the top and almost took me out of the film.

Still, for the granite-solid first hour of edge-of-your-seat awesome, GRAND PIANO is a film lovers of nail-biting cinema will need a couple extra digits to gnaw on.




THE 2013-2014 COUNTDOWN!


#20 – GRAND PIANO
#21 – RIGOR MORTIS
#22 – ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE
#23 – THE MACHINE
#24 – DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN
#25 – THE SACRAMENT
#26 – THE SEASONING HOUSE
#27 – THANATOMORPHOSE
#28 – DEVOURED
#29 – CONTRACTED
#30 – DISCOPATH
#31 – SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY


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

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