FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SCHOOLGIRLS AND FAMILY FEARS!

 

School Girls and Family Fears!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Back to school season can’t save these recent or retro kids, teachers, and families from the macabre at home!

 

The FallingGame of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams leads a group of hysterical English schoolgirls in this 2014 period mystery complete with creepy folk tunes, beautiful landscapes, and old time school bells. The similarities with Picnic at Hanging Rock are also apparent with latent BFFs, a budding blonde, the awkward brunette, the chubby girl playing an instrument, and a science girl in glasses. They sit outside with umbrellas with their pretty teacher, swans, and stopped watches while resentful older crones roll their eyes, and its discomforting to see virgin girls in pigtails discuss orgasms and solving one’s pregnancy problems via spells, knitting needles, and a medical book – with icky tips from your brother, too. Maisie’s Lydia talks sophisticated but remains a little girl hiding in a nursery cupboard perhaps unaware of why she wants her pretty friend to herself. She browbeats her smoking, washed up mother – the unrecognizable Maxine Peake (Silk) – and is too full of herself to consider her mother’s reasons. There should have been more of the adult perspectives bolstering the school and religious structure against the natural, tree loving girls growing up too soon. These teens are trying to be shocking, rebellious, and acting out vicariously – regrets, sexual activity, unhealthy obsessions, and experimentation escalate into fainting fits and faux orgasmic hysteria. Unfortunately, unnecessary music video styled transitions, subliminal strobe inserts, and modern meta interference detract from the repression and grief while external music and spinning cameras make the fainting spells laughable. Did they practice falling? How many flopping on the floor takes were there? Characters calmly step over the girls on the floor, and bemusing “thud” closed captioning accents Lydia’s falling and taking everything off the table with her. The middle aged women have a good laugh over these young kids thinking they are older and misunderstood, and faculty debates on science and attention seeking are much better – are the occult, local lay lines, nearby supernatural trees to blame? Do you ostracize one or hospitalize the entire class? Faking or follower questions layer the second half alongside school consequences, perception versus reality, lesbian whispers, and sexual violence. Although the medical testings feel glossed over, the intercut eye twitching, body language, and question and answer psychiatry suggest more – as do other shockers dropped in the last ten minutes. Writer and director Carol Morley’s (Dreams of a Life) long form narrative does get away from itself, and this try hard can’t always be taken seriously. However, this tale both glorifies femininity and vilifies budding women and the spinster the way society both pedestals and shames, adding enough food for thought to some of the inadvertent chuckles.

 

Goodnight Mommy – Lullabies and divine outdoor locations quickly turn ominous with dark caves, deep lakes, nearby cemeteries, and underground tombs accenting this 2014 Austrian psychological scare featuring twin boys and a mother under wraps. Despite the bunk beds, wise viewers will of course immediately wonder if there are really two sons – one always hides or jumps out while the other calls, and their mother only acknowledges one boy amid talk of an accident and a separation. Mirrors, windows, blurred portraits, and odd artwork embellish their cool mod home, and eerie visuals heighten the freaky surgery bandages, prying peering, twisted dreams, and creepy bugs. Close the blinds, no visitors, total quiet – the twins become increasingly suspicious when such strict recovery rules and more unusual behaviors don’t compare to sing-a-longs and loving tapes made pre-surgery. Naturally, English audiences have to pay attention due to the German dialogue and subtitles, however viewers must also watch for silent moments and visual clues as this TV host mom’s obsession with her surgery results increases and the boys’ talking back turns into some rough encounters. The sons research videos online and find strange photos while hidden baby monitors and timer tick tocks up the suspense. Who’s right? Who’s overreacting? What if we could see things from the opposite point of view? They want proof she is their mother and contact the local priest, but these seemingly innocent boys play some gruesome games, too. The situation becomes more and more claustrophobic, becoming trapped indoors and locked in one room with homemade defenses and cringe-worthy torture done with something as simple as the magnify glass with sunlight trick. The audience is swayed with evidence one way before being presented with new unreliability, familial violence, and pyromaniac tendencies in a fiery topper. At times, this feels more like a sad drama than a horror movie and some elements might have needed a bit more clarification. However, the horrible stuff herein and debating on the what ifs lasts long after the viewing, and this is a fine isolated tale using slight of hand power of suggestion for its slow burn unraveling.

 

The Hearse – Divorced teacher Trish Van Devere (The Changeling) deals with nosy realtor Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane) not to mention ominous headlights, dark roads, phantom winds, visions in the mirror, and a freaky uniformed chauffeur in this 1980 spooky. There is an initial proto-Lifetime movie feeling and the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge vistas remain just another driving to the horrors montage as our jittery dame heads to the recently bequeathed home of her late aunt for the summer. The Blackford neighbors, however, are unwelcoming gossips, and the minister says any standoffishness must be her imagination. Of course, her shorts are very short and despite a flirtatious sheriff, cat calls while jogging, and compliments about the resemblance to her aunt, all the men must help her roadside and make women driving jokes while doing so. Those trees just jump out into the road! Thanks to whispers of past pacts with Satan, they don’t expect her to stick around long, either. The then-edgy music knows when to be quiet, adding to the isolation, crickets, and woman alone creepy. Covered antiques, leftover fashions, period pictures, and attic relics invoke a museum mood – an intrusion by the living justifying the faulty electric, slamming doors, creaking stairs, rattling pipes, and ghostly faces in the window. A music box plays on its own while a mysterious necklace, ironic radio sermons, and the titular highway pursuits escalate along with footsteps, intruders, and shattering glass. The tracking camera pans about the house in an ambiguous move that’s both for effect and someone – or something – approaching. Likewise, reading the diary of her devil worshiping aunt alongside a new whirlwind but suspicious romance creates dual suspense – which can certainly be said for that Hearse when it pulls up to the front porch and opens its back door. The black vehicle, white nightgown, and choice reds increase with candles, coffins, and funerary dreams. Pills and long cigarette drags visualize nerves amid bridge accidents, disappearing bodies, rowdy town vandals, and gaslighting decoys. The solo reading aloud and talking to oneself scenes will be slow to some viewers, and at times the car action is hokey. The mystery can be obvious – it feels like we’ve seen this plot before – yet the story isn’t always clear with low, double talk dialogue. However, it’s easy to suspect what is real with interesting twists in the final act, and the adult cast is pleasing. Well done clues keep the guessing fun, and several genuine jump moments make for a spirited midnight viewing.

 

 

The House on Sorority Row – Pranks and murders on campus, oh my! This 1983 cult slasher opens with a risky pregnancy, pulsing heartbeats, and emergency scalpels before trading the stormy past and blue patinas for some sunny eighties happiness. Everything is so young, beautiful, and babealicious when you graduate from college! It’s still fun to see retro cars or rad vans, huge cameras, records, waterbeds, fluorescent fashions, and colorful wallpaper – though there’s too much teal and pink for my tastes. Coiffed older women also look quite forties with floppy satin bow shirts and stockings, visually creating a generational divide to represent the living in the past mentalities or old fashioned thinking – they’ll be no goodbye parties, beer, or horny and useless frat boys in this house! While there is no chubby gal with glasses, there are some ugly guys used for humor and splatter, and in true eighties horror movie requirement, there is a girl too old to be in pigtails alongside the sex and boobs. Why don’t these graduated girls just leave instead of pranking the old lady that wants them to abide the rules of her house? Not to mention they are some pretty poor party hosts – one should always wait to kill somebody till after the festivities so arriving guest don’t interfere in your getting rid of the body blundering. Creaking rocking chairs, nursery rhyme music, creepy jester dolls, and a nasty looking cane perfect for bludgeoning accent the good girl versus bad girl slaps, gun play, and deserved turnabouts. Granted, there are some chuckles thanks to stupid actions, some identity of the murderer obviousness, and an overall tameness on what is now a cliché genre formula. Perhaps the one by one kills are predictable – there’s a dame alone in the dark basement, because, of course – however the suspense, shadows, and unseen killer editing are well done. The primary location intensifies the bathroom traps, warped mothering, and well paced pursuits while surprise color, angles, and apparitions add to the solid final act. Although the gore isn’t elaborate for the sake of it, there are some bloody, creative moments, and this fun, half a million dollar ninety minutes does everything it sets out to do without resorting to today’s in your face spectacle.

 

Orphan – Grieving couple Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring) and Peter Sarsgaard (Flightplan) adopt the precocious Isabelle Fuhrman (The Hunger Games) in this 2009 thriller with bloody pregnancy gone wrong dreams, snowy landscapes, a frozen lake, isolated woods, tree house perils, and mod cabin architecture. These yuppies eat off square plates, but nun C.C.H. Pounder (The Shield) is stereotypically reduced with the same old black person in horror sage and sacrifice treatment. Other trite genre elements such as evil foreigners, the internet research montage, useless police, and false jumps complete with the cliché medicine cabinet mirror ruse are lame and unnecessary – as are the dated Guitar Hero moments and a jealous son with a porn magazine stash like it is 1999. The twisted horror suspense builds just fine with realistic threats and mature family drama amid the escalating child shocks. The Sign Language and silent subtitles create a sense of calm and innocence for the youngest deaf daughter, contrasting her mother’s drinking temptations as the old fashioned dressing Esther says everything their parents want to hear. She wants to sleep next to her new daddy, and the couple is intimately interrupted with who’s watching photography and peering perspectives – not to mention that is some luxury playground equipment with crazy bone-cracking injuries! There’s Russian roulette, razor blades, vice grips, vehicular close calls, and fiery accidents. The adoption history doesn’t add up and the children are clearly terrified by their titular sister, but of course dad doesn’t believe his wife’s theory that Esther is at fault. Do you confront your new daughter or take her to a therapist? At times, the adults act stupid just to put the kids in peril, and these two hours feel a little long – how many disasters are going to happen before someone gets a clue? This isn’t as psychological as it could be, dropping its uniqueness for a standard house siege and apparently leaving more pushing the envelope elements on the page to play it safe. However, the female familial roles are an interesting study with surprises and an unexpected reveal. Choice gunshots and broken glass accent the silence and maze interiors, using the home, weapons, and weather for full effect. Though partly typical and not scary, the dramatic interplay, thriller tension, and wild performances give the audience a yell at television good time.

 

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: TEEN HORRORS

 

 

Summer Teen Horrors

by Kristin Battestella

 

Prom, dolls, murder, and monsters – will teens never learn?

 

The Blackcoat’s Daughter Haunting melodies, terrible news, and subtitles like “silence” and “eerie ambiance” open this chiller from director Oz Perkins (I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House) along with suggestive lion and lamb lyrics, crosses on the wall, priestly substitutes, and father figure innuendo. Rather than emo angst, the bad girl pregnancy scares and awkward acting out are handled maturely, with a Picnic at Hanging Rock weirdness. Dark filming against bleak windows or open doors makes us unsure what side we are on, capturing the dreary mundane as two girls are stuck at school during winter break. The intertwining build of events may be slow to some, but each act follows one girl in distorted, compelling vignettes. Common bathroom echoes and creaking doors add to the spooky orange boiler room and what we think we saw contortions while change for the pay phone, maps, bus stops, and red tail lights create helplessness and traveling dangers. And you know, parents saying a teen can’t have one has to be the best excuse yet for a lack of cell phones. Who stole the laptop? Do you trust the stranger offering a ride? Is being happy an ulterior motive or will the god-believing good Samaritan find it is the devil that answers instead? These young ladies are filmed not for titillation as in slasher T-n-A horror but with a sense of innocence and fragility. Rather than in your face mayhem, suspect conversations, sinister changes, and non-linear storytelling give the audience intriguing pieces of creepy doubt. Is a crazy student after the headmaster’s attention or is that really a reflection of horns and a shadowy devil in the frame? The surreal atmosphere makes viewers peer deeper at the screen, wondering if the devil, possessions, or unreliable impressions are playing tricks on us. Editing splices match the bloody stabbings, with nonchalant mentions of forensics having to find which head matches which body. Static, distorted voices, and vibrating sound invoke more unease amid an isolating, hoodwinked power of suggestion. The audience sees the reaction on a police officer’s face rather than the terrible shocks he witnesses – doing the worst horrors imagined with a subtle reveal instead of pulling the rug out from under the viewer and calling it a twist. Although spoon fed audiences may want answers immediately instead of open to interpretation confusion and arty pretentiousness – Perkins may need an outside eye on his writing and directing to clarify this pizzazz for the masses – once you wrap your head around it, this is a straightforward story taking its time with a unique mood and special characters for full gruesome effect.

The Boy – Eccentric British parents hire a babysitter for their son – who just happens to be a doll – in this 2016 bizzarity. There’s padding opening credits driving the young American woman in a foreign country to the kid horrors, because of course, and there’s a no wif-fi, no neighbors phone call to her sister about a nasty ex, too. Fake boo moments, dream shocks, and phantom phone calls are unnecessary, as is the psychic grocery delivery man who reads gum and guesses wrong. I kid you not. The introduction to the little doll – err son is laughable as well, but our nanny must play along with the well paying delusion and make sure he sits up straight during their poetry lessons. Creepy portraits, strange noises, prayers, thunderstorms, and taxidermy create an eerie atmosphere for this warped hook while a great Canadian castle stands in for the cluttered English estate. Old toys, phonographs, candles, windows painted shut, and traps to keep rats out of the walls add to the freaky doll moments, but our babysitter waits until the doll uncovers itself and the stereo-typically locked attic doors open by themselves before following the house rules. She also never bothers to explore or investigate, but there’s an obligatory local who knows the dead little girl past and eight year old died in a fire back story – tossing in cliché details along with lost pregnancies, love triangles, and taking a shower trite. If you’re going to go into the ominous attic in nothing but a towel or have a doll listening to the sex in the next room, then don’t be a soft PG-13 but embrace that winking R. The eponymous frights should be stronger, and although we smartly don’t see any silly doll moving effects, the traditional filming style doesn’t do justice to the oddity. Rather than embracing the bizarre bonding afoot, the standard horror formulaic wastes too much time – this unusual premise could really shine if the flip flopping world rules didn’t detract from the aloof charm. A WTF siege veers the finale into something more preposterous, calling it a twist while holding back as late night horror lite for people who haven’t already seen any similar scary movies.

Lights Out This 2016 feature adaptation of the popular 2013 short is still a little short itself at eighty minutes and keeps restarting with a working dad on skype, mom talking to herself, a little brother not sleeping, and a bad attitude big sister with a sensitive rocker boyfriend. Fortunately, employees locking up for the night lead to crackling electricity and shadows that blink closer with each flick of the light switch. What would you do if you turned out the lights and saw a silhouette that isn’t there when the lights are on? We know something is in the dark, but not what, and the old school light means safety rule works amid the almost GIF-like now you see it now you don’t. Ominous tracking shots, red spotlights, neon signs flashing, and black lights create enough mood without unnecessary transition pans, bones cracking, and scratching sounds. A young boy with spooky afoot and a mother who may or may not be crazy are more interesting than time wasting millennial emo, and Maria Bello (A History of Violence) as the unstable wife dealing with shadows real or imagined a la The Babadook should have been the lead here. Naming the shadow, having her talk, and the constantly changing backstory gets laughable at times – as do slides across the floor and zooms on the ceiling. The research montage is a convenient home office snoop for a cassette tape from the doctor and a few photographs with retro jumpy footage snips patchworking the light sensitivity, skin disorder, institution experiment gone wrong, and psychic ghost happenings. There’s inconsistent UV light and physicality excuses, too, but if you aren’t going to give the audience a concrete explanation – i.e. saving it for the inevitable sequel – then there shouldn’t be any attempted information at all. Is this multiple personalities, a basement relative, or a childhood lez be friends BFF that won’t let go even in death? Why not call in the institution doctor or present your evidence to the sniffing child services instead of just yelling at your mother? There’s a kid so afraid he’s sleeping in the bathtub with the flashlight shining on his face, something’s tugging on mom’s sweater from behind the door, and quality under the bed threats rekindle timeless fears. There’s no need to add convoluted characters or ever leave the unique Tudor house standoff, yet one can tell where the trite dialogue and thin story were stretched to appeal to the mainstream teen horror public – complete with an L.A. setting, rich white blonde people, and a made stupid black cop and his Hispanic female partner. The short film didn’t have to explain its narrative the way a feature does, and this isn’t the worst recent horror film, but the good ending is a little too quick, playing it safe, serviceable, and ticking the standard contemporary horror boxes rather than really zinging. One should either stick with the original short or take this as a separate late night chiller for full bump in the night enjoyment.

 

Prom Night – Talk about kids being cruel! Morbid child’s play leads to deadly chases in this 1980 slasher – complete with one brat making the others swear to never tell, pathetic still seventies dudes, ugly vans a rockin’, station wagons, transistor radios, drive-ins, and obscene phone calls. Remember those? Although a few silly voiceovers could just be said out loud and some of the intercut flashes dump information in a quick reset, we know who is who for this eponymous anniversary vengeance. Six years later the killer has the names on his list and he’s checking them twice amid whispers of neighborhood sex offenders, creepy janitors, and mirrored innuendo. There’s terrible matching stripes, flared bell bottoms, knee socks, feathered hair, and side ponytails, too – not to mention escaped mental patients and a fatherly cop not telling the locals what’s afoot. This all must seem like Halloween deja vu for twenty-two year old high schooler Jamie Lee Curtis! Disco ball glows and red lights add flair, and there’s a sardonic humor with principal dad Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun) so awkward on the lit up floor before the big dance off, oh yeah. If there was going to be a Saturday Night Fever nod, they could have at least sprung for Bee Gees music instead of generic disco that’s honestly a little late. The prom king and queen ruses are i.e. Carrie as well, however these snob teens deserve what’s coming to them. How can a guy say he loves a girl when he helped kill her sister? We may laugh at some of the sagging datedness or bemusingly preposterous – violence in the gym showers and nobody in the school gives a hoot? However, a lot of horror movies and teen flicks are still using these borrowed staples. There’s a sense of small town swept under the rug paralleling the prom and sex calm as the ominous school hallways escalate to bloodied virgins in white dresses, lengthy slice and dice chases, rolling heads, light show disasters, and fiery vehicle attacks. This isn’t super gory and there’s no groundbreaking horror effects, but the well filmed checklist vignettes and shrewd cut corners editing build suspense alongside the red herrings and obvious killer guessing game. This isn’t super intellectual on the mentality of the killer or the full psychology of the crimes, either, but the misunderstood whys and psychosis seeds suggested continue the conversation long after everything plays out right on the dance floor with a power ballad topper.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SWEET RECENT SCARES

 

Sweet Recent Scares

by Kristin Battestella

 

Ghosts, vampires, and cults, oh my! This trio of recent tales get the scares right!

 

I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in The House – Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) stars in this 2016 Netflix original written and directed by Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter). Poetic voiceovers tell of a house being borrowed by the living while dark screens and period silhouettes come in and out of focus, creating an aged feeling for our colonial house, ailing horror author, and her jilted live in nurse Lily – who must always wear white, can’t be touched, and slaps her own hand for snooping. Certainly there are obvious implications with repeated phrases, solitary scenes, one side phone calls, whispering voices, and no outdoor perspectives to disrupt our attention from the suspect footsteps and undisturbed décor. Old music with ironic lyrics, cassettes, rotary phones, typewriters, static TV antennas, and Grateful Dead shirts also invoke a trapped in the past mood implying that the thin veil between life and death is soon to be broken. Shadowed, almost black and white shots and doorways framed in darkness make the audience question which side of the looking glass we are on – slow zooms peer into the dark frames or blacked out night time windows. There are shock moments, but the one woman play design is intense without being loud or in your face. Blindfolds, old fashioned dresses, mirrors, musty papers, and mysterious boxes increase amid moldy walls and suspicious characters from our author’s 1960 novel The Lady in the Walls – creating slow burn literary flashbacks, parallel self-awareness, ghostly uncertainty, and feminine duality on wilted old age blooms versus forever beautiful flowers. Is this a linear story or are the past, present, living, and dead blending together? Again, the answers are apparent with book titles and name hints hidden in plain sight. No one eats, sleeps, or bathrooms yet this ghostly rot and repetition may take multiple viewings for full discussion, interpretation, and analysis. Although there are some pretentious arty for the sake of it moments – not the papa Anthony Perkins scenes on the TV! – knocking on the walls, a flipped up rug, buzzing flies, and a will requesting another woman writer come to chronicle this “House of Stories” are atmosphere enough without run of the mill wham bam effects. This individual horror experience remains can’t look away intriguing for old school horror fans not expecting thrills a minute and those who enjoy a seventies, no concept of time mood.

 

Midnight Son – An aversion to sunlight, skin conditions, and the need for human blood make for a deadly quarter life crisis in this 2011 indie gem from Scott Leberecht (Life After Pi). There’s not much dialogue early – and the DVD has deleted scenes, interviews, and commentaries but no subtitles – yet the visual storytelling doesn’t need anything uber talkative. Interesting schemes denote the false night time light with yellow lamps, neon accents, string bulbs, blue kitchen designs, and choice reds as the doctor diagnoses anemia, jaundice, and malnourishment. Rare steak isn’t doing the trick, but the sight of blood on a bandage at the ho hum night security job gets the heart racing for something tasty. Early Google research moments get out of the way in favor of painting memories of the sun, solitary vampire movie watching, checking for fangs, testing for a reaction to crosses, and having a laugh at the clichés. Loneliness, street peddlers, deadbeats, and debt – life’s already down on its luck so what’s a little vampirism? The vampire vis-a-vis for drug use and life sucks may be trite today, but this allegory has an older, working protagonist stopping in the corner butcher for some blood by the pint to hide in his coffee cup. Companionship and fantastic possibilities can be found in unlikely places, and it’s neat to see just how many things a basement dwelling vampire can really do at night. Although I like his bed with the blackout curtains, this is a potential turned bleak world – the natural awkwardness is understandable and casually realistic. Jacob’s smart, talented, and just hampered by his…health problems…and an ER opportunist is willing to trade blood for a price. Rather than shock horror exploitative, we have an intimate, invested view for the increasing slurps, bloody makeouts, and desperateness. Quick camera flashes leave room for suggestion as bodily changes, night vision, infections, and love bites interfere with potential relationships, murder investigations, gallery possibilities, and you know, trying to get somewhere in life. Can you be a good and normal vampire or is amoral violence the only answer? Though plain to some with nothing super unexpected, the simple constructs echo the mature progression, honest drama, and self-aware focus without the need for horror spectacle. This is a fine story with a small but well rounded, multi-ethnic cast, and it’s one of the best same writer/director pictures I’ve seen in a very long while.

 

Sacrifice – Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black), Rupert Graves (Sherlock), and David Robb (Downton Abbey) star in this 2016 adaptation of Sharon Bolton’s novel beginning with brisk New York pregnancy emergencies before moving to Scotland’s great mountains, rocky coasts, and end of the world island isolation for an adoption. Standing stones, jokes about mistaking “runes” for “ruins”, and talk of Druids, Normans, and ritual sacrifice pepper the scene setting job interviews, hospital tours, and dinner with the wealthy, well-connected, but secretive in-laws. A dead animal on the property reveals a buried body, and our lady obstetrician butts into the police investigation of this bog discovery, studying creepy photos and x-rays of the corpse to suggest the victim had recently given birth before her insides were excised. Quality science, Tollund Man references, and flood clues jar against trow myths, unique folklore, and inscription evidence. The authorities don’t want to hear any of that old sacrificial talk, but these mothers and lady cops are intelligent women talking about history and murder rather than men or gossip. While the well-paced, multilayered investigations may build the spooky versus facts with suspicions and tense cloak and dagger, this is not an overt horror picture. The story here feels caught in the middle when it should have been either a straight crime drama or gone with all out fantastics. There are some plot confusions as well – who is who and all the details aren’t totally clear, leaving an abrupt end with serious unanswered questions. Fortunately, surveillance, shadows, chases in the dark office at night, and lights going out add suspense. Late wives, a clinic full of pregnant but anonymous women – who doesn’t want this medical mystery solved and why? This is a small island, and not being in on its secrets can prove fatal with dangerous bridges or fiery car accidents. Body switches, clandestine interviews, identifying tattoos, hidden passages, and bagpipes tossed in for good measure seemingly tidy the case, and a likable, mature cast anchors the maternal fears and cult demands of this unique little thriller.

 

But Skip

White Settlers – A city couple moves to a too good to be true Scottish fixer upper on a medieval battle site in this 2014 British snoozer also called The Blood Lands. After the usual cool opening credits, are we there yet driving to the horrors, a somewhat shady estate agent, no phone signals, and a move in montage; the very unprepared wife realizes she’s afraid of being in an isolated handyman house without power. Of course, her jerk husband makes Scottish jokes, refusing to let up on his bullshit attitude even when there’s a scary break in and unseen attackers. The outdoor saucy, surprisingly immature and incompatible couple, and nighttime suspicious are typical clichés, and the divine scenery, historical references, and great house are never used to their full potential. When the description refers to ancient battles, one sort of expects something wild like ghosts or cults and past meets present horror – not guys in pig masks angry at the new neighbors. It’s tough to feel any of the supposed English versus Scottish subtext because the horror is so substandard. Eden Lake had better us versus them twists, and I swear I just saw this terrorizing hooligans in animal masks trope in at least three other horror house siege movies. Although flashlights and fog make it difficult to see much of anything here, and our wife has to apologize to her asshole husband for her being afraid even while she’s the superior fighter. Maybe this isn’t that bad on its own, but it’s certainly disappointing if you are expecting anything more than Brits chasing some other Brits through the woods in the dark. Nothing here is horror sentient – people go back to check the still body, bads talk rather than act to create a contrived victim escape, and who trusts the creepy little boy for help? Hello, McFly. If you didn’t want any English buying your Scottish property, why not blame the real estate lady who sold it to them? Or the bank that made the price so high? How is unrealistically terrorizing and ridiculously kicking out the new owners so you can move in going to get rid of any of the real world consequences?

Kbatz: Tomb of Ligeia and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe

Frightening Flix

Tomb of Ligeia and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe Surprisingly Good

Several months ago, I saw an interview with Cassandra Peterson-aka Elvira-discussing Tomb of Ligeia, one of her favorites in the American Pictures International’s Poe series by director Roger Corman. Unfortunately, for the life of me I couldn’t recall having seen this final adaptation starring Vincent Price. When the 1969 film came on out on a double billed DVD with An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, I gave the set my full attention. Perhaps it’s not a total shocker since I like the rest of Corman’s Poe series, but Tomb of Ligeia and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe are surprisingly good.

Verden Fell (Price) vows that his late wife Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd) will defy death. He becomes reclusive and keeps away from sunlight with his dark colored glasses-until the beautiful Rowena (also Shepherd) erroneously comes to his ruined abbey. The couple falls in love, despite Rowena’s previous attachment to Verden’s friend Christopher (John Westbrook). They marry, but Rowena is ill at ease in Ligeia’s former home. Ligeia’s Egyptian antiques are everywhere; her spirit seems to linger over Verden during the night, and there’s a nasty black cat about that makes her displeasure known.

Director Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum) takes a few departures from his earlier Poe films by brightening up Tomb of Ligeia with natural locations and a little more romance than usual. Adapted by Robert Towne (Shampoo, Chinatown, Tequila Sunrise) from Poe’s short story, the analysis of mind and will power over death itself weaves the film together with ancient Egyptian allusions and plenty of ambiguity towards black cats. Each plot resolves satisfactory, but Poe’s twists and Corman’s interpretations leave the viewing thinking longer than prior pure shock conclusions.

Even though this is the last of the Poe pictures, Vincent Price looks younger here. His Verden is a little more sympathetic than his earlier, often evil roles. Not only is Price not as over the top as we love, but he’s actually sad sometimes, even pathetic with his dependence on his little glasses. But of course, Tomb of Ligeia does have the bizarrity we’d expect, including some ambiguity about necrophilia. Ew! Thankfully, Price looks good with Elizabeth Shepherd (Bleak House, Side Effects, Damien: Omen II). Any age difference doesn’t seem to factor in; they match well, and have nice, genuine chemistry. The more romantic tone between Verden and Rowena isn’t so tough to believe amid the scares. Nice as it is to have the sweet emotion amid the creeps; Shepherd is freaky in the duel bits as Ligeia. It’s obvious it is she, of course, but the showdown with Ligeia and the dream sequence with the ladies are well done. John Westbrook’s (The First Churchills) Christopher is in the odd middleman position in this love triangle, but his outside, sane perspective helps the audience balance out some of the horrors.

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While not as stylized as its Poe predecessor The Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligeia has some beautiful natural locals and production. There’s a hefty amount of daylight scenes here-and they all work in the spooky, gothic, Early Victorian setting. There are some great ruined abbeys, the English countryside, and even a romantic stroll through Stonehenge. You might think these pieces don’t go together, but the morbid set interiors match the abbey in gothic look and spooky tone. The Victorian costumes are also early in style, alluding to a bit of the Bronte Sisters, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre. And of course, there’s a very disturbing classic Corman dream sequence that scares better than some of the stranger, more bizarre visual dream trickery previously done.

Side B of our set offers more Vincent Price in a one-man show called An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe. Price showcases four tales from Poe in various stage settings, beginning with “The Tell Tale Heart.” I imagine you’re familiar with the tale, and Price is delightfully over the top here. His crazed style suits the story. The production here looks a little low and bare, but theatre fans can certainly enjoy this spirited Poe dramatization. “The Sphinx” is actually a Poe story that’s new to me. Price changes his looks and time period for each tale, strengthening his suave approach to the audience. He is clearly enjoying the punch line here, and this tale is better dressed than “The Tell Tale Heart.” Some might think a one-man production is stale and boring, but swift camera movement keeps things fresh. Not the crazy angles and dizzying modern zooms, but there’s just enough cuts and close ups to create the illusions needed.

So, that’s how “The Cask of Amontillado” is pronounced! I was never quite sure. The older Price is made up even older here for this unusual interpretation. You’d expect to see this one played out, not in effect told as perhaps “The Tell-Tale Heart” can only be. Price, however, does the voices of both men involved, playing on the amusement of the story and the unreliable status of the narrator. The camera again moves with him, cutting from several sides and using duel tricks almost like Gollum and Smeagol in The Two Towers. It’s a simple maneuver, but it works with the very handsomely dressed dining room stage.

It’s strange that director Kenneth Johnson (V, Alien Nation) would do “The Pit and the Pendulum” here in 1972 when Roger Corman did the feature length film ten years earlier. Nevertheless, Price looks the old and crazy part. Each tale has progressed his age, the time period, and the story’s deceit. This short here is more abstract and dream like than Corman’s back story filled movie. The fire and brimstone effects in this Pit go for more frights rather than a Twilight Zone twist ending. You would think Vincent Price effectively reading books line for line onscreen would be boring, but no. The stories dramatized in these readings are all told in the past tense with Poe’s great unreliable narrator telling his askew interpretation to the audience. Even though it may look old or too theatre to modern audiences, An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe is perfect for Vincent Price fans, film students, or literature teachers looking for a short and sweet visual accompaniment for the classroom.

The DVD set of Tomb of Ligeia and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe is relatively simplistic, with only a commentary of Roger Corman and Elizabeth Shepherd. It’s a little slow in pacing, but fun and informative for the die-hard fan. The subtitles for Ligeia are great, too. Fans of the previous Poe pictures or sixties horror films can enjoy Tomb of Ligeia, but period piece and gothic fans should tune in, too. However, hardcore viewers looking for a blood fest and straight horror should skip these stylized tales. Likewise, I also don’t know about cat lovers enjoying Tomb of Ligeia. Feline folks will delight in the pesky cat scenarios, but cat enthusiasts won’t like some of the black cat bashing, either. Ah, it’s the beauty of Poe, something for everyone!

Kbatz: Creepy Kids!

Frightening Flix

A Creepy Kids List!

by Kristin Battestella

 

These teen, tweens, and kids are battling more than their fair share of doppelgangers, evil children’s books, and you know, cannibalism. You millenials!

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Another Me – Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors), Rhys Ifans (Anonymous), and Claire Fiorlani (Meet Joe Black) anchor this 2013 British/Spanish doppelganger teen thriller which is admittedly poorly structured and padded to start with violent dreams, a trying to be ominous narration, and critical family moments shown in flashback rather than real time. More Macbeth and high school play jealously cliches, emo photography, and music moments litter the first ten minutes, but Meyers makes for a dreamy drama teacher alongside lingering shadows, assorted reflections, filming through windows, and double camera trickery. Coming and going gaslighting a neighbor, quick passing glances, double takes, and ignored graffiti warnings add simmer while single white female same haircuts and frienemy understudies shape a waiting in the aside, play within a play dual layer. Stairs to and tunnels fro delay the foreboding but the claustrophobic, up close elevator panic is well done amid fine illness, adulterous stupidity, and marital breakdowns. We don’t see many scary encounters – just an overreacting teenager jumping to conclusions when she could have, you know, asked her parents if there was an in utero twin problem. The pace is slow and unsure in giving the character drama room or allowing for the supposed to be spooky. A tale can be both but the round and round builds up to a bigger scare that doesn’t happen, the physicality of it all is never really explained, and the outcome is fairly obvious. It might have been interesting to have seen the villain, experienced her double interactions, and witness some opposite acting chops from Turner. Fine twists do happen, but with seven minutes of credits eating into the 85 minute runtime, writer and director Isabel Coixet (My Life without Me) needed both more development time for the deserving cast and a tighter focus on the phenomena. This is nothing new to longtime scary viewers – similar plots have been done better in The Twilight Zone’s “Mirror Image” and Poe’s “William Wilson” – but the PG-13 spooky will be entertaining for younger audiences.

 

The Babadook – Up close screams, distorted past accidents, bad dreams, and checking under the bed make sleep uneasy for mother and child in this 2014 Australian thinking person’s horror. Kid gadgets, magic tricks, a locked basement filled with memento mori, and the wonderfully freaky eponymous but anonymous book have us believing in gruesome children’s stories once again as the pop up contents become a bit too interactive. Forget school and social pressure, a boy has to defend himself and his mom against those monsters! The youthful fears, wise for his age, and natural innocence are immediately endearing, as is the much lauded Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) as our kind, relatable, working widow. Her life has been difficult, lonely, and getting worse– a scared kid climbing into bed all the time ruins the ‘me’ time, doesn’t it? Paging Doctor Freud! Close cut, intimate editing builds suspense, keeping the pent up, internal focus as the child’s play turns dangerous. Instead of desensitizing thrills, we feel the real life fears as the seemingly supernatural blends with seven years of escalating grief. Family abnormalities, paranormal possibilities that psychiatry can’t handle, monsters that manifest on such daily traumas – is our pair too attached to each other in this battle or fighting alone? Where is the line between evil possessions and their own warped reality? Dark corners and a depressing, monochromatic home allow for unseen horrors to brew and fester over the 94 minutes alongside a progressively unkempt style, insomnia haze, here or not there bugs, overnight gaps in time, and floating under the covers apparitions. A lack of sisterly help, snickering police, and truant officers accent the late night television parallels, further blurring the lines between monsters and actuality. In the absence of empty shock moments, immediate adrenaline, and jump scare spectacles, the scary sounds and shadows simmer. Some viewers may predict the dog worries and a bit of the tables turning, but the intense times and maternal power use horror to say what can’t be said and create discussion as good scares should. Female-centric horror not done for the titillation, who knew?

 

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The Toy Box – Animated legends and Norfolk fairytales open this 2005 slasher with happy kids games and magical storytelling – until a pet ends up in the blender…yeah. Colorful interiors, a quirky house, and should be quaint locales set the scene for holiday family gatherings, but creepy artwork is being sent in the mail – er post – and unnecessary, shaky cam zooms interfere with the bizarre parents, crazy granny, too close siblings, and taut tension at the table. Choppy editing keeps restarting the story with little explanation on who is who, and numerous scenes fade out without really ending or serving any purpose. This film reeks of an incomplete fly by night production disguised as weird trying to be avante garde – enough with the ritual echos, unexplained nonsensical, and juvenile cartoons. Though shrewd, affordable, and in keeping with the child fantasy aspects; the animated recountings of local myths also feel like the cheapest way to show rather than tell. This animation and the disjointed childhood flashbacks delay the story at hand when websites, books, and intriguing characters telling tales about the fire is information enough. Along with distorted dreams and just the right amount of gore, mysterious amulets, candlelight dinners, smoky mirror reflections, snow, and meat hooks build mood over the eighty minutes. Yes, too many confusing things are happening and much of this will be too out there or just plain dumb for some audiences. It’s tough to forgive the low budget mistakes and struggling production shortchange dominating over all the good potential, violence, and horrors, too. Fortunately, there are enough frights in the final act for viewers to hang in there for the twisted enjoyment of seeing folks get what they deserve.

 

We Are What We Are – A bleak outdoors, dangerous rains, and thunderstorms open this 2013 cannibal family remake amid missing posters, meat grinders, early deaths, and yearly fasting rituals. Clearly something icky is afoot. Despite somewhat recent vehicles and cell phones, old fashioned clothes on the line outside, radio weather reports, and a tape recorder dictation for an autopsy make the rural separation and backwoods upstate onscreen seem older. Candlelight and shadowed buildings are well shot, with wild looking and harsh father Bill Page (American Psycho) singing hymns and saying his children shouldn’t be scared. Up close shots of spoons to the mouth and a variety of foods add to the coy hints – coughing up blood, a dog finding bones, repeated “no flesh, no fruit, no grain” talk. Others must eat regular food before it spoils due to storm outages, yet the title hearkens an ‘we are what we eat’ witticism. A zoomed in focus on the flipping pages of a medical book turning with the camera cuts until the all stop on our C word makes for a quaint but fresh take on the research montage, too. Compared to some expecting big scares, the well paced, simmering dread may seem slow. However, we must see this escalating sinister through because clearly it can’t go on as is – again playing on the title’s ‘it is what it is’ perpetuation as this legacy fights against morality, desperation, grief, and rebellion. Wise doctor Michael Parks (Kill Bill) and friendly neighbor Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) provide sophisticated antagonism alongside superb moments of colonial history and extreme Donner inheritance. How far will this monstrous family need go? More pre and post films are planned, and hopefully, they are just as good and don’t become diluted into trite teen angst. Enough blood and gore accents the do what they must violence, bonus twists, and brief ritual nudity complete with rattling chains before superb at the table confrontations and a tasty finish. Ironically, I must admit this movie made me hungry and appreciative of proper cooking! Now, why the flip wasn’t this in cinemas? 17 screens does not count as a proper release.

 

Kbatz: Madhouse and Theatre of Blood!

Frightening Flix

Madhouse and Theatre of Blood A Twisted Good Time!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Give me an excuse to watch some more Vincent Price!

 

In the 1974 murder and mayhem tale Madhouse, Price is Paul Toombes, the aging star of the Dr. Death horror movies penned by Toombes’ longtime friend and former actor Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing). Flay has coaxed Toombes out of semi retirement for a new television show produced by the sleazy Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry). Unfortunately, the suspicious murder of Toombes’ young fiancée and the time he spent institutionalized thereafter continues to haunt ‘Dr. Death’. Cast and crewmembers on his new series are soon found dead in copycat crimes styled from the Dr. Death films, and Toombs slowly succumbs to a returning mental instability. Can he solve the crafty murders nonetheless? Is he the killer or Dr. Death’s next victim?

Oscar winning editor turned director Jim Clark (The Killing Fields, The Innocents) opens Madhouse with a fun use of footage from The Haunted Palace, solid pre-title festivities, and a juicy crime. In many ways, Clark’s crafty editing experience is perfect for the task at hand. The visual blending of Price’s earlier AIP films, old production photos, nods to other film work, and their intercutting use for this Amicus co-production wonderfully establishes Madhouse’s neat premise. Where does the actor Toombes’ reality end and the fictional killer persona of Dr. Death begin? Are we watching a film about Toombs or the Dr. Death TV show? Did these two great titans of horror “need the work” onscreen and off perhaps? This sly touch of dark comedy and ability to laugh at one’s genre comes across beautifully, and the intermingling with killer viewpoints, seventies zooms, and extreme angles keeps the lines between actuality and stability appropriately askew. It’s not overdone as we lay it on today- there’s just the right amount of stylized play within a play identities, illusions, and good fun. After all, we’re seeing a horror show within a horror film supported by clips of other horror movies like The Raven, Tales of Terror, and The Pit and the Pendulum. Madhouse doesn’t take itself so seriously, and neither should we. One should probably be a fan of Big V’s film catalog to appreciate such shrewd killer use of stock footage, yes. The seventies mixing and sixties styles will seem dated- even obvious in revealing the killer as the picture goes on. The more that you think about the scenes of the crimes; plot holes and confusions become apparent, indeed. Fortunately, the traditional horror film design, tight photography, and simple smoke and mirrors work their best. The death scenes are first-rate, with creative uses of the set within set themes. The film splicing, fade ins and outs, and great uses of sounds effects and screams from both within the used footage and the film itself create a complete drive-in or late night film experience. I’m not sure that the title has to do with anything, and the logistics of Madhouse’s inept Scotland Yard men will make your head hurt if you think too hard on it, but who cares?

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Naturally, Our Man Price is the classy old pimp we expect, oh yes. He begins Madhouse as a suave Hugh Hefner-esque silver fox with young Bond Girl blonds abound. Today we might expect this sexy mismatch in horror, but it’s a true guilty pleasure to see Toombes taking down the dames here. Although Price plays the degrading sanity seriously, there are hints of that over the top innuendo and tongue planted firmly in cheek design. Certain scenes are both personal parody and honest homage to his earlier scaries, and we’re meant to enjoy the self-reverent ride. It’s as if the character of Dr. Death is more alive that the aptly named Toombs. He’s older, sympathetic- we feel for this terrorized former star- yet the Dr. Death scenery is no less suspicious or sinister in quality. Besides, many viewers would presume Price himself was spooky onscreen and off, creating another blur between the actors and personas within Madhouse. These dual imageries and creepy soliloquies create quite a haunting portrayal indeed.

At only ninety minutes, fellow horror mavens Peter Cushing (must I?) and Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire) don’t get too much time to steal the show, but their spooky support is spot on nonetheless. Cushing is so suave, a slick, classy ex-actor turned writer that’s almost too good a friend to be true. Likewise, Quarry is the perfect greasy television executive looking for dames and dollars. Both men also wear vampire costumes at a celebrity party- again playing on the theme with Quarry’s Yorga and Cushing’s Helsing personas. Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff are credited for their stock footage uses, which is kind of strange but also a fitting tip of the hat for the bent reality that is Madhouse. Natasha Pyne (Father Dear Father) is also an interesting and unexpected touch as TV assistant Julia. Blonde and seemingly insignificant like the other ladies, but again, nothing in Madhouse is what it seems.

 

Adrienne Corri (A Clockwork Orange) is also wonderfully disturbed and loads of fun. Those spiders of hers, shudder! Madhouse looks both swanky with modern mid-century design and Old Hollywood with fallen graces and decrepit sets. The creepy British locales add on lots of candles, statues, and spooky gardens. Old film projectors, flat phonographs, eerie sixties scoring, ironic music cues sang by Price himself, and a few scary storms layer the frame within a frame nostalgia nicely. Hip London cars, debonair accents, mod turtlenecks and ascots add some flair, too. Not to be outdone of course, 1973’s Theatre of Blood sets its scene with demented and dirty vintage London locations. Believed dead after his suicide attempt, Edward Lionheart uses thespian facades and Shakespearean inspiration to seek revenge on the critics association who denied him ongoing review praise and their top year-end award. Inspector Boot (Milo O’Shea, Romeo and Juliet) and the police question Lionheart’s daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) as one by one Horace Sprout (Arthur Lowe), Chloe Moon (Coral Browne), and the rest of their circle meet their theatrical ends. Will critic Peregrin Devlin (Ian Hendry) be able to stop the deranged actor and his meth drinking street troupe before he’s Lionheart’s next victim?

Unfortunately, the low and uneven voices- it seems like no one’s microphones worked- create a poor and dated feeling for Theatre of Blood. If you’re expecting high horror production, the wasted, worn, and depressing dressings can look like a sub par play made on the cheap. Compared to the whimsical homage of Madhouse, Theatre of Blood appears more like a straight crime thriller; and in some ways, I wish it did have some deserving, grandiose, even gaudy psychedelic Corman color. Longer at almost 1 hour 45 minutes, director Doug Hickox (Brannigan) works with the similar themes of fallen actors, stage facades, play within a play styling, and flashback frameworks. The fun, ye olde silent film opening credits montage suggests the dark humor that is to come, too. However, Theatre of Blood feels slow to start, with standard stuffy Brit types and more bungling policemen who shockingly don’t realize the Shakespearean connections to the crimes. Some of the foreboding is obvious as well, and revenge kinship to The Abominable Dr. Phibes is evident. The editing and cutting styles do build suspense, but some of the early death scenes aren’t as theatrical as they could be. The first hour’s melodrama lacks creativity, and these deadly theatre politics can seem too pompous and dry to be believed. All this just because they gave him a few bad reviews and no trophy?

 

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Theatre of Blood isn’t that scary and feels hollow enough for those expecting a major horror film to turn out. We always see Lionheart in character and don’t get the essential pieces to his motivation until flashback exposition later in the picture. Frankly, these lovely over the top establishments should have been the opening to Theatre of Blood, and the poor choice to stick character importance so late can even create some player confusion. Thankfully, there’s a great ironic use of classic music, and what may appear to be a bland and dark tale slowly builds into a farcical delight. The fun here is in guessing who is going to die next and in what Shakespearean method. The abnormal build up to the humor, farce, and intentionally exaggerated theatrics increase masterfully as Theatre of Blood goes on, complete with wit, panache, and a hysterical Othello twist. The low values and weak start may seem like a faulty execution not worth the viewing, yes. Theatre of Blood does take half of the picture to get to it, indeed. Fortunately, once it does step up the mayhem, Theatre of Blood does so wholeheartedly- literally!

I would say these reduced budget faults necessitate a proper nuHammer remake- if not for the simply irreplaceable Vincent Price that is! Lionheart begins white haired and crazy- an entertaining, once upon a time high thespian with a marked disconnection from reality. Some of the makeup is iffy, but most of the disguises are great genius. Price’s voice, position, and stature may give him away, but the joy is in seeing what warped Bard plan he has next. The demented Shakespearean soliloquies are- I must pun- Priceless. We shouldn’t doubt that Big V could do a straight high-class film by any means, but his pseudo Shakespeare intensity steps up as Theatre of Blood goes on. The multi-layered performance is laced with wit, sadness, class, and sociopathic grace. Oh, the sweeping music and forehead dabs as the faux doctor goes to work! Price is clearly having fun with this man of a thousand faces gone awry, and you can see why this is one of his personal favorite performances. Love it or hate it, Theatre of Blood is almost worth the ‘Price of admission’ just for the kinky Othello scene! I mean, he even sports a fake afro- Bob Ross meets Carrot Top, anyone? Yes, I’ll say it- that burgundy velvet pimp suit is to die for! Price’s nuanced and well faceted portrayal is both spot on and perfectly ironic. I love the Inspector’s “It’s not a comedy!” claim right before an Austin Powers-esque inept police pursuit and the simply exceptional Titus serve-uppance. Oh, yes.

 

She’s up to the challenge and Diana Rigg (The Avengers) looks good, of course; but we don’t see her prettied up much for Theatre of Blood. Her “amateur actress” Edwina begins dry as well, with some seemingly unimportant playful seduction. Fortunately, her position as the good daughter becomes more ingenious as Lionheart’s plans unfold. There’s not a lot of the famous Emma Peel innuendo to bounce off, naturally, as we have no overt attempt for a sexy young thang here. Rigg fans, however, will certainly enjoy her almost see through white mini skirt and sans bra potential. The victimized cast- including future Mrs. Price Coral Browne (Auntie Mame), Arthur Lowe (Dad’s Army), Ian Hendry (Get Carter), Robert Morley (The African Queen), and the rest of the somewhat interchangeable critics – create a very uptight, pompous, and annoying board, indeed. That is partly the point of their latent villainy- they’re asses- but not all of their motivations are explained. We can hate them one by one or enjoy their deaths because we are bemused by Price as Lionheart. Otherwise, the critics aren’t that interesting in themselves, and the audience isn’t given much reason to care. Perhaps there’s supposed to be another level of sinful humor or irony at work- that would be the opposite of the meaningless, unending buffet of blondes and bosoms usually being diced up in horror film today. However, the secondary support in Theatre of Blood just comes off as too lightweight and underdeveloped. The be-furred meth drinking hepcats working with Lionheart are also just too stupid and weird; the flashback explaining their presence comes too late. Although, I do confess, I did fall for one of Theatre of Blood’s now fairly obvious twists on my first viewing!

Uninhibited Shakespeare fans can have a jolly good tongue in cheek viewing with Theatre of Blood, indeed. Study how the seventies deaths mirror the plays, or test up on Bard Quotes and Know Your Will games. It may see meandering to start and too low quality for anything to matter, but this one is definitely worth the viewing investment. The Netflix streaming subtitles are absolutely necessary in catching all of Price’s stage glory, and a dual DVD edition of Madhouse and Theatre of Blood is available for further warped comparisons. Yes, longtime horror viewers will spot the errors in Madhouse and some predictable twists in Theatre of Blood- some audiences may even be confused by the witty, double play finale in Madhouse or Blood’s OTT ending. Nevertheless, classic horror and kitschy Price fans can delight in the solid mystery fun and thespian mayhem in both Madhouse and Theatre of Blood.

Kbatz: Sins and Saucy!

Sins, Dirty Secrets, and Saucy!

By Kristin Battestella

From past rituals and torrid affairs to technological scares and crimes you thought you could hide, this modern quartet is brimming with sinners, sex, and consequences. Yowzah!

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Let us PreyThe Scottish setting and British accents of this 2014 creepy starring Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) may be tough for some. The voices are softer than the big sounds, and the dark, saturated picture is tough to see at times. Fortunately, that’s about all the quibbles here thanks to ominous waves, bleak crows, and an abandoned, end of the earth isolation. Despite the dark design, several critical scenes are well lit with either halo brightness, orange purgatory hues, a sickly green patina, or red for violent flashbacks. Female clichés are upended amid this interesting cast of characters – and there is plenty of gray behind the bars and the badge making for some mysterious hit and runs, visions, antagonism, and a twisted parable mood. Suspicious doctoring, eerie fingerprints, ticking clock night shift hours, and talk of Biblical retribution but not necessarily salvation add to the bizarre, in limbo happenings. Snippets of past vices quickly reveal what the audience already suspects of our players, and whether Cunningham’s little black book is full of vengeance for good or ill, we don’t blame him either way. Nice tricks, match strikes, radio call ins, limited technology, and small intimate locales go a long way amid rhythmic editing. There’s action, blood, and violence, but this isn’t bloated with cool of it all visuals or torture porn. Although the script may be nothing new and we know what’s going to happen, the layered references, sardonic irony, and one by one karma is well played and doesn’t underestimate the audience. I almost wish this was a limited series with the not so divine collector Cunningham kicking ass and taking names with each cigarette puff, however this is a fine film as is with no need to cheapen the tale with more. Who’s the right sacred just in all of this? Who’s really a crazy predator? When you think you are one and not the other, does it make a difference? This is a refreshingly adult, R-rated, well thought out and surreal but on point commentary.

Altar Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) and Matthew Modine (Memphis Belle) renovate a spooky, desolate estate on the English Moors in this 2014 Kickstarter scary full of fog, muted black and white style, and crisp, chilly moods. This family isn’t feeling the “no signal” under construction living for the sake of mom’s work, and Modine looks appropriately Vincent Price-esque as her increasingly tense, creepy, and obsessive American artist husband. Williams’ Mrs. is in over her head before the scares begin, and though she explores, uncovers hidden doors, and takes pictures, Meg isn’t seen doing much actual renovation and this design premise feels unnecessary along with a son who only appears as required by the plot. She also disbelieves their daughter by trying to be down with the hip lingo, deflecting by watching a movie on the iPad, and not wanting tweets about ghosts or dissing of her work reputation online despite her own suspicions. Rather than being a strong, proactive wife and mother, Meg takes a lot of crap from her husband and ends up in need of rescue because she ignores the obligatory superstitious handyman, her own internet research, and the local ghost whisperer. Distorted camera work and spinning panoramas are unnecessary as well, interfering with the innate, ghostly fears and appropriately askew one on one strangers. Seemingly innocent cuts, drops of blood, eerie apparitions, bones cracking, disembodied phones ringing, bugs, and coming alive walls do enough atmosphere building over the 95 minutes, and a one sentence history makes things bemusingly self aware: this bad happened, that bad happened, place should be torn down, fin. Granted, this isn’t anything new and not a whole lot actually happens, but the seventies haunted house movie feeling and overall creepy tone provide a well paced burn to counter the usual horror contrivances like separated family members, lookalike ghosts, and going back into the house because you forgot your car keys – although the asthmatic teen has her cell phone but not her inhaler, talk about priorities! The repeating past events and titular rituals will be expected by wise horror audiences, and some of those haunting details should have been clarified, faults I again suspect are due to having a one in the same writer and director. I feel like I’ve said a lot of negatives yet this one was better than I expected thanks to its not reaching with sex and gore or a trying to be something its not pretentiousness. There’s some same old, same old, but the time remains a pleasing escalation of ghostly possessions.

DarknetThis 2013 Canadian anthology series jumps right into the First of Six half hour episodes with an internal website design, ominous subway obliviousness, and mysterious keys in a terminal locker leading to more clues. Our young and hip protagonists are often alone, in over their heads, and unaware they are horror subjects, and the seemingly random, intercut mini tales make it tough to grow attached whether our anonymous victims are in the played videos or surfing the visuals in real time. These aren’t characters, just people being scared from scene to scene. Surveillance camera black and white accents the suspense and ironic toppers in each vignette, but the non-linear excuses only provide short term effectiveness. Through the keyhole views, police investigations, voyeurs, and saucy witnesses help rebuild tension in Episode Two, and bickering couples, incessant buzzing, faulty electricity, and erotic treasure maps don’t lead to a happy ending. Whether the stories are creatively connected or not, the disjointed twists aren’t necessarily crafty when the audience is duped into a confusing short attention span structure. Episode Three serves up eerie escorts, homeopathic pills, perilous jaywalking, and worse telephone repairmen – those tasers do come in handy! Despite the lack of logic needed to keep the shockers afloat, the storylines are quite quality along with the desperate prescriptions, kitchen hallucinations, and surgery fears of Show Four. Yes, be suspicious of house call doctors, cryptic contests, and fishy hotline calls! The isolation, blurred camerawork, and disembodied voices go well with the medical horrors, proving the plots here don’t always have to be solely murderous. Cubicle ho hum and new town paranoia also do excellently in the full length story for Episode 5, using the alarming videos within an escalating tale for what ifs instead of the previous plot hole shockers. Ironically, the Finale goes back to hacker games and cheap sex thrills, weakening the killer tapping on the window simmer and turnabout is fair play surprises for a limp finish. A Season Two is in the works, and this kind of instant shock value fits its online Vimeo platform – where the over reliance on technology, messaging, social screens, and scrolling matches the current horror trends. Worse sex and violence can be found on the internet, however, and in five years, that technological steep will compromise all watch-ability. That’s not to say the series isn’t without promise, but its fleeting by design choices over brewing scares is only a fright fix memorable in small doses. Hopefully,the next batch will correct the kinks and notch up the fear.

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The Theatre BizarreUdo Kier (Shadow of the Vampire) is discomforting in his puppet makeup and makes for a bizarre animatronic host indeed for the “Theatre Guignol” frame story linking this 2011 anthology. Our First tale “The Mother of Toads” is self aware with Lovecraft references, croaking old ladies, reptilian rituals, and disturbing nudity – but the vacationing couple clichés may bore horror viewers expecting oomph. Tale Two “I Love You” escalates from a dramatic break up and bad sex to a painful look at two timing revelations and honest cruelties. Again, the violent reactions are predictable, but the distorted editing is a pleasing accent on the unabashedly R skin and splatter. The Third segment “Wet Dreams” offers a weird therapist, torture devices, and several creative varieties on every man’s fear of uh… dismemberment. Dream analysis blurs the line between conscious moments or imagination, but that abstract also muddles some of the sympathy involved. “The Accident,” however, has pretty scenery, a little girl asking hefty questions, intercut motorcycle fatalities, and upsetting animal scenes. Why do we lie to comfort our children? While such somber may seem out of place here, this vignette isn’t trying to scare but instead relay what is scary to us. Next, rapid life flashing before your eyes editing, back alley stupor, drug fixes, and eerie needles anchor the premise of “Vision Stains.” What if memory collection was within the eye itself? Should it be stolen in a dark violent high disguised as some sort of vigilante justice? The solitary narration makes the structure difficult, but that askew perception is also necessary to the storytelling. Gluttonous decadence, sex meets food sustenance, and avante garde orgies make for some fun fetish extremes for the finale “Sweets,” and director commentaries and lengthy interview features provide more insights. The overall tone, however, does seem sexist on both sides – male directors telling tales about bitches but those gals are apparently justified over such creep dudes. The balance isn’t quite right, and if viewers are going to pick and choose their favorite segments individually, the concepts might have been nice to see in a new Tales from the Crypt style series instead. A lot here is too weird, derivative, and uneven thanks to the unique design, but there is still some choice horror entertainment, too.