By C. Michael Forsyth
“Nailbiter” is an independent horror film that puts most big-budget Hollywood fare to shame – and will have you biting your nails in suspense.
I won’t give away more than the bare bones of the plot. It is that rare movie that actually surprises you along the way, in an age when if you’ve seen the trailer for a flick you typically know everything that will happen. Even the exact nature of the menace will likely throw you for a loop. As for the title, let’s just say that biting and nails definitely come into play.
“Nailbiter” begins with a mother driving with her three daughters to pick up the father, a soldier returning from a war zone, from the airport. They are beset by a monster tornado and forced to run from their car and take refuge in the cellar of an old farmhouse. We know they’re in trouble when the homeowner nails the cellar door shut, trapping them inside. But their problems are just beginning. Oh man, are they just beginning.
The movie works because the filmmakers simply follow some basic storytelling rules that, unfortunately, many Hollywood horror films break.
No. 1, create characters you care about and put them in jeopardy. In so many movies, you have no empathy for the characters. You don’t care who lives and who dies and the only payoff is correctly guessing the order in which they die and taking satisfaction in how bizarre that death is. (See S. Night Shyamalan’s “Devil.”) Here, plenty of time is devoted to establishing the character of mom Janet (Erin McGrane) a recovering alcoholic struggling to finally do right by her family, and her relationship with each of her very different kids. When a character dies, it’s a shock to the system that moves you to the brink of tears. How often do you see THAT in any horror movie?
No. 2, keep raising the stakes. The stakes here get very high, very quick. These aren’t some generic teenage camp counselors/monster fodder. They are children and we know the mother has to save ALL of them. Generally a tough task in a horror flick. And the situation keeps getting progressively more dire as the terrifying depth and breadth of the threat emerges.
No. 3, introduce a new type of menace. Serial killers, yawn. Zombies, ho-hum. We’ve seen scores of vampires and at this point, they’re no big deal. We sit down with our popcorn knowing all their strengths and all their weaknesses – stake through the heart, garlic, holy water, sunlight, crucifixes. (Heck, those blood-slurpers sure are easy to put down, aren’t they?) Scary as an old shoe. The menace in “Nailbiter” is novel.
No. 4, convincing special effects. I caught the picture at the Mad Monster Party horror convention in Charlotte, and when I read that the low-budget movie included a tornado, my first thought was that cheesiness would set in early on. But producer/director Patrick Rea had the smarts to allocate enough of the budget to effects to make them believable.
In addition, this is the only horror movie I’ve ever seen that left me WANTING to see a sequel. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really do a jig when I hear that a “Nightmare on Elm Street Part 13” is coming out. If the villain has already been defeated many times by teenage girls that puts a damper on his ability to scare you. It’s like a school bully trying to intimidate you after you’ve seen his butt whupped on the playground by a series of nerds. “Nailbiter” ends in such a way that actually demands a sequel.
Put it this way: It’s payback time.
SPEAKING OF TERROR…
I was interviewed by Real Vampire News about real-life vampires, humans who truly do drink human blood. Read about my experiences interviewing these people as a reporter for Weekly World News, and what I’ve learned about this bizarre subculture by clicking
… ALSO, BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE WEEK FROM HELL.
The Week From Hell is upon us – eight disaster-prone days during which, if history is any indication, a major tragedy is likely to take place. Here are just a few of the past tragedies that have befallen the world between April 12 and April 20:
April 12: U.S. Civil War begins
April 13: Apollo 13 disaster
April 14: Lincoln Shot
April 15: Titanic Sinks
April 16: Virginia Tech Massacre
April 17: Russian troops slaughter goldfield workers
April 18: San Francisco Earthquake
April 19: Oklahoma City Bombing, Bay of Pigs, Waco tragedy.
April 20: Columbine High School Massacre
And here, drawn mostly from Wikipedia, is the full list:
• 1861 – The U.S. Civil War begins when Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
• 1864 –The Fort Pillow massacre: Confederate forces murder most of the African American soldiers who surrendered at Fort Pillow, Tennessee.
• 1945 – U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies in office.
• 1968 – Nerve gas accident at Skull Valley, Utah.
• 1970 – Soviet submarine K-8, carrying four nuclear torpedoes, sinks in the Bay of Biscay four days after a fire on board.
• 2002 – A female suicide bomber blows herself up at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, killing 7 and wounding 104.
• 2007 – A suicide bomber penetrates the Green Zone and detonates in a cafeteria inside the parliament building, killing Iraqi MP Mohammed Awad and wounding more than 20 other people.
• 2010 – A train derails near Merano, Italy, after running into a landslide, causing nine deaths and injuring 28 people.
• 1945 – German troops butcher more than 1,000 political and military prisoners in Gardelegen, Germany.
• 1948 – The Hadassah medical convoy massacre: In an ambush, 79 Jewish doctors, nurses and medical students from Hadassah Hospital and a British soldier are slaughtered by Arabs in Sheikh Jarra near Jerusalem.
• 1953 – CIA director Allen Dulles launches the sinister mind-control program MKULTRA.
• 1970 – An oxygen tank aboard Apollo 13 explodes while en route to the Moon, stranding the crew in space.
• 1975 – Bus massacre in Lebanon: Attack by the Phalangist resistance kills 26 militia members of the P.F.L. of Palestine, marking the start of the 15-year Lebanese Civil War.
• 1992 – The Great Chicago Flood: Damaged wall of a utility tunnel beneath the Chicago River opens into a breach that floods basements with an estimated 250 million gallons of water.
* 1846 – The Donner Party expedition sets out from Springfield, Illinois for California. After being trapped by heavy snow, nearly half of the 87 pioneers die, many eaten by their starving companions.
* 1865 – U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated in Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth.
• 1909 – Adana Massacre is launched by Turkey’s Ottoman Empire against Armenian civilians. Between 15,000–30,000 people are killed.
• 1944 – A massive explosion in India’s Bombay harbor kills 800.
• 1986 – President Ronald Reagan orders major bombing raids against Libya, killing 60 people.
• 1986 – Massive 2.2 pound hailstones fall on the Gopalganj district of Bangladesh, killing 92. These are the heaviest hailstones ever recorded.
• 1988 – The USS Samuel B. Roberts strikes a mine in the Persian Gulf
• 1994 – In northern Iraq, two U.S. Air Force fighters mistakenly shoot down two U.S. Army helicopters, killing 26 people.
• 1999 – NATO mistakenly bombs a convoy of ethnic Albanian refugees. Yugoslav officials say 75 people are killed.
• 1999 – A severe hailstorm strikes Sydney, Australia causing $2.3 billion in insured damages, the most costly natural disaster in Australian history.
• 2010 – Nearly 2,700 are killed in a magnitude 6.9 earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai, China.
• 1715 – The Pocotaligo Massacre triggers the start of the Yamasee War in colonial South Carolina. In the first year of the war, the Yamasee Indians lose about a quarter of their population, either killed or enslaved.
• 1912 – The RMS Titanic sinks in the North Atlantic at 2:20 a.m., two and a half hours after hitting an iceberg. 1,517 people are killed.
* 1927 Great Mississippi Flood, one of the most destructive deluges in American history, claims 246 lives and inflicts $400 million in damage.
• 1941 – In the Belfast Blitz, the German Luftwaffe bombs Belfast, Northern Ireland, killing 1,000 people.
• 1969 – North Korea shoots down a United States Navy aircraft over the Sea of Japan, killing all 31 on board.
• 1970 – During the Cambodian Civil War, massacres of the Vietnamese minority results in 800 bodies flowing down the Mekong River into South Vietnam.
• 1979 – A disastrous 7.1 earthquake occurs on Montenegro coast.
• 1989 – British soccer fans crush together at Liverpool’s Hillsborough Stadium in the FA Cup Semi Final, causing 96 deaths.
• 1989 – The Tiananmen Square showdown begins in the People’s Republic of China. Thousands are massacred by Communist troops.
• 2002 – Air China Flight CA129 crashes into a hillside during heavy rain and fog near Busan, South Korea, killing 128.
• 73 A.D. – Roman legions crush the Jewish revolt at Masada after months of seige. Hundreds of Israelites commit suicide rather than be taken as slaves.
• 1945 – About 7,000 civilians and wounded soldiers perish when the German refugee ship Goya is sunk by a Soviet submarine torpedo, marking one of the worst tragedies in maritime history.
• 1947 – Texas City Disaster: An explosion on board a freighter in port causes the city of Texas City, Texas, to catch fire, killing almost 600.
• 1990 – “Doctor Death” Jack Kevorkian carries out his first assisted suicide.
• 1992 – The Katina P. runs aground off of Maputo, Mozambique and 60,000 tons of crude oil spill into the ocean.
• 2007 – Virginia Tech massacre: The deadliest spree killing in modern American history. Seung-Hui Cho kills 32 and injures 23 before committing suicide.
• 1912 – Russian troops open fire on striking goldfield workers in northeast Siberia, killing at least 150.
• 1941 – Germany conquers Yugoslavia.
• 1975: Khmer Rouge forces take over Cambodia. About 1.7 million people are slaughtered by this tyrannical regime, most dumped in the infamous mass graves known as The Killing Fields.
• 2006 – Sami Hammad, a Palestinian suicide bomber, detonates an explosive device in Tel Aviv, killing 11 people and injuring 70.
• 1897 – The Greco-Turkish War is declared between Greece and the Ottoman Empire. About 8,000 die in the brief but bloody conflict also known as The 30 Day War.
• 1902 – Quetzaltenango, the second largest city of Guatemala, is destroyed by an earthquake, killing about 900 people.
• 1906 – San Francisco earthquake destroys much of city. Death toll of 700 is often cited but experts believe as many as 2,800 may have perished in quake and resulting fires.
• 1983 – A suicide bomber destroys the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 63 people.
• 1996 – In Lebanon, at least 106 civilian refugees are killed when Israel Defense Forces shell the UN compound at Quana.
• 2007 – A series of bombings wreak havoc in Baghdad, killing 198 and injuring 251.
• 1943 – German troops crush the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. An estimated 13,000 Jews are killed, about half of those burned alive or killed by smoke inhalation. Of the 50,000 survivors, most are shipped to extermination camps.
• 1943 – Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hofmann deliberately takes LSD for the first time, introducing the drug that will destroy thousands of minds.
• 1961 – The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba ends in a fiasco for the U.S., in which most of the 1,500 C.I.A.-trained invaders are captured or killed.
• 1989 – A gun turret explodes aboard the USS Iowa, killing 47 sailors.
• 1993 – The 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas ends when a fire breaks out. Eighty-one people die, including 20 children and two pregnant women.
• 1993 – South Dakota governor George Mickelson and seven others are killed when their plane crashes in Iowa.
• 1995 – Oklahoma City bombing: Timothy McVeigh blows up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168.
• 1997 – The Red River Flood of 1997 overwhelms region from North Dakota to Minnesota, inflicting $3.5 billion in damage.
• 1792 – France declares war on Austria, the beginning of French Revolutionary Wars in which tens of thousands die.
• 1889 – Nazi madman Adolf Hitler is born. He launches World War 2 in which over 60 million people are killed.
• 1999 – Columbine High School massacre: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold fatally shoot 13 people and injure 24 others before committing suicide in Jefferson County, Colorado.
• 2010 – The Deepwater Horizon oil well explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, killing twelve workers and causing an oil spill that lasts six months.
… AND, ON A BRIGHTER NOTE…
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