20 Random Lady Horror Treats!
By Kristin Battestella
In the mood for some scary chick flicks? Here’s a sampling of new and old lady vamps, witches, ghosts, werewolves, killers, and more macabre with a slightly – heck who are we kidding – outright feminine spins!
The Awakening – I’m glad this 2011 ghost tale remains period and utilizes plenty of post-war traumas along with fun spiritualism and early ghost hunting gadgets, and a great, spooky English house turned boarding school keeps the paranormal pace going, too. Although some of the said supernatural equipment and unnecessary character clichés are a touch too modern, the fractured Dominic West (The Wire), perfectly nuanced Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter), needs no one Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and innocent Isaac Hampstead Wright (Game of Thrones) keep the audience interested even when the back story gets confusing towards the finale. Are these ghosts, personal demons and memories, or something more? There may not be enough scares here for a hardcore horror fan – and wise viewers may see through the bump in the night clichés and saucy innuendo thanks to similar ghost films. However, this mood and atmosphere does what it sets out to do and fits the pain, loneliness, and isolation perfectly. Those period designs, cars, clothing, creepy dollhouses, even the way they hold their cigarettes keep the dramatic before scary scenes classy. Despite some brief nudity and a few twists, there are no contemporary cheap thrills here, and the mystery is intriguing enough to keep the viewer invested for the full 100 minutes.
Burn Witch Burn – A creepy, blank screen opening narration sends this 1962 British thriller a-simmering beneath the campus innocence, great cars, ivy covered cottages, and seemingly fine period drama – but that’s before the sudden spider souvenirs hidden in the bedroom drawer! Not so nice and magical wife Janet Blair (My Sister Eileen) has all sorts of Craft curios amid the great set dressings, cigarettes, period style, and black cats. It’s a lighter take then most witchy pictures, but the secret practices are no less creepy thanks to sinister suspense music and scary discoveries. The well framed, black and white prospective photography, mirror uses, and shadow schemes parallel the fractured, marital debates, too. Peter Wyngarde (Jason King) is a disbeliever relying on logic, education, and intelligence versus the implausibility of positive charms and evil hexes. Screenwriters George Baxt (Circus of Horrors), Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone) add scandalous student/teacher allegations to this breaking Cleaver surface and send the fears and desperation boiling over as spells go awry. The car chases and titular fires mount, but the original Night of the Eagle name matches perfectly as well. Thunder, wind, eerie tape recordings, even the old-fashioned abrupt ringing of a telephone puts one on edge here, and the pace come to a pinnacle to finish this excellent, deadly thriller.
Byzantium – Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) and Saiorse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) anchor this 2013 vampire spin from director Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire) co-starring Jonny Lee Miller (Hackers), Maria Doyle Kennedy (The Tudors), and Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class). The cinematography from Sean Bobbitt (Hunger) is intriguing, and a golden, antique patina contrasts the bitter daylight, nightclubs, boarded windows, and harsh concrete. Ironic uses of Etta James standards and melancholy piano music add to the slight sense of abstract– the contemporary still has a feeling of the past in old décor, fedoras, and aged computers. Nostalgic paper, pens, and handwriting or scandalous red lights and saucy lingerie establish the ladies’ personalities better than the in medias res mellow narration, which takes too long for viewers who didn’t know this movie would be about vampires. Fortunately, Arterton is sexy yet deadly and nude yet refined – she’s a killer in every sense of the word but bizarrely maternal, loving, and considerate. Although Ronan’s depressing, woe is me burdens are a bit much, her somber, hypnotic blue eyes are classy and bittersweet. Her flashbacks provide interesting snippets of period piece macabre; the past wasn’t glamorous but dirty, grimy, and violent thanks to Miller. Clearly, the emo Eleanor just wants attention, and those ready to die recognize her for what she is. Aren’t there better ways to go about your hidden existence until disbelieving authorities, prodding schools, and teen angst disrupt it? Each vampire seems trapped in easy, cliché mindsets from centuries ago – nobody can learn anything or mature in 200 years? The fine but disorienting flashback within flashback and non-linear two hours make the audience wonder why writer Moira Buffini (adapter of the 2011 Jane Eyre, where the flashback pacing worked wonderfully) didn’t put the storytelling in order or tighten the slightly long and uneven vampire mythos instead of calling attention to the hip framework. Brief shots of the seemingly aware police in pursuit go unexplained until the finale, and perhaps the plot should have been all period or totally present. Thankfully, the brooding feminine spin, artsy blood and gore, and a unique vampire creation and organization combine alongside the subtle but expected sharp nails, wrist bites, and jokes about fangs or daylight. These ladies dab the blood from their lips, quietly wait for the invitation to enter, get tempted by the sight of blood and injury, take the lives of the ill or elderly – and they watch Hammer movies! This isn’t scary, and the assorted accents and Brit-ness may bother some. However, this isn’t a sparkly teeny bopper love triangle either. The viewer doesn’t always know what happens next in the intense finish, and this tale makes for a surprising, worthy piece of vampire storytelling.
Daughters of Darkness – This 1971 Elizabeth Bathory suave and swanky Euro bend starring John Karlen (Willie from Dark Shadows getting it on!) and Delphine Seyrig (The Day of the Jackal) gets right to the saucy, up close, wet, near soft core action and full frontal nudity. Aristocratic family secrets, deceptions, kinky newlyweds, and suggested lesbian jealousies add to the traditional vampire staples – from unexplained perpetual youth, lookalike ancestors, and a reflection-less countess with a beautiful, mysteriously bound ward to straight razor cuts on the neck, fear of running water, and no trace of blood at the scene of the crime. Toss in meddling, aged bellhops, astute old cops, the local morbid curiosity, and a bevy of babes – namely Danielle Oulette and Andrea Rau – and the murders, violence, and homoerotic twists are complete. The cars are seriously cool, too, as are the symbolic fashions, flashy frocks, and colorful velvet décor. The perfect Ostend Hotel and other European locales more than make up for the tacky but sassy and fitting music, and the nice mix of accents on the English dialogue adds more foreign flair to kinky descriptions of medieval torture – nipple pinchers, hot tongs, and all that. Red lighting and blue tinted photography add to the creepy jump scares and frights, but this isn’t horror per se, rather something more voluptuous in mood. It’s a little dark and tough to see at the end and confuses some of its own vampire lore but stick with the uncut 100-minute DVD version with the added features and commentaries if you’re in the mood for then-updated, now period gothic vamps with a feminine twist. Remember, the key to beauty is “A very strict diet and lots of sleep.”
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde – This 1971 Robert Louis Stevenson meets Jack the Ripper mash up from Hammer has psychedelic DVD menus, nice Victorian interiors, and pleasant period scoring, yet it feels like it should be more stylish than it is thanks to cheap costumes and shabby London streets. Though the fog is moody and this side of town was supposed to be seedy, we don’t really see the Ripper Murders, and tossed in Burke and Hare grave robbing and Whitechapel investigations further muddle the narration and confuse the timeline. Ralph Bates (Lust for a Vampire) is slow to start – it takes half the film for the decidedly out of place and sixties looking Martine Beswick (One Million Years B.C.) to do anything, too – and this lack of Hammer stars dampens the fun. The studio’s later day decline perhaps stems from the absence of second generation star power; Oliver Reed or Michael Gough and Bates were groomed, but no other team stood out to replace Lee and Cushing. Such B styled, stale stock design hampers the unfulfilled potential from writer Brian Clemens (The Avengers). Director Roy Ward Baker (Quartermass and the Pit) mixes pieces of The Lodger with Frankenstein bodies but this detracts from any personal, interior examinations. The audience has no reason to care about nosy neighbors – not only would I move if they kept walking in on my secret experiments, but they never notice the Clark Kent/Superman happenings. Dialogue hints on the doing bad to do good quest for science are interesting but too brief, and if one seeks immortality by killing hookers for their female hormones, there should be more sex, nudity, and violence. Fun transformations and filming trickeries develop this crazy premise, but things fizzle under too many external happenings. Where are the moral explanations or psychology of the sex change? Is Jekyll gay or harboring cross dressing or transsexual feelings? Subtle uses of the word “queer” in both definitions may or may not suggest more. The blurred line between the good and evil of the identities is well done, but the pacing meanders. Sexuality and bodily consequences on both sides are not fully explored, and this 97 minutes just doesn’t feel as depraved as we might expect. Yes, there are certainly plot holes, misdirection, flawed execution, and an absence of Hammer flair. However, this is nonetheless entertaining just for the battle of the sexes novelty and the all encompassing, ambitious Victorian macabre.
Drag Me to Hell – Sam and Ivan Raimi (Evil Dead, Army of Darkness) present this 2009 tale of curses and consequences starring Alison Lohman (White Oleander) as the likeable and realistic Christine. She’s trying to change her accent, forget her ‘porker’ past and family issues, and keeps doubting or compromising herself, yet she’s also trying to pin her problems on someone else. Lohman carries the increasing paranoia nicely with honest pace and progression as her true colors come forth amid the good jump moments and the not so gruesome that it’s overdone gore and grossness. Justin Long (The Apple Guy), however, is annoying and simply not believable as a college professor; his Freud versus paranormal debates and supposed love for Christine are unconvincing. Reggie Lee (Prison Break) and David Paymer (Mr. Saturday Night) are jerks, too, but their antagonism helps the plot along against the stereotypical gypsy curses as Lorna Raver (The Young and the Restless) makes for a very creepy, gross old lady thanks to that weird eye and a variety of vomit, bugs, and won’t say die dead body encounters. But if she can do all this summoning evil goat demons, why couldn’t she just pay her loan? Although it’s okay to laugh in some scenes – and props for bemusing stapler uses – there is a bit too much sunshine, modern trappings, and a decidedly CGI feeling. This isn’t quite as dirty or desperate as it should be, and we know what’s going to happen the whole time – even the title and poster reveal the predictable twist untwist endings. Fortunately, most of the scares and suspense are well done what you don’t see shadows and wind effects, and the Spanish spins and multi language mythos add flavor along with Dileep Rao’s (Avatar) unique take on the usually clichéd psychic. There are subtle Evil Dead references, of course, but one can certainly laugh or be scared by this entertaining little flick – eyeball in the cake at the dinner party and all.
Ginger Snaps – This quality Canadian horror drama will be too teen girl angst for some adult male audiences; it’s not for animal lovers and today, such teen sex, drug uses, school violence, juvenile morbidity, and obsessions with death would land sisters Katharine Isabelle (American Mary) and Emily Perkins (Hiccups) in serious hot water. Director John Fawcett (The Dark) and co-writer Karen Walton’s (Orphan Black) puberty is horror theme, however, was new during the Y2K era and this Red Riding Hood equals Big Bad Wolf combination fits the solid coming of age progression and lycanthrope twists. Unlike recent in your face horror clichés, there’s sexy here without cheap nudity, the handsome blood and gore isn’t too gory, and the non-CGI wolf get ups are well done. The sharp editing isn’t hectic or seizure inducing, and the likeable, witty, sardonic characters are given full room to blossom or wax irony– the go to expert on wolfs bane is the town’s resident pot dealer! The audience doesn’t know how far the scares and suspense will escalate or if this sisterly core can survive the wolfy puberty. Unfortunately, there is a big, slightly unsatisfying problem with the typical house under construction chase finale and all the potentially worthy plot lines and red herrings left hanging in its wake. How much did quirky mom Mimi Rogers (Someone to Watch Over Me) really know? She’s giddy on periods and womanhood and just happens to buy the deadly poison needed at a craft store – seriously? Deleted scenes and extended DVD editions once again rear their head here, but none of that answers one very critical question: Who’s the original dang wolf? Yes, this lovely werewolf build up and fine feminine sisterhood feels imbalanced in the end, however this is a great, morbid teen thriller for budding macabre young ladies.
The Innkeepers – A lovely, historic atmosphere and setting accent the brooding suspense of this 2011 thinking person’s haunted hotel tale starring Sarah Paxton (Darcy’s Wild Life) and Kelly McGillis (Top Gun). The situational scares, ghost investigations, touches of quirky humor, and genuine conversations feel much more realistic than those so-called reality ghost shows. The subtle fears, whiff of gore, and shock scares are quality, but the what you don’t see whispers, overnight isolation, unknown paranormal activity, and psychic reactions are better. The simple lack of a camera and reliance on EVP gear for the onscreen investigation forces the audience to pay attention. While some modern viewers may dislike the slow burn pace or find the unambitious characters annoying, the lack of easy explanations and typical boobalicious scream queens is refreshingly honest. We need to see the personal normalcy so we know when the scares push people to the extreme. Yes, people don’t listen, let the paranormal go to their head, and go into the forewarned basement – but people close to death also see things differently. Granted, writer, director, and editor Ti West (The House of the Devil) wears too many hats and should have someone else sit back objectively and say, “Clarify this.” Perhaps there’s nothing fancy here – just a straightforward curiosity killed the cat self-fulfilling prophecy. However, today’s increasingly too in your face fancy horror films are becoming a problem, and this well-done little picture is more than worth a look.
Lady Frankenstein – I’m not normally a fan of classic film star Joseph Cotton (Citizen Kane), but his blend of grave robbing, unethical desperation, and father/daughter compassion is perfect for this 1971 Italian twist on the Shelley theme. “Man’s will be done,” Cotton says, but it is Rosalba Neri (99 Women) doing the titular monstrous mayhem, evil deeds, and uniquely saucy spins instead of just being the cliché horror victim or resurrected bride. Ethical debates about money, man, and God accentuate dialogue of radical Victorian science and a woman’s place in the medical profession. The gothic mood, snow, and firelight work wonderfully with the cool mad scientist laboratory – complete with clockworks, bubbling Rube Goldbergs, and perfectly timed thunder and lightning of course. Ugly blood, surgeries, and reanimated monsters smartly contrast the feminine wiles; the progression of the experiments and escalation of the monstrosities are well paced, too. Though the sound is poor and I would have liked more of Mickey Hargitay (Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?) as the deducing inspector on the crimes, this is a good looking, well done film. Unfortunately, there are various editions in need of a proper restoration – including an edited 85 minute print in the public domain and a longer 90 minute plus Shout Factory release splicing together several foreign versions. Perhaps this isn’t as depraved as we might expect nowadays and a little too quick toward the finale, but this macabre period delight is worth the pursuit.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death – This hour and a half from 1971 doesn’t feel PG-13 thanks to askew camera angles, bent up-close shots, bizarre suggestion, tension, and innuendo. The simple tunes and steady beats make for a quiet, eerie orchestration – toss in a Hearst, fall leaves, grave rubbings, female apparitions, empty rocking chairs on abandoned porches, hippie vagrants, and séances and the mood is set! The narration, however, is a little dry. The immediate unreliability and suspect nature is fine – she was “away” veiled mental institution talk and all that – but the inner monologue feels redundant thanks to the sleepy inlet setting and already established atmosphere. Early 70s stylings and more historical decor and accessories accentuate the fear and isolation far better, even if the brief yuppie sing-along is dated. Zohra Lampert (Splendor in the Grass) is a little annoying and flaky as our titular would be victim to start, but her fears become a worthwhile anchor as the proverbial plot thickens and the jump scares increase thanks to freaky townsfolk, evil history, and morbid antiques. No one wants to say things like crazy, supernatural, ghosts, or vampire, which makes for some confusion or deduction that today’s spoon fed audiences might not be used to doing. Granted, the title is also misleading; the scares here may seem like all the obvious, cliché staples, too. Thankfully, the lack of nudity, little blood, and disturbing water scares make for a very effective, well-paced, thinking person’s serious horror picture.
Lights Out– I like short films and wish they got more mainstream attention and recognition, but I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed something this short at under three minutes. I can talk longer than this is! However, director David F. Sandburg’s (Earth Savers, Ladyboy) winner of the Bloody Cuts Horror Challenge 2013 starring Lotta Losten got me. Not many purportedly scary films these days can capture this unseen suspense, the increasing infringement of the unknown in the sanctity of the home, bedroom, and childhood under the covers safety. How can you flight or fight when fear is coming to you? Sure, jaded viewers may balk at the lack of dialogue or motivations. Why not call a friend in the night? Leave? Lock the door? Scream! Perhaps the end isn’t as fulfilling as the initial shocks that either glue you in for the topper or make you drop your precious mobile viewing device, either. The lighting, shadows, and design, however, are top notch, and we’ve all been there – thought we saw something in the dark or retreated at the paranormal possibility. This relatable hook and scares totally works. If bigger industry names or Hollywood studios don’t notice Sandburg and this smartly simplistic viral sensation, they should certainly take note at the taut tension and straightforward filmmaking. Is it easy to keep up this intensity at this short a sample? Sure. Was the minimal design required by the competition and an indie shoestring budget? Probably. But is this how modern horror should be done instead of all the in your face 3D mayhem, fluff, trite, and obnoxiousness? Yes. View if you dare on Sandburg’s page here: http://vimeo.com/82920243.
Mama – Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) lead this 2013 scary fairy tale from producer Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), director Andres Muschietti and co writers Barbara Muschietti (from their original Mama short film) and Neil Cross (Luther). Dangerous snowy roads, car action, and police radio immediately establish the isolated cabin and wooded perils for these adorable little girls and their innocent statements. Firelight only scenes, dark surroundings, and creepy noises accent the almost livable but messy designs and wild child state of mind. Eerie observation rooms, case study reports, medical analysis, and research montages anchor the scary amid a reality of courtrooms, technology, and red tape. Some of the brighter colors do seem too pretty or oversaturated; however, pleasing shadows, reflections, and flicking lights keep the spooky subtle. Megan Charpentier (Resident Evil: Retribution) and Isabelle Nelisse (Whitewash) create an excellent mix of sympathy and disturbing – their child artwork, whispers, and games are both cute and eerie along with moth symbolisms and leaf motifs. Although she has stunning eyes and cheekbones, Chastain doesn’t quite fit her character’s short, dark hair and punk style. Her attitude and problem with kids feels fake or without cause, and she’s more worried about her own safety then helping these girls. Her Annabel is more like a stunted teen babysitter, complains this isn’t her job, and what bass we hear from her isn’t that good. Psychiatrist Daniel Kash (Hannibal) is right when he tells her to grow up, but he also foolishly doesn’t share all his case findings. Is this film about a doctor and a woman trying to help in this unique child tale or is it about scaring the obligatory but rocker babe? Realizations come too easy, the rules of the scares change, the motivation or abilities of the entity become purely opportune, convenient file folders and information are stolen without consequences, and research ladies who claim to not know anything sure do drop a load of exposition. The bump in the night scares or jump moments are typical don’t look in the closet, haunted house hijinks, and the extra boom chords and flashes of light are unnecessary, for the audience only ploys when the troubling video sessions with the girls or seeing and hearing their reactions suffice. The CGI also looks iffy and dark, and though fittingly eerie, askew and distorted coma visions and dreamy flashbacks look cartoonish. Most of all, however, I’m disappointed that the rental blu-ray is full of previews and shows the menus and features before blocking them with “This disc is intended for rental purposes and only includes the feature film.” Hmph. There is a nice pace, mood, and atmosphere here, but the lack of answers, plot holes, and thinly drawn characters will be too much for some viewers to ignore. I mean, not only do the psychology and relationship possibilities fall prey to womanly doing right by the spirit sacrifices, but explanations to the authorities are never considered and what happened to the &^$#% dog? Longtime horror viewers won’t be fooled by the surprising moments and twists here, but fortunately, there is enough child likability and ghostly traditional style for a disturbing watch or two.
The Resident – I didn’t like the last Hillary Swank horror attempt The Reaping – actually I dislike any time she goes off her Oscar winning type coughP.S. I Love Youcough. Thankfully, she’s solid as a strong but socially awkward and somewhat man needy doctor in an ominous apartment for this 2011 nuHammer thriller. Likewise, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Grey’s Anatomy) is effective, even if it’s obvious he’s the too good to be true handyman in a horror movie. At the standard 90 minutes, precious time is wasted with cool opening credits – not usually a good sign for a recent horror film – and the story is slow to get going and ultimately quite predictable. The cheating boyfriend explanation for her moving comes a little too late and the color gradient looks over processed, but the hospital blood and gore are well done. Of course, Christopher Lee has a great introduction. He looks like a perfectly respectable grandfather, yet there’s something just a bit creepy old man about him, and I love it! Although the casting and plot could have easily gone the college bimbo route and it sets up some naughty, eerie hi jinks, the brief Swank nudity and up close lingerie shots are surprising. Fortunately, smart shadows, lighting, reflections, and some unique camera angles add to the suspense. The frenetic flashback answers a lot of questions and ups the stalker vibe, too. Yes, it turns this film from a seemingly haunted house bump in the night horror tale to a nasty if somewhat typical real world thriller, and there isn’t a lot of mood, atmosphere, or truly spooky feelings as a result. Though pleasant, the New York contemporary city vibes and final reliance on plot holes, tools, hardware horror, and chases hamper the “it could happen to you” fears. It’s a bit misguided and could have been more, but the cast is likeable and some quality character twists win out.
The Sentinel – A big name cast and lots of familiar faces- including Chris Sarandon, Eli Wallach, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Burgess Meredith, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, John Carradine, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, and hey look its Tom Berenger and Nana Visitor- appear in this 1977 pseudo satanic thriller. Although I’ve never heard of model turned actress Cristina Raines and her undefined training is apparent in some scenes, her confused woman is very likeable and holds the picture together as the unexplained events, bizarre dreams, suspect mental issues, and suicidal baggage intensify. Complex blends of religious iconography, nighttime scares, and plenty of twists and twisted-ness create some fine subterfuge. The fantastic NYC locations mix wonderfully with a suspiciously unsuspicious Old World look and feel, too. Yes, some scenes are silly and there might be some iffy plot holes. However, toss in some kinky, nudity, and devilish debauchery with the evil plots and the demented atmosphere here remains entertaining throughout.
Sleepaway Camp – The woefully laughable acting in this 1983 coming of age slasher is so bad it’s good, and intentional or not, the nostalgic delights keep on coming – from short shorts and cropped shirts, homoerotic innuendos, and camp abuses to twisted point of view killings, foul-mouthed humor, and the expected youth shenanigans. Yes, there may be too little blood and gore. Without subtitles, it’s often tough to tell who is who amid the capture the flag competitions and mean girls bitchiness beyond the bad acted front and center folks. A sharper script would have clarified the back-story and not left the plot hanging on the twists and kickers, too – for the history, trauma, and catalysts will definitely be at best confusing or at worst unexplained to modern, spoon-fed viewers. Franchise creator Robert Hiltzik perhaps wears too many hats in directing a serious slice and dice picture mixed with near parody humor writing, and potential statements on mind, body, society, and possibly homophobia are hampered by the quick but no less shocking finale. Which of the traumas actually puts the killer over the top? The severity and escalation scale of the crimes is also uneven – a potential molester is badly burned while a water bomb thrower is stung to death. Fortunately, the bad scene chewing keeps these sexual topics, dirty old men implications, nasty cooks, and unseen suggestions surprisingly light. We don’t blame the killer for doing in this lot, and it is fun to spot the clues and avoid the red herrings in solving the murder mystery. Both wise audiences and retro fans can enjoy the thinking person’s movie potential and bemusing eighties shockers here.
Spider Baby – Talk about an awkward dinner table! Lon Chaney Jr. sings the catchy little song matching the opening cartoon titles of this bizarre 1964 family cannibalism tale written and directed by Jack Hill (Coffy, Foxy Brown). Though the introduction seems slow to start – we only have 80 minutes and it takes too long for all the players to arrive on the scene – the ominous drive to the decrepit Victorian house, crazy knife killings, and cut off ears establish the twistedness. Quirky beatnik music, mellow pace, and low quality black and white photography belie the increasing suspense as those incoming ruthless cousins explore the house at their own peril. Our older, aged Creighton with the sweet Hearst seems like a reasonable, loyal caregiver yet he’s harboring a trio of seriously demented killers. The titular Jill Banner (The President’s Analyst) and her sister Beverly Washburn (Old Yeller) would seem to live quietly in peace – so long as no kids hop their fence or mailmen knock on their door that is. Internal references to classic horror film clichés and The Wolf Man add to this witty whiff of comedy, but veiled statements about trying not to be bad, being unable to help one’s behavior, or possibly not knowing any better perfectly contrast the humor and the ironic, supposedly normal but snotty and infiltrating rival family branch. Society vilifies the sick or ill it can’t understand, and the contorted and creepy to see yet innocent and tragic Sid Haig (House of 1,000 Corpses) initially has our sympathies. Of course, when the disturbia turns kinky, we know why these people remain under lock and key. Along with the scandalous inbreeding, cannibalism, family murder, black garter belts, and intriguing commentaries, the not for the feline faint of heart scene, eerie dumbwaiter uses, crawling spiders, and the general dementedness of seeing older people act like evil kids sets the bar for future macabre domestic horror pictures.
Triangle – Black Death director Christopher Smith creates a great mind bending and smartly head-scratching ride in this watery 2009 Bermuda triangle thriller. There are a few scares, but the within within storytelling and multi level camera work develop more of a thinking viewer’s Twilight Zone heavy before full on gore or modern slasher horror. A decrepit and sinister ship, carefully placed mirrors, dual appearances and deceptions, and altered audience perceptions layer the plotting and paths for desperate mother Melissa George (Turistas). Though it boy Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) is iffy, his role is relatively small. Hefty concepts, time twists, and intelligent debate outshine any small scale productions here, too. I’d like to say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything!
Vampyres – Late Spanish director Jose Ramon Larraz (Symptoms) gets right to the unabashedly naked lesbian soft-core action and slobbery kisses for this 1974 blood and spicy. Despite our contemporary love of sex sex sex, one might initially groan at this potentially unnecessary boobs before violence – yet the kitschy mood and sensuous gothic tone works with the blended British seventies style and Old World, cluttered Victorian creepy. Outside of some great cars and sparse electricity, the viewer may not know when this takes place, and the Oakley Court estate and churchyards are perfectly isolated eerie. Couple Sally Falkner (Doctor Who) and Brian Deacon (The Feathered Serpent) give the audience a likeable believer and a relatable skeptic to set up scares and shocks while Murray Brown (Dan Curtis’ Dracula) learns the dangers of picking up beautiful hitchhikers in dark capes Marianne Morris (Lovebox) and Anulka Dziubinska (Lisztomania). Though the foul afoot is certainly suspected, the simmering, alluring build doesn’t reveal the juicy all at once. Sure, some plot points don’t make much sense – sharper editing or script clarifications would have helped – and the seventies sex and kinky lingerie strip teases can be laughable, I grant you. However, the strong titillation provides comfort, rough, or bemusement ahead of the bloody kickers. The predatory approach is traditional but there are no fangs and quick, demented, near cannibalistic feminine twists keep the pace unconventional. Viewers who prefer their gore, language, and sex fast and furious may find the action slow or the plot lame, but the meant to be hazy and dreamy mood belies an intense finish. Although the volume and sound are soft, the new blu-ray release has commentaries, interviews, and by golly makes this movie look brand spanking new.
What’s the Matter with Helen? – Debbie Reynolds – America’s fifties sweetheart, the mother of Princess Leia – in a scary movie? Oh yes! I’m not exactly a Shelly Winters (A Place in the Sun) fan, for she always seems so frumpy and annoying. However, that stuffy works for writer Henry Farrell (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) and director Curtis Harrington (Games) here. We know it is wrong, and these broads aren’t exactly kosher, yet there’s something about watching old ladies get terrorized onscreen. The diverging juxtapositions of the toe tapping, Hollywood star struck Reynolds and increasingly reclusive, paranoid Winters is quite genius. Simple delights such as early newsreels, radio broadcasts, and early prank phone calls add an extra accent to gruesome crime scene photos, great Depression era cars, and stunning styles to enchant any fashionista. Sweet jazzy tunes like “Goody Goody” are surprisingly perfect for a horror picture; recitals and almost musical sequences further pull the viewers out of the expected scary genre comfort zone, too. Although “Oh, You Nasty Man” performed by a little girl is just a bit too creepy. It’s funny to see vintage crazy stage moms- dolling them up in great hats and frocks doesn’t change their stripes! The photography is a rich, classic, almost antique or patina palette of colors, and the Depression period really makes this 1971 picture stand out. Today’s teen slashers-fed audiences don’t expect to see sophisticated scares in this time or place, and it adds to the unsettling feelings onscreen. Classic audiences, fans of the period, or those just looking for a unique, subliminally scary picture will be entertained here.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – We can’t imagine anyone but Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in a sibling rivalry this extreme! The two Oscar winners (Jezebel and Mildred Pierce, respectively) finally clash onscreen in this 1962 adaptation from director Robert Aldrich (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte). The introductory rise thru the show business eras, fun vaudeville tunes, vintage film reels, swift editing, period clothing, cool cars, and plenty of suspense all cap off the warped drama and black and white demented nostalgia. De Vol’s (Pillow Talk) over the top yet on form and fitting music adds to the fun weirdness of seeing the slovenly done up Davis. Perhaps we tend to think of her as so nice and grandmotherly today- unlike Crawford. Thanks to the likes of Mommie Dearest, it’s a little ironic to see her as Ms. Sympathy. And yet…both ladies put our expectations on end, and it’s a tough call on whose is the better performance. Although the shock moments are probably well known now, the audience wonders how far off the deep end the wonderfully cruel and simplistic scares will go. There’s great, bemusing trepidation in the little things we take for granted in the 21st century- getting a letter to a neighbor, not knowing what’s for dinner, leaving the phone off the hook. Minds, mirrors, twisted selves- the unraveling of this relationship train wreck is quite horrific- or at the very least criminal! Where is the desperation greatest? Who’s more deserving of their internal hostage via the wheelchair or the childlike mind? This staple is perfect for classic film fans, fans of the cast, and anyone looking for a sophisticated feminine horror spin.