Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Kindred

 

Plotline: A psychological thriller rippling with suspense, Kindred follows vulnerable mother-to-be Charlotte as she is taken in by her recently deceased boyfriend’s mother and her stepson, who seem increasingly obsessed with her every move Charlotte’s suspicions grow about Margaret and Thomas’ intentions for her unborn child.

Who would like it: People who love demented families, cults, cat and mouse and psychological horror

High Points: I like the way this movie was shot because it highlights the isolation of our heroine

Complaints: There is the suggestion of a cult and lots of symbolism of the occult but the movie doesn’t explain it, it’s just left as unanswered questions

Overall: This was pretty stressful to watching and the ending feels like an uppercut to the jaw.

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Shudder

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: RELIGIOUS AND FOLK HORRORS

Religious and Folk Horrors by Kristin Battestella

Horror comes in many forms thanks to these cults, witches, clergy, pagans, and rituals – and some of these contemporary films and period settings are better than others.

The Heretics – Kidnappings, ritual symbols, altars, torches, and cults lead to freaky masks, chanting, demons, and sacrifices in this 2017 Canadian indie. The nightmares continue five years later despite group therapy, volunteer work, and an overprotective mother who won’t let her daughter walk home alone. Assaulted and abused women are meek and apologetic, comforted by time heals all wounds hopeful, but others don’t want to be touched, refusing to be victims and tired of lies that don’t make it better. Would they go back and change their experience or seek revenge? Our female couple supports each other with realistic conversations and

maturity – not horror’s typical angry lez be friends titillation solely for the viewer gaze. Unfortunately, creepy campers, chains, and a scarred abductor ruin necklaces and birthday plans, leading to skull entrance markers, an isolated cabin, and flashbacks of the original attack with hooded dead, white robes, and flowery dresses marred in blood. Sunrise deadlines, whispers of angels, fitting Gloria names, and religious subtext balance faith, doubts, God, biblical aversions, and horns. What’s a delusion and who’s delusional? Who’s right or wrong about what they believe? The multi-layered us versus them, who’s really involved in what sinister, and what is truth or lies aren’t clear amid threats, stabbings, whips, and history repeating itself. Men versus women innuendo and who needs saving attempts add to the less than forthcoming police, lack of answers, and obsessive searches. Who is trying to protect whom? Violence begets violence thanks to fanatical beliefs in the ritual and long-awaited ceremonies. This demon is deceptive, growing stronger and more tantalizing despite a gross, uncomfortable sex scene. Occasionally the boo monster in your face jumps are forced, but the fine body horror, creaking wings breaking out the back, squishing sounds, and black sinews make up the differences. Fevers, convulsions, hairy clumps, and visions increase along with the realizations of what is happening before candles, pentagrams, burns, and one more final sacrifice. Viewers know where it all has to go, yet this remains entertaining getting there via escalating horror invasive, ritual complications, and one ready and waiting demon.

 

Loon Lake – David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows, people, Dark Shadows) anchor this 2019 Minnesota set indie opening with 1880 screams, witchy curses, multiple chops, and bloody heads. An unnecessary contemporary driving credits montage restarts the farm country rural as a drunken widower renting an empty home takes the cross off the wall. Distorted camera angles set off the horror as well as pictures of the deceased and the sense of numbness amid the pretty fields, pleasant breezes, overgrown cemetery, and eerie trees. Details on accidental deaths attributed to the witch and the bad luck that follows if you cross her grave three times come at the local diner, and Selby is quite distinct as the pesky old neighborhood kook and his conflicted minister ancestor. The bereaved, unfortunately, don’t believe in ghosts or witches despite tales of church fires, saucy spells, and bound rituals. Flashbacks provide last rites, fresh graves, and refused nastiness alongside spirits in the window, thunder, tolling bells, and number three repetitions. Conversations on grief versus faith are nice, if heavy handed, calming moments before figures in the cornrows, apparitions of the dead, phantom noises, and creaking floorboards. The past sequences, however, are out of order. That may be an attempt at leaving the history open to interpretation or making a case for crazy with guilt unreliable, but the audience has seen independent, over the top evidence of the witch, so we know it’s not all in his head. Despite surreal visions, alluring forest encounters, willing temptations, dead birds, power outages, and spooky lights; it’s also difficult to be on our modern man’s side. He keeps saying “Let me explain” after grabbing a woman when waking rather than admitting he had a nightmare about the witch, still wants to talk it out when threatened for attacking her and completely ignores a full gun rack because screaming at an intruder is apparently the better thing to do. Maybe this is about his learning to believe in both good and bad, but it’s tough to feel for a guy claiming he didn’t deserve this when the witch didn’t deserve what happened to her either. Convenient writing seen in a dream provides an end to the curse, but he doesn’t try to make it right, insisting he doesn’t care what went down – which isn’t the best course of action when she’s naked and bathing in blood. Putting on a cross makes for instant faith, but the seemingly sunny ending and false fake outs are obvious. Although this makes the most of zooms, music, and in-scene scares, once again the flaws here arise in too few people wearing too many production hats, and the imbalance shows by time our man pain protagonist is literally swinging at thin air. While entertaining for both the good as well as the bad, this really feels like two stories in one, and the elder period tale is better of the two.

You Make the Call

The Ritual – Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey) and Rafe Spall (Prometheus) plan an all bros adventure in this 2018 Netflix original. None of that been there, done that will do, and hiking an obscure trail in Sweden becomes the honorary guilt trip after they stumble into a liquor store robbery gone wrong. This cliché start could have been skipped in favor of the brisk mountain trail memorial toasts directly, for we learn all we need to know thanks to out of shape complaints, new $200 hiking boots, sprained knees, and the realization that they didn’t even climb very far and can see their luxury lodge from the pretty peak. Despite questionable maps, a faulty compass, rain, and no reception, they of course take a shady shortcut through the ominous forest, and if we haven’t seen this movie already, we’ve certainly seen others like it. Rather than the injured and another stay while the other two return for help, logical ideas, talk of bears, and abandoned items from previous campers are dismissed by these husbands and fathers who are a little too old to be acting so stupid. The unrealistic actions dampen the animal carcasses, thunder, and eerie trees as mysterious symbols and carvings lead to a convenient spooky cabin where they can stay the night. They break in, trespassing and ignoring runes and effigies they presume are “pagan Nordic shit” on top of strange roars and growling in the forest. Unnatural lights and distorted dream visuals intermix with bedwetting and sleepwalking frights, and in the morning the men follow a path they know is in the wrong direction just because it’s there and nobody is supposed to talk about what’s happening. More creepy cabins, monsters in the woods, screams, and blood begat missing friends and gory tree hangings before arguments, contrived guilt, and false hopes lead to torches, folk music, and chains. In the end, suddenly brave men make big declarations about their wives when earlier they cowered, passed blame, and couldn’t wait to get away from their families. We know horrors are going to happen, but the giving it away title spoils the supposed surprise. The ninety minutes plus feels overlong because it took so long to get to the creepy death warmed over people and actual sacrificial parts, yet the past looking rural and ancient mythology revelations are the story we should have had. Viewers don’t get to completely see what could be an awesome monster, and the unique Norse legends, pagan worship, and immortal bargains that should have been the focal point seem tacked on after we wasted all that time watching dumb dudes literally going around in circles in a tired guilt versus the supernatural metaphor. The familiar, predictable derivatives are shout at the television entertaining, but it’s tough to overcome the feeling that we should have been seeing the eponymous history perspective while these intruders get what they deserve.

I Didn’t Finish It

We Summon the Darkness – It feels like we’ve seen these rad chicks on the highway before complete with music, talk of make up and sex, and it’s 1988 via 2019 thanks to crimped hair, Madonna bangles, recent vehicles, and modern skinny jeans substitutes that look like dress up for the costume party. Gas station stops, old man innuendo, and televangelist fire and brimstone add to the cliché teases while convenient murder reports on the radio detail satanic symbols found at the crime scene. The jerks on the road are likewise weak with terrible mullets and everyone measuring each other’s meddle with their metalhead expertise gets old very fast. The flashing lights and concert bouncing up and down are also brief and lame tropes alongside the good girl peer pressured into everything cool and crazed, annoying exaggerations. Maybe if you look at this as a parody or if it had been a comedy the tone and style would make sense? The highway home to the rich house is instantaneous compared to drawn out start, and the Never Have I Ever chatting around the fire drinking binges goes on and on when it’s obvious the guys want sex and the girls are disinterested. Who’s really after whom and for what purpose turnabouts are interesting, but not unexpected thanks to the ritual foreshadowing and upside down cross jewelry leading to the drugged and bound. A gender reversal on the horror is supposed to stand out, but one girl’s character development is that she has to pee all the time and everyone is stupid, unlikable, knife playing drunks. You see, this isn’t really about the occult aspects, just a congregation trying to instill fear of the devil by committing murders that look like cult killings. Idiotic interrogations that waste time bothering to explain all this make the threats feel hollow, and I’m so, so tired of so-called righteous assholes giving decent people a bad name. We have enough of that at the top these days, so this didn’t need to be set in an eighties Midwest for the religious hypocrisy commentary. In fact, it might have come across as something deeper if the first half wasn’t wasted on faking period window dressing that doesn’t work. Stepmothers, bloody bodies found, police chases, lone officers who don’t call for backup, psycho daddy pastors – the contrivances just go on and on, escalating until I eventually stopped paying attention.

For More Horrors, Visit:

Witches and Demons

Dracula Video Review

Forest Frights

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant is a Confusing Disappointment by Kristin Battestella

Alien: Covenant – the latest film in the Alien franchise and the 2017 sequel to Prometheus – struggles with its franchise identity crisis, leaving the potentially interesting science fiction parables and body horror monsters wanting in the confusion.

When the colonization vessel Covenant is damaged by passing neutrino blasts, the android Walter (Michael Fassbender) must wake terraforming chief Daniels (Katherine Waterson) and the rest of the crew. After receiving a nearby signal from a mysterious, too good to be true planet much closer than their original vetted destination, leader Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate. Unfortunately, inhaled alien toxins on the surface birth beastly parasites, and David (also Fassbender) – the android survivor of the lost research vessel Prometheus – has been living alone on the planet for the past ten years, studying the remaining Engineer evolution techniques and perfecting their monstrous designs with terrifying results…

Whether it’s Prometheus 2 or Alien 5, Alien: Covenant is immediately frustrating. If this is really an Alien movie, then Prometheus never should have held anything back in hopes of a sequel and just told its tale in one movie. However, returning director Ridley Scott and screenplay writer John Logan (Penny Dreadful) play it both ways as Alien: Covenant opens with android quizzes on The Statue of David, Wagner gems, and Valhalla. Such meaning of meaninglessness threads from Prometheus will confuse viewers who didn’t see it, and Alien: Covenant restarts with the titular colony vessel and its android custodian, Mother computer, and crew in stasis almost as if it’s trying to reboot said predecessor. Fortunately, pod fatalities, charred bodies, memento mori, and offline systems build suspense while radio chatter, spacesuits, and rogue transmissions create a science fiction atmosphere. Eerie forest destruction, Pompeii-like remains and crashed ships add mood but drop ships and lost contact are similar to Aliens while inconveniently convenient planetary storms mirror Prometheus. An entire team trots off for an expedition – leaving only one person behind to make lander repairs – before separating further so a careless guy taking a leak can get infected by some spooky alien particles. Educated people ask obvious questions to which they should already know the answers, adding stilted dialogue on top of back and forth scenes deflating the body horror when not acting stupid for the plot to proceed by willfully scratching and sniffing mystery polyps and not reporting when they feel sick. Friends insist on taking the infected back to the ship, but there’s no procedure amid the hectic radio calls and blood splatter. Women are on the mission just to whine – one tries to lock in another when both are equally contaminated and the visual hysterics don’t let the viewer actually see the out of control. Cutting to what’s happening elsewhere is a mistake when it leaves the bloody reveal a blink and you miss it special effect. It’s scarier when people are trapped with a fast growing monster building claustrophobic fear toward fatal ship explosions. However, the paired off crew members react so over emotionally to death yet barely at all to the creature shocks, necropolis infrastructure, and the suspicious survivor found there. Flashbacks and exposition detailing the pathogens, crashes, and destruction post-Prometheus ten years prior is really where Alien: Covenant should have begun, but we’re watching a woman strip down to wash her open wound in what hopefully isn’t contaminated water instead. After objecting to flying the colony ship down to the planet, minutes later the crew changes their minds once the route is more dangerous while fast action scenes, convoluted lingering, and rushed quality scenes contribute to the unevenness, hampering creepy encounters with new aliens, familiar eggs, and delicious face-hugger revelations. From the prologue to the ship and the planet to the necropolis, rival androids, and onboard terrors; Alien: Covenant is an overlong and confusing two hours with cargo bay trucks, out the airlock solutions, and unnecessary sexy showers littering a nonsensical Aliens copycat finale. What should be wonderfully chilling – gagging up mini alien eggs for the incubator to the Ride of the Valkyries – treads tires because between all the Prometheus rewrites, the four credited writers here, and who knows what more behind the scenes meddling, nobody mapped out where this disappointing prequel plot goes.

There was a time when I was excited for whatever film Michael Fassbender did next. Unfortunately, somewhere around Macbeth or Steve Jobs, Fassbender sold out with all these non-starters and uninteresting flops. Despite this superb dual performance as the poetic, T.E. Lawrence obsessed android David and the clueless but loyal and supposedly inferior model Walter, it’s difficult to look back at Hunger and believe this is the same actor who once so bled for his craft. It’s totally obvious what David is going to do, and the entire homoerotic flute fingering sequence is the invisible car of Die Another Day franchise rock bottom. Surely, there was a better way to show Walter as a stunted childlike machine designed as lacking creativity expressly because David was so disturbingly human in his desires. It might even have been more interesting to not reveal Walter as an android until the xenomorph acid destroys his hand when he protects Daniels. Walter naively thinks he can gain the details from David regarding their creator Weyland and how the Prometheus survivor came to be on this planet. However, David waxes on Lord Byron and thinks himself Crusoe, admonishing Walter for serving the unworthy, dying humans. He preys on Walter’s potential, saying it is love, not duty he feels for Daniels, revealing himself as an abuser who already destroyed the life on this planet. David wants to communicate with the neomorphs and earn their respect while he experiments with the hybrids. Walter knows this is wrong, but David is pleased with himself for creating the perfect organism – and he’s very disappointed in Walter for standing in his way. David has at last procreated, and it’s chilling to see his views realized in several wild births, radical experiments, and violent assaults. Sadly, Alien: Covenant’s clunky exposition and trite script ruin the intriguing android developments with ridiculous encounters and not-so-secret switcharoos leaving no resolution for Walter when both characters deserved more. Alien: Covenant may awe over David’s ambition and chew on the possibilities, but there’s so much happening the audience doesn’t have any time to revoltingly enjoy the villainy.

Although Sam’s daughter Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) is supposed to be the lead, Danny doesn’t do a lot beyond wearing her deceased husband’s iron nail around her neck in a messianic loose thread similar to Shaw’s cross in Prometheus. She’s made less pretty than the other women, and when she officially protests stopping at this perfect planet, she’s presented as a moody bitch only sharing her emo grief misgivings because there’s no point in a home now without her man. Naturally, all the men are allowed reckless manpain over their ladies while Danny easily discovers what David has done when the script bothers to have her look. By the final act she conveniently wants a 2,000 strong colony ship to rescue her just because the plot says it’s time to let the xenomorph onboard and make her a kick-ass action hero. Billy Crudup’s (Inventing the Abbotts) reluctantly in charge supposed man of faith Oram only decides on this planet to prove he’s up to snuff and doesn’t realize he messed up until it personally affects him. Tennessee cool pilot Danny McBride (Your Highness) recognizes John Denver music in the alien signal amid all his sexist jokes before risking the entire mission for his woman – whom viewers already know to be dead. Of course, shortly thereafter, he’s laying the groundwork for his next hook-up. A brief prologue appearance from Guy Pearce (Brimstone) returning as Peter Weyland should have come at the end of Alien: Covenant to fully accent David’s twisted achievements, and Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is unceremoniously written off post-Prometheus with only a few effigies. We’re told she put David back together, he loved her for her kindness, and that’s that. The movie should have started with the Prometheus characters on this unknown planet and then met the colony ship only upon their arrival. Alien: Covenant is from the wrong perspective and overcrowded with far too many unnecessary characters – mostly screwing up husbands or similar looking wives raising the body count. Anonymous people being in relationships may make excuses for their behavior but it isn’t character development and doesn’t give viewers a reason to care. Showing two guys with matching wedding bands as an attempt at gay inclusion is also embarrassingly homophobic when their only scene is one dying after ejaculating a neomorph from his mouth. Sneaky James Franco (Tristan & Isolde) moments are silly as well because… it’s just James Franco in a promotional campaign for Alien: Covenant.

Thankfully, Covenant is a cool looking spaceship with solar sails, blue hues, green lighting, touch screens, and interface graphics along with red alarms, spooky chains, dangerous ladders, and perilous equipment. Unfortunately, fiery damage leads to CGI spacewalks and noticeable animation intruding upon the interstellar fantastic. Crowded submarine style rooms and music motifs from Aliens are also apparent amid waterfalls and mountain vistas borrowed from Prometheus. It’s also flat-out dumb to waste time on a cool drop ship water landing when there is terra firma everywhere, and what’s with all the dang hoodies? Blood, gore, and creative reverse alien births are appropriately disturbing, however, the surrounding CGI is again weak. Dark scenes and hectic firefights also make it difficult to see all those potentially intriguing hybrid creatures, twisted deliveries, and scary designs. The contrasting advanced ship technology and stranded apothecary research are likewise nice touches that deserved more time – embryos and stasis versus dissections and bestiary drawings. Facehugger scares, acid effects and freaky attacks are always fun to see, yet more than anything, these Alien homages cum knockoffs make one miss the originality and practical design advancements from Aliens. The spaceship action is very messy in Alien: Covenant with pointless, drawn-out action sequences littering the narrative, and it’s not surprising to read interviews with the film’s editor recounting the post-production struggle to balance these multiple storylines each playing at their own pace. Alien: Covenant needs to be re-watched for all its Alien movies pieces trying to bring together the creation theories from Prometheus via confusing Engineer goo, deacons, or xenomorphs yet this entire piece is also in dire need of a re-cut.

Instead of running with what was good from Prometheus, Alien: Covenant plays with its Prometheus connection the way Prometheus played with its Alien connection. Unfortunately, such inconsistent and contradictory carrots string along loyal franchise fans and won’t gain viewers who haven’t seen Alien. As with Prometheus and Alien 3 before, Alien: Covenant can’t serve both its masters and ultimately provides little repeat value, which ironically can be said for Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Once again, we have no connection to LV-426 when all people ever wanted to know was how the Space Jockey got there in the first place. Frustration on such could haves or should haves being saved for yet more sequels compromises Alien: Covenant’s potentially entertaining science fiction, religious warnings, and monstrous possibilities with ennui.

For More, Visit:

Prometheus

Eden Lake

Brimstone

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Campy Monsters!

 

Campy Monster Fun

by Kristin Battestella

 

Nestle in with this bemusing array of mid-century monsters and cheesy frights!

The Beast of Yucca Flats– The notorious 1961 SF horror here starts off fun and scary with a toweled pretty, strangulations, space race secrets, communism fears, and nuclear fallout. Unfortunately, this hour is held together by a very dodgy narration which unnecessarily replaces what should be dialogue. It’s mistake numero uno– hardly anyone talks and this makes for the least amount of character development possible. No performance happens; it’s a story being told. While that’s fine in cartoons perhaps, aren’t you making a film because of the show don’t tell possibilities? It’s unrealistic to expect a serious science fiction or spooky adult audience to sit through something like this-which is as is really nothing more than a naughty children’s short. That’s Rule 2: don’t underestimate your audience. Did I mention the music is also much too much? Yes, this ‘film’ is seriously flawed, and to some, that is its very appeal. Fans who enjoy the hokey of the day will love the cars, pace, and weak fifties filmmaking style, and drinking game fans can have a wonderful time with the utterly fake shoot-out and car chase. It’s like they’re kids with pop guns spinning the wheels of parked cars! This one must be seen to be believed, indeed.

The Giant Gila Monster – It had been ages since I’ve seen this 1959 hokey! Though everyone has probably scene clips from the fiery finale, I’d forgotten how much fun this mix of sock hop, classic tunes, cool cars, fifties nostalgia, and creature feature effects really is. The bemusing doom and gloom introduction and opening deaths are accented with some over the top scary music to match the silly premise, and the real lizard footage is downright charming! Sure, nothing is frightening because of the ridiculous production values, but the simple A to B to C execution proceeds at an entertaining little pace. And man, Don Sullivan (Teenage Zombies) and his tow truck are always handy! This teen not only looks 35, but he helps strangers, loans books to the sheriff, and sings to crippled little girls. Of course, the Mexican portrayals are a bit offensive if brief, and though the supporting greasers are totally limp acting-wise, drunken DJ Ken Knox is on form corny at his protest over $2 for a tow. The fifties redneck colloquialisms might be tough for some young viewers to understand today. However, this is all just great for audiences looking for such dated vehicular vernacular- a mid-century Texas time capsule captured before the turbulent sixties began. Yes, it’s completely hokey, but it works, and works damn amusingly!

The Monster Maker – Lovely piano concertos set up the gothic mood, eponymous twisted science, and good old-fashioned lovelorn obsession in this hour-long 1944 science fiction horror tale starring a juicy J. Carrol Naish (Beau Geste) and Ralph Morgan (Magnificent Obsession) as his forcibly misshapen and sympathetic victim. The then-contemporary designs and cool science lab are also a treat- except for the ape, of course. Why must there always be a man in a monkey suit in these old capers? A few scenes do drag or feel slow and long despite the short length, and the formula plays a little obvious at times. However, the fun, over the top style works. Women scream, get manhandled, and blackmail. It’s of its time, but entertaining nonetheless.

The Wasp Woman – It seems Roger Corman really likes his women, and this 1959 creepy is The Fly for chicks. Though not saucy or purely for ogle value- which is both good and bad depending on your point of view- the outdoor values, regular Fred Katz music, and scary buzzing sounds set off the more mature science fiction thoughts and laboratory desperation. One chick does get to slap another hysterical chick, yes, but the concepts here are just as fun. How far will we go for beauty? What cost is too high? The suggestion of bees and wasps is also chilling for those who dislike insects and simply terrifying to anyone allergic to bee stings. The sound is tough to hear in some spots, and the added prologue is slow in establishing the freaky premise of using wasp extracts as the fountain of youth. Some animal testing scenes are iffy, too. Thankfully, the fun labs and haywire science keep this one interesting.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Night Watch (1973)

Elizabeth Taylor does Horror in Night Watch

by Kristin Battestella

Upscale housewife with history Elizabeth Taylor thinks she witnesses a murder in the creepy abandoned house next door in the 1973 British thriller Night Watch. Unfortunately, her broker husband John Wheeler (Laurence Harvey) nor her carefree best friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw) believe her. The police are tired of the increasing phone calls and neighborhood hysteria, but the terror escalates thanks to stormy nights, pills, alcohol, and slit throats.

Director Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare) and writers Evan Jones (The Damned) and Tony Williamson (The Avengers) adapt the Lucille Fletcher (Sorry, Wrong Number) play with flowers, quaint English gardens, and smiling rapport. The swanky drinks before dinner and lingering sixties style, however, contrast the looming gothic manor next door. The grounds are said to be poison where nothing will grow, but someone is digging in the backyard on stormy nights, and vivid dreams of speeding cars, accidents, and morgue terror distract from the snobbish talk of avoiding lesser neighbors. Late night waxing on the fatal past invokes a wee small hours limbo – traumatic memories and two characters who’ve lost touch make for fine drama before raging storms and screams reveal something horrible across the way. Dead men and cutthroats disturb the classical music, but inspectors find nothing in the congested, maze-like condemned as Night Watch relies on performances and mood rather than sensationalism for its taut, through the shutters peering. Pills or brandy are suggested to keep calm, but flashlights, clutter, and foreground objects layer the visual frame. Viewers are looking for something – questioning what we see or didn’t see. Could it all be an honest mistake? The police think it’s nothing but “money and menopause” on top of brief nudity, shower saucy, and hotel room trysts. Newly planted trees aren’t enough evidence, but nuggets of information trickle out from the ensemble. Suspicious neighbors find it exciting that there’s hear tell of a dead body nearby yet refuse to have their bushes dug up as part of the official search. Red herrings add to the creepy commentary about disliking neighbors who were there before you just as much as the friends you choose living even closer. Who’s watching whom and from which house questions layer the voyeurism alongside debates on hallucinations, eidetic images, and convincing oneself that what you see is real. Old mementos thought lost suddenly reappear, leading to arguments about gaslighting and being deliberately terrorized as more police calls, chases, and curiosity create a ‘burbs mind your own business across the hedge. Despite lights next door, the case is closed – inspectors and doctors both strongly suggest everything go back to normal amid awkward dinners, screams, and more off-screen witnessing. Revelations about what had really happened in previous accidents and shock over-identifying bodies found in flagrante delicto provoke more tension in the increasingly crowded quarter. Eventually, the police laugh and roll their eyes, proposing our housewife contact the building owners herself or hire a private detective. All the paperwork is ready for a trip to “rest” in Switzerland, too – accounts, legalese, and power of attorney but that’s all just routine. Confrontations, secrets, and lies will out thanks to hide and seek twists inside the derelict. Night Watch gets its horror on in a spooky multi-layered finale of blood, violence, crazed attacks, and frenetic turnabouts. Who exactly was really planning what and when? Seemingly early and obvious giveaways make room for more surprises, and Night Watch ensures the shocking schemes are ultimately completed with skill and gravitas.

Flowing gowns, glam necklaces, rock rings, and coiffed hair assure Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) looks classy as well to do housewife Ellen Wheeler. She dresses for dinner, drinks, and does jigsaw puzzles, for she needs patience to give her something to do when she’s so often alone. Her ritzy life should be nothing but grand, however, the insomniac Mrs. is up all night fascinated by storms and thinking about her father’s bad poetry. She’s been spoiled yet feels restrained and bored. The watch during the night is for all the things you can’t make sense of during the day, says Ellen, and she’s increasingly returning to memories of her late first husband Carl. Dreaming of his accident keeps her awake – she vividly recalls the fatal scenes and blood the viewer never sees but doesn’t remember previously dealing with the police and feels nervous about talking to them. However, Ellen also doesn’t want to be coddled or hear this witness is all in her mind, and she’s angry when no one believes her, even more hysterical over the disbelief than upset by the crime she apparently saw. Without support, Ellen is increasingly frazzled, pathetic, and paranoid. Will she voluntarily go to the doctor so he can tell her the dead body is all in her mind? What happens when she thinks she sees another one? Mrs. Wheeler’s wheels turn as she suspects her pills, beverages, and if someone is deliberately making her recall Carl’s demise. Despite her full house with husband, friend, and maid, Ellen fears someone else is watching her. She repeatedly calls the police and eventually agrees to see the psychiatrist, and though desperate, she is not stupid. Ellen is quite intelligent and recognizes when she’s being lied to or signing the wrong papers. She’s damn shrewd in seeing what’s what, and Night Watch’s madness begins to make sense as only Dame Elizabeth could make the clicking of the retractable pen so sassy and defiant before refusing to take the last tranquilizer in the bottle. Long drags on the cigarettes and strategic pauses emphasis the deliciously dark camp, and I’m surprised Night Watch feels so obscure when Taylor’s performance is so chill.

Laurence Harvey’s (The Manchurian Candidate) stocks and bonds big wig John Wheeler wants to know why his wife can’t sleep. He works long hours, but wonders what he’s done to upset her even if she says it’s not him. John takes care of Ellen, babying her with warm milk the way a daughter goes from father to husband to protect her. However, John does not believe she’s seen anything. He won’t call the police over a false alarm and insists the inspector not upset his already not well wife. John won’t stick up for her claims, yet he warns the police to not dismiss Ellen. Although he’s worried over the dangerous mix of alcohol and sleeping pills, John’s more concerned about possibly being sued by an angry neighbor. He dislikes when the police want him to control his wife and encourages her to see their doctor friend once he’s tired of her bringing up her late husband. John agrees she is right when Ellen suggests they take a holiday – but she says we and he only wants her to take a vacation. He has all that “spa” paperwork ready! Swanky best friend Billie Whitelaw (The Omen) on the other hand, is the houseguest who won’t leave. She keeps saying she’s moving on to Scotland and debates running away with her latest on and off conquest Barry but may have other tête-à-têtes, too. Sarah stays to look after Ellen, providing tranquilizers and hot chocolate while waxing on all the adventures she could be having and the excuses she can make up to get away with them. Although she tries to avoid topics that will upset Ellen – like Carl – they always creep back into the conversation. Sarah insists Ellen can’t go on like this, but as the third wheel in the marital house, her companionship is automatically suspect. She lies to spare Ellen but also apologizes for her tall tales. Doctor Tony Britton (The People That Time Forgot) must also tread lightly with Mrs. Wheeler. He doesn’t want her to be committed but needs her to voluntarily trust his help. Above all, he insists that she must get out of this house before it’s too late.

Spooky black branches, dark blue skies, boarded windows, banging shutters, and overgrown vines contrast the mirrors, red leather couch, white staircase, and swanky record players next door in Night Watch. Creepy statues and artwork, blue lighting, ticking clocks, and swirling cigarette smoke add ominous to the hip turtlenecks, lux lamps, decanters, and manicured gardens. Knives in the kitchen, rain splatter on the windows, and vintage blue sirens create pulsing tension while gates, flashlights, and condemned interiors set off the congested mood. Horseshoe phones, switchboard operators, and retro trench coats should be cozy nostalgia, but the colorful outdoors disappear as the peering through the blinds and drawn shades invoke agoraphobia. Distorted dreams and intense flashes of past car accidents lead to dead bodies and hospital Disturbia thanks to low camera angles and spotlights. Night Watch has subtle, choice visuals with reflections of the scary house on the fine townhouse window overlaying all action inside and out. Well done cinematography provides dark scares as well as focuses on Taylor’s face as zooms hone in on critical images and objects. Thunder punctuates arguments as the rhythms escalate, and through the gate, chases move the action to our spooky neighbors amid barren beams, peeling plaster, creaking stairs, and exposed woodwork. Violent struggles in the dark and shocking silhouettes allow for what we don’t see suspicion and final revelations. Wise viewers may pick up on the mystery here for there are too many similar stories to Night Watch before and since. Audiences looking for full-on horror a la Hammer of the day will be disappointed, too. Fortunately, the psychological chills, spooky twists, and superbly unraveled cast do get their scary on in an entertaining end. Night Watch is a fun late night tease worth seeing more than once to catch all the whodunit winks.

For More Retro Women in Horror Visit:

Death Becomes Her

Dial M for Murder

Dead Ringer

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Period Piece / Horror Ladies

Period Piece Horror Ladies by Kristin Battestella

What’s more wonderful than a gothic woman in fancy clothes and delicious settings experiencing crimes and ghosts with a dash of scandal, saucy, and the supernatural?

Angelica – A Victorian couple spirals into paranormal horrors thanks to puritanical repression in this brooding 2017 tale starring Jena Malone (The Neon Demon), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), and Ed Stoppard (The Frankenstein Chronicles). Ghostly photography, flashbulbs, and empty chairs contrast the bustles, parasols, and formalities before lanterns, carriages, fine townhouses, and storms. Bedridden confessions lead to earlier courtings with circus sideshows and talk of Darwinism versus the stiff upper lip British tapering their animal appetites. The microscope revealing disease causing organisms is almost as fantastic as the camera capturing spirits, and while it’s okay for a young lady to work in a stationery store selling nibs and ink, she can’t see her future husband’s laboratory. Our humble orphan now in elaborate red dresses is called a counter jumper by the aristocratic ladies, and she’s fearful of the bridal bed before enjoying it in a scandalously active montage. Bells toll amid talk of losing a mother nor wanting to be one, and this birth is graphic, not maternal bliss thanks to scalpels, screams, and both lives at stake. Unfortunately, the doctor says another pregnancy is not worth the risk, and the couple should “desist entirely” and close her garden. Our husband doesn’t want to seek pleasure elsewhere, but she can’t get into other..options…and favors their toddler over him. Soon, she’s completely revolted by her husband and obsessively attached to the child, and the wife is made to feel guilty about her health and desires by everyone in tense Victorian melodrama. Men in suits have no trouble warping her mind, but they are shocked to see a woman enter the medical theater amid animals in cages, exposed brains, and disturbing experiments that put the creepy back into the complex characterizations. Strange noises, visions of germs in the air, bugs in the woodwork, and wardrobes that open by themselves lead to more anger as the husband dislikes the chaos his overprotective wife is causing in their home. She won’t let these apparitions prey on her daughter – who also sees this floating ectoplasm man in her room. Is she putting more notions in the imaginative child’s head? Is this mental illness or is the repressed sexual energy seeping into the house itself? The maid calls in a scam artist spiritualist to ring bells, burn sage, and banish the banshees. Rather than a charlatan taking advantage, however, there’s a woman to woman understanding and courage – a protection spell is more like peace of mind somewhere between being a modest mother and the shame of enjoying sex. There are also unspoken lesbian veils, entertaining women while your husband’s away, putting their feet on the table, showing their legs, and drinking his best port. Drunken undressings provide laughter instead of rattling doors, swarming entities, prayers, and fires against evil. If he is not at home, who is festering this supernatural activity? The drama before the horrors may be slow to viewers expecting in your face scares a minute, but the intriguing characters are intertwined with the fear. Our mother needs to destroy the snake manifestations and demon man coming for her daughter before her husband sends her to Bedlam, and the once beautiful interiors become stifling as ghostly sexual encounters escalate to mind and bodies becoming one with blood and penetrations of a different kind. Although the bookends are unnecessary and this seems caught between two audiences – too much drama for horror fans and intrusive paranormal activity for period piece viewers – such Victorian horror drama with a touch of LGBT is perfect for fans of gothic mood and psycho-sexual dreadfuls.


Lizzie – Maid Kristen Stewart (Twilight) gets steamy with the titular turn of the century murderess Chloe Sevingy (American Horror Story) in this 2018 biopic accented with fine costumes, rustic lighting, and vintage Victorian interiors. Six months before the screams and blood, the buttoned-up, repressed daughter is already defiant against the patriarchal oppression by going to theatre parties unaccompanied where low cut, colorful frocks contrast the tight collars and immediate sexual tension at home. The Bordens can’t have anything too extravagant despite being able to afford it, and Lizzie prefers the barn and animals to people, reading aloud in an innocent but antisocial loneliness. While some dialogue is a little too modern, our eponymous lady has a progressive, forceful, even masculine energy that can’t be contained with fainting spells. Our old maid is called a lesbian abomination but in turn rightfully calls her perverse, abusive father a lying coward before creaking floorboards, broken mirrors slid under the door, revenge injuries, and burned documents reveal the truth. The up-close camera often peers through the window, catching the glances as each lady looks at each other – the audience is in on the intimate possibilities but when your employer suggests his servant leave the door to her hot attic room open, she can’t exactly say no. The strict orders and behind closed doors implications are uncomfortable enough without the often seen exploitative, degrading visuals, and the women bond during intimate undressings and corset tightenings. Theft and rebellious acts increase amid suspicious business deals, threatening letters, and whispering relatives. The women have to eavesdrop to learn what the men are planning for them before violent punishments and one and all sitting at the dinner table like nothing has happened. Is murder the only way out of the hypocrisy? Were the violent tendencies always there or could you be crazy in love enough to kill? The ax is shown throughout the potboiler, and although the stifling camerawork may be disorienting to some viewers, it mirrors the closeness when it is both welcomed by the women or invaded by nasty men. Regardless of height, the unprotected ladies must look up to the creepy uncles, diminished and fearful of physical violence. Retro photo pops accent the bludgeoning editing before jail and witnesses on the stand provide the fallout from this infamous hatcheting. Premeditated accomplices, church bells, deliberate nudity, and out of control horror are worth the wait once the finale reveals the symbolically sexual posturing, vomit, and splatter. Some people just don’t have the stomach for this sort of thing while others so smooth have thought of everything. There is some unevenness with the characters – probably from when the project was envisioned as a television piece with bigger roles – and the killer romance meets Victorian women’s lib messages are mixed. However despite liberties suggesting what went on in this congested house and a decidedly quiet, not mainstream style that won’t be for everyone, this interesting perspective will have viewers studying this disturbing murder case with a sympathetic, personal anew.

 

Rebecca – Artistic ingenue Emilia Fox (Merlin) – companion to wealthy gossip Faye Dunaway (Don Juan DeMarco) – is smitten by the suave yet mysterious Charles Dance (Bleak House) in this 1997 three hour Masterpiece adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier novel. Sublime style, flapper headbands, candlelight, and long stem cigarettes add to the whirlwind 1927 Riviera’s scenic drives, classic convertibles, and charming hats. Unlike the immediately gothic grayscale of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 version, vivid color and visual depth layer this initially idyllic romance. Our unusual couple have each been shy, lonely, and sad, but Maxim de Winter admires this young lady’s innocence and honesty compared to the gilded aristocracy. Picnics, boat rides, a silly girl, a foolish old man – can they make a go of their differences? The dangerous curves and perilous drives suggest something slightly sinister brewing amid glimpses of the unforgettable and beloved by all Rebecca. It’s been a year since her death, yet everyone must remind Maxim of his late wife upon this surprising second marriage. The newlyweds return to the lovely English gardens and proper decorum at Manderley, the estate where the Emmy winning Diana Rigg’s (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) icy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers won’t let go of the first Mrs. DeWinter’s memory. The household reception is awkward and chilly – the coastal brightness turns darker thanks to shadow schemes, lighting changes, and the looming silhouettes of both Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca. Despite being a large estate with a west wing facing the sea, the hefty staircases, huge windows, and great fireplace feel congested, closing in on the new, nervous Mrs. as she gets lost wandering the shuttered parts of the house, breaks priceless statues, and hangs her head like an admonished little girl. She doesn’t fit into the upper-class routine, but the brooding, often misunderstood Maxim doesn’t want her to become like those other cruel, aristocratic dames. Everyone is so heavy handed, formal, and not just unhelpful but resentful of how unlike Rebecca she is, and the couple regrets returning home to the rocky cliffs, beachside cottages, and distrustful staff. Crazy hermits, past gossip, vogue cousins too close for comfort, recreating previous fancy dress balls, and one big costuming faux pas strain the relationship further, but she can’t exactly ask her new husband about why the pieces on how Rebecca drowned aren’t coming together. Her room is still kept as is, almost in worship where our devoted housekeeper can express her creepy vicarious and pathetic intimacy, re-enacting brushing her madam’s hair and laying out her perfumed nightgown. Was Rebecca really so perfect? If she wasn’t would anybody actually say so? Her presence is overwhelming – not because of any actually supernatural mood or ghost, but because the obsessed Mrs. Danvers won’t let anyone forget, placing the fanatical pressures of her devotion on the second Mrs. de Winter. Foreboding strings add more ominous, however, the suspense is certainly helped by Maxim’s not coming clean on his life with Rebecca at the start. While some scenes are very similar to Hitchcock’s vision, this is also closer to the novel, and even if you’ve seen other adaptations, viewers are swept up in wondering how the secrets will play out in the finale. Fog, vintage boats, watery evidence, mistaken identities, inquests – the circumstances surrounding Rebecca’s life and death come to light, but our servant oversteps her bounds with cruelty, jealousy, and bullying suicidal whispers just to assure Rebecca everyone thought they knew and loved won’t die. Though more romantic than true crime, the fresh love, and warped liaisons are told swift and honestly as the scandalous true colors are revealed with fainting spells, medical discoveries, fiery rescues, and kisses in the rain. Indeed all the gothic staples are here with period mood and performances to match.

The Turn of the Screw – Downton Abbey alum Michelle Dockery joins Dan Stevens (again) and Nicola Walker (MI-5) in this ninety-minute 2009 BBC adaptation of the Henry James askew moving the repressed ambiguity to 1921 institutions with post-war doctors analyzing our governess’ infatuation with her employer, the topsy turvy male shortage, and of kilter Bly Manor. Fashions, hats, sweet automobiles, fine woodwork, and hefty antiques sell the refreshing setting, however, the nonsensical strobe flashes look amateur on top of the time-wasting, disjointed doctoring add-ons, and unnecessary narration. Visions of dalliances that initially upgrade the Victorian scandalous soon hit the viewer over the head one too many times as the governess imagines her master and his saucy approval. She insists she’s not the nervous type, but the dark interiors, maze-like staircases, and distorted camera angles add to the strange noises and creepy country manor unease. She’s in charge, above housekeepers and maids, but there are too many flighty women doing all the work in this house. Parasols and summer white contrast eerie fog and trains as her boy charge is expelled from school without explanation. The cheeky children whisper about their previous, pretty governess – unbothered by screams, accidents, or dying maids. Melancholy piano music, graveyard echoes, dark figures amid the trees, and faces in the window build on the female isolation, yet all insist there are no ghosts – surely she’s just hysterical, overwrought, and obsessed with men. Rumors of suicide and a woman ruined by her lover seem proved by hidden pictures of the master’s up to no good valet, and tales of his violence among the unprotected women are better than seeing suspect flashbacks. The prim style degrades to loose hair and nightgowns as our governess jumps to dire conclusions and possessive delirium, but the shouting about it afterward with her doctor interruptions break the tainted picnics and frantic tension. We don’t need his sounding board to deduce her fears, just let us see the abusive violence and water perils. Crazy laughter and disembodied voices escalate as the phantoms, repression, and projection possibilities culminate in a one on one battle for the truth. The deviations here are flawed, and while the horror lite is fine for gothic period piece fans, some viewers will expect more than to have it both ways attempt at the ghosts and crazy ambiguity. This isn’t the best version but thanks to the cast and unique setting, it can be a good introduction for audiences who haven’t seen The Innocents.

 

For More Gothic Horrors visit:

Crimson Peak

Penny Dreadful 1 2 3

The Frankenstein Chronicles 1 2

Historian of Horror: All Are Mad But Me and Thee-and Sometimes I Wonder About Thee

All Are Mad But Me and Thee — 

And Sometimes I Wonder About Thee.

by Mark Orr

At the end of the silent movie period, French film director René Clair went on the record as being very skeptical of sound, feeling that it was “an unnatural creation” Cinema as its own art form was a purely visual one, he thought, and the introduction of sound would make films nothing more than recorded stage plays. He relented, and made some truly great sound films, but watching what is, as far as I’ve been able to determine the earliest surviving Japanese horror film, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Kurutta Ippeji (A Page of Madness), one might wonder if he wasn’t on to something. 

Not that Kinugasa was aware of Clair’s opinion in 1926, or even of his work; there’s no indication that he saw any western films at the beginning of his career. He started in the industry as a female impersonator in 1917, then switched to directing once Japanese studios began using female actors in the early 1920s. It wasn’t until 1929 that he had the opportunity to travel abroad and encounter European films, which makes Kurutta Ippeji all the more remarkable. Stylistically, it would fit very nicely into any one of several European traditions, particularly German expressionism. There is in Kinugasa’s picture more than a trace of what the French called Caligarisme, that most extreme variety of expressionism exemplified by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to be sure. However, it’s purely a parallel development, as Kinugasa wouldn’t have known Caligarisme in 1926 if he tripped over it. He was talented enough to discover it on his own.

A more impressive achievement is that it truly is a silent film, even more so than any that Clair had directed in France up until that time. There are no intertitles, those cards that pop up periodically in almost all silents with bits of dialogue or expository material. Kinugasa was able to tell a coherent story with no dialogue, no expository material. The images are the story, and they need nothing else. 

The story is, to be sure, a simple one. A man hires on as a janitor at the insane asylum where his wife is an inpatient. He loses contact with reality himself while attempting to extricate her from the asylum against her will, plus deal with his daughter’s disintegrating marriage. His own mental state comes to mirror that of several of the other inmates, and it is in the presentation of their madness and his that Kinugasa creates some truly horrific imagery. It possesses a poetic subtlety that possibly doesn’t translate well into our time for most modern horror fans, which is a damn shame. 

Like almost all early Japanese films, it was thought lost until Kinugasa came across a copy in his garden shed in the 1970s, a few years after his long and very productive career had come to an end. He died in 1982, at the age of eighty-six.

Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday was yesterday as I write this, an anniversary that should be near and dear to the hearts of all horror fans. Poe is also revered by the mystery buffs, who named their most prestigious award the Edgar in his honor. And in his honor, the second part of this celebration of Asian horrors is herewith presented unto the populace.

Japanese mystery writer Tirō Hirai adopted the pseudonym Edogawa Ranpo (sometimes written as Rampo) in 1923. If you say that new name fast, it sort of sounds like Poe’s full name, which was the point, I do believe. Regardless, he had a long and distinguished career as a mystery author, penning numerous novels and short stories.

Which has what to do with horror, Asian or otherwise? you may well ask. Well, like many writers, Ranpo had difficulty playing in his own sandbox. On occasion, he would tinker with other genres. One such time, he came up with what might well be the creepiest tale I’ve ever read. 

A prominent lady writer receives a manuscript from an aspiring author. In it, he tells of his life as a hideously ugly and poverty-stricken chair-maker, a man whose carpentry skills are as great as his social skills are poor. Having received a commission for a large chair to be installed in a fancy hotel, he decides to build one that he can hide in so that he can sneak out and steal from the wealthy clientele. He spends months living in this chair, emerging from it at night to pilfer valuables. He waxes rhapsodic on how various people sit on him during the day, how he could differentiate one type of person from another by how their bodies press down onto his.

After a long time, the carpenter writes, the hotel decided to redecorate, and the chair was sold. And guess what! You’re sitting on me now! The lady author freaks and flees, only to receive a second letter telling her that the manuscript is pure fiction, ha-ha, just kidding. Did you like it and would you help me get it published? It shall be called, “The Human Chair”. This seems like a cheat on a par with The Wizard of Oz having all been a dream. If the second letter is true.

If. 

If not…

Well?

See? Creepy, right?

Ranpo published his story, also called “The Human Chair”, in 1925, in the October issue of the literary magazine, Kuraku. I first read it in David Alexander’s 1962 paperback anthology, Tales for a Rainy Night

It can also be found in Peter Haining’s 1972 anthology Beyond the Curtain of Dark and in Ranpo’s own collection, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. And no doubt in others. I encourage all and sundry among the populace to seek it out, in order to see for yourself if it delivers the same frisson to you it did to me the first time I read it. 

And, as always, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Anything for Jackson

In the early morning hours of Jan 2nd 2021, Crystal Connor, finally settled into her sleeping bag on the couch with snacks within reach and picked up her remote. The footage you are about to see chronicles the harrowing experience that her neighbors endured for hours as she screamed, cried, and shouted expletive obscenities at her television as she watched:

Anything for Jackson 

Plotline: Satanist couple kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child but end up summoning more than they bargained for.

Who would like it: Fan of the occult, possessions, creature features, ppl who love monsters, and everybody who loves endings that keep you guessing

High Points: The strong storyline and original plot

Complaints: I don’t have any!

Overall: I super loved this movie!

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Shudder

 

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Deathcember

At 1:15 am pst on Dec. 13th 2020, Crystal Connor, finally settled into her sleeping bag on the couch with snacks within reach and dog in lap picked up her remote. The footage you are about to see chronicles the harrowing experience that her neighbors endured for hours as she screamed, cried, and shouted expletive obscenities at her television as she watched: Viewer discretion is advised.

Plotline: A collection of 24 films that take a look at the dark side of the festive season. 24 international directors with the most diverse ideas and styles; linked by short animated segments that deal with the Advent calendar itself.

Who would like it: Fans of anthologies, short films, collections, international films, horror lovers, gorehounds, tech geeks, sci-fi fans, indie horror movies, and people who love jump scares

High Points: This was a super strong anthology, loved about 80% of the films

Complaints: Nothing really

Overall: Highly recommend

Stars: 4 Stars

Where I watched it: Amazon Prime

 

Live Action Reviews! By Crystal Connor: May The Devil Take You, Too.

At 3:37 am on November 8th 2020, Crystal Connor, finally settled into her sleeping bag on the couch with snacks within reach and picked up her remote. The footage you are about to see chronicles the harrowing experience that her neighbors endured for hours as she screamed, cried, and shouted expletive obscenities at her television as she watched: May The Devil Take You, Too!

Viewer discretion Advised

Plotline: Two years after escaping from a demonic terror, Alfie and Nara try to continue their lives, but Alfie is still haunted by feelings of guilt and unnatural visions.

Who would like it: Everyone who loved the 1st movie, fans of occult films, possessions, gore hounds, Fx fans, and international horror movies

High Points:This was a really good sequel with a original story line from the 1st.

Complaints: None!

Overall: Love it…better than the 1st

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Shudder

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not reviewing indie horror and science fiction films for HorrorAddicts she’s terrorizing her fans with new written horrors and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences.

Top Winter Horror Movies

Top 5 Winter Horror Movies, as voted on by the Addicts!

  1. The Shining
  2. 30 Days of Night
  3. The Thing
  4. A Christmas Horror Story
  5. Let the Right One In

Some other winter horror flix we enjoy: Misery, Ginger Snaps Back, Storm of the Century, Frozen (2010), The Wolf of Snow Hollow, Gremlins, Black Christmas, Anna and the Apocalypse, Dead Snow, Candyman, Krampus, Prophecy, Nightmare Before Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Crimson Peak, The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.

Share your favorites in the comments and come join us on the HorrorAddicts.net Facebook Group to chat about your favorites!

Latinx Month – FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Mexican and Spanish Vampires!

Mexican and Spanish Vampires, Oh My!  By Kristin Battestella

The Bloody Vampire– The English version of this black and white 1962 Mexican import El Vampire Sangriento opens with eerie slow motion, silent carriages, tolling bells, howling wolves, and creepy forests to set the macabre mood. The candles, Old World Feeling, secret crypts, great architecture, and period costumes counter the almost comically out of place and unmatched dubbing, but there are some eerie good effects, thankfully. Fun Bats, zooms, and coffins mask the fact that once again, there isn’t much of the titular blood. However, the religious arias are a bit out of place and too reverent for the subject. Likewise, some of the sound effects are more fifties UFOs than scary. Fortunately, a few corsets and kinky bedroom threats accent the household violence, vampy bitch slaps, and whips. Although, I’ve never heard a vampire tell his victim/bride to put some clothes on before! It might have been neat to see a South American set tale rather than the standard Eastern European mold, but the English translations add to the gothic horror homage. Count Frankenhausen has a maid named Hildegard “The servants must call me Frau” and a daughter Bronehilda at his cave the “Haunted Hacienda.” Yes, and did I mention that “Vampirina” is the blood of a vampire? The English track is tough to hear, and it’s all back and forth wooden exposition on deadly flower roots, grave robbings, early autopsies, science versus death, vampire mythos, and secret vampire hunting family histories. It might be a dry translation or stilted from the innate Espanol, but at least this isn’t in the over the top telenovela styling we expect today. The pace does pick up for the last half hour, and once you’re past the niche logistics and morbid humor, then this is a good little hour and a half.

Crypt of the Living Dead – There’s isn’t a lot of information available on this black and white 1973 tale also known by the wonderfully bad title Hannah, Queen of the Vampires.  Andrew Prine (V) looks so young and the architecture and medieval religious designs are well done, yes. But sadly, the drab, colorless photography hampers the fun, gothic atmosphere. Was this later day black and white filming done by production plan or necessity? The editing is also either very poor or there has been some unfortunate film damage, and the plot is a little slow and silent to start, with too many setups and tough to hear dialogue when we do have it. The nighttime action is almost impossible to see as well, and the frantic camerawork and extreme close ups make what should be straightforward scares somewhat confusing. All this production doom and gloom and yet the script and cast actually aren’t that bad. The music and eerie effects are sinister enough, and there’s a historical spin on the then-contemporary skepticism and ethical debates. Die-hard vamp fans looking to have a fun nighttime viewing will enjoy this. However, the finale is a bit overlong and repetitive for horror lay folk, and those low budget values will hinder the natural fears and good scares for today’s more visually treated audiences. 

The Vampire – With such a confusingly plain title, I had to look up this 1957 Mexican horror El Vampiro starring Abel Salazar and German Rubles to make sure I hadn’t already seen it. Fortunately, there’s no mistaking the foggy villa courtyards, Gothic Victorian interiors, hypnotic eyes, and fangs afoot here. This original tale gets right to the screams and neck nibbles, and the black and white patina perfectly matches the don’t go out after sunset warnings. Even the fake bat doesn’t feel hokey amid the fifties train and ingenue in white visiting her sick spinster aunt. The boxes of soil from Hungary, suspicious cape-wearing count, and carriage at the crossroads may seem Stoker-esque to start, however there are some undead surprises – and an older aunt who remains young and reflection-less but thinks all this vampire talk is ridiculous. Torches and tolling bells invoke some medieval funerary alongside crypts, superstitions, and fearful folk crossing themselves. The recently late are buried with crucifix in hand while creepy crescendos accent the phantom ladies in black about the cemetery. Ghostly effects, well-framed shadows, and spooky lighting schemes heighten the ruinous haciendas as well as the suspenseful count and his then-shocking vampire bites – sudden falling books or slamming doors also help build the dangerous mood unlike today’s fake out jump scares. Rather than detract from the horror, just the right amount of humor and a whiff of romance accent the fine dialogue – although despite DVD commentaries and a variety of caption or audio options, the English subtitles don’t exactly match the español. Secret passages, dusty books, and otherworldly singing provide more flavor for a wild finale combining stakes, sunlight, and fire. To be sure, this toothy little number wins with heaps of atmosphere.

The Vampire’s Coffin – Salazar and company returned for this 1958 sequel aka El Ataud del Vampiro, and the two pictures can be found together on the generically named The Vampire Collection set for more howling cemeteries, grave robbers, and disturbed vampire tombs. Of course, it’s amazingly easy for two men to remove such heavy headstones and take a giant coffin to the local hospital for a scientific study, but hey, me want that sweet fifties Hearst! Skeletal reflections, giant wooden stakes – the Gothic creepy moves into unexplained science territory but the old-fashioned hospital retains a gray, mod feeling with scared kids and a cross above the bed. What can modern medicine do compared to a determined monster? Sharp shadows and dark angles add Expressionism accents while staircases and noir pursuits akin a Val Lewton aesthetic. Although a missing vampire about the ward could be laughable, spooky effects, a dark cape, and hypnotized victims add macabre. There is, however, a lacking finesse here thanks to a busy narrative crowded with swanky theater glamour and gruesome wax museum hideouts. Disbelieving medical directors, ritzy routines, and torture devices are all well and good on their own, but one moody, fully embraced locale would have been better. Convenience and poorly choreographed fights aside, the fun finale packs in plenty of rituals, chases, and guillotines, as you do. Ironically, it feels like pieces of this film are borrowed in more recent cliché horror, and despite a general bloodlessness and try hard approach, bared fangs and la Sangre talk keep up the theme.

The Vampire’s Night Orgy – Spanish director Leon Klimovsky (The Dracula Saga) uses an unusual widescreen format for this hour and twenty minutes from 1974. The color is very washed out, too, and unfortunately, the picture is often too dark or tough to see. Like most of the foreign or obscure horror of this era, there are edited versions and lost prints, and some scenes are regrettably dated and look the likes of seventies porn. Thankfully, those are about the only problems here.  Crazy funerals, wild music, and a nutty countess add to the demented ambiance of ticking clocks, creaking doors, and spooky sound effects. The dubbing is actually in sync and performed well, too, with a few words of un-translated Spanish adding to the Euro flavor. From the interesting premise – an en-route house staff’s bus breaks down in a seemingly abandoned town that really has an all too generous blood drinking population – to a bit of kink, nudity, and cannibalism, the screams and foreboding build up are solid. Sure, most of the men look the same with huge mustaches and I’ll be damn, there isn’t a lot of blood to be seen. However, the child actors aren’t annoying, and the vampire violence is well played. One by one, victims are taken down in fast, almost gang rape terror, and the chase finale and twist ending earn top marks. Though in serious need of a restoration and some may have trouble getting past the dated look, this is a nice little scary movie.

The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman – Never ever do an autopsy on a supposed werewolf on a moonlit night!  Just one of the many warnings from this 1971 Spanish treat, the fifth in the loose Waldemar Daninsky series from writer and star Paul Naschy.  Director Leon Klimovsky tackles then-contemporary disbelieving science versus superstition with good screams, fun growls and fangs, zoom attacks, and slow motion eerie.  There’s a good quality of blood, too, and a twisted medieval flashback establishes the satanic ritual roots. Of course, the nighttime photography is almost impossible to see, and the handheld forest camera action is poor. The werewolf makeup and effects may be a bit hokey but considering the low budget foreign production, they suffice. The flowing fashions and happy vamps running thru the glen can seem more like Frodo Lives hippie, I know. However, it is nonetheless very unnerving and effective. Actually, the pop references in the dialogue – such as man walking on the moon, James Bond, and the obligatory “Dracula! Ha ha.” – feels more dated amid the fine gothic history and Euro-style. A touch of lingerie, bloody shackles, and crazy girl on girl suggestion keep the run of the mill acting and yell at the TV moments bemusing.  Cap this eighty plus minutes with unusual monster relationships and cool mod clothes and you have a picture that’s a cut above the standard dollar bin foreign horror. Naturally, multiple video releases, unavailable uncut editions, international reissues, and title changes can make pursuing Naschy’s horror repertoire extremely frustrating.  For fans of retro Euro-horror, however, this is worth the hunt. 

For More Vampires, Visit:

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Where are all the Mid-Century Mexican Horror Films? A Frightening Flix Editorial

Where Are All the Mid-Century Mexican Horror Films by Kristin Battestella

From The Witch’s Mirror to The Curse of the Crying Woman and more, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mid-century Mexican horror productions I’ve seen from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I would wholeheartedly like to see more, but where did all these Mexican horror movies go? Read on for my rant about the frustrating difficulty in finding these quality classic scares.

Why so inaccessible?

Thanks to directors such as Rafael Baledón or the likes of Abel Salazar’s filmography, one can filter, search, and find dozens of Mexican horror films on IMDb, Wikipedia, and more. We know they exist, so where are they and why aren’t they readily available? Ten or fifteen years ago, a budget DVD set with twenty or fifty so-called horror classics was a get what you pay for way to find a few old horror gems amid the so bad it’s good obscure, public domain scares, and cheap VHS quality rips. This was how I first found some Spanish horror delectables. Today, however, those sets aren’t really viable compared to affordable streaming options. Unfortunately, be it the free horror channels, discount streaming tiers, or the big mainstream options, none of them have any of these films. Back when we had Xfinity and could browse all the thousand channels on the guide including the Spanish cable package, I used to see some great horror films listed on the Peliculas de clasicos channels. I’d write down great titles like Museo de Horror, El Beso de Ultratrumbo, La Cabeza Viviente, and more but can’t find any of them anywhere. How with today’s instant access to everything are these films still so inaccessible?

Cultural Drift is No Excuse!

It takes a lot of digging and research to find these titles, and although it’s easy to search with Spanish language filters, that creates its own set of problems. Sure I’ve been able to find a few Salazar sixties horrors or Mexican movies, but those searches also yield a lot of Paul Naschy pictures from Spain (and searching for his Waldermar werewolf films is another aggravating not all available pursuit). Soon, these lists skew to Spain, European productions, Jesus Franco, Dario Argento, and Mario Bava. Seventies Italian Giallo pictures are not what we’re looking for, and finding the right version of a film with different releases, run times, and different titles per country only adds more fuel to the frustrating fuego. Sometimes you think you are getting the right movie and it turns out to be something else, or worse a film you’ve already seen under a different name. I myself am guilty of putting all my Spanish horror viewing lists and recommendations together because it’s so tough to find just the Mexican scares. Of course, Spain and Mexico are different cultures with different español and different identities, and it’s problematic to presume they are interchangeable. Many years ago I had a vehement argument on an online film forum when a commenter said he wanted a role to be cast with Penélope Cruz or Salma Hayek or “one of those types.” O_o This person could not see why I objected to these actresses being lumped together as one and the same. On a non-horror note, I highly suggest the Maya Exploration Center’s Professor Edwin Barnhart’s Great Course lectures including Ancient Civilizations of North America, Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed, Lost Worlds of South America, and Exploring the Mayan World to educate oneself on the history of Southwest, Central, and South American communities.

The Classics are Better.

What irritates me most is the perception that because Hollywood or mainstream horror is more prevalent, that means it must be better. In my recent viewings, however, that’s been far from the truth. I’ve enjoyed the majority of independent Australian, New Zealand, Irish, UK horror, and European productions, sure. Canadian pictures, on the other hand, have been more mixed bag. When the festival finds are true to themselves, they’ve been good – but you can tell the difference when a north of the border production is compromising itself in hopes of an American sale and wide distribution, catering to the formulaic and cliché. I had such high hopes for The Curse of La Llorona. It starts well with colonial Mexican scares so viewers think we’re in for some period piece Hammer flair, but sadly the film – written and directed by white men, because of course – degrades into the typical kids in peril with whooshing entities and trite jump scares. Cultural fears are dismissed and protective warnings are treated like Mysticism 101, and the entire time I was waiting for it to end, I had one thought, which was that The Curse of the Crying Woman was better. There’s an entire Wikipedia page called “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema” but where are all the films? Netflix if you’re lucky has one DVD copy, and when that breaks, it’s just saves and unavailables.

It’s Frustrating and Offensive.

For viewer looking for quality horror of any kind, it’s disturbing how unique storytelling, different cultural scares, and the many horror stories to be told must be bent to serve white mainstream horror. The fact that these films are not widely available almost feels like an intentional burying – the way a great Asian horror film won’t see the light of day stateside because the rights were bought up and it is being deliberately suppressed until the rich white blonde jump scare cliché remake is released first. Why aren’t these classic, quality films being celebrated? Why are they not freely available to watch at any time? A black and white picture? So what! Spanish subtitles or a bad English dub? Big deal! Is it because they are not in English that white America suspects releasing these films properly won’t be profitable enough for them? Well that’s just too damn bad because I want to see these films. Do you have an inside source on where to find some classic mid-century Mexican horror movies? ¡Damelo!

 

For More Frightening Flix, visit:

Horror Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing

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Ciao, Horror!

Bone Tomahawk

 

THE BIGFOOT FILES / Chapter Twenty-Two: On the Trail of Bigfoot: The Search

The second half of Seth Breedlove’s On the Trail of Bigfoot documentary, The Search, is a solid follow-up to The Legend. Where The Legend mired itself in Bigfoot’s familiar history, The Search transports us to the present as Breedlove explores hot spots in the forests of Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Ohio on his personal quest to justify his own belief in Bigfoot.

Both documentaries are available on Amazon Prime. You may read my review of The Legend HERE.

Like The Legend, The Search is heavy on interviews, but Breedlove includes some compelling audio recordings while effectively spotlighting diehard Bigfoot researchers.

The documentary begins on Chestnut Ridge outside Collinsville, Pennsylvania, where Breedlove spends a few hours learning about the experience of one local investigator. After introducing a few of the talking heads with their take on the Bigfoot legend, the film shifts to the UFO and paranormal connections to Sasquatch. Author Stan Gordon posits an interdimensional theory with Bigfoot traveling through portals.

Thankfully, The Search spends the majority of its 84-minute runtime on Area X, a heavily forested area in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma. Area X is also base camp for the North American Wood Ape Conservancy (NAWAC), formerly the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy. The goal of its members is to basically kill a Bigfoot, present the body for scientists to categorize as a legitimate species, and thus preserve the cryptid’s habitat.

The Area X segment of the documentary was the highlight for me. Breedlove visited NAWAC in June 2018, interviewing key members and joining an expedition there. NAWAC shared audio recordings of rock throwing, vocalizations, and wood knocks. NAWAC’s Brian Brown reported tracking an animal for miles using an electronic tag. Daryl Colyer provided the best interview, recalling July 3, 2011, when he reported shooting a Bigfoot. The Sasquatch escaped, but a photograph showed bloodstains on rocks near a creek.

The final third of The Search moved to southern Ohio near the Kentucky border in Adams County. Breedlove interviews founders of the Ohio Night Stalkers who shared vocalization recordings.

Ultimately, the documentary doesn’t prove anything about Sasquatch. However, it shows the passion of dedicated Bigfoot researchers is as intense as ever. I think Breedlove needed to see and feel that passion for himself, hoping it would reignite the embers of his dwindling belief in Bigfoot. In the end, On the Trail of Bigfoot isn’t Breedlove’s quest to find Sasquatch. It’s a quest to rediscover his own passion for the frustratingly complex subject of Bigfoot.

NEXT UP: Chapter Twenty-Three: “The Mystery of Bigfoot.” I review the 2013 episode of America’s Book of Secrets.

Daphne’s Den of Darkness: 5 Small Town Horror Movies

Small towns are known for being tight knit, often portrayed as the idyllic location for a quiet, peaceful life. But small towns are also secretive and isolated. They’re the perfect setting for horror.

Hold the Dark (2018)

Russell Core, an expert in wolf behavior, travels to the tiny town of Keelut, Alaska after he receives a plea from a mother who claims her son was carried off by the pack. But things are not what they seem, and Core finds himself drawn into a dangerous fight for survival.

You can watch Hold the Dark on Netflix.

The Crazies (2010)

Some of the residents of Ogden Marsh are beginning to act strangely, exhibiting violent behavior in the wake of a military plane crash that contaminated the water supply. The military shows up to contain the situation, forcing the uninfected to evade both the soldiers and their own neighbors to escape.

You can rent The Crazies on Amazon.

The Fog (1980)

The coastal town of Antonio Bay discovers the grizzly secret behind their town’s founding when supernatural events begin to occur. A ghostly fog reappears along with a 100-year-old sunken ship and revenants of murdered passengers seeking revenge.

You can watch The Fog on Shudder.

30 Days of Night (2007)

Barrow, Alaska is preparing for the annual polar night, which will plunge the town into darkness for thirty days, when a group of vampires shows up. The vampires slaughter most of the town and the survivors are forced to hide, flee, and fight to survive.

You can rent 30 Days of Night on Amazon.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1977)

The town of Texarkana is terrorized by violent and mysterious attacks on local couples. For months, the killer stalks the residents, his face obscured by a burlap sack, while authorities try to hunt him down.

You can watch The Town that Dreaded Sundown free on Amazon Prime.

Whether its zombies, ghosts, vampires, serial killers, or the residents themselves, small towns prove they can hold big horror. What’s your favorite small town horror story?

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Scary Movies and Scary Dreams!

Scary Movies and Scary Dreams! By Kristin Battestella

These, sleepers, mind benders, and franchise twists provide plenty of dreams and distorted realities. Unfortunately, some are scary good and others are scary bad.

Insidious: The Last Key – After the thin, uneven, seemingly nowhere left to go Chapter 3I’m surprised there’s room for this 2018 sequel aka Chapter 4. There’s headache inducing volume issues once again with soft voices versus incredibly loud excuses to make you jump if the scares don’t. Fortunately, penitentiary gates, latches, and skeleton keys disturb the nearby 1950s families. Lights flicker during every execution, and young Elise insists ghosts are in the bunk bend and playing with their toys. Dad, however, gets out the switch for talking nonsense and locks her in the basement bomb shelter where child voices taunt her to open a special red door – leading to evil claw hands with keys for nails, ghostly possessions, and hanging consequences. Grown up Elise Lin Shaye dreams about the past as her Spectral Sightings team moves in with their semi-working technology and a tricked out ghost hunting van. When the latest call for paranormal help is her old address, she’s initially reluctant to return to the house she fled with scars on her back. Though some of the emotion seems rushed or superficial – actual ghosts and ghosts of the past metaphors, we get it– the mix of sardonic, nerdy banter, and friendship ground the trauma, lingering cobwebs, and bibles. Night vision and point of view cameras provide shadows that some see and others don’t while microphones and phantom whistles create one yes, two no communications that are more chilling than unnecessary references to the prior film. False walls and hidden keyholes reveal chains, crawling entities, and creaking demons approaching the paralyzed in fear. Awkward confrontations with brothers left behind and meeting grown nieces create personal touches amid the metaphysical and psychological horrors as the family is lured back to the maze like levels of the house. Tunnels, old suitcases, and skulls address both the personal demons and the underlying sinister as spirits need to be freed from the dark. Metronomes lead to eerie fog, lanterns, underworld jail cells, and risky confrontations in The Further. Detours with real world violence, loud action, guns, and police, however, are time wasting filler when the ghosts still have to be faced. After the fine demon reveal strengthening our family connections, everything degrades into typical whooshes, television rattling roars, and a deus ex machina that’s the same deus ex machina from Chapter 3 complete with winks to the First Insidious for good measure. Although there are problems when the plot strays from the tale it’s supposed to be telling, this was more entertaining than the ultimately unnecessary third movie.

You Make the Call

All Light Will End – Thunder, rustic cabins, and a scared little girl in white saying there’s a monster in her closet open this 2018 scary before folk songs, creaking doors, and hiding under the sheets with a flashlight to keep the growls at bay. However, rather than building on these chills, the story restarts twenty years later with a fat redneck cop chastising a rookie black cop as they answer a call about a severed forearm. We’re told the little girl is the sheriff’s daughter before restarting again with her big city rise and shine complete with taking pills while looking in the bathroom mirror, edgy ballads, and posters for her titular bestselling debut. Multiple driving montages, radio chatter, cliché talk show interviews, and therapy lose more momentum – arbitrarily going through the motions while giving everything away in the first fifteen minutes. Her medication can cause disassociation or a fugue state mixing dreams with reality, and flashes of previous conversations, nightmares, and suicides provide guilt, blame, and inner demons. Alarms, flashing lights, green hues, and eerie tunnels accent the hospital nightmares, and the best scary moments allow the potential frights behind each door to play out with darkness and screams. Unfortunately, these quality night terror vignettes delay our writer’s six-hour drive home to face her fears, and it takes more than half the movie for any forward action to happen. We’re at the wrong point in the story, and viewers who haven’t tuned out will wonder why we’re watching now when all the story seems to have happened then. Bungling cops jar against the severed limbs, creepy gas stations, suspected abuse, and campfire tales, but the grieving family moments and women mulling over telling secrets or keeping them and losing your sanity are better than the try-hard pals with beer. The blurring of dreams versus reality are intercut well when we finally do get to the cabin, mirroring the mental disassociation with similar nighttime lighting, mind-bending jumps, distorted voices, blindfolds, and bloody trails. People are missing, searchers are separated, and woods and whispers blend together. Prior arguments between mother and daughter are revisited with negative portrayals, sacrifices about what it takes to be a writer, and doubts about who wrote what escalating to blackmail and crazed, violent reactions. Although there are some choice twists as well as a reason for the disjointed, non-linear telling, the structural flaws make it tough to enjoy this story. Key points are both obvious thanks to that front-loaded information and muddled with unanswered plot holes and abrupt resolutions. The possibilities devolve into hammy actions, unnecessary running at the screen with open mouth screams, and strolling through the woods in bloody lingerie. With four minutes of end credits, this really is an eighty minute movie that should have traded the first half hour for a half hour to resolve everything properly.

 Skip It!

Mara – Sleep paralysis statistics and fears of demonic possession open this 2018 thriller starring Olga Kurylenko (Centurion) amid children’s bedroom terrors and behind closed door screams. Ticking clocks and blue lighting set off the creepy drawings, mental evaluations, and witnesses recounting their sleep demon experience – weighed down on the mattress and unable to breathe. Unfortunately, there are too many of those Horror Movie Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing contrivances interfering with what should be an interesting story. Character sympathies and our strong woman psychologist in a tough policeman’s world jar against the forced scary elements, making the titular ominous as laughable as the overly dramatic slow motion, arias, and ripped teddy bear on the floor. At times this wants to be a standard procedural using jump drives, CCTV, crime scene notes, and tablet technology, but then our gal goes off to a mysterious address without notifying police and listens to sleep-deprived crackpot theories to learn about the sleep demon rather than just, you know, Googling it. The detective is right to remind her she’s out of bounds, for this psychologist is easily bothered by what seems like a routine case. After hearing sufferers admit this sleep demon sounds like crazy talk, we’re not surprised when the trapped sleep and stilted breathing happens to her – there’s never any doubt this is a monster, not delusion or delirium thanks to early reveals and unnecessarily spooky compromising any innate suspense. From a divorcing couple and their child to prayer freaks, disturbed veterans, and our psychologist with a crazy mom past, everyone who sees Mara has other issues yet nobody wonders what’s really causing their sleepless nights. Hypnotic ceiling fans, fiery deaths, and gasping paralysis build scares, but bemusing bloodshot eye markings and demon mythology deflate the terror. Mara doesn’t kill you right away but comes in four assault stages that can’t happen if you only sleep in twenty-minute shifts. Predictable encounters and dream jump shocks tread tires while our agitated sleepless victims are more annoying than believable. With today’s technology, no one sets up a camera for proof? The notion to involve more science and sleep monitoring comes too late, and the doctors blame The X-Files and pop culture for scaring people anyway. Weak paranoia and guilt metaphors provide no payoff to the psychologist’s suicidal schizophrenic mother backstory, but Olga’s look becomes increasingly frazzled – physically changing her appearance rather than addressing her turmoil. Car accidents and fighting to stay awake chases in the finale could have been the entire strung out focus, but time is wasted on the demon doing both in your face screams and taking its sweet, creaking time to inch toward the victim. When we finally get to the desperate cutting off of the eyelids, it’s just gore and a thin idea run out of steam. Although this could have been much better and seems content to be repetitive and Elm Street derivative, it can be a mildly entertaining late-night watch or bemusing drinking game if you aren’t looking for something really scary or expect any real sense of dread.

 Read up on More Scaries:

Family Haunts and Fears

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Death Becomes Her

Deliciously Dark Death Becomes Her gets Better with Age

by Kristin Battestella

Mad?”

Hel!”

Writer Helen Sharp’s (Goldie Hawn) plastic surgeon fiance Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) thinks Helen’s childhood friend Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) is an amazing starlet. Madeline has stolen Helen’s beaus previously and does so again, but fourteen years later, Helen achieves her revenge by looking stunning and wooing Ernest into her killer plans. Madeline will do whatever she can to compete – including visiting the mysterious Lisle von Rhoman (Isabella Rosselini) for a youthful elixir. Unfortunately, the costly potion leads to bodily disasters if you don’t take care of your beauty, and unlike these desperate ladies trying to stay forever young, the 1992 dark comedy Death Becomes Her only gets better with age.

Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and writers Martin Donovan (Apartment Zero) and David Koepp (War of the Worlds) open the surprisingly PG-13 Death Becomes Her with 1978 not so well received ritzy as Playbills are tossed aside and stage glory turns sour thanks to show within in a show awkward performances, bad choreography, caricatures on youth, and phony songs about you. Flirtatious winks, polite shade, through the teeth comebacks, and backhanded compliments are played straight as your frienemy steals your man, and Death Becomes Her wastes no time with backstabbing wedding bells and revenge decades in the planning leading to book party invitations and who’s looking swell versus who’s looking worse for the wear changes. The man looming above the frame is reflected in the mirror behind the woman – reverse revealing the personal disconnect as each says things they don’t mean alongside more symbolism and aggressive gestures. Hellish characters and murderous plans are both deliberate and measured yet flippant and off the cuff, as our plastic surgeon is dismissed as a ghoul for not healing but indulging vanity even in death. More quirky visuals layer the Hollywood commentary – what’s with that guy upside on the wheel at the spa? – and reflective camera shots create viewer double take. What if we did look twice and really paid attention beyond face value then what would we see? Death Becomes Her winks at the secret opportunities available to the elite behind closed doors amid insular they know that we know that they know that we know flattery. Confidence only comes with beauty, and the camera’s distorted angles and askew perceptions reiterate this frame of mind as wide shots have the face in the center but the subject at hand in the background. With such in camera staging, one need not resort to fast-paced editing later to compensate and piece together wit or tension because the bags full of makeup, screams overseeing oneself in the mirror without said makeup, and fake tears sprayed in the eyes while practicing crocodile speeches – in the mirror framed by defaced pictures of her obsession – speak for themselves. One woman equals sex while another demeans flaccid, and cuckold phrases reiterate the servile men and obedient dogs as demented one liners, frantic questions, and disturbing calm lead to top of the stairs teetering and the not so dead rising behind one’s back. Formaldehyde is bought in bulk on top of jokes on doing something “funny” with a dead wife and “It’s alive” homages. Eternal youth potions await in a scary, humbling castle where newcomers tiptoe so their heels don’t echo on the floor before sampling this hush-hush, ageless elixir to prove its price. Snake charmers admit the forever young will look suspicious if they don’t disappear, and Death Becomes Her is likewise self-aware of how lacking in self-awareness its desperate characters are when not heeding knives or warnings to preserve the facade. Women who for decades purposely inflict pain without actually harming each other let all the violence out and apologize – tag teaming the man they were fighting over because they need him to maintain their seemingly miraculous vitality forever. Twisted dream sequences, wide lenses, and zooms accentuate the preposterously clever scheme of tranquilizers on the wine glass and finishing dinner before planting the body in a car going off Mulholland Drive as quips about divorce in California, never seeing a neighbor in Los Angeles, and those with no talent for poverty orchestrating murder escalate the satire with handy hardware, bloody bodies in the lily pond, and a hole in the stomach big enough to right see through you.

Everything has to be taut and perfect for Madeline Ashton, and only Meryl Streep (She-Devil) can play a bad actress obsessed with wrinkles without winking and scene chewing for the camera. Madeline strikes the right pose, plumps the bosom, and remains pampered even if she hasn’t worked in some time and is no longer the breadwinner. In order to hide her impoverished past, she must show up Helen at all times and mere makeup won’t do. Despite her fame and wealth, Madeline’s ugliness shows in her mistreatment of the maid or any pretty supple ingenue. When rejected by her younger lover for not considering how he feels, she blames him for making her feel cheap. Even if the spa refuses to do a traumatic plasma treatment, Madeline demands the procedure money is no object because she fears younger women must be laughing at her. She’s shocked at Helen’s transformation and makes excuses about feeling terrible at having happiness at Helen’s expense, but Madeline doesn’t feel that terrible and she’s not really happy. Fortunately, her shady zingers return with her beauty, but Madeline says what she shouldn’t, leading to scary body bags and uncomfortable realizations – although she enjoys having no pulse because nobody can play dead better than she can. Goldie Hawn’s (Overboard) Helen is initially a shy and quiet writer compared to her old school rival Madeline, dowdy and twisting her handkerchief rather than expressing her anger. She warns Ernest that Madeline only wants him because she has him. Madeline has stolen men from Helen before and she wants Ernest to pass her Madeline Ashton test, but when he does not, Helen becomes a gluttonous cat lady obsessed with rewinding Madeline’s onscreen strangulation. Upon eviction, she ruins her therapy group by talking about Madeline before overcoming her outlook by vowing revenge and looking dynamite while doing it. Literary success follows, and Helen lies to Madeline’s face about never blaming her, kissing her cheek as she pits Madeline and Ernest against each other. Now a vivacious vixen, Helen claims sisterhood while plotting with her man – embodying the shade, deception, and fierce competition of the woman scorned even if she doesn’t really want Ernest anymore. She just wants to take him from Madeline and use him for her fatal revenge, and both ladies willingly become a Hollywood type of vampire, consuming the essence of a man for their own youthful survival. What does their undead beauty contest get them? Each other, stuck forever in an “I paint your ass, you paint mine” begrudging.

Ernest Menville was once a famous plastic surgeon, but now Bruce Willis’ (Color of Night) doctor is a postmortem fixer for the Hollywood dead between breakfast bloody marys. Life with Madeline hasn’t worked out, and she’s reviled by his bottom feeder, drinking himself to death existence. When complimented for his mortuary work, Ernest admits the secret weapon for coloring dead skin is spray paint, but he knows it isn’t real work and would sell his soul to really operate again. He argues with Madeline about who ruined whom and won’t take jokes about his clients being stiffer. Though unhappy, wishing to divorce, and easily swept up when Helen comes on to him with sexy words, Ernest is reluctant to go along with her plans, for he takes the change in Madeline’s temperature, pulse, and hair – because that’s what men notice – as a miracle. Ernest gains confidence despite his fear over what he has done, wanting to make Madeline his masterpiece, painting her and carefully mixing the turpentine. He won’t be rushed when her eyes must have artistic balance! Ernest will fix them and then go, but when the ladies need touch-ups, his sudden backbone becomes a problem. Death Becomes Her’s few daylight scenes are about Ernest realizing what took him so long to leave. He was willing to keep his marital promise in spite of the suffering and humiliation, but his obligations are fulfilled in her death do us part. The camera at the not all that it seems spa has to be switched off before Isabella Rosellini’s (Merlin) Lisle von Rhoman can be mentioned, but the million dollar price tag for her mysterious potion is relative to such elite clientele. Her stunning beauty and barely there clothes make it easy to soft sell her elixir – Lisle is sweet when charming a guest, telling them to follow spring and summer but avoid autumn and winters however she’s sassy when ordering her Tom, Dick, and Harry henchmen and intimating with her deceptions. She knows why her clients come to see her, for they are scared of themselves, their bodies, the lengths they go to in maintaining their secrets, and their inevitable failure. Life is cruel, taking away vitality only to replace it with decay, so we want to believe her sweet talking promise to defy natural and endorse the check despite her dominance. The camera heightens Lisle’s look fair and feei  foul with carefully orchestrated poses and frames. She’s centered perfectly in each shot with daggers, Dobermans, and amulets. Lisle crosses her legs in her throne chair and says “thank you” when someone exclaims about God, but her seductive wraps and high collared, witchy robes suggest an underlying evil. After imploring our plastic surgeon to now take the youth and beauty he gave to others for himself, Lisle’s full menace is revealed when he questions her on the nightmarish consequences of immortality. Of course, there’s a wink to Rosellini’s casting because she looks so much like her mother, and bemusing not so dead cameos include James Dean, Jim Morrison, Elvis, and Marilyn alongside appearances by Mrs. Zemeckis Mary Ellen Trainor (Tales from the Crypt) and poor doctor with a heart condition Sydney Pollock (Three Days of the Condor).

The naughty but sinister, frenetic strings of Alan Silvestri’s (Predator) theme set the mood for Death Becomes Her amid a dash of jazz, disco beats, and campy cues. Boas and colorful stage backdrops in the opening sequence establish an over the top, garish, tacky and lamé atmosphere before static on the old television, retro patterns, and poor clutter contrast the massive Beverly Hill mansion with gated entries, a grand staircase, hefty doors, and heaps of marble. The made to look ugly, old, and desperate makeup and bodily transformations are well done amid tears and soggy rain making a woman look worse before bemusing good skin versus bad skin comparisons and boob lifts. That pretty left hand with the giant rock ring is always prominently displayed! Subtle nudity is also reflected through windows and doors as supple butt shots provide curves to the sagging and wrinkles. The square nineties blazers and low buttons add masculine angles for the women, however low cut cleavage, deep blouses, and lace invoke feminine symbolism along with thigh-high slits, Egyptian life giving motifs, and our glowing pink potion. Death Becomes Her abounds with mirrors everywhere – frames within frames via television screens, snapshots, and gold portraits pepper every scene. Clever reflections, shadows, and silhouettes do double duty while red stands for passion, black for suspicion, and white for innocence as dramatic overhead drops, balcony dangles, thunder, and shotgun blasts apply terror in the killing scenes. Neck snaps, stairway rolls, holes in the gut, and backwards results are as disturbing as the decision to kill. Sure, some of the bumbling bodies and squashed heads may look poor now, but that also keeps them funny, and there are more intriguing or random visual gags to catch our eye – the doctor throwing away his stethoscope when he can’t get a heartbeat, the yuppie tennis couple with the bruised elbows, those weird ass gliding nuns. The pink pastels and green palm trees in the eighties upscale buildings are perfectly gaudy now, but the blue lighting, black marble, and arrows pointing to the morgue mirror how the characters are inevitably walking towards death. Michelangelo motifs and pools of water could be symbolic life renewals as one tries to escape the locked doors, gilded elevators, grand arches, maze like spires, and those ever present mirrors but Death Becomes Her’s beauty goes from svelte to garish with vampire pale, white out eyes, pasty skin, and gross peeling.

One may love or hate Death Becomes Her but there is no in between and it takes multiple viewings to study the dual nuances, comedic layers, and dark subtleties. Questions on immortality – or at least looking immortal – deepen the commentary on beauty and why women compete to look so enchanting even if it kills them. Today’s dark comedies often feel crass or too disturbing, but the great cast keeps Death Becomes Her mature with a tongue in cheek that doesn’t have to berate the obvious. While not in your face horror, the choice macabre moments and increasingly bleak palette illume our dread and fear of old age. We can laugh at the sardonic winks even as Death Becomes Her calls out Hollywood then and hello look at us on the ‘gram now, remaining delicious because its satire is unfortunately more applicable than ever.

Do you remember where you parked the car?”

For more Horror Comedies, revisit:

The Addams Family Season 1

The Munsters Season 1

Bell, Book, and Candle

Daphne’s Den of Darkness: 5 Cult Horror Films to Suck You In

Mega monsters are scary. So are supernatural serial killers. And so are otherworldly entities beyond our understanding.

But you know what’s scariest of all? People.

People are especially terrifying when they get together in large groups and their ideas start to get a little… murderous. So, check out my list below of movies to watch starring CULTS.

The Lodge (2019)

Grace is the only survivor of a cult that committed mass suicide. Years later, on a trip with her future step-children, strange things begin to happen around her that make her question her sanity and whether the cult is really behind her. The Lodge explores the lasting trauma left on even those who leave cults.

Them That Follow (2019)

Mara is part of a small community that practices religious snake handling. As dark secrets emerge, they tear families apart and the church’s practices serve a darker purpose.

Apostle (2018)

A major theme of many cult stories is the lies told to the members to keep them in line. The Apostle explores a world in which the cult is correct. Thomas, a priest who has lost his faith, goes to rescue his sister from an island cult and discovers their secrets in the process.

The Void (2016)

Just because I said the people of cults are scary doesn’t mean I don’t love some otherworldly dangers too! The Void mixes cult mystery with Lovecraftian horror when a hospital is dragged surrounded by cultists bent on bringing Hellish creatures to Earth.

Red State (2011)

Three boys are kidnapped by a fundamentalist Christian cult and must fight their way out during an invasion of the compound by federal agents. Half Waco siege, half Westboro Baptist church, Red State asks what happens when religious isolation and fanaticism is taken to the very extreme.

What’s your favorite cult film? Is there one coming out that you’re excited about? Let us know in the comments!

Daphne’s Den of Darkness: 10 Common Phobias (and movies that will trigger them)

Fear is part of our everyday experience. It keeps us alive. But sometimes fears border on the irrational, which is when they become phobias. Indulge in these phobia-tastic horror movies!

Acrophobia – fear of heights

  • Vertigo (1958) – This Hitchcock classic contains scenes of dizzying heights from the point of view of the character, drawing you into the fear.
  • Man on Wire (2008) – Okay, so technically it’s a documentary, not a horror movie, but doesn’t that make it all the more terrifying?

Nyctophobia – fear of the dark

  • Don’t Breathe (2016) – A trio of robbers get more than they bargain for when they break into the house of a blind man.
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – This Oscar winning film features a heart pounding chase through the pitch-dark basement of Buffalo Bill.

Cynophobia – fear of dogs

  • Cujo (1983) – The absolute classic dog horror movie, based on the novel by Stephen King.
  • Green Room (2015) – A band becomes trapped inside a bar by a gang of neo-Nazis. The vicious attack by pit bulls will make anyone squeamish.

Astraphobia – fear of storms

  • Twister (1996) – If you missed this classic 90’s film about tornado chasers, make sure to check it out.
  • Take Shelter (2011) – A man has apocalyptic visions of a storm and begins building a tornado shelter, causing the family to question his sanity.

Aerophobia – fear of flying

  • Flight 7500 (2014) – A supernatural force attacks passengers on a transpacific flight to Tokyo. Passengers are stuck thousands of feet in the air with nowhere to run.
  • Altitude (2010) – A group of friends on a personal plane is thrown into chaos when the plane becomes stuck in ascent.

Mysophobia – fear of germs/uncleanliness

  • Cabin Fever (2002) – A group of young adults succumbs to a flesh-eating virus in a remote cabin.
  • Contagion (2011) – Considered one of the most realistic movies about a pandemic, you may find Contagion a little hard to watch right now.

Agoraphobia – fear of going out

  • Intruders (2015) – Robbers find themselves in danger when they realize their shut-in victim isn’t as helpless as they thought.
  • Big Sky (2015) – A girl with agoraphobia must face the great open desert to save herself and her companions. This movie gets extra points for giving life to the real fear of the outside world instead of just showing someone stuck inside.

Claustrophobia – fear of enclosed spaces

  • Buried (2010) – Ryan Reynolds lives everyone’s worst fear of waking up to find you’re buried alive in a coffin.
  • The Descent (2005) – Cavers become trapped on an expedition and must fight for their lives against something sinister that lives in the caverns.

Arachnophobia – fear of spiders

  • Itsy Bitsy (2019) – A family moves into a new home only to be tormented by a giant spider.
  • Spiders (2013) – A piece of an abandoned space station crashes into New York City and monstrous spiders take over the subway.

Trypanophobia – fear of needles

  • Requiem for a Dream (2000) – The real horror of this movie is watching everyone slowly destroy their own lives, but the copious intravenous drug use is definitely frightening all on its own.
  • Awake (2007) – While not specifically about needles, Awake will tap your darkest fears about medicine. The main character is aware of everything that happens to him during open-heart surgery, but unable to communicate because of anesthesia.

What are you afraid of? What movies creep you out the most?

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Scary Waters!

Ahoy, Scary Waters Ahead! By Kristin Battestella

Grab the life jackets for this damp list of warped psychology, island mayhem, and beastly sea life…

Seance on a Wet Afternoon – Oscar nominated medium Kim Stanley (The Right Stuff) and her husband Richard Attenborough (The Great Escape) star in this moody black and white 1964 British two hours based on the Mark McShane novel. Shadows, candles, weeping ladies in pearls, and whispering circles set the tone immediately alongside classy contemporary touches such as driving goggles, sidecars, phonographs, and old fashioned, cluttered interiors – it’s sixties, but with a faux Victorian mysticism. The lady of the house is domineering, claiming her plans have the blessing to do what needs to be done, yet she wishes she were normal instead of channeling sorrow and makes her weak, complacent husband do the dirty work. Is she crazy or is something paranormal at work? Talk of a mysterious, maybe ghostly, maybe imagined “Arthur,” peepholes, boarded up windows, school bells, and gaslighting actions make the audience take notice. There is a lot of talking set in the few rooms of a creepy, oppressive house, however, the unreliable mindset hooks the audience without insulting us. Dangerous drives, escalating music, and camera zooms accent any slip-up and or the chance for things go wrong while the editing of a ransom note is almost humorous in its casual word choices and disturbing calculations on this “borrowing” plan. Viewers both understand and like these perpetrators – they are at one strong enough to pull this off yet incredibly vulnerable and taking tremendous risks. However, we are also disgusted by their hospital ruses and psychic ploys even if we feel sorry for the villains, victims, and agree with a rightfully skeptical father and suspicious law enforcement. Tensions escalate along with the crimes – what was once such a perfect plan orchestrated by an unstable wife is now we, we, we intense and ready to snap with the heat showing as sweat on everyone’s brow. Layered tours and intercut chases up the nail-biting twists as one séance too many might unravel this chance to be famous by solving your own crime. Well acted intensity and warped grief make this taut little thriller perfect for a rainy day.

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-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!

Writers Retreat Novelists face their fears in more ways than one at this 2015 island workshop with high tide isolation and no internet or cell phones. Awkward book signings, contract deadlines, angry agents, dead vermin, and highway mishaps assure this meeting is off on the wrong foot for our introverted strangers. There’s one emergency landline, and the ice breaker exercises, manuscript focus, and writing discussions are more like therapy for this diverse group. Writers are weird by nature, however some are more pretentious than others, rolling their eyes and creating tension over what they consider hack manuscripts if the wounded amateur is upset by their critique. Staring at the blank laptop screen, long hand journaling, inspirational photography, and subjects going off by themselves provide withdrawn writing routines but the notebooks, clicking keys, and angelic, panning montages make it seem like we’re witnessing something mystical in action when writing is a lot more complicated than that. Brief sentences read aloud reveal much about these characters in need of validation, for a few aren’t even writing at all before sudden disappearances, red herrings, and inside/outside, voyeuristic camera framing to match the lurking men, misogynistic threats, and gory evidence. Private moments away from the workshop make the viewer pay attention to the individual prejudices, flirtations, preferences, drinking, history, and self-harm. Everyone has their issues, but is anyone willing to kill for the ‘write what you know’ experience? Mysteries and relative truths escalate into horror with hammers to the head, stabbings, and rap tap tapping on the windows let in for some slicing and dicing. Vomiting, blood, pointing fingers, and power outages accent the writing angles and slasher styles as deliberate reveals, torture instruments laid out in the kitchen, eyeballs on the platter, and a glass of wine provide scene-chewing villainy. Unfortunately, the intriguing, sophisticated start does devolve in one fell swoop with haphazard running around, dead body shocks, and knockouts or tie-ups that happen too easy. There’s no one by one crafty kill or time for our intelligent writers to piece the crimes together – or not reveal what they know because that nugget would be a great piece for their manuscript. Creative corkscrew uses, torture porn, and one on one gruesome go on too long, unraveling with loud boo crescendos for every hit, stab, and plunge making an injury seem so severe before the victim inexplicably comes back for more. Although the final act and the predictable bookends deserved more polish, this is worth the late-night look for both writers and horror fans.

And Some More Terribly Wet Fun

Creature from the Haunted Sea – Oh, Roger Corman, you’re killing me with this 1961 horror comedy remake of Beast from Haunted Cave! The black and white Beatnik opening chase looks like the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” music video.  The sound, music, bad narration, iffy Spanish, and worse dialogue are very poorly mixed. The poor acting, over the top spy and noir spoof vibes come off all wrong, and the animated credits are downright corny.  I think I get what Corman was trying to do, but the confusing Cuban plot with Beetles and Winnebagos on the chase is too low budget college-kids-with-a-camera. Who’s in charge on this boating escapade- military Cubans? Gold digging Americans? Monsters? Murderers? The singing, crappy spies, a guy who speaks in animal sounds- this is just a really surprising mess. I mean, somebody gets hit with a fish!

Phantom from 10,000 Leagues – Yes, the titular beasty from this 1955 proto-AIP science fiction feature looks completely hokey. It’s tough to tell who is who at the start, and slow talking scenes with poor acting and wooden romances damage the entertaining pace and humor from the action sequences. The weak, simplistic science is also laughable today, and they even pronounce it Mu-tant with a long A! Nighttime footage is tough to see, and the hour and twenty here seems too long. How many times can the same guy go diving for this monster? Fortunately, the drowning scenes and underwater photography look decent with good music and suspense pacing to match.  One can enjoy both the period expectation and/or guffaw over the corny at the same time. This one feels good for a fun night in theme with other sea creature features, but perhaps it is just too flawed to completely enjoy on its own. 

More Nature Viewing Perils include:

Witches and Bayous

Summer Vampires

Island of Doctor Moreau

Horror Seeker: Remembering John Saxon

We here at the Horror Seeker would like to take some time to remember the life and career of legendary actor/martial artist, John Saxon who passed away July 25, 2020. It came as a shock, not only to the horror community but to the film industry in general, as Saxon was indeed one of the all-time greats in the business.

John Saxon: 1935-2020 | Tributes | Roger Ebert

On his twitter account, Robert Englund is quoted as saying, “John was my link to Hollywood’s Golden age.” True story. And, speaking of which, when I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Englund about five years ago, the one thing we gushed over was John Saxon! I had mentioned how I’d love to meet him, sadly never got the chance. However, Robert had nothing but nice things to say, and we discussed the amazing accolades of Saxon’s career. From his involvement on the first Nightmare film, as well as Dream Warriors, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, to his working with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. These include, but are not limited to, Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, and Bruce Lee! Just saying that alone, puts Saxon on a whole other level.
Yes, Saxon was a decorated Martial Artist, having been trained in Judo, Shotokan, and studied Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee himself! I can imagine he was not the sort of man you’d want to cross. By all accounts, however, Saxon was reported to be the nicest man to be around. As I’ve mentioned discussing his career with Englund, so too did I share a few good memories with Heather Langenkamp during a similar time of meeting her. See below one of my prized pieces.

It was a gift from a friend some years ago, that Heather Langenkamp had signed, as well!

Watching his films (Enter the Dragon, A Nightmare on Elm Street, TV’s Falcon Crest, and Black Christmas) it is clear to see the warm, but rough edges of such a performer who has amassed a near 200 credits throughout his career. HIs career had begun by the time he was twenty (1954), switching in and out of small roles in both TV and film. Those familiar with his work may notice a pattern in his characters, as Saxon was often depicted as a hard-edged cop. Such was his character in Nightmare 1 & 3 as Lt. Thompson. Many modern fans will remember Saxon for his part in A Nightmare on Elm Street, or even Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, and rightly so. Like all the upcoming slasher films of the early eighties, they were all working on shoestring budgets, and with what cast they could pull together.

While the three titans of 80’s slasher (Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street) had numerous stars such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, Lawrence  Fishburn, Johnny Depp, etc. they all seemed to have one thing in common. Each franchise started with a single heavy-hitting actor that each series respectfully was lucky to acquire. Halloween; Donald Pleasance – Friday the 13th; Betsy Palmer – and Nightmare got John Saxon. Each actor carried with them the class and strength of old-time Hollywood into an otherwise unproven genre.

Hey! Perhaps this is what slasher horror is missing today. I’ve always asked myself why the genre seems to have died out or at least lost the magic touch it once had. Hmm… food for thought. But, I digress.

While I have not seen all of Saxon’s work, for the films I have watched, Saxon definitely brings a boldness, and confidence to every performance that never comes off as artificial. I don’t see someone portraying a role, I see these characters as they would be. Saxon has been nominated, and won several independent awards, with his crowning achievement being a Golden Globe win in 1958 for This Happy Feeling as Most Promising Newcomer. And yes, he is noted as a “teen heartthrob”. I don’t know ladies, what do you think? Does his rugged persona hold up today?

In any event, John Saxon was an icon of his day, and his loss has been felt by everyone. As if this year wasn’t bad enough; we must say goodbye to a great actor, and a great man. From all of us with The Horror Seeker, we say thank you, John Saxon. Our hearts go out to the Saxon family, and all friends who have felt the impact of his loss. Rest in Peace, 1935 – 2020.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Dial M for Murder

Dial M for Murder Remains Whodunit Expertise

by Kristin Battestella

Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds) directs the 1954 murder mystery Dial M for Murder featuring Ray Milland as an obsessive husband plotting to kill his adulterous wife Grace Kelly. Yes indeed, despite whimsical music, morning newspapers, and stereotypical bliss, our lady is kissing two men as daytime white robes give way to scandalous red dresses and evening cocktails. The reunited lovers catch up on blackmail, anonymous threats, and whether to tell her husband, but the British accents feel a little put on amid heaps of exposition. Fortunately, the pip-pip cheerio phone manner adds to the fronts presented, and banter about buying a car with his money or hers and who gave up one’s career for whom reveal more than what’s really being said. Dial M for Murder has a lot of laden dialogue, past tense tellings written by Frederick Knott from his stage play, and for some audiences, the meticulous talking about comings and goings we didn’t get to see may be too stiff. However, viewers also need to be informed of each recognition, supposedly coincidental encounter, and unaware pretense as the eponymous request drops so casually. Who’s pulling the wool or has one over the barrel and who’s going to blink first? Devious two-handers elaborately orchestrate the perfect crime via untraceable cash, switched keys, and fatally timed phone calls that can’t prove who really did what. The first half-hour of Dial M for Murder tells you who’s going to be killed, when, where, and why with strategic placements, police scenarios, and assumed deductions. The only person who knows different will be dead, but the victim isn’t where she’s supposed to be, leading to suspenseful slip-ups and costly mistakes. Stag party alibis, nightgowns, behind the curtain veils, roughness over the desk, risque strangulation, and penetrating scissors make for an interesting sexual, even cuckold or homoerotic symbolism. Our husband lets another man enter the home sanctity and do to his wife what he cannot – orchestrating the coughing, gasping, purple bruises, and rough aftermath as an over the phone voyeur. A brief intermission gives the audience some relief before locks, shoes, mud, handbags, and thefts leave holes in the revisionist history. What’s been touched, misplaced, planted, burned? No forced entry and suspicious stockings escalate to lawyers, nightmarish trial montages, and an ominous sentencing. However preposterous or unproven, could there another perpetrator? Jolly good men pour drinks and ponder what if, winking at writing a detective novel and putting oneself in the criminal’s shoes. “Just one more thing” deduction a la Columbo wears down the suspect with crunching numbers and attache cases suspense. Viewers must recall how the chess meets Clue really happened as each tries to outwit and reveal the truth.

 

Former tennis star now working man Ray Milland (The Premature Burial) is so doting he even sends his wife to dinner and the theater with another man when he’s working late. Unfortunately, Tony Wendice is clearly up to something, lying on the phone and faking knee injuries amid arguments about why he gave up sports and what he would do if his wife ever left him. Of course he knew about the affair – blackmailing Margot with her stolen letter in hopes the ended correspondence meant they would live happily again. His being the charming husband, however, only serves to hide his obsessive plotting on how to kill his missus. Tony is so suave about it, yet the detailed character focus reveals how crazy he really is – excited and pleased with his guaranteed calculations. He calls the police about this ghastly accident before serving them tea, planting evidence, and telling Margot to corroborate what lies he told. Tony speaks for her, too, using her shock for oh yes, but you see explanations and tidy answers. The debonair tall tales, however, only lead to more questions he cannot escape. Likewise sophisticated Grace Kelly (Rear Window) has ended her romance for her husband, contented at home even if she doesn’t like listening to radio thrillers alone and seems like a kept little girl doing what her husband tells her. Margot robotically repeats what Tony says, confused by police and breaking down at the disturbing, intimate attack. Despite being the female victim held, used, attacked, and judged by men, Margot does have one moment of impaling power that disrupts her husband’s plans. She’s both numb and overwhelmed, not recalling his face but the horrible eyes and shamefully embarrassed for the adulterous truth to come out in her official statement. After all, scandalous women with secrets are unsympathetic to a jury. Mrs. Wendice lied about her lover, so why should anyone believe her now? Robert Cummings (Saboteur) as suave American writer Mark Halliday is here to be our lady’s holiday fancy, using his literary perspective to help Margot though he can’t quite put the pieces together thanks to carefully worded hypotheticals and holes poked in his theories. Shady criminal Anthony Dawson meanwhile – who appeared in the stage production with our Chief Inspector John Williams – is the swarthy, rough, killer womanizer able to do what our husband can’t. Fortunately, our inspector knows more than he’s saying, pursuing unnerving evidence and paperwork with jolly good deduction to counter every seemingly airtight explanation. He has a slick mustache, too!

Originally Dial M for Murder was designed for then vogue 3-D showings – evident now with obvious outdoor backdrops and exaggerated foreground objects. In hindsight, it makes no sense to have such a talkative piece presented in 3-D anyway, and if I could choose, perhaps Hitchcock’s surreal Spellbound would have been a more interesting visual candidate. Bar carts in the forefront, moving silhouettes on the wall, cameras following the cast toward the screen, and filming through doorways also lend depth, but those are more about Hitchcock’s voyeuristic audience rather than three-dimensional staging. Exceptional lighting schemes, flickering firelight, and strategic lamps also spotlight areas or divide the frame for players with opposite motives. Keys and staircases play their usual Hitchcockian part amid retro rotary phones, giant receivers, vintage cars, fedoras, furs, cigars, and cigarettes. Dial M for Murder relies on a small two-room set cluttered with furniture and objects to consider in the fatal orchestration – mirroring Dial M for Murder itself as the film tells you the plan then leaves viewers to wonder who gets away with it via panning cameras, overhead angles, killer point of view, and giallo mood. Frenetic notes match the violence as well as the internal simmering from our seemingly so cool characters, and when we do have action, it’s claustrophobic, intimate, and scandalous. His and hers separate beds are moved out of the bedroom while the illicit couple is seen sitting on one bed, filmed through the headboard during conversations about which man has her key. While the DVD has a brief behind the scenes chat about the fifties 3-D craze, a twenty-minute retrospective with contemporary directors breaking down Hitchcock’s suspense whets the appetite for more. Of course, there are similar plots to a Dial M for Murder like A Perfect Murder that makes audiences these days more aware of the outcome. The slow, talky nature may bother some, yet that hoodwink, who’s bluffing dialogue helps the suspense. Thanks to contemporary in your face and special effects, there’s also a certain appreciation in how Dial M for Murder doesn’t need elaborate set pieces thanks to deceptive performances, in-camera assaults, and crime complications. In plain sight sleight of hand, nail-biting clues, charming criminals, and reverse whodunit lies remain entertaining shout at the screen excellence for mystery writers, fans of the cast, and Hitchcock enthusiasts.

For more Alfred Hitchcock Suspense, revisit more Frightening Flix including:

Alfred Hitchcock Video Starter

The Birds

Early Alfred Hitchcock

 

Odds and Dead Ends : Lost in Translation: Sadako vs Samara

This is a topic I’ve mused upon for many years, and when the remake of Pet Sematary came out last year, featuring a ghost girl of sorts, the thoughts returned to me. Why is it that I disliked Samara in The Ring, but loved Sadako in Ringu? It couldn’t just be that one was the original whilst one was a remake. It couldn’t be that they changed the name for a western audience. It couldn’t just be the different actress. So here I’ve decided to break down the two presentations of the character from the two most well known adaptations, 1998’s Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata, and Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake, Ring, to try and place my discomfort.

We first have to acknowledge a difference in how we are first exposed to Sadako and Samara, which is deeply cultural in origin. Sadako’s story is given to us by having one of our protagonists experience visions of Shizuka’s psychic performances which led to her slander, suicide, and the unfolding of events around Sadako. With Samara, however, the equivalent information is revealed through a series of tapes, including some interviewing Samara about her powers. Here we see that there are some things that have been changed in the cultural translation; that the spiritual, psychic reveal has been altered for a technological one. We can reason that this is because the supernatural version would be more plausibly received in Japan than the US, where a scientific, technological explanation has been given (this is a slightly stereotypical explanation, but it seems to fit). This doesn’t change anything to do with the character, but does highlight that the changes are more than just the name.

Now we get to what we are shown in these reveals, our antagonist, and it is here that I begin to feel the difference. In Ringu, Sadako flashes, never utters a word. The journalist who calls out Shizuka for fraud keels over with a heart attack, and we have a ringing in our ears. Then, when Shizuka calls out Sadako, and we have the memory of the word ‘Sada’ on the tape, things fall into place. We still haven’t seen her. But when little Sadako runs into Asakawa, transplanted into the dream, and we see her ripped fingernails clench around her wrist, we know that something is seriously wrong, and violent.

At the well, we have another flash of a young woman (Sadako) with long hair peering into a well, before being bludgeoned and tossed inside. All without seeing her face; without hearing a word. A few minutes later we get the reveal of her skeleton, rotted away from decades in the dark, alone, having tried to claw her way out of the well. In all of this we have never heard her voice, seen her face; nothing that makes her an individual. She is a figure repressed, pent up, who has murdered four people already, and has a curse on several more. She is disembodied, silent, vengeful wrath, inhabiting a mere shell.

And this is what we see in the final, climactic scene of the film with Sadako crawling out of the television. It is slow and laborious, her kabuki-theatre-styled movements like someone unused to using their limbs, like a force possessing a body. She slowly stands, arms creaking, shuffling across the floor. You get the feeling that it doesn’t matter that she’s moving so slowly, because she’s just come out of a damn videotape. You’re dead anyway. And when her hair finally lifts, all we get is a swollen, veined, wrathful eye. No mouth, no nose, not even both eyes. Just the one, expressing all the rage and malice that has built like a brewing storm.

When we look at Samara’s presentation, what we get is a much more personal, humanised take on the character. Verbinski and writer Ehren Kruger give Samara a personality, and by giving her a voice and letting us see her face, try to create a distinct individual behind the long hair. They present us with a wronged child, instead of the repressed (and wronged by default) woman.

The trouble with this is that, in my opinion (and this is an opinion piece, let’s be fair), when you give a child a voice in a film, and especially an antagonistic child, you need to make sure that the child actually comes across as malevolent. For me, she comes across as a little annoying, and too much like a young child to feel particularly threatening.

We have the same issue seen with the original, silent Michael Myers in Halloween (Carpenter, 1978), as opposed to the remake by Rob Zombie (2007). By giving Myers a voice in his past, it strips some of the mystery away from the character, and his place, as a surrogate for evil has been replaced by a clichéd journey of a troubled child into psychopathy. For me, the same thing is present here in The Ring. These interview scenes don’t seem much different to Charlie’s incarceration in Stephen King’s Firestarter, and at least there we had Charlie as a main character for hundreds of pages beforehand, and were hoping for her escape. It’s a different take, a different look at the same character, but for me, much of the malice is taken out of Samara by attempting to present her as a person.

And in the final scene, a number of changes in how the TV-crawl is handled have been implemented. Instead of just using the television as a medium to record herself and emerge into the real world, Samara is part of the television itself, glitching and glowing as the image renders. She’s not fully part of this world anymore, but still connected to it, more of a ghost than a real, sinister presence. A downside to this is that you have to believe the CGI on Samara as well. She’s much quicker than Sadako here, out of the television in seconds, on her feet almost instantly, and teleporting across the room for a jump scare. She wants to be there and in your face, as opposed to Sadako’s wrathful judgement. It’s far more personal, as if there’s a specific grudge to bear against individuals inside Samara, whereas Sadako didn’t care because there was no humanity left; it had been hollowed out and filled back up with sheer hatred. Samara is specified revenge; Sadako is revenge personified.

The Ring also includes a Hollywood-style cross-cutting, with Rachel rushing across town to try and save Noah. I’m all for cross-cutting for tension building; it’s one of those techniques which works 80% of the time. But here it dilutes what made the original scene’s sense of inevitability. By not leaving that room whilst Sadako emerged, you were trapped in there along with Ryuji, and the slow, laborious way in which the scene played out kept you transfixed. You forgot the rest of the world existed, and focused only on the threat that had emerged before you.

Another aspect of the vocal/silent change is that we feel in the final scene that we might have a chance to reason with Samara, because we’ve seen her asking about her mother, and interacting verbally with the doctors. With Sadako, when she emerges from that TV set, you know that there’s no chance of getting out alive.

I’m of the opinion (in general), that Ringu is the superior film over The Ring, but then I’m of the opinion that Suzuki’s novel is even better than the film (seriously one of the best horror thrillers I’ve ever read). In both films we have fairly different interpretations of Sadako; a silent embodiment of sheer wrath and female repression in Japan, and a personal, paranormal grudge spilling out of control in America. With Sadako, her interpretation plays into the overall doom-laden, dark and dour atmosphere of inevitability which the film creates. In Samara, a more humanised manifestation leads to a stylised paranormal revenge story to suit a mainstream western audience.

I don’t disagree with trying what the remake attempted in Samara, because sometimes humanising a villain makes them scarier, that we know they’re human (or nearly) and can still do what they do. Here, however, was not the right time to do it. That doomy dread becomes a stylised shocker which never hits the same nerve, and Samara’s ‘can I see my mommy?’ removes all of the terror from my antagonist. The Ring isn’t an awful movie in itself, and there are certainly worse adaptations the US has done of paranormal films from Asia in the last few decades, but I’ll go back to Ringu and Sadako Yamamura over Samara Morgan all seven days of the week.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @kjudgemental

-I discussed the original Ring novel a few years ago in relation to M. R. James’ short story, Casting the Runes, and their handling of deadlines in horror literature. You can read it here: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/odds-and-dead-ends-analysis-of-casting-the-runes-and-ring/

-And if, after that, you want to jump on the M. R. James wagon for more ghostly thrills, I did a recent analysis of the BBC adaptation of A warning to the curious, which you can read here: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2020/06/14/odds-and-dead-ends-the-danger-of-the-future-in-a-warning-to-the-curious-by-m-r-james/

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Evil and Creepy Kids!

Evil and Creepy Children

by Kristin Battestella

What is it about evil offspring, freaky toys, and creepy family dramas that make them so disturbing?

Annabelle: Creation – Anthony LaPaglia (Innocent Blood) and Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings) star in director David F. Sanberg’s (Lights Out2017 prequel opening with 1943 rural quaint, grand farmhouses, period records, church bells, and one of a kind handcrafted dolls before highway perils and screams intrude on the country charm. By 1955, the home is dusty and unkempt; there are no more smiles or laughter greeting the displaced young nun and her orphan charges taken in by the reclusive doll maker and his invalid wife. The girls explore the big house with all its nooks and crannies, but the older snobs hog the best stuff while younger BFFs making packs to stay together are divided by the farm freedom thanks to one girl’s polio injuries. The others are off playing while she’s left behind with doors closing by themselves, locked rooms, creepy doll parts, dumbwaiters, and maybe/maybe not phantoms glimpsed down the dark hallway. Choice horror distortions, gothic architecture, and crosses everywhere accent the weird scarecrows, secret crawlspace, locked closets, and hidden playroom with tea party ready toys and an ominous dollhouse. Buzzing lights, footsteps, and creaking hinges disturb the antiques and old fashioned nostalgia – the relatable characters, setting, and mood are entirely different than the horror cliches in the first AnnabelleDistorted music, demonic-looking shadows, and The Nun in the background of the convent picture set off scary claws, growling, and chilling but disbelieved encounters. Our Annabelle sure gets about, and the reflections, mirrors, masks, lanterns, and lighting schemes are well done amid haunted house or possession revelations. Evil seeking souls preys on the smallest and the weakest, and scary stories under the sheets lead to flickering flashlights and black footprints going underneath the bunk bed. Of course, some girls have more screen time than others, with lookalike brunettes and two really there for no reason – one being a black girl who isn’t even worthy of receiving an individual fright. The runaway wheelchair or the doll sitting at the dinner table could also be laughable if not for the cracking bones, glowing demon eyes, and paralysis. Fortunately, fearful orphans with an innocuous pop gun reeling in more than its tethered ball strike at the sacred under the covers safety while invasive takeovers and black goo mar those in little white nightgowns. Yeah, if you have all these creepy toy secrets and evil house problems, maybe you shouldn’t sign up to shelter orphans, FYI. Mistaken adults realize the consequences too late, and an exposition flashback with exorcisms and rooms lined with Bible passages to contain the evil within should have been shown at the beginning. Such two halves of the story would have been fine, for once we get the traditional tell-all, the gory shocks, prayers, and screams devolve into intrusive, modern whooshes across the screen, swooping pans calling attention to themselves, flying objects, and more padding cliches including the car not starting and monsters crawling on the ceiling. Although we’ve seen what this evil can do, the consequences are minimal because, after all, there’s a franchise to consider. With such religious characters, the spiritual answers versus demons are never fully embraced, and the police are apparently content with priests blessing the house while evil moves on for a coda from the first movie – which doesn’t quite match up with what has already been shown in The Conjuring universe. This unravels, in the end, to make room for more sequels, however, the atmospheric chills make for an entertaining watch even if you haven’t seen the companion films.

The Hole in the Ground – Not all is as it seems for a young mother and son in this 2019 Irish/international ninety minutes. Funhouse mirrors and creepy carnivals lead to upside-down eerie, distorted car scares, and freaky ass hooded figures in the road. House repairs, rules to follow, locked basements, spiders, footsteps, and flickering lights contrast the warm lamplight safety, and there’s an innocence to a child’s questions on why the two moved without the most likely abusive dad. He doesn’t fit in at school and she’s the fifth wheel at dinner parties, but running off into the spooky forest is not the answer thanks to lookalike trees, darkness, and the titular ravine. Although the accents may be tough for some and night scenes are difficult to see at times, viewers are meant to only see what the flashlight catches in its spotlight and hear the frantic shouts of a mother calling out for the son who isn’t safe in his bed. Stories of crazy neighbors, noises in the dark, and doors slamming by themselves add to the whereabouts unknown panic, emergency calls, and child claiming to be where he wasn’t. An old lady in white walking toward your vehicle to say this is not your son is chilling in its simplicity, yet we aren’t sure when the spooky switch may have been made. Our family is new in town, unfamiliar and surrounded by crows, dead bodies, and wakes with the coffin laid out in the living room and all the mirrors covered. Little changes that only a mother would know escalate to spying under the door, crawling on the floor, and toys near the crater where the ground rumbles and moves. Now mummy is fearful of her son, running through school corridors as creepy songs referring to our eponymous hole have other parents and doctors questioning what’s wrong. There’s no immediate Ring surveillance or instant video easy, but vintage camera evidence is upsetting to those refusing to believe. Mirrors are needed to tell the truth as what we’re seeing becomes increasingly weirder. Changes in favorite foods and not knowing their family code games lead to heavy breathing, violent confrontations, surprising strength, bodies in the basement, and heads buried in the ground. Some of the action is a little laughable, but the audience is trapped in this freaky world thanks to sinkholes, scary roots, caverns, and bones. The disturbing revelations may be too slow or merely abstract metaphors for viewers expecting shocks a minute, but the finale gets physical with monster doppelgangers and rescues from the folklore for an entertaining shout at the television disturbia.

 

The Silence – Kiernan Shipka and Miranda Otto reunite alongside Stanley Tucci (Road to Perdition) in this 2019 Netflix original. Gas masks and point of view cameras in a Pennsylvania cave unleash screeching and splatter before unnecessary credits montaging evolution and modern destruction. The tablet conversations with boys, soccer mom literally seen with soccer balls, hip grandma in the kitchen, little brother playing video games, and narration from our deaf teen likewise contribute to a very cliché start. Opening in media res with mom silently waking the deaf for breaking news would make more impact, and although the hearing impairments seem superficial, Sign Language, high pitched ringing, and helicopters better set the scene as initial television news about the cave release and device alerts are ignored. Cities are quickly infested – under attack with few details beyond viral videos warning people not to make noise as fireplaces are blocked and the emergency system sounds. Our family packs up in several vehicles to flee the city, but viewers needlessly break our deaf protagonist’s viewpoint for subway passengers tossing out a mother and her crying baby, o_O. Radio reports, police sirens, traffic jams, and short cuts lead to gas station gun violence, fleeing animals, and car accidents. There’s macho – dad wasn’t a hands-on guy and now he has to be – but tough family decisions get made once these pterosaur vesps surround the van and slam the cracking windows. Dogs alert one to danger, however barking can be a problem, and leaving the vehicle to find shelter includes injuries, infection, and rattlesnakes. After the first half-hour, it’s mostly innate sounds with very little dialogue – viewers have to pay attention to all the non-verbal reactions. Risky treks to a nearby small town lead to empty streets, mauled corpses, monster eggs, and cults cutting out tongues before raids, abductions, and sacrifices required. The internet is spotty, but news about the creatures disliking snow comes amid dying batteries, handwritten notes, and creepy confrontations. The performances make the twistedness and rage while thunder, lightning, and decoys create a stir alongside cell phone beeps and music. Unfortunately, rather than major social commentaries or down deep emotions, the angst resorts to physical altercations – because it’s only been a few days yet all the weirdos are afoot. Why don’t they ask where they’re going when they have the chance? How can the unprepared do better than the armed and knowledgeable? Such derivatives rely on stupidity, conveniences, and the smart teenager before a tidy, abrupt end where nobody ever actually fights back against the swarm. Hush was better, but fans of the cast can enjoy the suspense here – which was surely Netflix’s intention to maximize the bang for the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina buck with an alternative to Bird BoxWe like this family and want to see them survive because not making it through an ordeal together is the scariest thing.


You Make the Call, Addicts!

The Lodgers – Dark lakes, Loftus Hall locales, heartbeats, and racing to beat the midnight clock chimes open this 1920 set 2017 Irish production. Torn wallpaper, water in the woodwork, trap doors, boarded windows, and shabby furnishings intrude on the once-grand staircase, and there’s a sadness to these orphaned twins, their meager meals, and their fear of the very thing that keeps them together. Dirty mirrors, covered furniture, dusty birdcages, and more turn of the century than post-war clothing add to the old fashioned atmosphere alongside a creepy nursery rhyme that reminds the siblings of the house rules. Our sister, however, takes more risks than her sickly, skeletal looking brother – she’s ready to leave as their eighteenth birthday promises only more bleakness with suspect letters, nosy lawyers, family curses, and apparitions in the water. Hooded capes, lockets, ravens, a prohibited gate, and overgrown ruins in the woods likewise provide a morose fairy tale feeling against the underlining interwar versus at-home issues, tense village, and local hooligans. Their finances have run out but selling the house is not an option thanks to nude shadows, whispering entities, whirlpools, and phallic eels in the bathtub. Dim lanterns, bridal beds, velvet curtains, and virginal white satin accent the obviously icky suggestions and forbidden fruits growing in the family cemetery, and locked in scares create chills because of the invasive, no privacy nature of the manor. Our brother is regressing while his sister takes charge, and this all feels very similar to Crimson Peak – complete with a watery ceiling instead of snow, nature seeping up to the surface, and stabbings in the front doorway. This, however, is bitter rather than colorful, a mix of supernatural versus psychological with a young lady’s innate fears over the one thing a man wants. Touching the local soldier’s amputation injury is just as intimate as sexual relations, and if there is not sex according to the family needs, there will still be killer motivations, stabbing penetrations, and blood. Viewers feel the shameful secrets and sinful oppression, but sometimes logic does intrude. All that dampness and mold in the house would surely make them ill and shouldn’t four generations of incest make them deformed? The atmosphere here is heavy, however, the tale never goes far enough with the housebound horror or mental torment answers. Are the men gaslighting the women to accept rape and incest? The ambiguity doesn’t explain the supernatural phenomena and laughable dream sequences with naked floating hold back the moody metaphors. Thankfully, stormy action, sickly pallor, and an eerie family parade complete the gothic dread and distorted environs in the finale, and although there’s little repeat value, this is watchable if you don’t expect frights a minute and can enjoy a creepy sense of period unease.

Check out our Past Reviews for more Creepy Families:

Crimson Peak

The Addams Family Season 1

Demented Dolls

 

Odds and Dead Ends: James Herbert’s ‘The Fog’, is it time for an adaptation?

I’m a massive Stephen King fan. He’s my literary guru, and in terms of down-to-earth writing advice, he’s second to none. For honest, heartfelt dialogue, he’s unrivaled. He’s created some of the most iconic moments in horror, and we have much to thank him for. And it seems as if adaptations of his stories are planned before he’s even finished the first draft, even excluding his famous dollar babies.

Other writers are not as lucky as the King. Even Dean Koontz, King’s contemporary and somewhat rival, has had only a handful of adaptations, despite selling about the same amount of print copies. Clive Barker, mostly known for the numerous Hellraiser sequels and a dashing of others, has mainly adaptations of various stories in his Books of Blood, nowhere near King’s volume, even percentage-wise in relation to the amount written. Peter Straub has only had a few adaptations. Graham Masterton, for his entire volume of work, has (to my knowledge) had only two or three adaptations. And I don’t believe that Ramsey Campbell, one of the absolute giants of modern horror literature, has had more than a few either.

It seems that some authors, despite how influential their stories are, get missed, for one reason or another. One of these monsters is James Herbert. Don’t get me wrong, Herbert has had some adaptations in the past, so it’s not as if he’s been forgotten altogether (although I’m still waiting for someone to redo Haunted as part of a full David Ash film trilogy. Maybe Hammer can do them as a British answer to the Conjuring franchise). But all this aside, Herbert has written one of the biggest novels of 20th Century horror which, somehow, has yet to be translated to the screen; The Fog.

For those that have somehow missed this classic, it’s about a small town in England that’s hit by an earthquake, and from the fissure created by this quake is released a mysterious fog. Anyone who comes into contact with this fog goes violently insane. The fog spreads throughout the country and the chaos, bloodshed, and all things dark come to life. It’s not an incredibly complex idea, but it’s the form and structure which I think would make it a great translation to a television series, along with the content itself.

The Fog, along with his first novel, The Rats, uses a fairly distinct storytelling structure. His main character (John Holman), is the focus of alternating chapters. The other chapters focus on a variety of outside characters, who all eventually combine into the main storyline as the novel proceeds. To demonstrate, here’s a rough sequence with letters to stand for the character focus of each chapter. Holman is represented by the letter A. The novel proceeds something like A – B – A – C – A – D – A – B – A – D+C – A – E – A… and so on (I haven’t done that scientifically, so people who have gone through three copies, I apologise for getting minor characters in the wrong order). Now, to my eyes, that kind of structure is exactly how a series-long story arc plays out, cutting from scene to scene. Think of something like Castle Rock; that’s pretty much a carbon copy of the formula used.

Then there’s the content itself. There’s plenty of blood and guts to keep the horror fans happy. There are military sci-fi elements, similar to something like The Midwich Cuckoos or Quatermass, to keep the more casual viewer interested. It contains some magnificent set pieces to build episodes around. The characters themselves don’t have the greatest life off the page, and to be honest, are fairly stock in their presentation for the most part; however, this is where screenwriters can really dig deep and bring up some interesting nuggets to expand upon for great sub-plots. Added to the fact that there’s going to be a ready-made audience for it, because of the revered nature of the novel and Herbert in general, and you’ve got the groundwork for a solid product.

Then consider the television climate. Horror series are on the rise at the moment to boot. In short order, we’ve been given American Horror Story, Hannibal, Stranger Things, The Exorcist (tragically overlooked and canceled before its time; Ben Daniels was incredible), Ash vs. Evil Dead, The Haunting of Hill House, Castle Rock, Dracula, The Outsider, even Scream (which wasn’t incredible but had damn good moments), plus plenty of others. With Lovecraft Country on the horror horizon, plus new seasons of many of the shows aforementioned, it doesn’t look like the horror TV train going to stop any time soon. Now is the perfect time to bring The Fog to the masses.

There are, of course, a couple of issues to be overcome. It’s not the greatest for presenting female characters, I have to admit; that was never Herbert’s strong point. There are passages that could be instantly posted as a meme for ‘how men write female characters in novels’. Some sections of the novel, especially the whole school section, would definitely need to be changed, as they do raise some eyebrows on how far thrilling violence goes towards bad taste. Not up to the standards of Laymon’s The Cellar, I’ll grant, but they’re pretty on the edge. That is part of Herbert’s style, admittedly, always pushing the boundaries of what can be published, but there’d still need to be some selective editing there.

And let’s not forget that we’ll have trouble distinguishing it from John Carpenter’s The Fog, both films, and both adaptations of King’s The Mist as well. Maybe specifically naming it James Herbert’s The Fog would work in terms of differentiating it from the aforementioned titles?

With some books, I’d prefer it if the meddling fingers of studios left damn well alone. This is especially true of the more ambiguous works of horror, such as Paul Tremblay’s recent run (though I believe adaptations of both A Head Full Of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World have been announced, damn them), because certain media translates certain ideas and atmospheres better than others. And as much as I’d love to see Del Toro finally get his adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, there’s just something that’s so big and primal about that story that part of me doubts it would work. It’s up to him to eventually prove me wrong.

The Fog, however, seems so perfect to adapt to television because it’s practically written as a television series. Some of the dodgier sections can be rewritten to bring everything up to date, nearly half a century into the future. It’s sat on everyone’s shelves, calling to be updated, translated to prey on new fears, and rediscovered for our modern audiences. There’s potential for some of the most striking, disturbing images ever put to celluloid. It’s seeped into the horror consciousness, sat there, and bided its time. Now it’s time to unleash it on the world.

 

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

Daphne’s Den of Darkness: 10 Must See Horror Films Streaming on Netflix Now

You will almost certainly know the movies on this list. You’ve probably also seen several, if not most (maybe all!) of them. But did you know that they’re currently on NETFLIX??? Easy streaming, right in your home. So, grab a blanket and some popcorn and settle in with some of the classics.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Rated 6.3/10 on IMDB

Paranormal Activity was a famously low budget horror flick that took the world by storm in 2007. It delivers genuine scares in a found footage format, redefining the genre in terrifying ways.

Session 9 (2001)

Rated 6.4/10 on IMDB

I hadn’t heard of Session 9 until recently, but apparently, I was missing out! Fans consider Session 9 to be moody and atmospheric. It doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares and lets your imagination do most of the work.

Candyman (1992)

Rated 6.6/10 on IMDB

Candyman rolls a number of urban legends into one horror extravaganza. Bloody Mary, the Hook-Handed Man, not to mention everything that goes bump in the night. The themes that seemed timely in the early nineties are still around today, which is why a remake is in the works.

Childs Play (1988)

Rated 6.6/10 on IMDB

See the original that spawned the franchise. This story of a murderer’s soul possessing a young boy’s toy is why I never liked dolls as a child. Looking back now, it’s more ridiculous than terrifying (especially when compared to… say… Annabelle), but there’s always something special about the original.

Insidious (2010)

Rated 6.8/10 on IMDB

You have to be careful when your soul can wander while you sleep. You never know where you’ll end up or if you’ll get back… Insidious was on the forefront of the more modern type of horror that combines deeply atmospheric spookiness with more traditional jump scares. No gore here, just terror.

The Witch (2015)

Rated 6.9/10 by IMDB

This is the most recent film on this list, but that’s because it’s just THAT GOOD. If I had to pick a movie that will be classic horror in years to come, it’s The Witch. If you like atmospheric, historical horror that leaves you guessing, this is for you.

Poltergeist (1982)

Rated 7.3/10 on IMDB

Poltergeist is THE classic haunted house film. Whether it’s the young daughter talking with eerie creatures in her room or that climactic scene in the swimming pool, make sure you enjoy reliving this piece of 80’s horror history.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Rated 7.5/10 by IMDB

1980’s gore horror at its finest, The Evil Dead actually earned the NC-17 rating. The characters are trapped in a hopeless and terrifying situation. The movie isn’t for the squeamish, but every horror addict should see it at some point.

The Wicker Man (1973)

Rated 7.5/10 on IMDB

I know, I know, but before you all start yelling at me about bees, this is the ORIGINAL Wicker Man. Considered by many to be one of the best British horror films ever made, it really is a CULT classic.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Rated 8.6/10 on IMDB

Silence of the Lambs is one of the few horror movies to ever win an Oscar (Best Picture!). This tense police procedural is absolutely necessary horror viewing. And if you’ve already seen it, there’s no harm in watching again, is there?

The horror selection on Netflix is growing (and getting more international!), so obviously this list isn’t complete. Drop some of your favorites in the comments!

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Technological and Vehicular Terrors!

Technological Terrors and Vehicular Perils

by Kristin Battestella

Fasten your seat belts for these retro road rage terrors and ominous vintage vehicles.


The Car
 – Empty desert roads, dusty wakes, mountain tunnels, dangerous bends, and perilous bridges spell doom for run over bicyclists in this 1977 ride accented by Utah scenery, vehicular point of views, and demonic orange lighting. Regular rumbling motors, honking horns, and squealing tires are devilishly amplified as this cruiser uses everything at its disposal to tease its prey while up close grills and red headlights create personality. No one is safe from this Lincoln’s wrath! Rugged, oft shirtless single dad deputy James Brolin (The Amityville Horror) takes his daughters to school on a motorcycle, insisting they wear helmets because of course he can’t or it would hide that suave seventies coif and handlebar mustache. The hitchhiker musician hippie moments are dumb, however roadside folks don’t live long and witnesses aren’t helpful on plates, make, or model when people are getting run over on Main Street. What brought on this evil? Suggestions on the small town past with alcohol, domestic violence, and religious undercurrents go undeveloped alongside brief suspects, red herrings, and personal demons. Despite Native American slurs, it’s nice to see Navajo police officers and foreboding tribe superstitions as the phantom winds, cemetery safe havens, terrified horses, and school parades reveal there’s no driver in the car. Giant headsets, operators plugging in the phone lines, retro vehicles, and yellow seventies décor add to the sirens, decoys, roadblocks, radio chatter, and sparkling reflections from distant car mirrors as the real and fantastic merge thanks to this tricked out, mystically bulletproof, unnatural, and evil classic roaming about the rocky landscape. Although the editing between the unknown killer menace and asking why public fear is well filmed tense with foreground and background camera perspectives setting off turns around the bend or approaching headlights; some of the video is over cranked, ridiculously sped up action. It’s an inadvertently humorous high speed effect amid the otherwise ominous idling, slow pushes off high cliffs, and fiery crashes – our titular swanky flips but remains unscathed and it doesn’t even have door handles! Rather than embrace its horror potential or call the army and get some tanks or tractor trailers with passenger priests on this thing that no garage can contain, our police go it alone with a lot of dynamite for a hellish finale against the preposterous road rage. If you expect something serious you’ll surely be disappointed, but this can be an entertaining shout at the television good time. Besides, no matter how stinky, today you know we’d be on The Car: Part 12 with a different hunk per sequel battling the star Lincoln.

 

Killdozer!– Embarrassingly splendid outer space effects, red fireballs, and glowing blue rocks establish this 1974 science fiction horror television movie. Lovely sunsets, oceans, and island construction are here too for seriously deep voiced and strong chinned Clint Walker (Cheyenne) and the baby faced Spenser for Higher Robert Urich – who have some terribly wooden dialogue and tough scene chewing at hand. Our metallic humming meteorite whooshes its life force into the titular machinery, making the controls work by themselves amid fun point of view shots as the blade’s teeth inch closer to its target. Deathbed confessions are too fantastic to be believed when there’s work to be done, and the nasty foreman never takes off his hard hat even after the latent BFF gets really into the sensitive subtext over his fallen friend and tells nostalgic stories of how they swam alone together at night. Big K.D., meanwhile, destroys the radio – plowing over camp regardless of the caterpillar’s cut fuel line or some dynamite and fuel cans in its wake. But you could lose an eye on those huge ass walkie talkies with those dangerous antennas! Camera focuses on its little headlights a la eyes are also more humorous than menacing, and the puff puff choo choo out its smoke stack backtalk makes the supposedly evil facade more Little Engine that Could cute. Tight filming angles and fast editing belie the slow chases through the brush as everything is really happening at about ten miles an hour yet no one is able to outrun this thing, just crawl in front of it until crushed. Stereotypical Africa coastal comments, Irishman jokes, and a treated as inferior black worker always at the helm when something goes wrong also invoke a sense of white man imperialism getting what it deserves as they argue over on the job negligence and burying the bodies. Everybody’s testy, nobody shares information, and there’s an obligatory useless self sacrifice before the hard heads finally come together to destroy the indestructible with another rig, machino versus machino. Despite an occasionally menacing moment, this idiocy is more bemusing than fearful for an entertaining midnight movie laugh.

 

Night Drive – Valerie Harper (Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show) stars as a pursued murder witness in this 1977 television thriller – though I’m not sure about the Night Terror and Night Drive title switch a roo. The supporting cast is very after school special dry, yes. Everyone is a non-believing idiot or ass, and it’s tough to accept Harper as a fearful, neurotic, absent-minded, non-funny housewife. For an under 80 minute movie, the pacing is also slow to start with a lot of seemingly nothing happening – most of the scenes are silent and solitary, too. Fortunately, things get interesting when the highway horrors hit, and who can’t feel for a mom we love in peril? Sure, the filmmaking is a little dated or unintentionally comical – I think the station wagon has a lot to do with that! However, desolate roadways and abandoned curbside locales keep things atmospheric. Today we take for granted how easy it is to get from one place to another thanks to GPS, Bluetooth, cell phones, or cars that can dial 911 or tell us where to go.  As a result, some basic suspense sequences here have the viewer holding one’s breath or shouting at the television, and it all makes for an entertaining little show.


Road Games
 – Stacy Keach (Mike Hammer) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) get right to the big rigs, radio chatter, hitchhikers, meat factories, seedy hotels, and nude strangulations in this 1981 Australian trek complete with rival green vans, dingoes in peril, and ominous coolers in the backseat. Classical music, harmonicas, idle word games, and poetry quotes pepper the boredom of the open road alongside mocking others on the highway – the packed station wagon, a nagging wife passenger, bratty kids in the backseat, and naughty newlyweds. Radio reports about a killer on the loose add to the shattered windows, jamming on the brakes, squealing tires, and suspicious shortcuts while our van man dumps unusual garbage and digs holes in the middle of the Outback. Interesting rearview mirror angles and well done rear projection make up for some of the talkativeness, for all speculation about our mystery driver has to be out loud because we have so few characters amid the cliff side hazards and chases through the brush. Does he have sex with his female victims before he kills them and chops them up? Is this just a bemusing puzzle to occupy the time or is the sleepless sleuthing and overactive imagination getting the best of our truck driver? Down Under road signs, truck stops, and country locales accent the arcade games, cigarette machines, and patchy phone calls to the clueless police as the engines rev up with dangerous high-speed chases, motorcycles, decoys, and abductions. Lightning strikes, rainbows, sunsets, headlights, and car alarms set off the tense zooms as the cops accuse our heart on his sleeve driver – and the suspicious banging in the back of his overweight haul. This isn’t full-on horror as some audiences may expect, but hanging pork and red lighting do a lot with very little. Perilous curves and speeding accidents bring the race right into the city streets with alley traps, crushing vehicles, and a tasty fun finish.


For More SF Horrors, Revisit:

Tales from the Darkside Season 3

Island of Doctor Moreau (1977)

Kong: Skull Island

Daphne’s Den of Darkness: 15 Beastly Movies for Your Animal Horror Fix

I love monsters (I know, I say that every time). While there are an endless number of man-made, supernatural, and space-dwelling varieties to choose from, nature has supplied plenty of her own. Whether you’re looking for something that crawls, swims, slithers, or climbs, I’ve got the movies for you.

Apes

When it comes to the original movie mega monster, you can’t argue with the King. 1933 brought us King Kong and the start of the longest dynasty in monster movie history. King Kong has the impressive distinction of having few imitators. Unlike other massive monsters (and we’ll get to those in a minute), King Kong was given a distinctive personality that made it difficult for generic remakes to get a foothold. There have been King Kong movies made every decade since the original.

Sharks

Considering we live in a world that has given us multiple Sharknado films, it’s hard to believe that sharks weren’t always popular horror fodder. Until 1975, sharks didn’t get much play time on the screen (outside of pirate films). Now, of course, there’s no shortage of the toothy monsters.

Spiders

By far the smallest creature on this list, spiders are still a top phobia the world over. Horror snakes come in two varieties: overgrown monstrosities or a pack of a million tiny crawlies. Pick your poison, but I’d rather stay away.

Snakes

Why did it take so long for snakes to make their way into the horror lexicon? For so long, they stayed a tool of cults and villains rather than the central antagonist. Regardless, once they slithered into the genre, snakes made themselves at home as B-Movie stars.

Crocodiles

When it comes to giant lizards, nature has more than enough to offer. Mix ancient biology with massive teeth and murky water and you have a horror dream.

Is there a great animal horror film that I’ve missed? Drop your favorites in the comments.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Witches and Demons!

Witches and Demons, Oh My!

By Kristin Battestella

It’s always the right time to beware of witches, spirit boards, divinations, and demons!

The Covington Witches – These two 2019 episodes combine for over an hour and a half of funerals, candles, rituals, witches, and tarot in an African American infused Philadelphia ripe for a horror tale. Clearly, this is a shoestring production with a forgivable low budget, uneven sound, okay lighting, and some amateur performances. However, the extremely tight camerawork not just cuts the proverbial corners but crops out half the picture – heads are cut off and viewers are left looking at a wall while people talk outside the frame. Unnecessary editing and location notations for every scene contribute to the cluttered feeling, and the barren design somehow feels crowded, interfering with the naturalistic conversations about wrangling in reluctant family members with magic warnings. Ominous music adds to the natural banter – which is nice when we can see both people in the uninterrupted frame properly as more relatives end up dead thanks to mysterious boxes, tea readings, and suspect fires. Mourners dressed in black, cemetery scenes, and wide outdoor shots create much-needed scene-setting breathers alongside intriguing homemade voodoo dolls, teaching spells, incense, and goddess prayers. Purification charms and chants escalate as nieces ask if they are dark witches or do magic for light but aren’t afraid either way. The ladies are getting nasty with the evil spells, so why can’t the elder family just tell the ones who don’t know about all the witchcraft? Real estate runarounds and binding spells end up going too far with some penis removal magic, and that’s certainly more interesting than going to this house, then visiting that house, asking for coffee, and then leaving before the beverage is made. Why certain children don’t know they are witches and why one distant niece comes into wealth and property isn’t fully explained, and the pace is slow with redundant, roundabout scenes creating confusion. Are we missing an important piece of the puzzle or just left to wonder if a cryptic scene serves any purpose? Phone calls with nothing but “What does it all mean?” and “I don’t know” waste time before men who don’t know what they’re in for meet an abrupt end and leave us wanting the rest of the story. This is based on a self-published book series, and there isn’t a lot of information about whether this show is intended as an in house web series, one supersized book trailer, or a pilot to shop for something bigger – which it had the potential to be.

Wishmaster – I Dream of Jeannie spoiled us on the nature of granting wishes, and a malevolent, puckish Djinn runs amok in this 1997 Wes Craven produced dark fantasy starring Andrew Divoff (Air Force One) and Freddy Krueger Robert England with a cameo from Candyman Tony Todd. Opening scrolls telling of unholy potential immediately set a fiery mood alongside an 1127 Persia apothecary, potions, cauldrons, mystical gems, and alchemy. Present-day rock outs, tennis yuppies, and smarmy auctioneers are dated, yet there’s a frightfully fantastic mixing with modern industrial thanks to maze-like museums, living statues, and slimy cadavers. Some hokey effects also feel too eighties, but payphones and answering machines that say Pacific Bell and Bell South, whoa! Skeletons and more effective gore accent the too good to be true, “All you have to do is ask” tricks, leaving the regretful and maimed in our djinn’s wake. He’s not lying in saying he only bargains with what people give him – reminding viewers to speak carefully when wishing someone was dead or offering to sell one’s soul for a cigarette. Such suspense is fine on its own without circling zooms and crescendos, for we want to see the antagonist’s personality, interconnected visions, and growing powers. Ironically, we like Tammy Lauren (Homefront) less, but she isn’t stupid or made a bimbo while investigating the Zoroastrian myths. Although the escalating creepy crawlies are fun, the plot descends into set chases, explosions, and ineffective shootouts with some deus ex machina in outwitting the djinn. The ancient prologue, first act release, and collecting of restoring skingraphs or eyeballs are also similar to Dracula 2000 and The Mummy – evil flirts, shops, preys, leaving boils along the way. This girl power action horror pace feels like a precursor to more recent spectacles, and while we chuckle at the un-scary B movie fun, it’s pleasing to see the non-Western horror of this demented little cautionary tale.

 

Witchboard – A Ouija board and one bad yuppie party leads to the release of a malevolent spirit in this 1987 scarefest. Granted, it doesn’t say much when Tawny Kitaen (The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik-Yak) does the best acting here as both her rival male suitors are lame and full of their own bromance, manpain, and perhaps a whiff of latent innuendo. There’s unintentional comedy, too, with heaps of eighties fun including wild hair, punk styles, one earring, and waterbeds. I mean, you don’t see rainbow colored mohawks every day! Old technology such as microfilm, payphones, and cool Cobra cars are pleasing as well despite a lingering hokey, dated Valley lingo, laughably bad special effects, and contrived leaps to advance the plot. Fortunately, eerie hospitals, cemeteries, and foggy dreams add atmosphere while askew wide lenses and overhead whooshes provide a poltergeist perspective. Creepy Ouija movements, solo reading sessions, and freaky séances build suspense alongside pregnancy twists, zany psychics, and violent ghostly attacks. Who knew just spelling out with the planchette was so intense! Lovely architecture and retro styles feel eighties does forties, and there’s a reason for this throwback tone. The spirits also remain mostly unseen – except when the evil is ax happy that is. Because ghosts can wield axes, FYI. There is brief nudity and language, but this simple story does a lot without resorting to bimbo extremes or cheap fouls. Dockside mishaps and shower perils top of a goofy but fitting finale, and though of its time, this remains fun and entertaining.

Skip It

Salem – 1685 stocks, brandings, church bells, and cries for mercy open this 2014 thirteen-episode debut before pregnancies, torches, forest rituals, hooting owls, and promises of power. By 1692 Salem is swept with witch fever as bodies hang and rhetoric warns the devil is in town. Screaming girls are tied down over claims that a hag is terrorizing them – and there is indeed an unseen succubus leaping upon the helpless. Preachers insist they must save their promised land from this insidious invisible hell as sermons and town hall meetings become one and the same. Suspect midwives, old witnesses, and secrets intensify the witch hunt debates as families recall the original English hysteria and proud witchfinder ancestry. Although arguments about a girl not being possessed just touched in the head and in need of a doctor seem recent, it’s nice to see the reverse of typical exorcism stories where confounded doctors come before prayer interventions. Chants, contortions, and taxidermy lead to full moon dancing rituals, animal head masks, fiery circles, baby skull offerings, sacrifices, effigies, and entrails. Unfortunately, nobody notices witches talking openly in the town square nor minds a woman taking charge when she has no rights but through her husband. Ladies speaking out over their exploitation is far too contemporary – along with out of place comeback quips and jarring modern sarcasm. Instead of real tribe names, talk of savages and conflated French and Indian War references pepper speeches about saving the country when we weren’t even one yet. Killing innocents goals and grand rites achievements are reduced to the coven wanting to get rid of the Puritans so Salem can be theirs even though they are already in power behind the scenes and getting on their forest sabbaths. The witches versus ministry conflict with some pretending to be the other is drama enough without Shane West’s (Dracula 2000) millennial grandstanding compromising Janet Montgomery’s (Merlin) Mary Sibley. Is this about the falsely accused, misunderstood, and lovelorn or the naked, ethereal witches taking the devil’s power for their spellbound husbands and familiar frogs? Revealing the supernatural at work creates an uneven back and forth that goes directly against the witches’ motivations. Stay in their point of view or play it straight on the devil or innocent and let the audience decide which side we’re on – attempting both evil and romance is far too busy and binds in name only historical figures and potentially juicy characters with weak, pedestrian male trappings. Hypocrite ministers terrorize the congregation when not cowering at torturing witches or having sex at the Puritan brothel like this is Game of Thrones. After bamboozling EnterpriseI was already leery of creator Brannon Braga, and an old hat, run of the mill tone hampers the writing team. In addition to rotating directors, there are only a few women behind the scenes, and weird Marilyn Manson music provides a trying to be hip that’s more CW than BBC. Wealthy lace and tavern drab visually divide our neighbors amid period woodwork, forges, and rustic chimneys while gothic arches and heavy beams add colonial mood. Churches and cemeteries contrast dark woods, glimpses of horned and hoofed figures, skeleton keys, and spooky lanterns however the blue gradient is too obviously modern. Pretty windows and latticework are too polished, and clean streets give away the Louisiana set town rather than on location imbued. Superficial costuming is noticeably inaccurate, and once I saw a Victorian filigree necklace I got at Hot Topic, well, that was pretty much it for this show.

For More Witchy, Revisit:

Witches and Bayous

Witches of East End 

Teen Witch

Odds and Dead Ends: The danger of the future in ‘A Warning to the Curious’ by M. R. James

“May I ask what you intend to do with it next?”

“I’m going to put it back.”

The 1972 Christmas adaptation of the classic M. R. James ghost story, A Warning to the Curious, perfectly captured the unique terror of the story, a terror that was at the heart of most of James’ classics. In the tale, an amateur archaeologist finds himself on the trail of an ancient Anglian crown said to protect the ancient kingdom from invasion, but is pursued by its ghostly protector intent on keeping it hidden. What drives the story is that the past should remain in the past, admired from a distance but never defiled for personal gain, lest destruction be wrought on more than just the individual.

For note, I’m going to discuss the story in detail, so, spoilers ahead. Just a little warning to the curious.

The idea of a ghostly companion isn’t something new; for one such example, Sheridan Le Fanu used a disturbing rendition of a demonic presence in Green Tea, about a man who had his third eye opened to a demon, which takes the shape of a monkey with glowing red eyes that haunts his every waking moment. As James was a great admirer of Le Fanu’s work, and helped compile several volumes of his stories, he would have obviously been aware of this story, and the ghostly companion idea.

For James, however, he uses this device for more than just scaring people. James in his personal life was most at home in the old libraries of Cambridge and Eton, as a medievalist and scholar. He was, for all intents and purposes, very much afraid of radical changes of life, especially through technology and social upheaval. The First World War is said to have affected him tremendously, to hear and know of his students, and friends, dying in the trenches abroad. All of this helps us understand where James comes from when his story puts so much emphasis on maintenance of a status quo, of letting the past lie.

It’s interesting to me that in both the original short story and the BBC adaptation, the main character, Paxton, is going through a period of personal lifestyle change. In the short story he is in the process of moving to Sweden, and spending a last few weeks in England before he follows his belongings abroad. In the BBC version, Paxton has been a clerk for twelve years before his company folded the week before, and he decided to follow up on the story of the Anglian crown as a result of nothing else to do, and nothing left to lose; a chance of making a name for himself. The curiosity in finding an ancient relic, and using it to begin a new life (economically and socially on the screen, as a metaphorical omen of good luck for a new beginning in the original), morphs into Paxton’s eventual undoing.

Even the title spells out the intended meaning of the text; don’t let your curiosity get the better of you. And that in both versions of the text, the re-burial of the crown doesn’t deter the spirit from pursuing Paxton, is further proof that the uncovering of the artifact is not simply a physical defiling of the past, but an endangerment on a larger scale. By removing the crown, there is danger of the shores being invaded, bringing about that social upheaval and radical change that James feared so much. To deter others from doing likewise, and having knock-on effects which negatively influences the wider world, the guardian of the crown must end Paxton’s life. This punishment for curiosity is famously central to H. P. Lovecraft’s stories. Lovecraft would have had the protagonist end up insane, or gods breaking through into our dimension in some way. Lovecraft himself wrote of M R James in many letters and articles, praising him as a master of weird fiction, so the connection between the two writers is certainly there.

In our own days of great social change, with the world going through unprecedented times, the antiquated verse of James’ ghost stories might seem a little stilted. Yet he seemed to express that fear in all of us with the best, that the change overcoming the world might contain some ghosts to be feared. How we choose to take his warning for the world, is up to us, but it seems chilling nonetheless that James was putting into fiction exactly what many people fear will happen if one kicks the hornet’s nest of the past. For an old-fashioned Victorian like James, he wanted the comfort of his history. For any change to happen, we must be prepared to face whatever consequences we unleash.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-If you want more M. R. James, here’s a link to an article I did a few years ago, comparing the device of very literal ‘deadlines’ in James’ Casting The Runes and Koji Suzuki’s novel, Ring: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/odds-and-dead-ends-analysis-of-casting-the-runes-and-ring/

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Perilous Weather!

Perilous Weather and Viewing! By Kristin Battestella

Lighting, mountains, bears, and storms – some of these horror movies are just as dangerous as the dark skies onscreen!

A Lonely Place to Die – Beautiful but perilous vistas, thunder, and misty but dangerous mountains – a risky place to whip out the camera! – open this 2011 hikers meet kidnappers parable starring Melissa George (Triangle), Alec Newman (Dune), and Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey). Eagles and aerial views quickly degrade into mistakes, hanging frights, and upside down frames. Ropes, gear, risk – people cause disaster among the otherwise still, respected beauty where they aren’t supposed to be resulting in cuts, scrapes, and falls. Weather interferes with their plans to climb the next killer facade but wishing one could paint the lovely forest and rocky scenery uncovers mysterious echoes from an ominous pipe and a trapped little girl. The hikers split up – several take the longer, safer route back to the nearby town – however there’s a more difficult path called Devil’s Drop that one couple brave climbing to reach help faster. Unfortunately, short ropes and sabotaged equipment create shocking drops and fatal cliffs. They aren’t wearing helmets so we can see the heroics, but no gloves against the sharp rocks, rough trees, and burning ropes, well that’s as dumb as not having a satellite phone. Unnecessary fake out dreams, annoying shaky cams, and distorted points of view detract from both the natural scary and the mystery of who else may be out there – fear on people’s faces is always more powerful than effects created for the audience. Guys with guns encountering more crazed men all in black with yet more kidnappers in pursuit also break the isolated situation too early. Unknowns snipers would better layer the environmental fears, raging river perils, terrain chases, and gunshots. Attacks from an unseen culprit are much more terrifying than knowing what poor shots they are even up close and with scopes. Injuries, screams, thuds, and broken limbs provide real menace, and we really shouldn’t have met the killers until they are over the victims asking them how much the price of their nobility hurts or what good compassion did for them today. Although double-crossing criminals playing the mysteries too soon compromises the good scares and surprise fatalities, fiery sunset festivals progress the mountain isolation to a ritual village suspicious. Fireworks and parades mingle with hog masks and alley chases – again suggesting people are where they shouldn’t be as the hiking dangers become congested public confrontations. While the crooks’ conspiracies get a tad ridiculous when innocent bystanders are killed in plain sight, this is a unique natural horrors cum kidnapping thriller remaining tense and entertaining despite some of those shout at the TV flaws.

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Dead of Winter – Lovely snow-tipped trees, mountains, and chilly rivers begat hiking perils, rock tumbles, ropes cut, snowy crashes, and hungry wolves in this 2014 Canadian geocaching terror. Of course, there are bus driving montages, DUI histories, annoying music, getting gas in middle of nowhere clichés, and ridiculously hammy dialogue like “Is your cock ever soft?” “Only in your mommy!” WTF. One jerk films everybody in a camcorder point of view even as they clearly all have chips on their shoulders, but the sardonic documentation is forgotten as we quickly meet the cliché, overly excited nerds, angry lesbians, and the dude bros who want to watch amid nighttime scenery, windshield wipers, and the increasingly icy road. Although people are bundled up for this snowy treasure hunt, their faces are still Hollywood exposed as the teams run to and fro in the woods following creepy clues in a kind of humorous montage before no phone signals, a bus that won’t start, garroting logger cables, and explosions. If they’re stranded two hundred miles and at least four days walk from anywhere, why doesn’t anyone stay near the fiery bus for heat and signal fires? Everyone continues following the increasingly bizarre geocache reveals such as a gun with no bullets and a stopwatch promising screams in ninety seconds despite falling snow showers, waterfalls, and damaged bridges. One dumb ass know it all thinks a creaking old wood bridge with over a foot of snow on top the buckling boards is safe so they all go for it because he says there’s a quarry shortcut and a convenient cabin nearby, too. Somebody has to take a dump in the snow, it’s obvious who’s going to die next – cough one lesbian and the black guy cough – and the hip acting hampers the finger-pointing group divisions. Thanks to the straightforward rather than herky-jerky filming, we can see the bloody hangings, torn limbs, and splatter gore, but arrows and crossfire reveal the killer far too soon when a movie about a treasure hunt shouldn’t give up its reward until the end. Head scratching cutaways, airplane rescue fake-outs, and whining about missing pizza further break audience immersion as no one complains about blisters, cold, or frostbite on their gloveless hands. No one is tired – least of all the driver who drove all night and then drank all day who says he’ll stay up on watch while the others sleep. They didn’t follow the river but are later glad to have handy flashlights and booze to drink as they joke about eating the tubby jerk first rather than addressing any real cannibalism horror. Jealously, one person that is not so mysteriously absent, a knife plus a pen and suddenly anybody can do an instant tracheotomy – it takes an hour for someone to realize this was planned revenge thanks to some prior competition because geocaching is a mad competitive and dangerous sport! The riddles and underground hideouts run out of steam with sagging contrivances and overlong, predictable explanations. This is watchable with entertaining horror moments, however the cliché points and outlandish but wait there’s more on and on will become too laughable for some. Our survivors may have beaten the horror hunt, but everyone apparently forgets they’re still stranded in the wilderness before the fade to black. Oops.

One to Skip

Backcountry – From packing in the parking garage and highway traffic jams to embarrassing sing a longs and a Cosmo quiz for relationship backstory, this 2014 Canadian survival thriller from writer and director Adam MacDonald (Pyewacket) has plenty of cliches for this city couple in the woods. Sunlit smiles, peaceful canoe pretty, and happy hiking montages can’t belie the ominous when the audience enters in with full knowledge of the impending horror. At the country rest stop, a ranger warns them of bad weather and closed, out of season trails, however our big man insists he doesn’t need medical kits or a map. He ignores minor injuries, mocks his inexperienced girlfriend’s preparations, leaves his ax behind, and lights a fire before leaving it to go skinny dipping. Not only do these actions completely contradict everything Survivorman taught us, but these people also don’t know they are in a scary movie. A sudden stranger at their campsite creates obvious jealousy and inferiority complexes but weird accents, racist questions, contrived dialogue, and stereotypical characterizations interfere with the attempted tension. Fortunately, askew angles on the trail, going off the path doubts, isolated nature sounds, and lookalike trees invoke better suspense as the camera blurs and pans with confusion or pain thanks to disgusting toenail gore. Up close views inside the cramped, not so safe tent build fear alongside snapping branches and bear footprints, but of course this guy doesn’t believe the supposedly overreacting woman who wants to go home when she hears something amiss. No dumbass, it isn’t acorns falling on the outside of the tent, and you should have never taken her phone and left it in the car! It takes a half hour for the innate wilderness horrors to get going, but the suspense is continually interrupted by the obnoxious behavior – wasting water, blaming her for their situation when it is clearly his fault, and her apologizing after confessing he is a loser just trying to impress her. Why couldn’t they have gone on an easier hike when she never wanted to go in the first place? Proposal excuses aren’t enough when you continually ignore dead carcasses nearby and claim it was just a raccoon that ate your food. Drinking the mini champagne bottles is not going to help their situation! Despite well-done heartbeats, ringing in the ears, and tumbling down the ravine camera views, there’s simply not enough character development and story here to sustain the wait for the superbly bloody, frenetic bear attacks in the finale. Gore, scares, screams, growls, and maulings fall prey to a just missed ’em helicopter rescue opportunity as our final girl inexplicably becomes an expert runner, rock climber, and field medic before pretty deer and dumb luck save the day. Is this uplifting music and girl power ending just a dream of what she wishes happens because otherwise, it is ridiculously unlikely. Where Pyewacket expressly defies the horror tropes checklist, this does nothing but adhere to it – becoming only worth watching if you want to yell at the people or fast forward to see them get what they deserve. ¯\_()_/¯ The bear isn’t the villain, human superiority is!

Camp Country

Stormswept – Grand columns, bayou scenery, candles, thunder, ghostly gusts, and possessions start this almost seventies feeling 1995 romp starring Kathleen Kinmont (Renegade) amid realtors avoiding a house of horrors disclosure and muddy accidents. The chandeliers and staircase grandeur can also be seen in North and Southbut there are spiders, covered furniture, and flashes of past boobs, blood, and some kind of skeleton dildo thingie. Saucy paintings abound, naughty books contain graphic ejaculation or cunnilingus art, and red four-poster beds await. This is obviously low budget Skinemax style – so despite the eerie atmosphere, some scary filming, ominous silhouettes in rain slickers, and frightful reflections in the window, one can’t tell if everyone is going to die or have sex, probably both. Four women and two men are Marilyn Chambers numbers! It takes too long for the crew to get stranded at the plantation, but the film within a film chases feature girls in white shirts and no bras while playing into girl on girl fantasies with let’s get off your wet clothes talk and accidental towel drops. I laughed out loud at that, I really did! Although the dated midriffs, acid wash jeans, giant old portable phone, and faxed paperwork are bemusing, most of the sexual dialogue is uncomfortable. The men say once a guy has sex with another man he’s a homosexual but it’s okay for the women to experiment for them as it doesn’t make them lesbians. Truth or dare demands the women kiss, word association games start with “pink” – it’s disturbing the way actor turned luxury rehab guru Justin Carroll’s director character has these women trapped, doing what he wants and not caring if anyone is upset by the sex chats. Whooshing storm effects live up to title and there’s a torture history binding everyone to the house, but not much sense is made of this evil spirit driving one and all to sex and kill. The overlong wet dream confessions and lez be friends scenes embrace the step above soft core rather than exceed that lower rung with the horror. I almost wish this could be redone to be more quality. Hidden people in the basement, secret diaries, murders – but our actress has never had an orgasm and it’s more important for the manipulative director to hypnotize her into touching herself in front of everyone like Showgirls thrashing in the pool. She recalls painful abuse and incest memories, but he tells her she need not be guilty over masturbating with her brother and can go ahead and have her ultimate sexual fantasy about Alex Trebek. O_o o_O I thought this was supposed to be a horror movie! While terribly laughable and base level entertaining, I just… insert Nathan Fillion confused gif here. Is there even a saucy ghost or is this what happens when you lock messy horny people in the house on a stormy night?

Revisit More Dangerous Weather Viewing:

Water Perils

Witches and Bayous

Forest Frights

Odds and Dead Ends : Gothic influences in Wes Craven’s Shocker

When people think of Wes Craven and supernatural slasher films, they think of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Perfectly justified, of course, as Freddy is one of the biggest icons of horror cinema. However, often overlooked however is his 1989 film Shocker, for some justifiable reasons including awful 80s CGI and an incredibly messy second half with little regard for laws of its own unreality. But at its core, and especially for the first third of the film, the gothic elements of the story are undeniable, and it’s a genuinely interesting case of a modern ghost story in the urban gothic vein.

There are gothic influences all over the film, but what tipped me off was the police invasion of Pinker’s TV shop. We head past the initial lobby of televisions playing visions of war and death and enter a dimly lit series of dusty hallways, hardware packed into the shelves on either side. We’ve dispensed with the creaky castle library and entered a modern equivalent of television sets. Noises in the dark. Turn around. Nobody there. We feel a presence nearby but can’t see them. This is classic haunted house stuff going on here.

And then we get the big tip-off as to the influence. We get a POV shot, very Hitchcockian (thinking especially of Norman Bates peering through the peephole into Marion’s room in Psycho), of Pinker’s eye up to a gap in the shelf, peering into the shop. The monster’s hiding in the walls. A policeman stands guard nearby. Nothing. And then hands shoot through the shelves, catches him. He’s pulled back against the shelves, and the whole thing pivots in on a hinge. The cop is dragged inside and the shelf snaps back in line, never to be considered again.

A few minutes later Jonathan (the MC) and his father appear, none the wiser save for a smoking cigarette on the floor. And then they discover the horrible truth when they see blood pooling out from underneath the shelf, like those ghostly legends of old mansions where the walls drip red. Breaking their way in they find cats flayed and dead-on hooks, red lighting from the cinematography department reinforcing the demonic aspect. And then there’s the body in the middle of the room, throat cut, blood on the floor.

This is classic gothic stuff. The secret passageway in the walls is complete Scooby-Doo, Agatha Christie, even some Sherlock Holmes (I’m thinking here of The Musgrave Ritual in particular). The Cat and the Canary did it as well. We’re in the middle of a slasher movie, and we’ve got secret panels and hiding places? We might even claim that these secret passages go even further back, to the origins of the gothic, in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the story we take the term ‘gothic’ from in its now traditional literary application.

And yet somehow it doesn’t feel out of place, doesn’t feel corny, because we can understand that Craven is deliberately drawing upon these influences to create a gothic atmosphere. This is important, as it subtly clues us into the paranormal parts of the film that come into play when he is electrocuted in the chair, turned into a horror version of the Phantom Virus from Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase (those movies were great, Cyber Chase an underappreciated meta gem of Scooby-Doo lore for the final third act).      If the ghost aspect had come out of nowhere, we might have complained that it was too much of a shift from straight serial killer to paranormal horror, but here these elements help to ease the transition over. Not much, because it’s still a jolt switching subgenres, but it helps nonetheless. I’m not sure how the blood pooled all the way from the chair to spread under the shelf because it’s a hell of a long way. Perhaps this is faintly paranormal in origin, the cop’s spirit doing what it needs to do to alert the living to its final resting place in a bid to stop his killer? Most likely it’s a goof and I’m reading way too much into it, but it’s certainly a possible reading if you wanted to go that far.

Let’s also remember that, even after the electrocution, the film is in essence a ghost story. Whereas in centuries before a spirit might have inhabited a suit of armor, or roamed the walls of the courtyard in which they were executed, here we have a modern updating, inhabiting the electricity that we have harnessed for our own ends. This criticism of our device-ridden society which wasn’t as prevalent when the film came out, but certainly on the rise, was inherent in genre storytelling of the time. Cyberpunk arose as a subgenre a few years before to question our reliance on technology.

And a few years after Shocker, we see the influx of films from Asia that combined a malevolent spirit and technology to demonstrate new fears of a society rapidly flying into the future. Films like Ringu, One Missed Call, Shutter, Noroi, even The Eye to a certain extent (the elevator scene is my example here, with the apparition not appearing on the security camera), would be films that take this concept and run with it, infusing into their tales a very gender-based morality tale of using a stereotypically male industry (technology) and using it as a vehicle for the classic avenging female spirit of folklore.

Could one orient Shocker as a modern gothic gateway to these tales? I suspect most would argue against it, but as has been critiqued in countless essays, articles, and books, there is not one film history, but multiple readings of film histories. As it stands, the genre itself is also fluid and a very pliable concept in itself. I’m not using any of these arguments to state that Shocker is a great film, because although fun, it’s most certainly hovering just in the ‘mediocre’ range of horror films. However, that these more traditional elements find their way into divisive and forgotten films might go some way to showing that it’s not just the revered masterpieces of regarded canon that have interesting literary facets to their makeup.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Merrill’s Musical Movie Review : Dark Roads 79

Dark Roads 79 – Selling Your Soul Gives Mixed Results

Dark Roads 79 takes rock ‘n’ roll mythology and applies it to a southern rock band at the end of a decade that saw the loss of many musical greats. Bobby Gray and his band Dark Roads are at the end of a good ride and are given one more chance to infuse their sound with life. A cabin in the woods could be the perfect setting to create a masterpiece, or it may well be their final resting place. Written and directed by Chase Smith, co-written by Richard Krevolin and produced by Jason Anderson, Dark Roads 79 is effective at suspense and the creation of mood and atmosphere, but somewhat weak with character development and motivation. As a total package, the film kept me engaged and entertained, but could have been so much more.

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll are plentiful and the music hits the mark in this film, but the story in Dark Roads 79, which has so much potential, misses some chances to go deeper. I found myself wishing for more backstory on the relationships between the characters. One of the things we love about rock ‘n’ roll band mythos is the drama behind the music. Probably the best example was the hint at some history between Tyler and Eddie and Eddie’s girlfriend. A few dropped lines here and there to let us know more about each character’s motivation could have built a much tighter plot. As it was, we saw the bad sides of a bunch of hedonistic young folks and waited to learn their fate while being entertained by good tunes, some cool old-timey camera work, and split-screen psychedelic tricks that added to the eerie and menacing vibe of the film. You know it’s all going to end up badly for the competent and entertaining cast, and you are caught up in the ride to see just how bad it’s going to get. 

The most interesting character was Ian Cash, roadie and security for the band, who seems to have quite a past and a talent for singing, but we never learn any more than that. A seemingly flawed character, his interactions came the closest to revealing real character growth and I was cheering every time for just a little more. The driver cracked me up with his version of rock lore. And Grace gave me the creeps from the beginning. The film kept me guessing to the end, which makes it a success, and these bits of great characterization certainly helped. 

The backstory of the cabin was intriguing, and the caretaker provided an excellent foil to the band. I would have loved to know what the connection was with the history there and what was about to happen to the band. Instead, we got misogynistic rapey vibes, which were not necessary and detracted from my enjoyment of the film. Most of the sexual activity in the film, however, was used for the important purpose of moving the plot forward and establishing mistrust between the characters. 

Overall, Dark Roads 79 is an enjoyable film and I would recommend it to fans of Crossroads, American Satan, and Eddie and the Cruisers, which are all excellent flicks warning of the excesses of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, they can warn us all they want, we still want to rock, and that’s what makes a movie like Dark Roads 79 a delight for music and horror fans alike.  

Thank you to Spirit World Productions for providing the screener. I look forward to checking out more of their films. 

Stay Tuned for more of Merrill’s Musical Musings…

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

What went Wrong with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

by Kristin Battestella

Director Rob Cohen (Dragonheart) takes up the mantle from producer Stephen Sommers, director of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, for the 2008 sequel The Mummy:Tomb of the Dragon Emperor as Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) come to the rescue when their son Alex (Luke Ford) discovers the entombed Dragon Emperor (Jet Li). Once unleashed, however, the only person who can stop the resurrected Emperor is Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh) – the sorceress who cursed him.

Ancient Chinese mounds, swords, armor, and dynastic motifs accent the assassination plots, stabbings, raids, and conquest in the opening prologue. The enslaved building of The Great Wall, life after death texts, and forbidden romance betrayals, unfortunately, are a lot like the opening of the First Film, right down to the same Mummy music cues. Then again, the elemental powers, ancient libraries, tormented generals, and immolating curses nonetheless make for a great tale – one viewers forget isn’t it’s own adventure once Tomb of the Dragon Emperor restarts with our previous heroes now unhappy with post-war quiet and in a rut despite luxury living. Their son’s discoveries of Chinese monoliths and the Emperor’s tomb come easy and don’t feel super epic thanks to the back and forth editing between the bored O’Connells and grave robber skeletons. There’s little time to awe at the 2,000-year-old frozen in time clay army when the more interesting plot elements are glossed over for set pieces treated as more important than the wonder. We can’t enjoy the dragon crossbows, booby traps, or tomb chases because The O’Connells were apparently doing secret espionage work in the interim that we didn’t get to see, either. Instead, some Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – Cradle of Life Eye of Shangra-La gem points the way to eternal life, with Tomb of the Dragon Emperor both embracing the Asian history yet feeling xenophobic with evil uniforms, double-crossing enemies, and contrived western interference repeating the prior films’ M.O. Chases through the streets with fireworks and New Year run amok are fun, but long, hollow fight sequences that do nothing to advance the plot make Tomb of the Dragon Emperor feel longer than it is. There’s no sense of the scope or magical powers despite Himalayan treks, avalanches, mystical healings, and a revived Emperor who himself is asking what this is all for anyway. After the first hour, it’s not quite clear what’s happening with everything including a three-headed dragon thrown at the screen in the last half hour. With a hop, skip, and jump, we’re at a Great Wall spectacle raising rival dead armies in a Lord of the Rings easy meets CGI versus CGI a la The Phantom Menace that rapidly loses its touch.

Fly fishing in the English countryside is not quite Rick O’Connell’s thing, and Brendan Fraser’s once proactive, rugged adventurer is now an out of touch, corny old man with outdated weapons and unheeded advice. It’s weird to see our favorite couple now arguing about their parenting and contemplating mistakes made – and not just because Maria Bello (The Dark) replaces Rachel Weisz as Evelyn in Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. After writing two successful novels about their mummy adventures, she’s hung up with writer’s block on the promised third book, but Evie doesn’t have much to say or do once the characters are forgotten in the nonsensical action. Bello looks great in the period frocks and initially the camera accents that forties tone with coy smiles and under the hat brim poise, but this Evie does indeed seem like a different person. It would have been interesting if Bello had instead been a second wife and resented step mom competing with Evie’s memory. Although the kid in peril was one of the problematic parts of The Mummy Returns, Luke Ford (Hercules) is now the grown up Alex rebelling against his parents yet conveniently following in their archaeology footsteps. Unfortunately, immortal hang ups and young love opposites attract can’t save the character from falling completely flat, and Uncle Jonathan John Hannah is a nightclub owner who spends most of his barely-there comic relief with a yak while pilot Liam Cunningham (Hunger) is merely convenient transportation. It’s a pity we only really see Jet Li’s (Romeo Must Die) warlord at the beginning and the end of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. For most of the picture, the eponymous bad guy – who doesn’t get any other name despite the historical possibilities – is just a resurrected, stilted, CGI thing more like an automaton robot rather than the feared man in charge. His powers over the elements are small scale or convenient, manipulating snow or fire and shape-shifting as needed without any real countdown or ascension of power as anchored by Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep in the First Film. For the finale we get Li’s fine action skills as expected, but he never really has the chance to be the true villain of the piece. Likewise, Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies) is relegated to glossed over bookends. Her immortal Zi Yuan witch lives in Shangri-La, and 2,000 years of magical pools are quickly explained away before a great but too brief one on one battle between our ancient foes – which is all we really want to see in Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

While some of the fiery terracotta effects don’t look so great on bu-ray, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor does well with tangible sand, statues, tents, and archaeology tools. The grand English estates match the vintage cars, antiques, typewriters, gloves, fedoras, and stoles. Temples in the mountains, Asian architecture, and snowy panoramas create a sense of adventure while chariots and molten horses coming to life invoke danger. Unfortunately, the shootouts, attacks, and explosions are super loud and cliché music cues are noticeably out of place. To start, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor feels very forties styled in a Universal homage, but then the action becomes hectic and modern messy with stereotypical seventies zooms when it comes to the kung fu. The camera, the people, and the fantastics are all moving at the same time and it’s tough for the audience to see anything, and those contrived yetis – yes, yetis – are embarrassingly bad. Today, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor could have been a direct to streaming off-shoot adventure – after all they’re still making those direct to video Scorpion King movies. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor breaks from the more familiar theme with a bait and switch title caught between two masters. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor seeks to take the series in a new direction whilst also keeping its ties to the previous films. If this had no connection to The Mummy and embraced its own dynastic legends and lore, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor could have been a fun action adventure. Perhaps it can still be entertaining for youth able to separate it from the legacy of the First Film. Otherwise, the flawed, thin story, and try hard of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is just window dressing reaching for an adventurous charm that isn’t there.

 

Revisit More Mummies Including:

Gods of Egypt

Mummy Movies!

Tomb of Ligeia

 

Daphne’s Den of Darkness : 15 Horror Movies and Shows for Kids You Can Stream Right Now

Any Horror Addicts out there raising baby bats? It can be hard to find some middle ground between the horror you love and what’s going to keep the little monsters up at night, but I’m here to help! Below, you’ll find my curated selection of frightful fun for the whole family (all ready to stream).

  1. Hotel Transylvania: The Series (Netflix)

You’re probably already familiar with the Hotel Transylvania movies, but if you want MORE, check out the animated show. Dracula goes away for a year, leaving the hotel in the hands of his sister and his teenage daughter, Mavis.

  1. Little Monsters (Netflix)

This classic 1989 movie is all campy fun. Brian discovers the world of monsters living under his bed and embarks on a wild ride of mischief.

  1. Missing Link (Hulu)

Susan, also known as Bigfoot, searches for her distant Yeti relatives with the help of a famous monster hunter.

  1. Corpse Bride (Netflix)

If you haven’t watched this Tim Burton classic, do it now. This tale of romance and revenge is great for kids and adults.

  1. Monsters at Large (Hulu)

A group of teens forms a task force to fight imaginary monsters, but find themselves confronted with the real thing.

  1. Monster House (Netflix)

A group of kids discovers that the neighboring house is actually a real-live monster. This 2006 movie has become a Halloween classic, but real Horror Addicts know you can watch it year-round.

  1. Daphne & Velma (Hulu)

Before there was the Scooby Gang, there was Daphne and Velma. This movie shows the girls in high school, trying to solve the mystery of what is turning the students into zombies.

  1. The Little Vampire (Netflix)

In this 2017 animated film, a boy obsessed with the undead befriends a vampire his age and helps his family escape a monster hunter.

  1. Henry Hugglemonster (Hulu)

A monster series for the very young! This animated series teaches all those valuable social skills that little kids need, with a fun monster twist.

  1. Monster High (Netflix)

There are a whole collection of Monster High movies and shorts on Netflix. The series, based on the dolls by the same name, is wildly popular.

  1. Clue (Amazon Prime)

Clue: The Movie, based on Clue: The Board Game, is hilarious. As a child, as an adult, as anyone. Please go watch this movie.

  1. Monster Island (Netflix)

Lucas discovers that he’s actually a monster and goes to meet the rest of his family. In the process, he finds a plot against monsters and must save the day.

  1. Annoying Orange – Shocktober Horror (Amazon Prime)

This entry is really more for the pre-teen crowd. Annoying Orange isn’t for everyone, but for a certain type of humor, this really hits the spot.

  1. Super Monsters (Netflix)

Another entry for the littlest bats! A group of pre-school monsters tries to learn about their powers and prepare for kindergarten.

  1. Monster Family (Netflix)

On Halloween, a family is turned into the costumes they wear and must go on a journey to return to themselves. I liked this movie, but I’m not going to lie, I was rooting for Dracula.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: All Things Dracula Video Review

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz compares and contrasts Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and then some more Draculas, Nosferatus, and television to Bram Stoker’s original 1897 novel. Penny Dreadful, Hammer Horror, Gerard Butler, Francis Ford Coppola and Netflix’s recent Dracula series all have a moment here alongside Dracula: Dead and Loving It because why the heck not?

 

 

Read all the reviews mentioned in our Dracula conversation including:

Penny Dreadful Season 3

Dracula (2013)

Dracula 2000

Dracula 1931

Dracula (Spanish Version)

Nosferatu

Horror of Dracula

Brides of Dracula

Dracula Has Rise from the Grave

Dracula A.D. 1972

Count Dracula (1977)

Dracula (1979)

Dan Curtis’ Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula: Dead and Loving It

 

Thank you for being part of Horror Addicts.net and enjoying our video, podcast, and media coverage!

 

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Five Good-Bad Horror Movies Set in the Louisiana bayou

Review by Lionel Green

A Louisiana bayou. Is there a creepier setting for horror? A marshy wetland shrouded by fog-covered cypress trees and beset by creatures lurking unseen amid the muddy swamp.

Yet the murky waters are strangely shallow in the pool of quality swamp horror movies set in Louisiana bayous. Many take a cheesy action-comedy approach to the story, while others simply fail to take full advantage of the surroundings, probably due to budget constraints.

What you end up with is a glut of films mostly mired in mediocrity. However, some are fun enough to watch if you’re a fan of low-budget horror that’s good-bad … or is it bad-good?

I grew up in the 1980s, so I don’t mind when movies mix in a little cheese with the gore. Sometimes it adds just the right amount of flavor.

Here’s a list of five of my favorite good-bad horror films set in the Louisiana bayou:

1. Hatchet (2006): This one’s a straight-up swamp slasher, and it’s just a good old-fashioned horror movie. A group of tourists embarks on a haunted swamp tour and runs into Victor Crowley, a disfigured freak of a man who’s back from the dead and wielding a hatchet. Crowley’s an awesome villain who’s played by Kane Hodder (who once played Jason Voorhees in a few Friday the 13th films).

2. Frankenfish (2004): A not-so-classic creature feature, Frankenfish is a fun ride when genetically altered snakehead fish are accidentally released into the bayou, prompting an investigation. The special effects are probably better than they should be for a 2004 movie, and the cast gives it their all.

3. Venom (2005): A combo slasher/creature feature, Venom follows a group of teenagers terrorized by Mr. Jangles, a man possessed by 13 unlucky and evil souls. Mr. Jangles is another awesome villain, plus the plot includes voodoo.

4. Creature (2011) “Best watch your step. There’s worse things than gators, you know,” warns Chopper, played by the late Sid Haig in Creature, which introduces the legendary half-man/half-gator known as Lockjaw. Unfortunately, Lockjaw’s backstory was a little “out there” for mainstream audiences, and most critics trashed the movie in an epic way. Creature was actually released nationwide and scored one of the lowest opening weekends in history for a film released in more than 1,500 theaters, earning just $327,000 in ticket sales. It deserved better than that.

5. Snakehead Swamp (2014): I need more snakehead like Christopher Walken needs more cowbell. What can I say about this one? It doesn’t quite rise to the level of Frankenfish on the Snakehead-O-Meter (which is a totally scientific piece of equipment I just made up for this column). But at least there aren’t any sharks swirling around in tornadoes. That’s reason enough to watch Snakehead Swamp.


Lionel Ray Green is a horror and fantasy writer, an award-winning newspaper journalist, and a U.S. Army gulf war veteran living in Alabama. Lionel writes a column for HorrorAddicts.net titled The Bigfoot Files. His fiction has appeared in more than two dozen anthologies, magazines, and ezines, and his short story “Scarecrow Road” won the WriterWriter 2018 International Halloween Themed Writing Competition.

Black History Month : Black Devil From Hell / a Review

     Black Devil Doll From Hell or Chester Turners Revenge

  A Review by James Goodridge

“This is bad, very bad … but I love it,” I say to myself while clicking through a cornucopia of videos, reviews, soundtrack music, and other snippets, but not the full-length movie Black Devil Doll From Hell or BDDFH. Now I have a macabre love for B movies be it Sci-Fi or Horror the more absurd (see Scream Baby Scream 1969) or Grind House the better. With some low budget movies watching them you get a sense that they were made for the quick buck, but some have a feel that passion was injected into the movie kind of an Ed Wood radiance.

BDDFH was written, directed, music scored and produced by Chester Turner. Starring Shirley Jones, it was filmed in 1984 in Chicago for under $10,000 using a video camera, a VCR and a Casio organ for soundtrack music.

The ’80s were an era of mobile video freedom for people to create, a challenge to would-be amateur filmmakers. Mr. Turner took up the challenge. The plot surrounds Helen Black(Jones) a God-fearing woman who buys a three-foot doll with Rick James corn rolls from a strange gift shop, not aware that the doll is possessed by the devil. Later in the slow-paced movie, the doll comes to life and attacks her in the shower. For the rest of the movie, we’re tormented by devil doll’s old hustler voice harassing Helen as she has succumbed to his power, going on the prowl to pick up men for sexual gratification. Obie Dunson plays the Preacher in some scenes.

Years later, Turner said he stayed up three days and nights writing the script. Maybe I’m wrong because I had a hard time following parts of the movie and there is barely a plot. Now I must say that the doll itself is creepy, one of those old ventriloquist dummies with the huge eyes and to Turner’s credit you do get a visceral sense of unease.

The Casio droning on in the background makes you wish it would stop. Scenes lingering too long, stiff acting and bad lighting doom this labor of love Chester Turner produced. Selling the movie on VHS from the trunk of his car then making sales pitches in-person to video store owners generated limited profits for Turner and Jones (they were in a relationship at the time) and soon the movie was forgotten with Turner and Jones moving on to create Tales From the Quadead Zone (1987).

Over the decades,  social media has not been kind to BDDFH with would-be reviewers piling on with bad reviews. I came across one reviewer on YouTube using a racial slur when talking about Ms. Jones’s looks. But a documentary Adjust Your Tracking (2013) and a Daily Grind House article in 2013 revived interest in BDDFH. It is now the holy grail when it comes to VHS tape collectors with a tape selling between $ 419 to $1,000 online.  

Internet detective work helped me come across a Q & A segment at the 2013 Austin Film Society Festival featuring Turner and Jones. The movie now in cult status, Turner answered questions with humbleness and grace while Jones is reserved and matter of fact. Both feel vindicated, Turner still has the master copy and was redistributing it on DVD. In 2001

A non-related remake of BDDFH was released on DVD. A soft porn splatter movie mess, the best I can say about it is that… I’ll get back to you a few years from now maybe with some kind words.

At the end of the day Turner and Jones chased their dream with passion.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Family Haunts and Fears

Family Haunts and Fears 

by Kristin Battestella

These families are less than comforting for each other when it comes to ghosts, cults, and suburban frights.

Before I Wake – Mike Flanagan (Oculus) directs Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush), Thomas Jane (Dreamcatcher), Annabeth Gish (The X-Files), and Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 Netflix dark fantasy drama. In spite of the never working, always home in their mansion rich blonde white people, we hope for the couple who lost a child now making a fresh start by adopting a very special but sleepless eight year old. Group therapy’s been helping our fellow insomniac mom cope – getting the psychological metaphors out of the way while showing how our husband and wife have reacted differently to such grief. Their new son, sadly, takes out his books and flashlight to stay up all night, sneaking some serious sugar because he fears the man who eats people when he sleeps. Strange images increase about the house, and instead of the typical jerky husband, it’s nice to have a trying to be helpful doctor. The therapist, however, dismisses mom’s encounters with creaking doors, breaking glass, and ghostly figures as lucid dreams or sleep deprived waking hallucinations. Our couple is always in front of the television not talking about how they can inexplicably see and touch their late son in tender moments giving and taking away before he disappears in their arms. Naturally, they take advantage of this gift, putting on the coffee to stay up while their current dreams come true son sleeps. He can help them heal, and with such fanciful graphics, one almost forgets how they are deluding themselves by using his dreams to fix their reality. When mom drugs his milk and cake with child sleeping pills, we know why. Dad may bond with the boy, but it’s unique to see a multi-layered woman both experiencing the horror and contributing almost as a villain who thinks she’s right. The monster may not be super scary for audiences accustomed to terrifying effects, but this is about kids fearing unconscious ghouls and waking nightmares not scaring viewers. Previous foster parents are committed after talking of demons when the boy’s dreams come true, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing – unlike the adults who realize, do it anyway, then justify their response as mercy. If he can’t wake up, they can’t defeat the black vomit and flesh consuming monsters. Unfortunately, convenient hospital connections provide old records and birth mother details while the caseworker never notices the ongoing file is lifted by the subject. Confining the boy leads to a house of horrors with moths in the stairwell, cocoons, creepy kids, gouged eyes, and bathtub bizarre – which are all fine individually. However, the story backs itself into a corner by resorting to a state of mind scary at the expense of the personal fantasy, unraveling with explaining journals and a parent sugarcoating someone else’s memories so obvious Freudian questions can do the trick. With this thick case file, how did no child psychologist figure this out sooner – especially with such legalese and real-world missing persons? Rather than essentially letting mom get away with sacrificing people to overcome her grief, the finale explanation should have been at the beginning to further appreciate the boy’s torment. Despite a kind of, sort of happy non-ending, the parents dealing with a child dreamer plot makes for a mature reverse Elm Street mixing family horrors and fantastics.

Death at Love House – Couple Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart) and Kate Jackson (Dark Shadowsare writing a book on Lorna Love and stay at the Old Hollywood starlet’s creepy manor in this 1976 television movie. Gothic gates, winding drives, old fountains, and broken statues accent the past torrid and vintage bus tours, and there’s a freaky shrine, too – the preserved corpse of our beauty lying in a glass coffin. Of course this print is obviously poor, but the retro Hollywood scenery, Golden cinema looks, and seventies California style make up any difference. I wish we could see the arches and wrought iron better, but the VHS quality kind of adds a dimly lit ominous to the Mediterranean villa as retro commercials provide a vintage patina. Housekeeper Silvia Sydney (Beetlejuiceisn’t very forthcoming about enchanting portraits of the starlet, and newsreels of her funeral show a man in a cape with a black cat among the mourners. Malleus Maleficarum spell books on the shelf, sacrificial daggers, and crusty director John Carradine (Blood of Dracula’s Castle) suggest Lorna was more evil than lovely, and talk of mirrors, souls, passion, and rivals like Dorothy Lamour (Road to Bali) add to the character unto herself à la RebeccaWithout over the top visuals or in your face action for the audience’s benefit, the performances here carry the scandalous scares – jumping at the horrors as thunder punctuates terrifying encounters in the dark. Apparent heart attack victims, destroyed pictures, and warnings to leave Love House lead to locked doors, gas mishaps, and steamy showers while phonographs provide chilling music as Lorna seems to be looking out from the silver screen film reels with her hypnotic power. Bewitching dreams relive the past and wax on eternal youth as the ghostly obsessions grow. At times, the spiral stairs, red accents, and swanky are more romantic, but phantom ladies at the window and rumors of fiery rituals create sinister. Our husband is said to be going through the scrapbooks but he’s not getting any work done, remaining in denial about the basement tunnels, cult altars, pentagrams, and mystical symbols. Although the Mrs. seems calm somehow once the truth comes out, too, the creepy masks and wild reveals make for a flaming finish. There are too many tongue in cheek winks for this to be full-on horror nor can one expect proper glam and glory in such a brisk seventy-four-minute network pace. However, this is good fun for a late-night Hollywood ghost story full of meta vintage.

Kill List– Financial arguments, unemployment, and stressed parents shouting open British director Ben Wheatley’s (High-Rise) 2011 slow burn while fade ins and outs create a disconnected passage of time amid his mundane routine, tearful phone calls in her native Swedish, and brief playtime with their son. Clearly they are trying to keep it together just for him, but recession talk and conversations about their military past make dinner with friends more awkward. Despite some wine, laughter, and music; tensions remain alongside bloody tissues, mirrors, and creepy occult symbols. Foreboding rainbows, eerie skies, and contracts signed in blood lead to fancy hotels, mysterious clients, guns, and stacks of cash. This sardonic, violent lifestyle is normal to our hit men – want a hot tub, put on a nice suit and kill a few people to make money for your family! Things should be looking up, but past mistakes, religious conflicts, and hits gone wrong interfere with the fine dining, friendly chatter, stakeouts, and casually executed executions. The deliberate pace may be slow to some, however full moons, hallway zooms, and binocular views set off the lying in wait preparations, silencers, and worship regalia. Thumping body bags miss the dumpster and victims aren’t surprised their time has come, but off screen implications disturb both our hardened hit men. They are the righteous torturers breaking knee caps and bashing hands! Dead animals, blood splatter, off list hits, dirty crimes, and graphic skull work are not for the faint of heart as the kills become messy and out of control. Ominous women in white, blood stains, infected cuts – this violence is going far beyond their normal work but there’s no getting out here. Nothing good can come from this dreary potboiler as the kills increase from ironic to curious and ultimately brutal in a final act providing throwback shocks and a sense of realism straying into unreliability. Night gear observations at a fancy estate begat torches, chanting, robes, and masks. If you’ve seen enough cult horror, the ritual foreshadowing is apparent, however there’s a warped cleansing to the rain, drumbeats, and sacrifice. Gunfire, tunnels, knife attacks, screams, and unknowns make for gruesome turnabouts that bring the consequences home in a silent, disturbing, grim end.

Voice from the Stone – It’s post-war Tuscany and dilapidated castles for nurse Emilia Clark (Game of Thrones) in this 2017 tale opening with church bells, toppled statues, and autumn leaves. Letters of recommendation and voiceovers about previous goodbyes are unnecessary – everything up until she knocks on the door is redundant when the Italian dialogue explaining the situation is enough. Her charge hasn’t spoken in the seven months since his mother’s death, and sculptor dad Marton Csokas (Lord of the Ringsis frazzled, too. Our nurse is strict about moving on from a family, and although her unflinching English decorum feels like you can see her acting, this may be part of the character fronting when she wonders if she is qualified for the case. The mute son is likewise an obedient boy if by default because it takes speaking to object, and he listens to the walls to hear his dead mother. Period furnishings, vintage photos, mirrors, and candles enchant the interiors, but the stone and stucco are spooky thanks to taxidermy, strange old ladies, creaking doors, winding stairs, and broken tiles atop the towers. Wooded paths, overgrown gardens, and old bridges lead to exploring the flooded quarry, cliffs, family crypts, and stone effigies. This estate has been in the late wife’s family for over a thousand years, and forty generations are buried beneath the rocks. Noises in the night provide chases and dead animal pranks as our nurse listens to the walls to prove it’s just the settling house, rattling winds, or bubbling pipes talking. Progress with the boy takes time while billowing curtains and melancholy phonographs linger over somber scenes as she grows too attached in wearing our late mother’s clothes. Unlike her, our nurse sits docile and silent when posing for his sculpture before fantasizing some saucy as he carves. She can care for father and son – talking to portraits of the Mrs. and listening to tombs to further ingratiate herself into this family. Desperate, she hears her now, too, in eerie interludes and spooky dreams that add aesthetics yet feel like weird seventies horror movies nonsensical. Wet perils and violent slaps begat illness, but questions on whether this fever is real or psychological unravel with fog, wheezing, heartbeats, and buried alive visions face to face with the dead. Although some may dislike the ambiguous nonanswers and stilted style or find the derivative Rebecca or Jane Eyre mood and outcome obvious, the slow burn period setting makes this an interesting piece for gothic fans not looking for outright horror a minute.

 

For more Frightening Flix, revisit our Horror Viewing Lists including:

Haunting Ladies

Witches and Bayous, Oh My!

Mirrors and Superstitions

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Classic Horror Titans!

 

 

It’s our Frightening Flix Horror Titans of Yore come to celebrate our HorrorAddicts.net anniversary!

Alfred Hitchcock Primer Video

The Birds

Christopher Lee Delights

Edgar Allan Poe Video Revisit

Jean Rollin Saucy

Mario Bava Special

The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again

Peter Cushing Passion

Silent Film Scares

Vincent Price Maestro

 

From the Horror Seeker: Gozer the Gozarian

Gozer, for all its wonder, seems to be a Deity without any definitive form or essence of its own, coming to our plain in a predetermined form given to it by its followers, then surrendering its essence to a champion of its worshipers to choose the form by which it will destroy the earth. As we have come to know it, Gozer came to us in 1984 in the form of a Serbian actress Slavitza Jovan, where it was to be chosen by the Ghostbusters to destroy the earth in the form of the Stay Puff marshmallow man. Wait, what?

Yeah, it no doubt got our attention then, but when compared to the ancient tellings of Gozer, as it was by Egon in the film, Gozer has had many other, more intimidating figures it has brought upon humanity in the past.
Gozer came into pop culture as the main antagonist in 1984’s Ghostbusters. An ancient, but obscure God worshiped by the Mesopotamians, Sumerians and the Hittites somewhere around 6000 B.C.

Gozer was banished by the followers of an opposing force in Gozer’s sibling, Tiamat where it was exiled and left to roam the universe and its many dimensions, hence one of its many names as “The Traveller” Gozer spent many eons exploring and conquering world upon world until finally being summoned back to Earth more or less by a then strengthening group of followers headed by Dr. Ivo Shandor who went on to erect a building in NYC as an antenna to focus the spiritual energies of the plain and bring forth Gozer to take over the earth.

I thought it’d be an interesting look into an underappreciated antagonist, what with the 2020 Ghostbusters film on the way this summer. It has been rumored that Gozer will be making a comeback of sorts, and it will be very curious to see in what respect it will return; what form will it take now?

I have always thought Gozer to be something of an interesting character, not just for the sake of the film, but for inspiration. It is very clear that the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man is pure, uncontested fiction, obviously, however, a deity of Gozer’s like is nothing too obscure in history. As long as there has been man, there have been those man has worshiped. Regardless of a God/Deity’s intent, it almost seemed necessary for man’s survival, and I found myself wondering which God or Gods come closest to that of Gozer. Upon much digging, I have found it quite difficult to find anything close, until I uncovered an obscure Mesopotamian Deity known as Enlil. His roll in Mesopotamian mythology is power and authority, as such he has the ability to create and “destroy” – Gozer the Destructor.

An interesting passage I found here: Enlil was a provider, and as such he was declared the “Lord of abundance” in a hymn for Šu-Suen (2037-2029 BCE) (ETCSL 2.4.4.a: 20-21). However, Enlil could also take such plenty away and devastate the land, e.g., in The Lament for Urim, he is said to have “brought the storm of abundance away”, to have “annihilated the land, silenced the city” (ETCSL 2.2.2), and destroyed their houses and demolished their walls Enki and the World Order (ETCSL 1.1.3: 245).

There was nothing significant, however, about the timing of Enlil’s reign when compared to what we know, thanks to Egon. Nor was there anything relevant to a pairing of demi-gods in order to bring Gozer forward. However, further reading on Enlil will see he is also known as the “decreer of fates” and the holder of the “Tablet of destinies” to which the possessor would command the worlds. It becomes apparent why there would be such a devout following, and why Ivo Shandor would want to worship such a deity.

It has become a very interesting read though and I’d love to get some more of your thoughts on what you think of Gozer, as well as any further reading or discoveries you may find on anything closer resembling Gozer. Tell me what you hope to see in the upcoming film; if Gozer should return, and in what form?

From the Horror Seeker, we ask you to choose the form of the destructor—and perish!

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

 

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir a Delightful Little Ghostly Romance

Reviewed By Kristin Battestella

I really dislike modern repetitive romantic comedies with that hint of tearful seriousness and sap sap sap. However, classic romances with fun and paranormal do wonders- and I can’t help myself, I’m watching the 1947 treat The Ghost and Mrs. Muir yet again!

Widow Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) – along with her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and beloved maid Martha (Edna Best) – leaves her in-laws and takes a cottage on the Whitecliff coast. Unfortunately, Mrs. Muir soon discovers the late owner Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) already inhabits the seaside escape. Captain Gregg agrees to keep his hauntings to a minimum for Anna’s sake and soon helps Lucy financially by collaborating on his memoirs with her. Could it be there is something more between them? Unfortunately, artist Miles Fairley (George Sanders) also romances the Widow Muir, and he is a ‘real’ man after all, much more able to return Lucy’s affection than the ghostly Daniel. But which does she really love?

Though played a little spooky to start- a widow moving into a mysterious cliffside house all alone– director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Cleopatra, Guys and Dolls) and writer Philip Dunne (How Green Was My Valley, The Robe) keep Josephine Leslie’s source tale progressive and fun. Instead of wasting time on major ghostly special effects or uber kinky relationships as today’s films might, time is taken to know the characters and enjoy the mix of the living and the dead while the romance blooms. Even as much as I love creepy fair, it’s simply wonderful that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir remains simple, innocent, and not totally spooky. Yes, the corporeal barriers and introductory scares might be enough to get a viewer in the door- but the interplay of the cast carries the film. The focus on two shot debates and fore blocking camerawork shows that these two people can hotly interact, inhabit the same space, even coexist and fall in love, but sadly not actually be together-especially when that two-shot becomes a jealous three-way scene. The lovely dilemma and heart of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is allowed to play itself out on screen instead of being squashed by ghostly glitters or Meg Ryan’s lips. And what an ending!

Tragically, Gene Tierney (Laura, Leave Her to Heaven) didn’t make very many films and is more well known today for her health issues and off-screen romances if at all. Fortunately, she did indeed leave us with a set of classics! The turn of the century costumes on Tierney look great, adding period flavor, grace, and an element of change as Lucy herself sways between men over the years. Tierney really is just lovely inside and out- even if the presentation is a little too post-Victorian by way of the forties for some viewers. However, there’s also a fine modern contrast, for Lucy-being a single mother disbelieving in such paranormal ‘fiddlesticks’- is in many ways ahead of her onscreen time. She defiantly calls out the ghostly instead of being the little widow in black and blossoms as a woman because of it. Although I’m not sure about Tierney’s accent amid all the really English folks, her tone is still proper and classy nonetheless. Not many actresses today can handle material like this- not without it getting cliché like those aforementioned run of the mill contemporary romances. I also confess, penning a book to save the finances of one’s house is perhaps the dream of every down on his luck writer, and it’s just another fun, personal and endearing element I love in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Oh, that crusty and delightful Rex Harrison! Though initially seemingly a silhouetted menace with a great bellowing voice, Captain Gregg is built up carefully and creepily toward a sweet and stormy reveal. We expect Daniel to be so upper class and debonair ala My Fair Lady, but Harrison’s rough around the edges opposite to Lucy and near swashbuckling style is wonderful. His dialogue, delivery, and no holds barred attitude are somehow also suave; Gregg compliments Lucy on her figure and quotes poetry! The way the grizzly ghost mellows is utterly bittersweet, and it’s all done without losing any charm or gruff. Of course, George Sanders (Rebecca, All About Eve) is also his usually slick and exceptional self. We might not find either man uber attractive or Team This and Team That in today’s standards, but the juicy choices and whirlwind escapades both men offer is just that- an onscreen delight. Sanders just as easily sweeps the viewer away by painting scandalous portraits of Lucy in a bathing suit as we are also charmed by Harrison’s dreamy soliloquies. Edna Best (The Man Who Knew Too Much) is a little annoying as the stereotypical English maid who always talks so sassy, knows what’s what, and makes no Cockney about it! However, she earns her stripes as the film progresses. Little Natalie Wood (The Searchers, West Side Story) is also a somewhat goofy, but her fans will enjoy seeing her 10-year-old charm.

The black and white photography of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir hampers the visuals a bit, but the silver screen layers also add plenty of atmosphere. The ghostly lighting, candles, gas lamps, creepy paintings, and the shadows created work beautifully. The fake long shot stills are obvious, yes, but understandable. Besides, the sweet cottage interiors are more Victorian mansion than cottage as we would think of it, and the seaside locations are dynamite. The great ghost laughter, the usual glory of storms and wind, and Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, The Devil and Daniel Webster) crescendos add the audio icing. The paranormal hints and hijinks still work, and I love how the darkness surprises us into never knowing quite where the Harrison appearing and disappearing tricks are. Turn of the century cars, glorious feathers, furs, hats, and gloves! Sigh, but those bathing suits! Those are a definite no.

Yes, I’m sure a lot of this can be merely quaint or hokey to some, but fans of the cast or classics in general surely already know and love The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Fortunately, there’s also nothing so ghostly or romantic to dissuade younger viewers, and recent audiences of contemporary paranormal or standard romance should most definitely try this treat ASAP.

For more Lighthearted Classics, revisit:

I Married a Witch

Bell, Book, and Candle

Gothic Romance Video Review

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Our Favorite Horror Movie Reviews!

 

Follow these links to reminisce with our HorrorAddicts.net Anniversary look at some of our Favorite Frightening Flix Reviews! 

Black Death

Brimstone

Bone Tomahawk

Crimson Peak

Eden Lake

The Exorcist

House of Usher

Only Lovers Left Alive

Phantom of the Opera (2004)

The Wicker Man (1973)

 

 

Nightmare November : Is Freddy’s Dead really that bad?

If you ask me, “Freddy’s Dead – The Final Nightmare” gets a bad rap. Why is this? Why do fans object to this film so much? Well, to be fair it is the most disconnected from the rest of the series, having now abandoned the Alice storyline which had been the running canon – from Nancy to Kristen, to Alice, each of the heroines passing the torch down the line keeping the narrative fresh. But Freddy’s Dead might have taken too wide a step off the path for fans to accept and understand, and the choice of going 3D didn’t do it any favors either. However, I do believe this film does have its moments and is worth another look from fans of horror and the franchise alike! Let’s check it out!

For those not in the know, -SPOILER ALERT- The story follows the “last” of the Elm Street children, John Doe… no, really, that’s his name, played by Shon Greenblatt, a wandering amnesia stricken insomniac who is sent back to Springwood by Freddy for unknown reasons – reasons we find out later are for Freddy to find his daughter and escape the bonds of Springwood. Along the way, it’s more or less a typical run-through of victims for Freddy, with some creative and over the top death scenes, though the body count is kept to a relative minimum. The film culminates with Freddy being brought into the real world and having the final showdown with his daughter in a somewhat campy manner, even for Freddy’s antics. Not too bad, but I can see why fans might not have taken to it at the time.

As a seasoned member of the Nightmare on Elm Street team, Rachel Talalay makes her directorial debut in the 6th installment, addressing the question of who Freddy Krueger was before he was caught, giving us a bit more exposition than what Marge did for Nancy in part 1. It was the familiar fable about Freddy from parts 1 through 5, and it’s here where I find the first improvement. Usually exposition tends to water down a character/story, but in my opinion, it plays out well, giving us enough to carry the story forward with something new. That’s one of the better qualities of the film; it takes chances with a well-loved, well-established character. And like Jason Goes to Hell, or Halloween 3, and other films that tried to break from the patterns set, it was not as well-received as they had hoped.

We all know who Freddy is at this point, so there’s really nothing to hide. We can only learn more! Pop culture at the time had forced New Line’s hand to tease Freddy a bit, making him a bit more humorous in his antics, but again, in my opinion, I think it worked out well enough… not perfect mind you, but this is Freddy Krueger! One of the few slasher villains with a personality, arguably the best and most colorful! While the comedy at times did cloud over the intended horror, I feel it works for the character(s). It has been one of the discerning traits of Freddy. Having that strong personality has helped him become the icon of horror he is today.

So, why do we watch these films? For the kills, of course! Slasher films are known for their ever-inventive style of death scenes and here, well you can’t deny that they are memorable. While the violence is toned down a bit it’s not without imagination. From Carlos’s death by nails-on-a-chalk-board, this scene spends several minutes with its build-up leading to Carlos’s demise. It’s fun and terrifying, really putting you in Carlos’s perspective. How about Spencer? Who can forget the power glove? While I might gag at the shameless product placement, it is nonetheless creative. Again, the scene spends several minutes in its own element before giving us what we came to see! The lack of a body count, too, allows a bit more time to expand on the ones that got the axe (glove) making their scenes that much more unforgettable. Another quality here, that apart from a few throughout the franchise, all these characters are memorable, I my opinion. It’s a relatively lean cast with a few recognizable faces, such as Breckin Meyer, Lisa Zane, Yaphet Kotto, and some interesting cameos by Tom Arnold, Roseanne Barr, and Johnny Depp. Ha! Freddy gets one over on Glenn again during a bizarre twist on a familiar PSA. The scene gets a chuckle out of me every time! And while the acting is by no means Oscar-winning it is believable; you can tell the actors are having a good time, and I think that’s all you can ask for in any film.

It wraps up rather abruptly with a slideshow recap of the five previous films while the credits roll, with a perfect song by Iggy Pop to end, well “end” the franchise. Would’ve been nice to have a “Spoiler Alert” back then! But here it is!

As a kid, I had a bad habit of watching franchise films out of order, and Freddy’s Dead was one of the first I ever saw! I guess part “6” wasn’t exactly the best jumping on point, ha! So many songs have been written around Nightmare on Elm Street either for the films themselves or in general from The Fat Boys to Will Smith, to Tuesday Knight’s intro from Part 4.

It’s amazing to see what an influence these films had on not only the fans but the industry itself. Hell, New Line was on its last leg before Wes came along. It was a dare from the start, and New Line has been known since then as the house that Freddy built. And that’s another element that we can appreciate in Freddy’s Dead, it was a dare! As I say, it took chances, something that movies and studios today just don’t do anymore. It has survived some turbulent times, such as the writers’ strike of 1988 and being developed in a dying company. Could this, as well as being handled by some of the best in writing, directing, and effects have fostered this one of a kind creativity? I will say this, it has been a great inspiration for myself, as well as countless others, so I think it’s fair to say that Freddy’s Dead isn’t that bad. Again, I may be bias, but The Final Nightmare will always be something special to me. If I could ask the fans to give it another chance with a little more open appreciation for what it is, I think we can all remember that Every town has an Elm Street!

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Ten: Chasing Bigfoot: ‘The Nature of Bigfoot’

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(Editor’s note: This review contains major spoilers.)

Episode 1 of Chasing Bigfoot: The Quest for Truth is titled “The Nature of Bigfoot” and delves into the history and legend of the Sasquatch. While Bigfoot enthusiasts will likely know most of what the episode covers, I certainly learned a couple of interesting tidbits of Bigfoot lore.

Not to be confused with Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot, Mill Creek Entertainment’s Chasing Bigfoot: The Quest for Truth is a documentary with five episodes of Season 1 streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s not following the adventures of hunters but rather is focused on examining the history of reported encounters and the phenomenon of Bigfoot. Episodes are only 24 minutes long and move along at a brisk pace.

Episode 1 features interviews with a number of Bigfoot researchers, including the usual players like wildlife researcher Doug Hajicek, Finding Bigfoot field researcher Cliff Barackman, and primatologist Esteban Sarmiento.

The interviews are mostly speculation and don’t reveal any earth-shattering insight.

For example, Hajicek estimates a minimum of 4,000 Bigfoots roams North America. Barackman says Bigfoot is a species of higher primate up to 9 feet tall. Sarmiento says if Bigfoot exists, it likely migrated from Asia across the Bering land bridge and has the same distribution as other animals that crossed the Bering Strait from Asia.

Okay. Those guesses are as good as any. After all, who can prove them right or wrong?

I was more interested in the accounts of history reported by the documentary, which are mostly well known to Bigfoot enthusiasts.

For example, Bigfoot first showed up in North America via the rock art and folklore of Native Americans.

The documentary also speculates Bigfoot could be a relative of prehistoric ape Gigantopithecus, citing fossil records and examination of scat.

The first report of Bigfoot by a white man happened in 1811 in Jasper, an alpine town in Alberta, Canada. A trader named David Thompson reported footprints 14 inches long and 8 inches wide in the snow.

The term Bigfoot was first used in a Humboldt Times newspaper report about Jerry Crew finding 16-inch long footprints at a construction site in California. However, after the construction company owner died, his family revealed it was a hoax.

But Bigfoot was born forever into pop culture.

Despite the hoaxes, the hundreds of Bigfoot reports over the years are seemingly credible enough to keep researchers interested in the cryptid.

Based on all the sightings and evidence, some researchers think Bigfoot’s appearance is somewhere between an adult gorilla and a human being, and the cryptid is shy and nomadic, living in small family groups that have spread all across North America.

However, the speculation is all over the map. The most interesting parts of the interviews are when researchers talk about Bigfoot’s lifestyle.

For example, British Columbia investigator John Kirk said one report indicates Bigfoot sleeps facedown with his hands tucked under his head and butt in the air. Huh?

“We don’t know where they go to die,” Kirk said, addressing the mystery of why no dead bodies have ever been found.

The documentary addresses other questions like the nocturnal-versus-diurnal debate and whether Bigfoot is dangerous to humans.

The final six minutes of the documentary briefly discuss the other possibilities of Bigfoot’s nature.

For example, some say Cain, the one from the Bible who killed his brother Abel and was doomed to a life of wandering, could be the first Bigfoot. Others say Bigfoot is extraterrestrial. And there’s a paranormal contingent who believes Bigfoot perhaps travels interdimensionally through portals.

Rockies Bigfoot researcher Michael Johnson puts a lot of stock in the stories of the Native Americans.

“The Lakota Sioux call Bigfoot chiye tanka, and I love that name,” Johnson says. “They’re not calling Bigfoot an animal. They’re calling Bigfoot their brother. I think it tells us to a certain degree that Bigfoot isn’t necessarily an animal, but it may be a type of people.”

Many tribes of North America describe a giant, hairy creature who dwells in the forest, sometimes possessing supernatural powers. Johnson cites a Miwok Indian saying, which alludes to either the spiritual or the supernatural aspect of Bigfoot.

“The Miwok Indians say wherever Sasquatch walks, a lantern follows,” Johnson says. “We’ve seen this light phenomenon when they’re around. I think that’s what the Miwok Indians of Yosemite Valley were talking about.”

Native American Sasquatch investigator Winona Kirk says an elder told her a story that Sasquatch takes children who are ill but returns them healthy.

Overall, “The Nature of Bigfoot” is an effective introduction to Chasing Bigfoot: The Quest for Truth and a quick refresher course on Bigfoot’s history.

Bonus: You get to hear a recording of an eerie vocalization that could possibly be a Bigfoot, which made the whole episode worth my time.

NEXT UP: Chapter Eleven: Chasing Bigfoot: The Quest for Truth. I review Episode 2 in the 2015 documentary series Chasing Bigfoot titled “Bigfoot Encounters.”

 

 

Horror Seeker: Are You Scared? Top 5 Countdown

These days, it’s sad to say that horror has lost a few nuances in subtlety. While there are a few outliers, mostly those of the independent realm that still manage to terrify with atmosphere and story, the jump scare has no doubt taken the place of genuine creativity and effort to scare us. It is indeed a shame; while jump scares are nothing new, and when used appropriately they can be effective, it is but one tool, not the ONLY tool by any means. This over-reliance on the exhausted trope may have even left the average moviegoer numb and impatient to any sort of suspense building element a film might have to offer. So, I am here to remind you of, and hopefully share something new, the chill in your spine. That feeling that makes you check the windows twice at night, and make you second guess looking into the dark again. This is by no means a complete list, only a collection of some of my favorites. So, without further ado…

5: FRIDAY THE 13TH VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan

Arguably, the most questionable addition to this list hence why it comes in at number 5, Jason Takes Manhattan is regarded as one of the more discombobulated installments of the franchise, and for good reason. Taking Jason away from Crystal Lake might not have been the best of choices, but this deep into the story there might not have been much left to explore. So, why not give him a “proper” sendoff and bring Jason to the Big Apple? New York has always been the go to for any film/character in good standing.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to the title. Spending only 36 minutes of an hour and forty run time in the big city, it was kind of a letdown, I think most would agree. It is well known that a number of scenes were cut, but it was not without its moments. One I think everyone remembers is Julius’s death – Jason’s one-punch knockout! But that was just a WOW moment, really.

I’d like to talk about one of the many times we see Jason as a boy, in this case, his ghost, played by Tim Murkovich. It is one of the many times boy-Jason makes an appearance, probably the most in any film, however, he hold a certain level of eeriness to him. Waterlogged, and soggy, Jason appears as a harbinger of doom of sorts, preceding Jason’s actual presence. Kind of like his force-ghost, if I can get away with that! But the moment that stands out is one that is thrust onto us nearly without warning. As our survivors (what’s left of them) drive madly down the alley trying to escape Jason, they, or rather our heroine Rennie, is confronted by the boy-ghost. It is not so much his presence, nor the scene, but rather the camera work/editing that sells this one.

The scene begins at a high pace as they drive off in a commandeered police cruiser after having narrowly escaped Jason’s grasp. Your heart is pumping and continues to increase as everyone in the car is screaming, panicking, lost in their own madness and terror, when suddenly Rennie barrels down the alley toward a waiting apparition, one that only she can see. The scene instantly cuts to her perspective; void of any sound except for the abusive drums as she grows closer. It then borrows a modified soundbite from Psycho, bringing us uncomfortably close to the boy’s deformed, patient stare. For that moment, he is looking at you – I mean YOU! And you can feel it. It only lasts a split second, blink and you’ll mercifully miss it, but for those who don’t, it is one of the few times you can actually feel his presence next to you. This is, of course, my experience. What’s yours?

4: CREEPSHOW II – The Hitchhiker

Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, there’s nothing quite like it, is there? You don’t really see too much of the horror miniseries these days, but these tales are still worth their weight in blood. If you’re not familiar, I highly recommend them.

SPOILER WARNING just in case. In this particular story, our adulterous woman is in a hurry to get home to her husband, unaware of the lonely man thumbing for a ride on the side of the road; not that she’d have picked him up anyway. Her night takes a turn for the worse when she accidentally runs him down and leaves him for dead. It is here the horror truly begins, opening up what may very well be one of my worst nightmares.

While calming her nerves, she continues on, soon coming to a stop to further calm herself down. Here she notices a figure approaching; a broken stagger of a man, bloody, but alive? – it can’t be… It may have been her own eyes playing tricks on her, until the same hitchhiker then appears in her window, his mangled body leaning desperately in the car as he thanks her for the “ride”.

These films were definitely played up for exaggeration, being derived from the comics of the respective names, but it’s in this short’s persistence and focus that the horror works. The unrelenting vengeful force that just won’t die no matter what you do. No gun, or tactic, or car, in this case, will help you, as the hitchhiker is run over again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and… it goes on! Truly brutal, and in his frantic, almost spell-binding mantra we are taken for a horrifically graphic trip in its own cartoony, over the top way. Goes without saying, thanks for the ride, lady!

 

3: PUMPKINHEAD – Ed Harley meets Haggis the Witch

Haunting; if I had to put this scene in a word, it’s that. When Ed Harley’s boy is killed by some obnoxious teenagers, he seeks retribution through a local witch known for such malevolent things. We don’t know very much about Haggis (the witch), only that the locals are somewhat uneasy about her presence. They know that she’s capable of some terrifying acts; everyone has stories, some have even seen things, such as Ed Harley has when he was younger. It was the memory that had stuck with him, and the same that had brought him here.

The setting hits all the beats for what one might think of when picturing a witch’s home, minus the bubbling caldron. A lone decrepit house lost in the woods, off the grid, severely weathered. Inside, Haggis sits in front of a fire, looking as though she hasn’t moved in decades. Candles are lit all around, and numerous creatures populate the area; rats, spiders, snakes, even an owl, all of which are keeping a close eye on anyone who might enter.

The witch’s makeup and presence are one of the best I’ve ever seen on screen. It doesn’t try to reinvent the mythos; Haggis looks like any old-timey witch, but it’s the effort put into the roll that sells it so perfectly. Florence Schauffler was 68 years old at the time, but her appearance looked as though she were 680. We don’t know as her backstory is mostly left to the audience’s imagination. It is one of the few times where I clamor for a prequel. Who is this woman? Where did she come from? So many questions raised by this brief encounter.

It is a perfect depiction of the consequences when the need for revenge consumes you completely. Presenting itself almost as a fable parents might tell their kids; a cautionary tale on anger and vengeance. It is a hauntingly atmospheric scene, quiet and unnerving in the way it draws the air out of your lungs as even you are afraid to move, worried that Haggis might see.

 

2: PET SEMETARY – Zelda

This was a tough call, as this scene/character has bothered me my whole life. Anyone who has seen this movie and remembers the disturbing performance by Andrew Hubatsek who portrayed Rachel’s sister Zelda. Among many elements, I feel that the fact that Zelda was played by a man only added to the disturbing nature of the character, and the scenes she was in. Though not a monster, or demon of sorts, she is a ghoulish entity which the MicMac grounds use against Rachel, and it is terrifying!

Even to this day, I get chills when I so much as hear her (well, his) voice in my head. It’s one of two movies I have a hard time watching in the dark alone, and that’s saying something. Like many great scenes, it’s a perfect storm of performance, set up, atmosphere, and cinematography that make it work. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can never forget that twisted look; Zelda’s deformed frame writhing on the bed, misshapen and tortured by fate. Unfortunately for her, she was stricken with spinal meningitis which, in the film is exaggerated of course, but is cringing nonetheless.

Zelda is nothing but Rachel’s haunting memory of her departed sister, so she bares no harm other than what Rachel’s guilty conscious weighs on her. Once again, we as the viewer are brought uncomfortably close to her twisted form as Zelda continuously taunts Rachel with a promise of sorts. In a way, it seems like she’s hoping Rachel will suffer the same fate one day as penance for letting her die. The words are repeated again, and again – yelled in fact, like… I don’t even know what to compare it to! All I know is to this day; it still terrifies me to open a door to a bedroom I’m not familiar with. What’s in there? Is Zelda dead yet? Wondering if she’s going to run up to me screaming, “NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN! NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!”

 

1: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – Sally and Franklin

After Leatherface’s jarring debut on screen, having just killed three of Sally’s friends, she and her brother franklin are left to wait, and wonder what’s become of them. This final entry wins not for its monster, or blood and gore, but it’s prolonged suspense. The clip below is the best I could find, but the scene is another few minutes longer with Sally and Franklin desperately calling out for their friend Jerry before venturing into the darkened woods.

I go back to Alfred Hitchcock and his definition of suspense. There’s a difference between a bomb going off, and knowing the bomb will go off. Which is more suspenseful? It is the same here; we have already witnessed the horrors that befell Sally’s friends, and what awaits her and Franklin. We know they won’t escape, we know everyone’s dead, we know what is waiting in the dark – WE know! And that is the key element here. We, as the audience know what is to come, we just don’t know when, or how, and I think that is more terrifying than anything. The scare, or the pop if you will, is the catharsis of the moment, and the longer the suspense is, the more it is dragged out, the bigger the pay off. This scene accomplishes this very well!

From the beginning, we learn of Franklin’s condition. A helpless, scared invalid; burden, really, on the group that we struggle to feel sorry for. That is until we get a feel for his point of view. He feels sorry for himself, and it kind of sad to watch. Over time, you do feel bad and begin to empathize with him. Though not entirely idolized as a character, it is his fear you feel resonating from the screen. You can tell how scared he is, how desperately he just wants his friends to come back, and it only gets worse when he realizes the keys are gone, and that they can’t leave even if they wanted to.

The scene is beautifully scored with an ominous droning aura that sounds like it belongs in a cave. But it is looming horror, the pending nightmare that patiently, oh so patiently awaits them. Honk the horn all you like, scream your head off, wait until daylight if you make it that long. Hell, another thing this film does well, is it takes away the security of the light, as most of the horror happens during the day, so you don’t even have that to fall back on.

So many great moments and it bears repeating that I feel it’s a lost art. Subtlety has been forgotten in cinema, unfortunately. The sad thing is, a jump scare will always get a reaction no matter how prepared you think you are, but it’s only as scary as me screaming BOO in your ear when you’re not expecting it. Great for a laugh, but not for a scare, and certainly won’t stay with you as these scenes have done for me. What do you think? Share some of your favorites I may have overlooked! Thanks for reading!

This is The Horror Seeker

Chilling Chat: Four Quick Questions with A.J. Rome

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Aaron Jay Rome left his hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado shortly after high school to pursue acting. His career is currently on the rise with supporting roles in big films such as AJ Rome 1The Campaign, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Get on Up, and TV Shows like The Vampire Diaries and Bonnie & Clyde.

He recently starred in the film, End Trip, which he also wrote and directed.

1.) Which is more challenging? Acting, directing, or writing?

I’d say the writing process is the most challenging. People say to me, “I wish I could write” all the time. Lately, I’ve been wondering do they mean “I wish I could force myself to sit down and write?” or do they just think they’d be bad writers? Both seem to be true for most people. Acting and directing give you an opportunity to bring something that already exists to life. The hunk of clay is already there, you just have to shape it. Writing is like trying to dig the clay out of the ground with your fingernails or create it from nothing.

2.) As a writer, do you have complete control over your characters? Or do you allow them to have free will?

I can definitely see where most writers and often times myself, would like to write a character so specific that every breath and blink is written into the script. Thankfully coming from an acting background, I know full-well that giving the actor room to play within the character is what will really bring it to life. When Dean J. West came to me with a British accent for his role in the film, I loved it. Never wrote it that way, but it definitely added a layer I didn’t even consider in the writing process.

3.) What inspired you to write End Trip

I actually drove for Uber and Lyft for about 2 years. When a friend of mine told me about a camera that could “shoot in pitched black” (the Sony a7s ii) I started putting the bones of the idea together: a rideshare movie that happens at night. Cause what’s scarier than strangers and darkness? Not much. There’s a lot more that inspired me, but I’d risk spoiling a lot of the film, so I won’t risk it here.

4.) What is your favorite horror film?

My favorite horror films lately are those that take social issues and explore them using horror elements or themes. Get Out and It Follows as well as anything Mike Flanagan are all super inspiring at this point in my career.

 

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Nine: Stomping Ground

(Editor’s note: This review contains major spoilers.)

The 2014 independent Bigfoot film Stomping Ground is more romantic melodrama than Bigfoot creature feature, yet I found myself enjoying the movie more than I expected.

Directed by Dan Riesser, Stomping Ground uses the Boojum legend of Haywood County, North Carolina, as the backdrop for a story about a modern-day couple taking a major step in their relationship. The Boojum, by the way, is a voyeuristic Southern Bigfoot who fell in love with a human woman named Annie.

The couple in Stomping Ground features Ben, a city slicker from Chicago, and Annie, a Southern transplant living in the Windy City. John Bobek portrays the sometimes condescending Ben as a nerdy fish out of water in the rural South. Tarah DeSpain portrays the feisty Annie as a Southern girl with daddy issues related to a childhood incident involving Bigfoot.

While Ben visits Annie’s hometown in the South for a nostalgic Thanksgiving visit, he learns from Annie’s friends that she hunted Bigfoot in her younger days. It’s not long before Ben, who thinks the Bigfoot legend is nonsense, follows Annie and two of her childhood friends into the woods on a Bigfoot hunt.

The two friends include Annie’s former high school boyfriend Paul, who still carries a torch for Annie, and lovable lug Jed, a Bigfoot enthusiast. Jeramy Blackford plays macho jerk Paul to a T, and Justin Giddings is genuinely likable as redneck Jed.

Ben is jealous of Paul’s subtle attempts to win back Annie, while Annie is initially content to ignore the men’s posturing. It’s an interesting enough dynamic that fuels the film’s tension, overshadowing the Bigfoot hunt for most of the movie. Still, the most compelling scenes are the ones where Annie reveals a couple of family secrets to Ben, which explain her belief in Bigfoot and why she moved to Chicago.

Once in the woods, the usual Bigfoot horror tropes start. On the first night of camping, Ben steps to the edge of the camp to relieve himself and has a rock thrown at him from the darkness followed by a menacing grunt. The next day, the hunters find a tree structure and a familiar footprint. It all seems too convenient, making the possibility of Paul pulling a prank to spook Ben plausible. When Bigfoot attacks the cabin where Ben, Annie, Paul, and Jed are hiding, the true natures of the characters are revealed.

The Bigfoot creature is well done, looking quite prehistoric. The film’s banjo-inflected musical score is notable and complements the movie perfectly.

Of course, I’d like to see more Bigfoot than what Stomping Ground briefly shows, but the film is a fun romp through the woods.

NEXT UP: Chapter Ten: Chasing Bigfoot: The Quest for Truth. I review the 2015 documentary series Chasing Bigfoot.

FRIGHTENING FLIX: Gothic Romance Video Review

Yours Truly Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses Category Romance versus Gothic Literature, Slashers versus Hammer, Penny Dreadful, Mario Bava, Crimson Peak, Tom Hiddleson, and Only Lovers Left Alive as well as Victorian and Gothic Romance Themes and the upcoming HorrorAddicts.net anthology Dark Divinations.

 

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To Read Detailed Reviews on Our Subjects Re-visit:

Penny Dreadful  1  2  3

Mario Bava Super Special

Crimson Peak

Only Lovers Left Alive

Revisiting Poe Video Review

Classic Horror Reading Video

Dark Shadows Video Review

Guest Blog: 25 of the Most Metal Films (That Aren’t About Metal)

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The world’s first heavy metal band, Black Sabbath, took their name from Mario Bava’s classic 1963 horror film. In the years since, horror and metal have continued to have an ongoing conversation, from horror-themed metal bands (such as Cradle of Filth, The Great Old Ones, or Carach Angren) to metal-themed horror films.

My short story Requiem in Frost continues this tradition, telling the story of a Norwegian girl who moves into a house haunted by the ghost of a black metal musician.

To coincide with its release, I’ve decided to make a list of movies that, to me, feel “metal.” However, I’m not going to limit this list to horror, and I’m going to avoid films that are specifically about metal. This is because every other list of “Most Metal films of all time” take it literally, all of them focusing exclusively on the same 10 or so movies to have explicit references to the genre. The internet can only withstand so many posts containing Deathgasm, The Gate, The Devil’s Candy, and Lords of Chaos. So instead, I’m going to focus on movies that feel like they capture the essence of metal.

Here’s my criteria: do the images in the movie feel like they could be metal album covers? Could you put metal on the soundtrack and have it feel right? Does the story feel like it could also be that of a metal concept album? Does it feel powerful and meticulously constructed in the way that good metal does?

Obviously, everyone will have their own view on what does and doesn’t belong on this list. These are my choices, and I’m sure that your own are perfectly valid. That’s why these are 25 of the most metal films that aren’t about metal—not the 25 most.

Black SabbathHere we go. Organized by year:

  1. BLACK SABBATH (1963): Let’s just get this shoo-in out of the way. It honestly doesn’t feel that metal to me, but the fact that it inspired what many consider to be the first metal band ever makes it retroactively metal.
  2. WIZARDS (1977): Ralph Bakshi’s animated feature establishes a world in which, following a nuclear apocalypse, humans have all died or become mutants, and fantasy races have taken over in the meantime. An evil wizard uses Nazi propaganda footage to inspire his troops; a robot finds redemption, and fairy tits jiggle. It’s a strange, over-ambitious film, but the subject matter and imagery would feel right at home in a strange, over-ambitious metal concept album. Bakshi’s Fire and Ice might also be a suitable pick, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t put it here.
  3. HEAVY METAL (1981): A token inclusion, this adult animated anthology feature contains aliens on drugs, women with big swords, and copious amounts of sex and violence. It’s rather dated, particularly in the treatment of its female characters, but there’s no denying it is as metal as its name.
  4. CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982): Look, the poster for Conan the Barbarian looks just like a Manowar album. It opens with the forging of a sword. It’s full of Vikings. It has to be on this list.
  5. LEGEND (1985): When you get down to it, a lot of metal is quite geeky, full of fantasy tropes and looming apocalypses—much like Legend. Plus, Tim Curry’s Darkness is such a perfectly iconic heavy metal demon that it would be sinful not to include it.
  6. HELLRAISER (1987): Clive Barker’s squirmfest is undeniably metal, if only for the aesthetic of the cenobites and for the film’s obsession with pain, pleasure, and Hell. Hellraiser was also a huge influence on the band Cradle of Filth, with Pinhead’s actor Doug Bradley making regular appearances on their albums.
  7. EVIL DEAD 2 (1987): The Necronomicon. Ash’s chainsaw hand. The bleeding walls. The soul-swallowing, flesh-possessing demons. Evil Dead 2 is as metal as it gets.
  8. THE CROW (1994): While it’s arguably more of a goth film than a metal film, The Crow is nonetheless filled with such metal-appropriate themes as coming back from the dead to avenge your frigid lover. It’s also one of the rare movies where both the protagonist and antagonist have longer-than-average hair. Kaw, kaw.
  9. DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (1994): Also known as Cemetery Man, this underrated dark comedy stars Rupert Everett as the keeper of a cemetery where the dead come back to life after burial. It features a romance with a severed head, a zombie on a motorbike, and Death himself, as well as amusingly cynical quotes like “I’d give my life to be dead” and “At a certain point in life, you realize you know more dead people than living.”
  10. VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST (2000): One of the most beautiful animated films of all time, and also one of the darkest. There’s vampires, giant flying manta rays, strange monsters, dark magic, zombies, and more. The first Vampire Hunter D film is good, but Bloodlust just gives the audience one incredibly metal scene after another, and it’s filled with shots that look like they could be metal album covers.
  11. LORD OF THE RINGS (2001 – 2003): Just look at this meme. I think that demonstrates pretty clearly just how metal these films are.
  12. HELLBOY (2004) & HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008): Guillermo del Toro’s fantastic Hellboy films follow a demon who fights Nazis, tentacled Eldritch abominations, faeries, and more. The fact that we have a demon as the hero of the story is pretty significant, but the films’ hellishly lush imagery also demand their inclusion. Particularly metal is the Angel of Death we meet in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
  13. 300 (2006): I’m including Zach Snyder’s divisive “300” here because the whole movie just feels like a mosh pit to me, with its fetishization of big men with big swords fighting in big groups. It has stunning, brutal, beautiful violence, and plenty of images that feel like metal album covers. Lest you think metal can only be from Scandinavia, check out the amazing Greek metal bands Rotting Christ or Septicflesh, and the Mesopotamian metal band Melecesh. All three bands would feel right at home on the 300 soundtrack.
  14. PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006): Another beautiful Guillermo del Toro picture, Pan’s Labyrinth is both a grisly fairy tale and a story of rebellion. The Faun and the Pale Man, both played by the incomparable Doug Jones, are stunningly dark creations, and this list would be incomplete without them.
  15. SILENT HILL (2006): Pyramid Head’s scenes. ‘Nuff said.
  16. MARTYRS (2008): Extreme metal is like extreme horror: enjoyment often requires a process of conditioning and desensitization. Just as you can recommend some extreme metal only to people with the ear for it, you can only really recommend Martyrs to people with the stomach for it. Somewhere out there, a goregrind band is writing lyrics about a woman’s skin being removed in honor of this grueling film.
  17. VALHALLA RISING (2009): Nicolas Refn’s surreal Viking picture stars Mads Mikkelsen as One Eye, a man who resembles Odin and goes on a transcendent journey. It’s bloody, somber, drenched in pagan spirituality and black metal as Hell.
  18. HELLDRIVER (2010): This bonkers Japanese splatterfest contains a car made out of body parts, an eight-armed zombie holding eight assault rifles, a plane made out of zombies, and…look, it’s just nuts, okay? I might have also included similar Japanese bonkers films like Tokyo Gore Police, The Machine Girl, or Robogeisha, but I feel like Helldriver belongs here the most.
  19. DRIVE ANGRY 3D (2011): Nicholas Cage escapes from Hell to take revenge on someMandy evil cultists by driving…angrily…in 3D. While being pursued by a demon accountant…who is also, yes, in 3D. There’s also a sex scene gunfight…which is, you guessed it, also in 3D.
  20. BERSERK: THE GOLDEN AGE ARC (2012 – 2013): While it isn’t nearly as good as the manga it’s based on, this anime film trilogy is nonetheless quite metal. Set in a medieval fantasy world, Berserk has big swords, big battles, and big demons, culminating with the infamously hellish “Eclipse” sequence. But really, read the manga instead.
  21. KUNG FURY (2015): This 30-minute long Swedish crowd-funded film manages to pack more metal stuff in it than most films can manage in a feature-length. In Kung Fury, a Kung-Fu Cop must fight Hitler, but accidentally goes too far back in time and ends up in the Viking Age, where Viking women ride dinosaurs and fight laser raptors. In other words, it’s amazing. You can watch it for free on YouTube.
  22. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015): This movie contains a man playing a fire-spewing guitar on top of a stage that’s on a moving big rig, and if that’s not metal, then I don’t know what is.
  23. THE WITCH (2015): The Witch kicks off with the ritualistic sacrifice of an infant, and from there only continues to bombard us with Satanic imagery. Of particular note is Black Philip, the sinister goat who apparently terrorized the actors as much as he does the characters in the film.
  24. MANDY (2018): Nicolas Cage makes a bat’leth and fights a shitty cult in this surreal film that’s destined to be a cult favorite. Like some great metal albums, I can think of, Mandy starts off slow and atmospheric, lulling you with hypnotic beauty before exploding into an orgy of batshit violence. Also, like many great metal albums I can think of, it feels like it was conceived while on drugs.
  25. AQUAMAN (2018): Okay, hear me out. James Wan’s Aquaman makes Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman look as metal as possible, and he makes the rest of the film as metal as possible too. The scene where Aquaman bursts from the ground while riding a giant crab? Metal. The Lovecraft references? Metal. The Trench sequence with its creepy fishmen? Metal. Amber Heard’s jellyfish dress? Metal. The fact that Aquaman fights a giant tentacle monster that’s voiced by Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews? Oh, so metal. There’s even a cute scene with the cuddly metalheads at a bar. This movie is a treasure.

 

JonathanFortinAuthorPhoto_SepiaJonathan Fortin is the author of Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus (coming December 2019 from Crystal Lake Publishing) and Nightmarescape (Mocha Memoirs Press). An unashamed lover of spooky Gothic stories, Jonathan was named the “Next Great Horror Writer” in 2017 by HorrorAddicts.net. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program. When not writing, Jonathan enjoys voice acting, dressing like a Victorian gentleman, and indulging in all things odd and macabre in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow him online at www.jonathanfortin.com or on Twitter @Jonathan_Fortin.