Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) and Winston Duke (Black Panther) star in Jordan Peele’s (Get Out) 2019 doppelganger chiller Us. Warnings of underground unknowns, VHS, retro boob tubes, and ye olde 1986 commercials for Hands Across America set the scene before Santa Cruz carnivals, Thriller t-shirts, dark beaches, thunderstorms, and funhouse horrors. Her parents’ banter was already strained before the trauma, and the now-adult Addy hasn’t told her husband of the experience, either. They return to her family home, but their daughter’s too busy with her phone, the son’s really too old to be playing with toys, and her oblivious to her discomfort husband wants to keep up with the Joneses with a cool boat. The spooky basement, cabinets big enough to hide in, and mirrors with reflections that seem to look back at you lead to the same eerie funhouse, crazy beach folk, repeated twin moments, elevens, jinx, and double jinx. Peering through dark windows and talking with your back to a person layer visuals and dual suggestions while our husband jokes about what was in the hall of mirrors coming to get Addy and their rich white friends remain out of touch snobs more interested in alcohol and plastic surgery. Our Mr. thinks he can handle trespassers with threats and a baseball bat, but power outages and unresponsive lookalikes banging at the door make for a fearful home invasion. This unarmed, mid-century beach house and its many windows aren’t exactly secure, and the entire break-in happens in real-time without frenetic cameras and zorp boom music. Croaking, unaccustomed to speaking accounts tell tales of the tethered and shadowed receiving pain below while we have light and warmth above, and each of the underground confronts their compatriots with disturbing torments, freaky pursuits, and mimicking pantomime. Ironic Beach Boys cues and sardonic smart home devices are no help at all! Addy starts timid, but this threatened mother turns badass, angry, and desperate to save her son as the bizarre deaths and replacement reveal escalate with distorted reversals, fractured experiences, and not quite right through the looking glass. The timely titular we and the American initialization mirror the united privileged for some but underbelly torment for many. We kind of know what’s going in here and the wither to and why fros aren’t as important as the underlying social statements. However, drawn-out, unnecessary moments, and repeated, uneven showdowns make this a little long. Chases, defeats, and hard violence are easy or contrived depending on if the tethered is conveniently primitive and animalistic or agile and adapt as needed. Elaborate underground talk and random fights don’t explain how big this takeover is. Police are called but never arrive, both a horror trope as well as a commentary on the system, but the supposedly self-aware genre send-ups make characters stupid or erroneously humorous. Homages don’t upend but play into the horror cliches as car keys are forgotten, no one worries about food or weapons bigger than a fireplace poker, and they get out of the car in the middle of the woods. And how did they get so many pristine, matching underground supplies? The final act explanations and intercut dance parallels descend into stereotypical horror with quick editing and that obnoxious Zorp boom music, but with so many great things here, there’s no need for generic horror designs. There are flaws, the audience must take a lot of leaps, and final twists should have been told in the big reveal rather than montaged at the end. Our writer/director/producer needed a tighter edit in the last act, but the excellent foreshadowing, dual visuals, and social commentary make for repeat viewings and scary entertainment.
Possessor is a Sophisticated Sci-Fi Parable by Kristin Battestella
Writer and director Brandon Cronenberg’s (Antiviral) 2020 British/Canadian co-production Possessor is a stylish science fiction tale combining unethical psychological dilemmas and invasive horror as assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) jacks into unwitting hosts with the help of handler Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to orchestrate elaborate murder/suicides and advance their company’s billion-dollar agenda. Despite difficulties at home, Vos takes on their next big contract – killing data mining mogul John Parse (Sean Bean) and his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton) under the guise of Ava’s boyfriend Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). Unfortunately, glitches and a degrading time window make this takeover complicated – blurring the lines between host and possessor.
Bloody plugs squish into the scalp and Possessor immediately catches the audience with bittersweet tears and gunshots breaking the silent luxury. Medical awakenings lead to vomiting and severed links with the host, but there are no lingering side effects or anomalies – supposedly. Memory debriefings and artifacts from childhood help our assassin adjust before returning to the modest home and family, but the dinner conversation is a lie, detached just like the news reports of the preceding crime. The scientific chats, however, are cold but honest, for one can’t really bring these experiences home. Surveillance begins for the next project alongside practicing mannerisms, abducted subject prep, and scheduling details. Three days and no room for error add ticking clocks and technicalities to the personal amid the fantastic crimes and dual performances. After spending time in our assassin’s point of view, now Possessor has her inside the man who will unwittingly kill his lover for someone else’s corporate gain. Exterior spying and interior simulations layer the invasive intimacy as multiple sensations and minutia overstimulate our host – leading to fractures in the mind and body connections. Friends and lovers blur as hiding in a social situation is easier than facing the coupled dishonesty. The woman in a man’s body reversal acerbates the rough sex and suppressed consciousness as the slow burn suspense and initial hesitations culminate with kills both calculated and messy. Editing matches the close quarters blows while brutal scenes play out – taking their gory time without special effects exaggeration. Glitches make retrievals difficult as the violence and science go wrong and unforeseen problems like willpower blend our personalities together. We are with both characters at the same time, and in the need to survive question who is dominant. Possessor enters a mental surreal as the personas fight each other, one donning the distorted mask of the other as corrupted memories and homicidal guilt bleed together. The killings intrude on the home and family sacred with sad but disturbing predatory revelations, and the psychology, performances, and physicality merge as the cruel turnabouts come full circle.
Vos says she’s fine but we know she’s not, and Andrea Riseborough (The Devil’s Mistress) is pale and sickly, rehearsing being herself and pretending to be glad after a work trip. She wants to take time off and fix her marriage, but Vos is detached even during intimacy and the use of Tas at home but Vos at work shows her conflicted identity. It’s easier to be someone else than herself, but the complications are increasing and Vos chooses more violent weapons like knives and fireplace pokers over easier guns. She lies that there are no disruptions yet spies on her family as her subject, realizing the choice between work and home that’s holding her back. Unwitting host Christopher Abbott (First Man) as boyfriend cum killer Colin Tate is initially a sassy lover, but he makes mistakes, hesitates, and loses control as Vos emerges. Tate is weakening outside but fighting in their mind, forcing conflict as Possessor presents two people playing the same character. We feel for both in this fascinating twofer because they need each other to survive and end their torment but their relationship will never be mutual. Swanky, hobnobbing, corporate big wig Sean Bean (Sharpe), however, and his saucy daughter Tuppence Middleton (Dickensian) fight about her dating a nobody like Tate. Parse has elaborate parties but living it up is not enough and he’s taking his data mining tech to the next level. Both he and the seemingly devoted Ava treat Tate as the latest plaything, but they have no way of knowing Vos’ influence – leading to disturbing payback. Initially, handler Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) seems to care, too, debriefing Vos and reclining beside her during the assassinations with tips and tech support. A former assassin herself, Girder wants Vos to eventually replace her, but she thinks her star performer would be better off if she didn’t have real-world attachments. Girder sends in a fixer to assure this critical contract is fulfilled – doing what she has to do to see the mission accomplished.
Exotic hotels provide a futuristic mood thanks to red lights and a reflective black sheen. Rather than excessive CGI sci-fi world-building or wasting time with future city skylines and rad technology, smart use of color and mod chairs in the otherwise sparse briefing room offer enough cool without contemporary omnipresent technology to eventually date Possessor’s timeless concepts. Calibrations and scientific dossiers let us know the dangerous perimeters while jack-ins, the melting away self, and flashes of the takeover invoke a seventies science fiction arty as one person molds into another. Possessor is shocking but pretty with blurs, distortions, dual echoes, and overlays showing the inside another person’s mind intimate. Practical effects and in-camera action create an audience tangible to the within dilemmas. Classic cars are both a sign of wealth and a visual throwback while vaping instead of smoking also feels niche and elite. Grandiose architecture, fresco ceilings, and marble staircases symbolically ascend while blunt gunfire, squishing stabs, and merging pools of blood pierce the senses. Lighting schemes and mirrors allow us to see multiple characters in one at the same time – an eerie but simple self-awareness amid invasive big brother televisions, cameras, and screens paralleling the who’s watching whom and who is really in control familiarity. Some enjoy the voyeurism, upping the sex and nudity when they know there’s spying while Possessor winks at the cinematic experience itself. Ironically, the censorship between the R and Unrated versions is more about erections than gore, adding intrigue elements regarding women predators versus macho men, ambiguous sexuality, and gender identity. The rental blu-ray also features deleted scenes with extra character details and lengthy behind-the-scenes conversations, but when I went to buy the elusive Possessor Uncut blu-ray, it was an “only one left” click, and my purchase was ultimately canceled. 😦
Possessor may be slow for viewers accustomed to science fiction action and high tech in your face cool a minute. The well-done gore is brutal yet this is not outright horror for those expecting formulaic scares. The chilling what if invasive is disturbing, and old school touches accent Possessor’s bizarre. This looks like one of dad David Cronenberg’s (Rabid) films, and that isn’t a bad thing. Fine performances carry the science fiction pains, and the personal intelligence and sophistication keep audiences thinking about the consequences long after Possessor ends.
Read more Frightening Flix Sci-Fi and Family Horrors:
The Seventh Day is an Exercise in What Not to Do.
Young priest Daniel Garcia (Vadhir Derbez) is recruited by the Archbishop (Stephen Lang) to join unconventional Father Peter Costello (Guy Pearce) in exorcising a possessed boy in the 2021 Training Day meets The Exorcist horror tale The Seventh Day. Father Peter has his own rocky past learning the ropes from Father Louis (Keith David), but writer and director Justin P. Lange’s (The Dark) film doesn’t take its own advice – suffering from thin storytelling and not so shocking giveaways.
1995 prayers, recitations, and Pope John Paul II footage open The Seventh Day as the crucifix is ineffective against rattling beds, child possessions, evil temptations, and terrible consequences. Though off to a disturbing start, wise horror viewers know where we’re going from here. Demonic possession reports are on the rise across the country, and while the Vatican is generally against controversial exorcisms, a few dedicated rogue priests have vanquished in private. The Seventh Day does a lot of telling rather than showing – treating this intriguing history as throwaway exposition for our rookie’s one-day exorcism test. Evil is said to be clever, unpredictable, hiding in unexpected places, and ready to multiply, but the begrudging teamwork, contrived field exercises, and devilish ruses lead to ridiculously easy encounters. Characters don’t mention a critical plot element about a boy murdering his family until they drive up to the crime scene, waxing instead on who’s up to the task or cowering like a regular Sunday sermon priest. Our young Father can see flashbacks inside the killer house, but are these taunting visions, a conveniently intuitive recruit, ghosts, or just movie-making magic? Though admittedly freaky, the apparitions noticing the priest watching them cut off their clues, delaying what viewers can already deduce. They need proof of possession in this murder case for an official exorcism blessing, but the Archbishop already said this is unofficial and a little boy pinning down our young priest and talking creepy while our scared recruit shouts for help isn’t that much evidence anyway. We know the movie-making rites of exorcism and this is supposed to be Be Gone Training 101, however, the rules herein aren’t clear – demon names are given freely, supernatural doorways open or close, and a Ouija board comes in handy. Although filming scenes out of order is expected, many sequences play as if they have no idea what was said in the scenes prior thanks to contradicting plot progressions, repeated character flip-flopping, and everything thrown at the screen in world logic be damned. The Seventh Day detours with typical dark haunted house explorations, flashlights, and boo shocks under the bed. Flickering lights, spooky reflections, loud music, and killer montage visuals are for the viewer, not the character’s experience, and weak, fiery flashes poorly frame the child trauma, eerie tapping, and possessed levitation. Priests inexplicably intrude on the police interrogations and psychological evaluations as gun-toting cops are sent to handle the evil – because that’s going to turn out so well! Buzzing alarms, growling effects, zombie police, and strobe corridors problematic for sensitive viewers add to the supernatural extraneous as The Seventh Day finally dons the sacraments only to drop the actual exorcism for whooshing across the floor, jump scares, and bathtub ghosts. Yet more cinematic contrivances in the last twenty minutes hand the characters the hello Agatha the audience has known from the beginning, and there’s no devil lying to divide and conquer reverse twist on the twist or any deeper complex catharsis.
Despite a fast-tracked academy record hailing him as their finest, Vadhir Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as Father Daniel Garcia is admittedly anxious about his new position and immediately admonished by Father Peter. If he can’t handle a day in the field seeking evil, how does Daniel expect to fight demons? Daniel can’t answer why he wants to be an exorcist, yet he contests every exercise rather than being open to any tips and experience possible just because the plot says our priests must be opposites. Wouldn’t you want to be on the same page against evil? Daniel can’t spot the devils in disguise, worries about trespassing at a crime scene, and can’t talk casually to people like even a regular priest should. He continually fails to see the bigger picture but changes his tune as The Seventh Day says, ready to do whatever Peter wants after a few scary words from a possessed child. Maybe viewers are meant to feel the disjointed jumping around as an in over his head whirlwind, but it’s terribly frustrating when we pick up critical things Daniel does not. Rather than any kind of self-awareness, his sullen approach and repeated mistakes become inadvertently humorous. There’s no character growth, realizations, or recognition because Daniel doesn’t suspect anything until the plot says he should. He falls for evil tricks and has the big twist pointed out to him in a montage, reciting helpful platitudes instead of the prayers and exorcism rites he’s supposed to know so well. When faced directly with demons and a house of horrors, the audience finds it tough to believe Daniel can handle any attack, much less knows what to do with evil once it’s released. The Seventh Day’s focus on his rookie point of view is quite simply the wrong one, and the finale setting up some kind of sequel for him as a badass hunter-killer priest out to save the possessed is unfortunately laughable.
Unorthodox Father Peter Costello is dismissive of these wet behind the ears priests and sends Daniel to get him coffee. He sings to the car radio, smokes, curses, and wears a funky patterned jacket rather than a clerical collar. Guy Pearce has a lot of exorcism exposition and Peter’s edgy fast talking accent doesn’t really give us much besides making him more harsh versus Daniel’s timid. However, he’s upfront about his past exorcism failures and grizzled attitude. For Peter, it’s about settling the score not the greater good, and he flings the possessed around – a commanding exorcist getting serious with the rites. Audiences know not to underestimate Guy Pearce’s kick-ass and The Seventh Day lacks whenever he’s off-screen. Unfortunately, Peter’s teaching methods are also total crap. He drives them all around town but sends Daniel in to chat with a demon alone while he reads a comic book in the waiting room. If this is such a serious case with a child at risk, why is Peter letting Daniel willy nilly learn on the fly? Such contrived actions break the viewer immersion, for it’s easy to tune out when we know there is a built-in answer in the script. Peter’s training exercises are easy and random. Audiences wonder why he isn’t just doing the dang exorcism. We have every reason to suspect why while the film ignores the inevitable, yet somehow Pearce almost makes The Seventh Day bemusing. He remains chill in the face of the preposterous, leaving sardonic clues even as Peter’s pushing Daniel so hard one moment only to act concerned for him in the next scene. Although Pearce has had a string of missteps in our rueful 2020s, coughDisturbingThePeacecough, I don’t mind his recent streak of making genre schlock. Guy Pearce has turned in enough excellent performances in quintessential, groundbreaking films, and I’m still going to watch everything he does, obvious cloak and disappointing dagger or not. Fortunately, there’s still a certain deliciousness when as always, Guy Pearce gives us what we want – if all too briefly when The Seventh Day should have been about Peter’s self-reflection and the burdens he carries. I’d eat that shit up if this had been a weekly silver fox, Father Peter, battling demons I can’t lie.
Poor Archbishop Stephen Lang (Avatar) doesn’t even get a name, and although he says the decisions aren’t up to him…he’s the one making the decisions? He also says he has hope in these desperate times but wonders if their new recruits can handle the increasing possessions before chastising Peter and Daniel for putting themselves in danger – when the Archbishop knows of Peter’s risky methods. Such precious few contradictory scenes give no indication on whether he knows what’s really afoot, and Keith David’s (Gamer) Father Louis is also unfortunately brief despite his great delivery and presence. In fact, the Archbishop spends more time telling us what a faithful and courageous man Father Louis was, and if both were going to be so underutilized, they could have been combined into one character. Even after the 1995 opening, The Seventh Day still feels older thanks to boob tube televisions and big old cars. Smog, dirty concrete, retro jailhouses, dark roller rinks, and empty corridors make for a downtrodden, anonymous cityscape, however, once we have a few opening aerial shots, we don’t need padding overhead views for every scene transition. Voiceover wisdoms on the evil preparations acting like this is some kind of demon heist get old fast when we could have seen characters speaking. However it is amusing to hear not so angelic kids with F-bombs and foul mouths to match the distorted smiles, demonic voices, creepy tongues, eating glass, and dislocating jaws. Ominous echoes and rotten fruits accent burning flesh, cemeteries, and haunted houses, but the out-of-place vignettes try to up the scary ante with unnecessary, typical horror shocks. The Seventh Day’s style is very generic with little pizzazz and arms-length shooting more interested in moving on to the next scene – via an overhead shot of driving across a bridge – rather than focusing on the characters at hand. One might think names like Daniel i.e. the lion’s den and Peter like the apostle cum first pope crucified upside down mean something, but The Seventh Day is surprisingly lacking in its ecclesiastics with no Legion Mark Chapter Five reference amid the demon army talk nor even a swine joke.
IMDb says The Seventh Day was written in ten days, and it shows. Rather than focusing on the scars of its elder priests, The Seventh Day deflates itself with a weak rookie element. Viewers are supposed to ignore any unreliable ambiguity until the film tells us we’re supposed to be shocked, but long time horror audiences won’t be surprised. While the premise is intriguing on paper, billing oneself as Training Day meets The Exorcist makes for a thin elevator pitch, and it’s easy to suspect the twist in The Seventh Day when the trailers all but confirm it. Oops.
Read more Frightening Flix Religious and Creepy Kid Horrors:
I don’t think it would be accurate to say that my wife gave up a sparkling career in the theatre to tie herself down to me, but our first date did occur when she invited me to come to the closing performance of the play she was appearing in at the time, Noël Coward’s Hay Fever. She insisted I come along to the cast party afterward, which turned out to be an entire night of revelry in a variety of venues all around Nashville. Three weeks later, after the consumption of far too many Long Island Teas, we became engaged. The wedding was nine months after that, and despite valiant efforts on both of our parts, we are still married forty years later.
Hay Fever was the last stage production she was in, but far from the first. Before we met, she had won some sort of award that used to hang on a wall in our first apartment for playing Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. I had a vague idea of some of the other plays she’d been in, but the details have faded with the years, as they are oftentimes wont to do with advanced age.
Friday before last as I write this, Landra and I loaded way more than we needed to take with us into my Kia Sorento and motorvated on down to damn near the farthest away part it is possible to reach via a combustion engine driven vehicle of the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, where we have a timeshare. We hopped the Key West Express for a couple of days in Hemingway Country, and the bulk of six more lolling about on the pristine white sand beach a brisk three-minute walk from our condo on Marco Island. Many adult beverages were consumed during that just-over-a-week, let me tell you, along with much seafood of invariably exceptional quality. Two words: conch fritters. Yum!
At some point, late in the week as I recall, I mentioned that I was going to write my next column for this space on Joseph Kesselring’s 1939 play, Arsenic and Old Lace, and its various adaptations into other mediums. She reminded me that she herself had played one of the aunts in a production several years before we became an item, and opined that if we ever did tread the boards again, I would make an excellent Teddy as her co-star. I agreed as I have been well trained to do. And also because I’ve long thought it might be fun to essay a performance of the harmlessly delusional Brewster brother. I haven’t done any acting on stage since, oh, 1976 – the year, not the musical – so maybe we should pay attention to opportunities to indulge that old impulse to inflict ourselves on the theatre patrons of the 21st Century.
Or maybe not.
The play opened on Broadway on January 10, 1941, and ran for 1444 performances through 1944. It ran almost as many in the West End in London. Naturally, a film version had to be made. And so it was, as well as broadcasts on radio and, later, television, as late as 1969 in the United States. I am aware of televised broadcasts in Europe in 1971 and 2002, and there are probably more. It is a popular play for amateur revivals anywhere those are apt to occur, and if anyone does deign to produce it in my area, well, maybe Teddy is calling me, after all.
The story unfolds on Halloween, in Brooklyn. Mortimer Brewster has just married Elaine Harper, daughter of the snooty reverend next door. As they are trying to sneak away to Niagara Falls, Mortimer finds out that his dear, sweet aunts, Abby and Martha, have been engaging in the impromptu euthanasia of lonely old men by the surreptitious administration of arsenic, strychnine, and a pinch of cyanide in their homemade elderberry wine. As their prospective lodgers fall victim to what they’ve been telling their loopy nephew, who believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt, is yellow fever, he removes the remains to the basement. There he will proceed to dig a new lock in his own personal Panama Canal, in which the newly deceased is interred.
Mortimer discovers the latest victim before Teddy can plant him, and decides that it’s time for all concerned to be ensconced in a chuckles emporium. As he’s trying to arrange this, his long-lost brother, career criminal and psychopathic murderer Jonathan Brewster, comes back to his childhood home, accompanied by the inebriated medico who performs periodic plastic surgeries to hide Jonathan’s identity from the long arm of the law. The most recent operation had been performed after Dr. Einstein had watched a horror film, with rather unfortunate consequences for one gentleman whom Jonathan had killed because, and I quote, “He said I look like Boris Karloff”.
Given that Karloff created the role on Broadway, that line pretty much brought the house down every night.
Eventually, Jonathan is caught, Dr. Einstein slips away unnoticed, Teddy and his aunts receive a group rate admission to the Happydale Sanitarium, and Mortimer and Elaine finally take off for their honeymoon.
When three-time-Oscar winning director Frank Capra adapted Arsenic and Old Lace for the silver screen in late 1941, he retained Jean Adair as Aunt Martha, Josephine Hull as Aunt Abby, and John Alexander as Teddy, borrowing them from Broadway for the eight-week shooting schedule. Alan Joslyn was replaced with Cary Grant as Mortimer, full-time Warner Bros. Studios creepy character actor Peter Lorre became the new Dr. Einstein, and various Hollywood stalwarts took the places of the New York crowd. Alas, Karloff was still playing Jonathan on Broadway and was thus unavailable as he was the show’s main draw, so Capra cast Canadian actor Raymond Massey in his stead. Massey was more than adequate in the role. Because the various contracts specified the film had to wait to be released until the play ended its run, it was not released until 1944. By which time Karloff would have been available to play Jonathan.
It’s a delightfully warped film, very watchable even after seventy-seven years. It appears regularly on Turner Classic Movies and other old movie channels, is available on DVD, and is currently streaming on Amazon Instant. So, you have no excuse for not seeing it. Get to it. Now!
Or as soon as you finish reading this. I have a couple more things to say about Arsenic and Old Lace.
There were several productions done for the radio during the 1940s and into the 1950s, often with Karloff as Jonathan. Karloff reprised the role for television in 1955, but the broadcast has not survived. The only existing filmed version with Karloff appearing as Jonathan is a 1962 performance done on television’s Hallmark Hall of Fame. Tony Randall co-stars as Mortimer.
In 1969, shortly after Karloff’s passing, former Herman Munster Fred Gwynne starred as Jonathan in a television movie of the play. A proposed theatrical remake planned for Richard Pryor in the 1970s never happened, so that’s pretty much the end of that. Except for my wife’s performance, which was no doubt one of the best ever. Sorry, dear. THE best.
Apropos of nothing I have said heretofore, I will leave you now with one of my infamous lagnappes, a bit of sonic spookiness that popped up on my playlist this morning. Recorded by Jack and Jim in 1959, here is The Midnight Monsters Hop. Hope it meets the populace’s approval.
And so, until next time, nabobs of necrophilia…
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Call me a romantic, but maybe Mina Harker should have taken Dracula up on his proposal for eternal life as his bride. I would. Y’all already know I have a soft spot in my heart for monsters, so it should come as no surprise that I like my horror movies with a little dash of romance. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy these five movies that feature Monster Love:
Blood and Chocolate (2007)
Vivian, a young werewolf, meets the human Aiden in Bucharest and falls in love. When Vivian’s pack finds out about their relationship, it sets off a maelstrom that consumes the whole city.
I both love and loathe this movie. Loathe because it fails as an adaptation of one of my favorite books (by Annette Curtis Klause), but love because it’s actually a pretty good werewolf movie on its own.
Warm Bodies (2013)
After a zombie apocalypse leaves humanity devastated, life becomes an endless, lonely drudge for the zombie R. One day, he meets Julie and everything changes. He saves her from his fellow zombies. The more time they spend together, the more human he becomes, giving hope that maybe there’s a cure.
Hear me out: Zombie Romeo and Juliet. It’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. I’m not a big fan of zombie movies, but this one warmed even my cold heart.
Arish, a hardworking Iranian man, meets a young woman while lost on the street one night. The two share a strange comradery and become close. But the woman harbors a dark secret, killing in the night to quench her thirst for blood.
This black and white Persian film was the darling of the 2014 indie film festivals. It manages to portray a stereotypical vampire with surprising nuance and creates a unique love story.
Sam, a banker, is murdered by a mugger and continues to haunt is girlfriend Molly as a ghost. When Sam discovers that his death was really a setup and that Molly is still in danger, he enlists the help of a psychic to save her.
This film is so 90’s it hurts. Patrick Swayze? Demi Moore? Whoopie Goldberg? Amazing. From the explanation of how ghosts move objects to the iconic clay molding scene, there is so much to love in this iconic movie.
The Shape of Water (2017)
Elisa, a mute janitor at a government facility, discovers that the agency she works for is holding a mysterious aquatic creature captive. Brought together by their otherness, they forge a deep bond. Elisa and her friends risk their lives to save him from captivity.
I saved the best for last. The Shape of Water won FOUR Academy Awards in 2017, including Best Picture. Part spy movie, part supernatural love story, the film takes itself seriously, and manages to pull of a seemingly ridiculous concept with style.
Whether it’s werewolves, vampires, or strange fishmen, humans will always find a way to romanticize a monster. What are your favorite monster romances? Let us know in the comments!
This is our list of Af Am, African, and Black movies from around the world either produced, directed, or main character acting by people of African descent. If you have any suggestions, please add them in the comments and we’ll add them to our list.
Attack the Block
Candyman, 1992 (review by Kieran Judge)
Candyman, 2021 (review by Crystal Connor)
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (review by Eden Royce)
Dawn of the Dead
Def by Temptation
Ganja & Hess (review by Eden Royce)
Get Out (review by Kenzie Kordic)
Heks (review by Crystal Connor)
His House (review by Kbatz)
Hood of the Living Dead
House on Haunted Hill
House on Willow Street
I Am Legend
Last Ones Out
Leprechaun 5: In the Hood
Lost Boys: The Thirst
Missing Angel (Nigerian)
Night of the Living Dead (article on Tony Todd by Sumiko Saulson)
Queen of the Damned
Serpent and the Rainbow
Sugar Hill (review by Valjenne Jeffers)
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
Tales from the Hood
Tales from the Hood 2
The First Purge
The Green Mile
The House Next Door
The People under the Stairs
The Scary Movie franchise
The Soul Collector 8
The Tokoloshe (about Tokoloshe by Kieran Judge)
Vamp (with Grace Jones)
Vampire in Brooklyn (review by Kbatz)
Vampires in the Bronx (review by Kbatz)
If you have any suggestions, please add them in the comments and we’ll add them to our list.
There are some bad horror movies out there. Like, bad bad. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy them. Whether it’s the acting, special effects, writing, or themes, some movies go hard in the wrong direction. But just because it’s bad doesn’t mean it isn’t good.
A sentient tire (yes, a tire) with telekinetic powers terrorizes a small town with its homicidal intentions. This movie is exactly as absurd as it sounds. The premise is ridiculous enough to warrant watching, but he acting is what really puts it over the top.
Loosely based on the video game series, Doom is a sci-fi horror mashup featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. If you like aliens, guns, and questionable moral decisions, you’ll enjoy this. It’s about as well written as any video game movie (so… not well written at all) and correspondingly well acted. There are some jump scares for good measure and plenty of bloody death scenes.
Death Race 2050 (2017)
Based on the original Death Race movie (a Very Serious Action Film), Death Race 2050 takes the concept of a murder spree car race to its logical and absurd conclusion. Filled with ridiculously gory deaths, over the top acting, and social satire, Death Race 2050 is just plain fun.
You know I love monster movies. So, I was bound to enjoy this giant animal extravaganza. This is another video game based movie starring Dwayne Johnson. Rampage has little regard for logic and even less for science, but you get to watch a giant ape, wolf, and alligator duke it out on the Chicago skyline, so who cares?
Genetic engineers splice animal and human DNA to create a creature unlike anything the world has ever seen. But feelings get in the way and things take a turn for the horrific. The concept alone is pretty bizarre, but somewhere around the middle of the movie, things turn from weird to downright f*cked up.
What’s your favorite bad horror movie? Do you like the B-list or did a blockbuster fall short? Let us know in the comments!
Plotline: A same-sex couple moves to a small town to enjoy a better quality of life and raise their daughter with strong social values. But when neighbors throw a very strange party, nothing is as it seems in their picturesque neighborhood.
Who would like it: Fans of cults, secret societies, diversity, nail bitters, and religious horror
High Points: How the director used the current social climate to tell this movie and how he centered the only black character in the movie
Complaints: Absolutely nothing!
Overall: I LOVED this movie
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 terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net
She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.
Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!”
Spanish Netflix Horrors! By Kristin Battestella
At times, it’s tough muddling through the foreign Netflix content and re-branded continental originals padded with run-of-the-mill scares. Fortunately, this trio of short and long form international Netflix productions featuring Basque witch hunts, Mexican demon hunters, and transatlantic wartime mysteries provides plenty of unique thrills.
Coven of Sisters – Burning pyres and whispers of witches communing with Lucifer jump right into the 1609 Basque torment in this award winning 2020 international/Spanish Netflix production. Seventy-seven executions and counting mar the beautiful cliffs, picturesque ships, and moss forests as royal judges seek out maritime towns where women have been left alone and apparently up to no good. Excellent carriages, armor, frocks, and stoneworks provide a period mood as our happy girls weave and dream of far-off places. They are captured and stripped with bags over their heads and fear is evident thanks to questions about summoning Beelzebub. The girls point fingers at each other – wavering from confident of their innocence and nonchalant about the witch accusations to quivering and afraid after beatings and shaved heads. Tension builds in the one-room unknown as suspicions and confessions raise the frazzled interrogations and double talk entrapment. Guards ask if they offer themselves to Lucifer while prodding with needles and searching their bodies for any devil’s mark. Where did the devil stick his tail in them? Did they dance? Dancing spreads fanaticism! There are no fast intercut montages or fake outs toying with the audience, just in scene interplay with eerie screams and uninterrupted singsong. They make up chants and have their jailers procure oddities for this supposed sabbath ritual, but it isn’t a game when those sinister captors devoutly persecuting every blasphemy readily jump to devilish conclusions. Men wonder if they are bewitched by the tempting supple, pressing the weary girls into saying what they want to hear, and these daughters stall to avoid the stake, hoods, torches, and shackles until their sailing fathers return. They hope to escape during the full moon, so one tells a wild tale with preposterous twists in hopes of taking the blame to save the others. Supposedly learned, religious men bemusingly believe every fantastic turn, and after witnessing all our recent stateside strife, it’s not surprising how this kind of pitchfork hysteria and mob idiocy spreads. If they want to see a witch’s sabbath, the girls may as well make fools of them complete with mushrooms, contortions, and flying. This is an excellent presentation on allure, hypocrisy, and consequences in a unique, horrible history setting made easily accessible thanks to several subtitle and language options.
High Seas – The twenty-two episode 2019 Spanish murder mystery Alta Mar jumps right into the action with stowaway suspense, albatross omens, and murder aboard a post-war luxury cruise liner en route from Spain to Brazil. High-end period detail including hats, gloves, brooches, satin, stoles, frocks, and cigarettes matches the Art Deco splendor, sumptuous colors, inlaid woodwork, and divine staircases. Impressive ship visuals and Titanic engineering specs provide scale alongside maze-like halls, askew angles, turbulent waves, and thunderstorms. Jazzy ballads and grand ballrooms create mood before intrepid writers, telegrams, cryptic conversations, and suspicious midnight rendezvous raise the disappearances, accusations, and blackmail. In debt Lotharios, lecherous in-laws, and handsome officers clash with underbelly workmen and disgruntled servants, and the episodic chapters allow time for plots high and low. Course changes and defying orders question who’s in charge – the aging captain, wealthy owners, angry shareholders, or the slimy ship detective? Ominous cargo holds, stolen lipstick, lockets, typewriters, and ransacked rooms escalate to man overboard emergencies, fires, and promises to take one’s secrets to the grave. Intertwined crimes are resolved as new twists and turns are well balanced between the dramatic love triangles, faked accidents, and fishy business deals. Microfilm clues and poisoned cocktails reveal previous conspiracies, past motives, and Nazi gold. It’s dangerous to wander the secret passages amid power outages, red lights, and increasingly dark corridors, yet surprising deaths aren’t what they seem thanks to mad doctors and tick-tock countdowns. Blinding blows, chases, castaways, and an SOS start Season Two alongside tarot cards, psychic clues, and seances. Crackling intercoms, bloody bodies on the bed, ghosts, dead women walking on deck, spooky phone calls, and more paranormal are not out of the blue, but rather a natural progression of the escalating circumstances. However, is the vintage Ouija an elaborate ruse or are there really evil spirits starboard? The ship becomes a character of its own with messages on the mirror, old fashioned spy gadgets, lifeboat rigs, and daring escapes. Too many lies, betrayals, and forged letters acerbate wedding shocks, secret pregnancies, and business takeovers. There are some soap opera slaps in the face, too! Shipwreck deceptions and bodies in trunks culminate in one final kicker before Year Three takes a new course from Buenos Aires to Mexico. Our writer published a novel about the cruise experience, but strange suitors at the bookstore and a spooky antique shop lead to British Intelligence and objectives to track down an incoming passenger who’s really a Nazi doctor carrying a deadly virus. It’s fun to see who’s back for better or worse – same crew, servants in new ship staff positions, fresh crisscrossing romances. A second sister ship will travel behind with expensive cargo, but a man is shot on the first night out and bodies end up in the car boot in the hold. Do you up security and alarm the passengers? Those who know about incriminating notes are indisposed via fevers, injections, and Luger murder weapons. Bandaged patients aboard provide intrigue amid suspicious radio transmissions, magic disappearing acts, and dark room suspense. Missing photographs, doppelgangers, and torturous know-how, make for shady alliances, but one can’t worry about scruples after an innocent man is dead. Code decryption, trick lighters, and secret cameras uncover planted evidence, sinister green tubes, and ruinous revenge as gaslighting, threats, and mutiny lead to armed standoffs and shocking gunshots. Concentration camp survivors recall sadistic doctors who enjoyed what they did, but evil lookalikes slip up thanks to disguises and a scrumptious masquerade ball with perfect lighting, glam, and gowns. Life or death maydays raise the outbreak finale, yet it is strange to see vintage masks, quarantines, and plague panic these days. Rescue warships would rather sink than save, but vaccines come in the nick of time – with a twist or three. The destination pacing and cliffhangers are easy to marathon, but it’s a pity Netflix turned its back on this series. Nothing here is superfluous thanks to Shakespearean asides, whispers in the gallery, and well done mysteries. Obviously, this not being full-on horror may disappoint some, however, the period atmosphere, sweeping melodrama, and gothic twists remind me of Dark Shadows’ earlier years.
Netflix also has a bad habit of not promoting its branded foreign content. It’s apparent their current model is quantity over quality, populating its catalog with as much original and proprietary premieres as possible – presuming you’ll binge one and stay for the next recommend similar click and chill. Remember, it’s in their best interest to keep you streaming. Sometimes that works and you find great shows! However, more often than not it means unique movies get lost in the shuffle, and shows that deserve more time are dropped after a few seasons. This leaves a lot of unfulfilling filler – especially in the horror and genre categories which seem to have the most flotsam and jetsam.
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I’m not a huge fan of gore. Blood and guts don’t do much for me. I’m looking for more psychological scares: atmosphere, tension, and things that go bump in the night. These horror movies prove that you don’t need that R rating to bring the terror.
The Ring (2002) – A woman discovers a cursed videotape that promises to kill the watcher in 7 days. I was shocked (shocked!) to find out The Ring was PG-13. With some of the best jump scares of the genre, The Ring is not your kids’ horror movie.
Insidious (2010) – After moving into a new home, a family’s son falls into a coma, leaving him vulnerable to malevolent spirits. Insidious leans heavily into the supernatural spookiness, to great success. It’s a nice, atmospheric ghost film.
Lights Out (2016) – Based on a terrifying short film (seriously, I couldn’t sleep when I saw it), this movie follows a woman haunted by a creature that can only come out in the dark. I can barely watch the trailer to this film. It promises to be a scary, but not violent, movie.
Mama (2013) – Two girls go to live with their uncle after being found abandoned in the woods, but they seem to have brought something sinister back with them. If you like creepy feral children and unexplained hauntings, this is the film for you.
The Grudge (2003) – In this American remake of the Japanese film Ju-On, a caretaker is infected with a supernatural curse leftover from the violent deaths of a house’s former residents. It’s filled with early 00’s charm, but is equally terrifying with its tense moments and jump scares.
What are your favorite PG-13 horror movies? What makes a horror movie horror for you? Let us know in the comments!
Horror is a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it’s an escape into fantasy. For others, a way to explore their own fears. After a year like 2020, you may want to shy away from pandemic-themed movies altogether, or maybe a plague movie is just the thing you crave. Check out my list below for horror movies featuring disease as the main monster.
Quarantine (2008) – An apartment building is put under quarantine after rescuers are attacked by an elderly woman who has succumbed to a mysterious, rabies-like virus. Soon the residents are in a race to escape as they fall victim to the disease and each other.
Contracted (2013) – a woman contracts what she thinks is a sexually transmitted disease, but turns out to be much worse. She begins to question her sanity as her body rots away while she’s still alive. If you’re into body horror, this movie is for you (even the trailer made me queasy!). Content warning – this movie contains sexual assault.
Pontypool (2008) – A crew is trapped inside a radio station as the world around them descends into chaos. Violence is spreading, seemingly through the use of the English language. Certain words become triggers for violence. The crew must warn the world before it spreads, without spreading it themselves.
Cabin Fever (2002) – This list wouldn’t be COMPLETE without Cabin Fever. The 2003 original is considered a classic for bringing disease-horror to a new generation. Cabin Fever follows five college students as they succumb to a flesh-eating virus and crazed locals. (There is also a 2016 remake if you’re into that sort of thing)
Blindness (2008) – A mysterious disease transmits from person to person, causing the victims to go blind. The government puts those afflicted into a derelict asylum, which quickly becomes an abandoned concentration camp. Desperation causes the prisoners to turn against one another.
What are your favorite movies involving infections or disease? Do you prefer zombies? Leave your favorites in the comments!
Also, check out my other movie recommendations for any phobia!
- Crimson Peak, 2015
- Dragonwyck, 1946
- The Monk, 2011
- Byzantium, 2012
- Wuthering Heights, 1939
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992
- Dracula, 1931
- Rebecca, 2020
- Dark Shadows, 1991
- Gaslight, 1944
- Sweeny Todd, 2007
- The Bride, 1985
- Corpse Bride, 2005
- The Woman in Black, 2012
- Sleepy Hollow, 1999
- The Crow, 1994
- The Haunting of Bly Manor, 2020
- The Heiress, 1949
- Phantom of the Opera, 2004
- Love Never Dies,
- Edward Scissorhands, 1990
- Jane Eyre, 1997
- 1408, 2007
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, 2016
- My Cousin Rachel, 2017
- Dark City, 1998
- The Old Dark House, 1932
- Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, 1970
- Kiss of the Damned, 2012
- Lisa and the Devil, 1973
- A Cure for Wellness, 2016
Have we forgotten one? Help us grow our list! Comment below.
To Creep or Not to Creep, That Is the Question…
In most cases, someone has to have had a significant or even seminal impact on some aspect of their field of endeavor to have an award named after them. Hugo Gernsback essentially created science-fiction as its own genre, so the main fan-based award for that branch of literature is known as the Hugo. It looks like the rocket ship from the 1950 film, Destination Moon. Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story, so the commemorative statuette given out for mysteries is the Edgar. It’s a bust of the author. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has had an enormous effect on the popularity of horror, so the trophy for spooky writing is the Bram Stoker Award, which is in the shape of a haunted house. And so on. And so on.
You would think that a significant award for classic horror might be named for a major figure in the history of our genre. H.P. Lovecraft, perhaps. Until 2016, the World Fantasy Award was a bust of him. Boris Karloff might be another likely candidate. Or Bela Lugosi. Maybe Rod Serling. Surely someone of the stature of any of these gentlemen deserves to have a statuette modeled in their likeness to be given out for meritorious achievement.
So, why is the classic horror award not named for one of them? Why name it for a character actor who appeared in a barely noticeable bit part in one of the great horror films of that great horror film year of 1939, and a short series of performances as essentially the same character in a handful of extremely minor horror entries?
Why the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award?
Because Rondo Hatton was ugly, that’s why. Really, truly, a physically deformed human being. The Man Who Didn’t Need Makeup to Play a Monster! Who better to exemplify the monstrous and horrific?
He didn’t start out that way. He was actually voted the most handsome boy of his high school senior class in 1913, but around the end of the First World War, he began to manifest symptoms of acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland that causes accelerated growth in the bones of the head, face, hands and feet, and in some of the internal organs. Including the heart. Hatton did serve in the United States Army in France, but despite some reports, did not develop the disease as a result of a German mustard gas attack. It was a natural but extremely unpleasant occurrence.
It did, however, take him to Hollywood. He began picking up bit parts, including as one of the ‘Ugly Man Contest’ participants in the Charles Laughton version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Laughton’s Quasimodo won, of course, and Rondo went on to pile up a modest list of very small and rarely credited parts.
Going to backtrack here, a little bit. By the time you see this, you’ll possibly have been able to listen to Episode #195 of the Horror Addicts podcast for this season. In my little section, I stated that it was my intention to take a look in this space at the horror output beyond the main line of the Universal horrors, both at that studio and the others. Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man get the bulk of the press, so I thought I’d explore some of the lesser and less well-known efforts. Like the Inner Sanctum movies starring Lon Chaney, Jr., or the Captive Wild Woman trilogy.
Or The Creeper.
Which brings us back around to Rondo Hatton.
In the last two years of his brief life, Rondo wound up at Universal, where he played an inarticulate brute known variously as the Hoxton Creeper, Mario the Man Monster, or simply The Creeper. Basically the same character, a hideous murderer who crushes his victims in an iron grasp. Apart from the first one, an entry in the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series, the series was so minor a run it barely registered at the box office. And yet, there’s that pesky award to bestow upon The Creeper a cachet he never enjoyed in his lifetime.
Good for him, I say. Not sure what he would say, though.
His first outing, as the Hoxton Creeper, was in The Pearl of Death, based on the Sherlock Holmes short story, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”. It was the ninth film of the fourteen in which Rathbone played the great detective, the seventh at Universal. The first two were made by Twentieth-Century Fox, and one of those will be examined when that studio comes under the monstrous microscope in due time.
A pearl of great value has been hidden inside one of six busts of Napoleon sold to six different residents of London. The main villain sends out his henchman, the Hoxton Creeper, to smash each one until he finds the pearl. Of course, the owners of the busts object. Rondo reacts to their remonstrances by crushing their spines. Holmes is called in and figures things out in the requisite sixty-nine minutes allotted to b-movies at the studio in those days.
Evelyn Ankers, the studio’s resident “Queen of the Bs”, co-starred as another of the villain’s accomplices in her second appearance in the Holmes series. She had a long career in Universal horrors, barely escaping dismemberment at the hands of Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man in 1941, strangulation by his Frankenstein Monster in Ghost of Frankenstein in 1942, and exsanguination by his Count Alucard in Son of Dracula in 1943. One wonders if Chaney had something against her.
Spoiler alert – she didn’t always get away from him.
Rondo’s second turn, this time as Mario the Man Monster, came in what is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a sequel to another of the Rathbone Holmes pictures. The deliciously menacing Gale Sondergaard, who deserves a thorough examination in a future entry, played the title character in the 1943 Holmes picture, The Spider Woman. In 1946, she starred in The Spider Woman Strikes Back, which has absolutely no connection to the Holmes movie or her character in that film. Rondo is her lurking henchman as she slowly drains the blood from Brenda Joyce, who survived well enough to continue playing Jane in what was eventually a total of five Tarzan pictures. Mario neglects to crush anyone’s spine this time out, but he adds just a soupçon of that frisson the movie could have really used a lot more of.
Rondo made two more pictures, both as The Creeper, before passing away from a series of acromegaly related heart attacks on February 2, 1946. House of Horrors and The Brute Man were released posthumously, to barely noticeable acclaim. Rondo’s body was flown back east for interment in the American Legion Cemetery in his hometown of Tampa, Florida. He was fifty-one years old.
1945’s House of Horrors starred Martin Kosleck as a sculptor who is The Creeper’s only friend and protector until Rondo turns on him over the affections of the lovely Virginia Grey. Kosleck went on to forge something of a career playing Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. He died in obscurity in 1994.
Grey played in a number of prominent mainstream pictures before and after being menaced by The Creeper, including Another Thin Man in 1939, The Big Store with the Marx Brothers in 1941, and in support of star Lana Turner in 1966’s Madame X., Her last horror film role was Black Zoo in 1963, starring future Batman butler Michael Gough as the naughty zookeeper. Grey kept company for some years with King of Hollywood Clark Gable until he got distracted by and married a British noblewoman in 1949. She passed away in 2004.
Speaking of Batman’s butler, Alan Napier from the 1960s television series and 1966 feature film also appeared in House of Horrors. And the hero is played by Robert Lowery, who portrayed none other than Bruce Wayne himself, as well as his cowled alter ego, in the 1949 Columbia serial, Batman and Robin.
Everything leads back to the Caped Crusader eventually, it seems.
Finally, the least of the entries, The Brute Man, removed the last vestiges of the mild sympathy one might have felt for the poor Creeper and turned him into exactly what the title suggested, a brute hunted relentlessly by the police for going around breaking other human beings. Rondo blames hero Tom Neal for his disfigurement, leading to his antisocial behavior. Not much more plot than that, I’m afraid. In 1945, Neal played the lead in the film noir classic, Detour, directed by legendary horror director, Edgar G. Ulmer. He was convicted of manslaughter in the accidental death by gunshot of his wife in 1965. He served six years in prison and died in 1972.
So. There it is. The entire horror career of the man for whom a respected award is named. Of course, his grim visage has been resurrected often in comic books on both sides of the Big Pond, and as one of the villains in the 1991 film, The Rocketeer. And he has been referenced here and there in novels and television shows since the 1970s. And there’s the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award, which is modeled on the bust of The Creeper created by the Martin Kosleck character in House of Horrors.
I like to think he’d approve of all this attention. I’d like to, but I have to wonder how he would feel about his unfortunate situation being exploited so. Would he be grateful to be remembered so long after his death, or embarrassed by the context of that remembrance?
I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.
Until next time, fellow fiends…
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
And maybe, a tad compassionate.
These contemporary horrors both foreign and domestic tackle suburban scares, refugee horrors, family vengeance, and home haunts.
His House – Horror follows a Sudanese couple relocating to England in this 2020 Netflix release starring Wunmi Mosaku (Loki), Sope Dirisu (Black Mirror), and Matt Smith (Doctor Who). Perilous refugee boats begat detention, weekly asylum stipulations, and finally a newly assigned address – a dirty tenement they are lucky to have all to themselves. Despite having already been through so much, our couple laughs until they cry over their gratitude, hopeful for a new start before eerie echoes and shadows that move by themselves suggest there is more afoot than faulty electricity, peeling wallpaper, and holes in the plaster. Well done lighting schemes and dim sunlight through small windows create a moody palette for the background apparitions, ominous hands, kitchen oddities, and eyes watching from within the walls. Flashes of past troubles, childhood fears of the night witch coming to get them, and new scary experiences build tension. Husband and wife both have encounters they don’t admit, and tearful conversations with dark door frames in the background put the viewer on edge with our characters. We think we see or hear something rather than having everything given away thanks to flashlights, masks, tool mishaps, and disorienting figures in the dark. Cultures clash amid the horrors as our refugees struggle to be part of the community, reluctant to use tableware and getting lost in the maze of lookalike attached houses. Cruel neighborhood kids shout “Go back to Africa” and a kind but clueless doctor doesn’t know how to listen to the pain of tribal wars, butchered families, and doing what you have to do to survive. Our couple insists they are good people but must remain on guard against deep-seeded racism even in such crappy conditions. Lazy office workers complain that their falling apart house is “bigger than mine” so they shouldn’t be dissatisfied and “biting the hand that feeds them” – forcing the fearful to retract any moving request and hide the truth about apeth witches and ghostly torments. Although the Dinka dialogue is unfortunately not always translated, it’s superb that this is told from the appropriate angle. This isn’t a yuppie white couple choosing to ignore the spooky house warnings just to get out of the city and play unreliable scares with the audience. Eerie visuals, surreal waters, fog, and candlelight visions combine the personal horrors, supernatural, and real world frazzled as the demands to repay what they owe escalates from wet footprints and flickering light switches to monsters in the floor. Deceptive happy moments and psychological experiences take us to other places without leaving the congested house – reliving why with upsetting revelations that can only be put right with blood. This is a tender story about living with your demons; an excellent example of why horror from other perspectives need to be told.
The Housemaid – Covered furniture, candlelight, staircases, slamming doors, and screams get right to the gothic afoot in this 2016 Vietnamese tale. The grand French plantation in disrepair is out of place among the beautiful forests – reeking with a deadly history of cruel overseers, abused workers, shallow graves, and angry spirits. Rumors of mad wives, dead babies, decaying corpses, drownings, and bodies never found provide horror as the titular newcomer obediently does the housework during the day before the power goes out at night. It’s forbidden to speak of the dark family history, and mirrors, lanterns, and dramatic beds infuse the creepy with Jane Eyre mood. Arguments over sending for a distant doctor or using Eastern medicine for the wounded man of the house give way to sheer bed curtains, sunlight streaming through the window, and a touch of Rebecca in the steamy fireside romance. Unfortunately, a snotty, two-faced, racist rival addresses the awkwardness of the help pretending to be the lady of the house amid resentful servants, war intrigue, classism, and the vengeful ghostly Mrs. roaming the halls. The cradle draped in black rocks by itself, but it’s only for effect as jump scare whooshes, flying furniture, roar faces in the mirror, dream fake-outs, old photos research, and visions of the past create an uneven contemporary intrusion when the period atmosphere is enough. Roaming in the scary woods just for the sake of bones and panoramic ghouls is unnecessary when we should never leave the congested house. Indeed, the horrors are superior when anyone trying to leave the manor encounters a terrible but deserving end. Questionable retellings, confusing ghostly revenge, disbelieving interrogations, and flashbacks within flashbacks play loose with point of view, but a not so unforeseen twist clarifies the demented duty over love begggeting the horror. Some viewers may be disappointed that the movie trades one kind of horror for another and has too many endings. This has its faults and uses western horror motifs as needed to appear more a mainstream rather than low budget foreign film. The social statement characterizations are much better than formulaic Hollywood scares, and the throwback Hammer feeling, period accents, and gothic mood combine for unique horror and drama.
A Haunted House – I’m not a fan of found footage films, so this 2013 horror comedy parody from Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) mocking the genre seemed like it would be fun. Plain text warnings of recovered recordings, assorted camera angles, and onscreen timestamps open the winks as the new camera and young couple moving in together don’t mix thanks to his dog, her boxes, his arcade games, and her dad’s ashes. Affection, sass, and bemusing stuffed animal foreplay are ruined by hair in curlers, open bathroom doors, and awful farts in the night – making for refreshingly real relationships and humor. No blind spots in the video coverage mean catching the maid up to some saucy, and racist, voyeuristic security camera guys who want your passwords. Fetishizing friends want to swap, the gay psychic wants to know if they’ve had same-sex encounters – all the white people are envious opportunists and that’s nice to see in a genre so often dominated by such caucasity. Sleepwalk dancing and what happens during the night silliness caught on camera escalates with getting high and mocking the usual sheets, smoky imagery, whooshing, and Ouija boards. Our couple jumps to conclusions about the haunting over noises, misplaced keys, doors moving by themselves, and kitchen mishaps, but neither is a catch and a lot of incidents are more about their own faults and problems. They probably shouldn’t be together horror or not, and some of the not addressing their own issues is too on the nose serious or uneven alongside the humor. The misogyny is akin to women often being haunted and not believed in horror, but nothing is scary because the overtly comedic attempts are out of place against the formulaic encounters. There’s an imaginary friend, pervert ghost, demons, a deal with the devil for Louboutins, and the final act is an old hat exorcism meets Poltergeist parody crowded with male ghost rapacious and more unnecessary homophobic jokes. There’s promise in how the camera brings out the voyeur in us all, changing us once we’re in front of it by revealing our true selves or why we’re weary of the lens. A taut eighty minutes with bemusing commentary on the genre’s flaws could have been a watchable, but the dumb and offensive shtick goes on for far too long – becoming the monotonous horror movie it’s trying to send up thanks to a surprising lack of personality.
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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: Held
Who would like it: Fans of trapped environments, survival, strong female leads, suspense and thrillers.
High Points: My favorite part of this the reason what was happening was happening and the way the final girl got out of it
Overall: Love it
Where I watched it: Screener
Is the book really better than the movie? With horror, that can be hard to say. The mediums are just so different. A good concept is a good concept, though. Some ideas are worth making twice. Check out the list below for some stories that made the jump from print to screen.
The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
Before bringing Cenobites to the screen in the film Hellraiser, Clive Barker first wrote about them in this novella. The book delves more deeply into the world of pain and pleasure that the Cenobites inhabit.
Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell
This 1938 classic is the inspiration for John Carpenter’s The Thing. Scientists in the Antarctic discover the frozen body of an alien and revive it with horrifying consequences.
“The Forbidden” by Clive Barker
Okay, so technically this is a short story, not a novel, but it did eventually become the movie Candyman. Helen is studying the graffiti in a dilapidated housing project. Her research leads her to chase an urban legend that is more dangerous that she can imagine. “The Forbidden” appears in Books of Blood Volume 5.
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan
I was shocked—SHOCKED—to find that the much lampooned 90’s slasher movie was actually based on a 1973 novel by the same name. Even with a twenty-year gap between the book and movie, the themes of coming of age, hiding terrible secrets, and facing gruesome consequences are evergreen.
Psycho by Robert Bloch
The classic movie Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock is considered one of the greatest American films of all time. But the movie had a lot to build on, with a great concept about a lonely motel with a dark secret, first created in 1959 in this novel.
Jaws by Peter Benchley
This 1974 novel inspired the blockbuster Spielberg movie that scared millions out of the water. Still as terrifying as ever, try to keep yourself from humming duh-DUH duh-DUH while you’re reading.
What movie adaptations of books are your favorite? Is the book better? Leave a comment!
Plotline: A case of food poisoning derails a family’s holiday and forever alters the course of their lives. Years later, the couple go camping again, looking for one last chance to go back to the way things used to be. But what once was is lost, and they instead find themselves having to relive the same nightmarish events, as that day and the horrors it brings repeat themselves infinitely. Together, they must overcome their trauma, reconcile with the past and fight for their lives — over and over again.
Who would like it: Fans of camping horror, cosmic horror, WTF, international films, myths and fairytales
High Points: I really love how told in two different media’s
Overall: I really enjoyed this super creepy little movie!
Stars: 3 1/2
Where I watched it: Sling
Usually when I write articles analysing films I have a fair idea that what I’m writing about has a chance of being somewhere close to the mark. With this one, I’m putting forth a personal interpretation of something which struck me when I made the sensible (read: stupid, because it disturbed me once more) decision to re-watch Takashi Miike’s infamous 1999 shocker, Audition.
As always, I will be discussing bits of plot detail. So, you know, SPOILER WARNING.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, or watched it in a while, here’s a brief overview. Aoyama, who works for a film company, finds himself looking for a new companion after his son suggests he re-marries, his wife having passed some time ago. To this end, he and his colleague set up a series of auditions for a film that will never get made, to find Aoyama the perfect girlfriend. He falls quickly for Asami Yamazaki, a quiet yet beautiful young woman, who hides dark secrets behind her naive exterior.
When I was re-watching it, taking notes sometimes as I do, I found myself struck by the constant use of doorways and doorframes. Often, the action would take place in one room but the camera would be placed in another room entirely, looking in. On occasion, the action, a speaking character, for instance, would move behind the walls so that we can’t see them. This framing occurring throughout the film, and it’s the sort of setup which doesn’t just happen; you have to make the conscious decision that you’re going to block a scene in this way.
The cynical viewer would suggest that it’s just Miike’s style to have lots of static shots where the action just plays out. This happens in many of his films, and considering his prolific output, one could argue that it means he doesn’t have to set up large bits of equipment for big camera moves and so can just film more. The film was made in three weeks (and apparently this was a week longer than Miike usually made a film in), so it might be a definite factor in the shot choices. He’s used to very little time to get the footage, so he makes sure it’s filmed in a way to require minimal changes between shots, for maximum efficiency in the schedule.
And yet Miike also has the camera moves down when he needs to (there’s a very specific, disorienting flip in a bed about halfway through the film which demonstrates this), suggesting that everything is thought through. So it doesn’t hold completely that it’s just for efficient shooting schedules. No, there’s definitely a specific, storytelling reason for this consistent framing.
Considering much of the story is based on the theme of dark secrets, and of things hidden coming to light, I’d like to argue here that the repeated doorway framing suggests something about this theme. By showing the walls of the room the camera is situated in, we are shown a frame within a frame. This could suggest something a larger whole, a secret within an exterior facade. We also must consider the idea of doorways as a portal. The world around us changes when we move from one room to another; we end up in a different place, a different world. It seems consistent with this symbolism that there is therefore a suggestion of two different worlds, that of secrets inside the doorway and an outside appearance, and we are being allowed to look into this other, hidden reality that the characters hide from the apparent truthful world.
Several examples suggest themselves to support this. At the beginning of the film, Aoyama and his son are eating dinner in a dining room, framed by the doorway, as they discuss that Aoyama should look to re-marry. The secret he keeps of misleading someone to have an excuse to gain their affections begins here with this conversation. In a different, pivotal scene, which hints at Asami’s darkness, she waits with her hair down for the phone to ring. A large, tied up sack suddenly rocks violently behind her. Our understanding of this character, and that she hides darker secrets, is changed completely by this moment, so much so that Miike goes on to break several filmmaking conventions (including the traditional 180-degree rule, which keeps characters in a conversation on the same sides of the frame for ease of understanding) to emphasize this now unstable relationship between the audience and Asami’s outwardly unassuming persona. This pivotal shot is, once again, shot through a doorway. Inside the doorway, secrets are seen.
There are many more such instances of this doorway framing in the film. Asami is seen standing on a balcony outside at their holiday cabin, dressed all in innocent white, whilst standing through a doorway. From our renewed understanding of her, the purity of her colour combined with the doorway’s suggestion of secrecy and falsity implies that this shining white innocence may not be what it appears. Near the end of the film, Aoyama succumbs to drugged whisky whilst standing on the threshold between two rooms in his house, and the camera is angled in such a way so that his fall happens almost completely within the doorframe.
And then in the final moments of the film, Asami and Aoyama are both on the floor, wounded and dying, looking at each other through an open doorway. Here the frame connects them because now their secrets have all been spilled, and they watch one another on either side of this world. This is the first time that they see each other’s secrets, exposed and open to each other completely for the first time in the film. There is nowhere to hide anymore, and indeed they have nothing left to hide. Both of them, like the camera, can see into the dark interiors of their lives.
Until Miike comes out and says that it was indeed intentional to express this theme, we have no way of knowing. But this use of doorways, and our looking through them into a scene beyond, is incredibly common throughout the film and is almost certainly deliberate. It might also be that Miike did this to suggest a distance, a loneliness, in the characters; he often uses long shots in the film to make characters isolated and alone, so to use these doorframes for similar emotional reasons, if not thematic, isn’t too far-fetched. In either case, it’s certainly an additional dynamic which helps raise Audition to something which is far more sophisticated than we might have given it credit for in the past.
-Article by Kieran Judge
Big city undead sexy for the adults and hip horror for the whole family face off in this bemusing vampire showdown! Which do you choose?
Vampire in Brooklyn – Lonely vampire Eddie Murphy wants Angela Bassett (Black Panther) as his willing bride in director Wes Craven’s 1995 horror-comedy opening with talk of ancient Nosferatu out of Egypt feasting on those lost in the Bermuda Triangle until vampire hunters bro movie must rely on Murphy’s retreads from Coming to America. Excellent “I would love to have you for dinner” winks, sexy bites, and a simmering score betterught the undead to extinction. Now that’s a backstory I’d like to have seen! Foggy harbors, bloody bodies, and a scary wolf invoke Dracula while black and white televisions, hard language, and R attitudes provide refreshing throwback humor. Leaps in the air, breaking through the windows stunts, an unnecessarily elaborate ship crash set piece, and poor visual effects cement the nineties tone, but the Blacula references, monster transformations, no reflections, and itchy gunshots add tongue in cheek to the vampire fangs, pointy nails, and eerie eyes. That wig, though, wolf! The full moon, day servant ghouls a la Renfield, and a heart ripped out of the chest bring the vampy to the street as horoscope warnings, chases, and gore set off the urban creepy afoot. Viewers expect a camp aside or pithy comeback in every scene, but the witty matches the serious horror thanks to little things like, oh say, an ear found at the crime scene that serves both laughter and atmosphere. Increasing ghoul mishaps, “RIP” license plates on the smooth ride, and “Whatta Man” montages set off the dangerous coffin retrievals, but faith versus snakes and vampire lore in a murder investigation are too unbelievable for our tough cops to consider. Unfortunately, the apparently obligatory Murphy disguises are totally out of place. Awkward preacher fakery ruins the vampire build up before another offensive Italian stunt, and the makeup for both is terrible. The evil is good allure could have been better presented with vampire suave rather than dragging the film down with overlong laugh out loud send ups that make viewers wonder where all this is supposed to be going. Why torment this strong woman via stupid delays when you can just charm her instead? The blood pulsing temptations, supernatural flirtations, nightmare paintings, love triangles, and saucy roommates come to a complete stop as if the accent character dilemmas over eternal life, predatory pursuits, and rough seductions. Horror attacks, candles, and juicy vamp outs lead to serious character decisions and tense one on one revelations before a wild finale with a fitting chuckle. I’d have loved a sequel with ghoul turned cool Julius Jones! This is oddly similar to Craven’s Dracula 2000 in several ways, and there are many flawed elements here – pointless narration, meandering focus between the humor and scares, datedness, and uneven try hard that wants to be both niche for Black audiences yet mainstream hit acceptable. Fortunately, overall the late night fun here is still entertaining; a great re-watch with mature, modern vampire chemistry.
Vampires vs. the Bronx – Sirens, flickering neon signs, new construction buyouts by Murnau Properties, and paperwork sealed with fangs and screams open this PG-13 2020 Netflix original. Suave tunes, multiple languages, and cultural blends set off the summer heat, bicycles, and friendly neighborhood bodega, but missing persons fliers, Vlad the Impaler logos, and Polidori references provide ominous. Adult gravitas anchors the youthful ensemble, but the realistic kids aren’t trying hard for the camera. These boys just want to impress the older girls but end up embarrassed by mom wanting to get a babysitter. Narrations and video angles a la Tik Tok balance church bells and scripture quotes, developing the locales and characters well as the youths face local gang pressure to do things they don’t want to do. The new white woman in town insists she isn’t one of those types who will call the cops, and the genre mirror to nature commentary is superb. It’s not the hood the kids fear, but the nasty white folks who’ve come
to suck the life out of town. Vampire vows to wipe them out like vermin are all the more chilling because we recognize the gentrification and racist mentalities. What would the authorities care if vampires are pecking bad guys off the street in the Bronx? A wealthy white man writes a check so no one notices those made to disappear, and such a forgotten, downtrodden place is perfect for vampires who want to stay under cover. Friendships are tested when some want to do good for their community and others are right to be wary. Neighbors disbelieve the hear tell vamps dressed like Hamilton taking out the local thugs while humor alleviates suspenseful close calls – the vampire was just coming in to buy…sanitizer of course. Daytime nest explorations and homages to The Lost Boys accent the self aware genre winks while a bemusing montage establishes the lore herein complete with that cookie they hand out at church that doesn’t taste very good aka the “eucharist” and watching Blade. Single mothers try to keep their kids on the up, but the boys are trespassing for vampire proof and stealing holy water in a Sprite bottle. Skeleton keys, coffins, ringtones rousing the dead – what’s worse then being chased by vampires and caught in the backseat of the cop car? When their mothers come to get them but the vampire didn’t show up on your camera. Fun zooms for youthful actions and watchful eyes match creepy red lights, growls, and hypnotic kills as Haitian history preparations and shootouts don’t stop the undead. The kids take the crucifix off the wall and hope tia doesn’t notice, but the powdered garlic comes in handy and calling the Bronx a shithole is the last straw. Although a little short at under eighty-five minutes with credits, the swift solidarity doesn’t stray from its goal. Rather than underestimate the audience with stereotypical obnoxiousness, this refreshing contemporary take is great for young audiences as well as fans of wise and wise-cracking horror.
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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.
Where I watched it: Shudder
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.
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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.
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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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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!
Where I watched it: Shudder
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
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.
Overall: Love it…better than the 1st
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 5 Winter Horror Movies, as voted on by the Addicts!
- The Shining
- 30 Days of Night
- The Thing
- A Christmas Horror Story
- 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!
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.
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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.” 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!
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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.
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.
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?
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 3, I’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.
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.
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Deliciously Dark Death Becomes Her gets Better with Age
by Kristin Battestella
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
-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/
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 Out) 2017 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 Annabelle. Distorted 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 Box. We 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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
- King Kong (1933)
- Kong: Skull Island (2017)
- Rampage (2018) – If you’re looking for something off-brand, this video game adventure movie has monster fights galore
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.
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.
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.
- Sssssss (1973)
- Anaconda (1997) – Ice Cube and JLo kicking ass in the Amazon? Yes please!
- Snakes on a Plane (2006)
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.
- Alligator (1980)
- Lake Placid (1999) – Betty White is the single best part of this 90’s classic
- Crawl (2019)
Is there a great animal horror film that I’ve missed? Drop your favorites in the comments.
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.
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 Enterprise, I 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:
“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/
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. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The bear isn’t the villain, human superiority is!
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 South, but 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. 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?
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