It’s our Frightening Flix Horror Titans of Yore come to celebrate our HorrorAddicts.net anniversary!
It’s our Frightening Flix Horror Titans of Yore come to celebrate our HorrorAddicts.net anniversary!
British Horror Documentaries, Brilliant! By Kristin Battestella
This quartet of documentaries and informative programming has plagues, queens, holidays, and witches – all with a little across the pond flair.
The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague – Purdue Medieval Literature Professor Dorsey Armstrong hosts this 2016 twenty-four episode lecture series from The Great Courses Signature Channel, beginning with early feudal nobles versus peasants, religious society and church control, and urban growth in the medieval warm period before a changed Europe in 1348 with plague reducing the population from 150 million to 70 million. Onscreen maps, notations, and timelines supplement the disturbing first-hand accounts, despairing eye witness testimonies, and Old English translations of outbreak terrors – focusing on the human response to pestilence while dispelling misnomers on The Black Death’s name and symptoms. Some victims writhed in long-suffering agony while others died within a day, drowning in their own blood thanks to bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic bacterium. Ebola virus comparisons are specific and gruesome alongside scientific theories on bacillus causes, tuberculosis similarities, Blue Sickness inconsistencies, and Anthrax possibilities. Prior Justinian outbreaks, Asian beginnings in Kaffa, and Italian trade route migration spread plague while fleas, rats, and gerbils transmission, weather patterns, and even extraterrestrial origins are debated. Entire villages were ravaged with hemorrhagic fever contributing to the scourge’s spread on poor, crowded, malnourished people fearing the judgment of God, wearing creepy masks, and carrying fragrant herbs to curb the smell of mass shallow graves and dog-mauled bodies. Despite illiteracy, wills and documentation accumulate – although journals have blank spaces and abrupt ends because the writers died. Vacancies increase while religious orders decrease since those ministering to the sick die, yet crime declines as thieves won’t even enter a wealthy but plagued home. Avignon pilgrimages bring devastation and Walking Dead comparisons as Florence’s valuable textiles are burned. Prostitutes are often cast out – not for transmission worries, but to purge sin from a city. Orphans and widows become dependent on the patriarchal society, and artistic guild become charitable necessities. Flagellant movements fill the religious gap while England’s unexposed island population leaves London with no place left to put the dead. When only the 103 heads of households are marked dead in the census, one can conservatively deduce the number of dead was probably quadruple that 103. In a town of 1,000, what if the average household number was seven? Ghost ships arrive in Norway, and grim reaper folklore expresses Scandinavian fears amid whispers of children being buried alive to appease angry gods. Primitive remedies and bloodletting rise, as do tales of monks and nuns going out in style with debauchery and hedonism or gasp, dancing in town-wide festivals. An entire episode is dedicated to antisemitism and Jewish persecutions, a depressing and violent response on top of the plague, and the callous church using the pestilence as an opportunity to remind people it was their sinful fault may have helped spur later reformations. Of course, lack of clergy meant the church accepted anyone for ordination, leaving priests who didn’t know what they were doing when the faithful public needed help most. Outside of nobles losing their privileged status, most classes were ironically better off post-plague with memento mori artwork and danse macabre murals flourishing amid literary masterpieces and dramatic analysis inspiring the early renaissance and the likes of Chaucer. Economic booms re-establish trade as the aristocracy marries into the merchant class and peasants revolt for more power, changing the world for centuries to come. While lengthy for the classroom itself, these half hours are jammed packed with information, documentation, and statistics keeping viewers curious to learn more. This is a fine accompaniment or a la carte for independent study – an academic approach rather than the in your face, sensationalized documentary formats permeating television today. The Great Courses Channel is worth the streaming add-on for a variety of informative videos, and this macabre selection is perfect for fans of horror history.
Mary Queen of Scots: The Red Queen – Scottish castles, ruinous abbeys, and highland scenery anchor this 2014 documentary on that other devout catholic Mary thorn in protestant Elizabeth’s side. The narration admits the similar names are confusing, but the voiceover meanders with unnecessary time on Mary’s parents James V and his French wife Mary of Guise amid Henry VIII marital turmoil, perilous successions, and religious switches. Opera arias interfere further as we stray into Mary Mary quite contrary rhymes, earlier Robert the Bruce connections, Tudor rivalries, French alliances, and the possible poisoning of infant Stuart sons before finally getting to Mary being crowned at nine months old in defiance of male inheritance laws. Rough Wooing tensions and early betrothal plans with Edward VI lead to isolation at Stirling Castle before a pleasant childhood at the French court, but a princess education and marriage to the Dauphin in 1558 ultimately send the young widow back to Scotland as regent in 1561. Catholic unrest always leaves Mary on unfriendly terms with Bess alongside John Knox reformations at home, misogynist rhetoric, and a nasty marriage to her first cousin Henry Stuart. The need for an heir, murdered lovers, adulterous pregnancies, revenge – loyal nobles take sides as the Catholic baptism of the future James VI divides public opinion. Men with syphilis, suspicious gunpowder accidents, marital traps, and final meetings with her year-old son begat possible kidnappings, a new marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, revolts, imprisonment at Loch Leven, abdication, and rumors of stillborn twins with unknown fathers. It might have been interesting to see scholars contrasting bad girl Mary with her marriages and male interference versus Elizabeth The Virgin Queen rather than the all over the place narrative. Bess holds Mary captive in various English castles for eighteen years until religious coups, forged letters, an absentee trial, and the final treasonous Babington Plot. Mary goes out in style with symbolic red despite her botched beheading, with an ironic final resting place at Westminster Abbey beside Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. This rambling hour confuses itself and repeats anecdotes in what should have been a tighter, more informative focus. However, such superficial storyteller basics can actually be a good classroom compliment with additional materials.
Witches: A Century of Murder – Historian Suzannah Lipscomb hosts this two-part 2015 special chronicling the seventeenth century persecutions and torture run rampant as witchcraft hysteria spread from James I in the late fifteen hundreds through Charles I and the English Civil War. 1589 Europe has burn at the stake fever thanks to the Malleus Maleficarum belief that witches were in league with the devil, and contemporaneous sources, books, and confessions help recount violent techniques and sexual aspects that may not be classroom-friendly. Innocent birthmarks or moles on maids and midwives were used and misconstrued until naming names and pointing fingers snowballed into deplorable jail conditions, hangings, and conspiracy. Postulating on why the innocent would confess is addressed alongside the details from the North Berwick Witch Trials – including garroting and even the smell of burning human fat. James I’s own Daemonologie becomes a license to hunt witches as the 1645 then-normal rationale that witches have sex with the devil escalates to extreme Puritan paranoia. Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins takes the law into his own hands via body searches, sleep deprivation, and agonizing deaths while unknown medicinal ills or causes were conveniently mistaken as evidence for witchcraft accusations. Names and faces are put to the exorbitant number of accused while on location scenery from Scotland to Oxford, Essex, and Denmark add to the prison tours and suspenseful trial re-enactments. Here specific facts and detailed information happen early and often rather than any hollow paranormal herky-jerky in your face design. Community fears, social cleansing frenzy, and things done in the name of good and God against evil and the Devil at work accent the timeline of how and why this prosecution became persecution run amok. Instead of broad, repetitive sensationalism or the same old Salem talk, this is a mature and well presented narrative on the erroneous impetus of the witchcraft hysteria.
You Make the Call, Addicts!
Halloween: Feast of the Dying Sun – This recent documentary hour intends to set the holiday straight with the Celtic origins of season, adding sunsets, cemeteries, Samhain bonfires, and end of the harvest celebrations to the spooky voiceover for heaps of atmosphere. From Scottish identity guessing games and the belief that the dead visit the living to trick or treating as beggars pleading door to door and souling for small cakes, tales of how our Halloween customs came together are detailed with banshees, hidden fairylands, and ghost sightings. It’s great to see Druid practices, pre-Tolkien fantasy ideals, and Victorian fairy beliefs rooted in daily culture rather than Halloween as we know it as October 31 and done. Brief reenactments add creepy alongside authoritative, folklorist interviews, but the campfire storytelling narrative is often too abstract, meandering from one spooky specter to another with only vague, basic minutes on Celtic arrivals in Britain, early sacrificial offerings, standing stones, and ancient sites. The facts jump from 4,000-year-old yew trees to otherworldly portals and fairies capturing mortals for liberating dance rituals – crowding intriguing details on the special power of nine or magic number three and church absorption of pagan practices. The generic Celtic talk drifts away from Samhain specifically, as if today’s generation needs hand-holding explanations on witch hunts, the origins of bobbing for apples, and the medieval transition toward All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day. The rough timeline tosses in New World changes, Victorian gothic literature, and horror cinema fodder as we both laud Halloween with parades and an American commercial revival yet continue to misconstrue witchcraft and occult hallmarks of the season. This can be spooky fun for folks who don’t know a lot about the history of Halloween, however, it will be too swift and superficial for expert viewers. It’s easy to zone out thanks to the random storytelling style, and the intended pagan history would be better served with a longer or specific, multipart documentary. Except for some wanton fairy queen sexy talk, as is this is neat for a teen sleepover or party background where rather than attempted academic, the tall tales can be casual fun.
A Saucy Jean Rollin Primer by Kristin Battestella
French director Jean Rollin’s horror films have any and all manner of vampires, witches, subtitles, boobs, and saucy. What’s not to love?
Fascination– Writer and director Jean Rollin uses eerie zooms and haunting camera speeds to provide wonderful turn of the century style and Old World feelings for this 1979 French saucy. Phonographs and period music, ominous sounds, flowing white frocks, frilly lace, feathered hats, graceful mannerisms, candles, decorated interiors, natural visuals, and a great castle locale contrast the morbid slaughterhouse, vivid red colors, blood, rogue, symbolic lips, scythes, black robes, and blonde/brunette or good girl/bad girl expectations. Talk about a sexy grim reaper! It does help to know your français, sure, but the fine performances and talk of death taking the form of seduction add extra panache and gothic allure even amid any translation discrepancies on the available English subtitles.
The laid back mood may be tough for modern American audiences, but the curious characters and simmering atmosphere is soon set with crimes, betrayal, and a siege situation – not to mention how the boobs are out early and often. We’re immediately intrigued in how one man is going to survive being locked in a house with blonde Brigitte Lahaie (I as in Icarus) and brunette Franca Mai (Zig Zag Story), let alone five more cultish women and a blindfold! Though there’s a lot of skin and tender kissing, the saucy scenes may also be a whole lot of nothing for those who are expecting more full-on porn. This pretty Victorian via seventies French lesbianism won’t be for everyone but the kinky sucks the viewer in for the disturbingly delightful fashions, sinister switch, and sophisticated chic.
Lips of Blood – French Director Jean Rollin gets right to the mausoleums, Winnebagoes, shrouded bodies, coffins, and rituals in this more upscale than his usual 1975 tale. A somber score, beautiful but spooky memories, and a mysterious woman in white are immediately eerie while a colorful, swanky party and retro fashions create drama and a sophisticated foundation. Blocked childhoods, an overprotective mother, and castle ruins may be real or imagined add to the secret cemetery passages, hidden tunnels, and questions regarding perfume, scent, and memory. Naturally, there’s nudity both male and female complete with a bonus photography session, seventies bush, and masturbation. However, the saucy isn’t as rampant here, and this has a more put together story compared to Rollin’s usually thin plotlines. Although there is a bit of walking around filler, blue street lights and a moonlight ambiance anchor the after hours aquarium pursuits with an abandoned about the city feeling – there’s a dead body in the water fountain and The Shiver of the Vampires is playing at the late night movies, too. Mysterious men follow on the subway while bells, alarms, abductions, and straight jackets intensify the bats, toothy vampire nurses, and undead who help one and hinder or kill another. Phone the mayor the hungry, naked, vampire chicks are loose so gather the staking posse! Though rushed in the end, the unique finale is well edited with an interesting mix of doubt, mystery, character drama, and a sexy creepy. Who’s the worse villain – entombed vamp ladies or the village torch mob? And who knew coffins would float so well? Did we know this?
The Nude Vampire – Hooded rituals in science labs make for some unique disrobings, blood vials, and colorful beakers to start this 1970 French saucy from writer and director Jean Rollin. Although I could do without some of the now tame but up close, lingering nipple shots and overlong gyrating and dancing – continental seventies staples though they are – the black and white noir mood is well lit with candles and torchlight alongside striking red, purple, orange, and pretty people treating the eye. The interracial nudity is also surprising for the time, and the seemingly suave, exclusive clubs veil more kinky, sinister, creepy animal masks, and dangerous gunplay. There isn’t a lot of gore or blood, however, a simmering string score, evening streetlights, and cobblestone streets invoke an Old World mood to anchor the rare blood disorders, cult rites, and disturbing deaths. Unfortunately, the production is somewhat small scale and not as lavish as viewers might expect with minimal locales and poor editing. This picture is quiet, slow at times, even boring when precious minutes are wasted on meaningless walking here and there or out there plot exposition that feels tossed in after the fact. Thankfully, there are some great stairs, columns, and marble to up the decadent atmosphere, and the overall sense of bizarre helps the undercooked statements regarding immortality, blood possibilities, man’s stupidity, and the superstition versus science comeuppance. The story could have been better, but this is a fun viewing and we’re not really meant to notice the thin plot over all the titular shapely now are we?
Requiem for a Vampire – Clown costumes, shootouts, daring car chases, and dangerous roads lead this 1971 Jean Rollin juicy before two chicks on a motorcycle roam the countryside leaving dead bodies and torched cars in their wake. The spoken English track and Anglo subtitles don’t match, however, there is hardly any dialogue until the latter half of the picture when we finally find out what’s afoot. Some may dislike this silent style, but grave diggers and thunder create an intriguing, off-kilter spooky atmosphere. Scares, screaming ladies – we don’t know the details but we’re on their side as rituals and titular bloodlines escalate. Of course, colorful castles and seemingly hospitable cults providing purple furs on the bed for some lesbian touchy feelys add to the bushy babes and bemusing euro shtick. Granted, the first half-hour could be tighter, and the bare-bones plot should have gotten to the naughty sooner rather than all that running here and there. The sexual statements are iffy as well, even erroneous, for one wants to be a vampire/lesbian while the other doesn’t want to be and gets a man instead – having sex with a woman still means you are a virgin and can still claim to a man that you haven’t made real love yet! Some saucy scenes are also more graphic than others are, with uncomfortable to watch slaves in chains and more violence against women. I’m not sure about the oral sex bat (um, yeah) but the good old toothy bites mixing supernatural pain and pleasure are nicer than the rough stuff. Bright outdoor photography, pleasant landscapes, sad but eerie abandoned buildings, silhouettes, and well lit candlelight patina with gruesome green and creepy crimsons accent the dark graveyards and frightening dungeon traps, too. Once you get passed some pacing flaws and the uneven smexy, this is a fine looking and bizarrely entertaining vampire ode.
The Shiver of the Vampires – Pallbearers and a black and white graveside set the 1971 Jean Rollin mood before colorful castle ruins, overgrown greenery, and edgy music both embrace the heady and keep the medieval flair with torches, goblets, and candelabras. Howling winds, red lighting, and askew camera angles accent torture chambers and sacrifices, creating a surreal dreamscape with saucy vamps in ye olde but tie-dye dresses. The bride in white contrasts those mourning in black while gruesome skulls belie the cathedral architecture, canopy beds, and rustic yet cozy fireplaces. She’s too distraught for the marital bed – but our bride strips downs when a hippie woman humorously pops out of the grandfather clock and they lez be friends no questions asked. Sheer clothing doesn’t cover the perky naughty bits, so they need all those furs to keep those caressing ladies warm. That poor lonely groom gets left out in the cold! More camera panning, vampire opportunists stepping in and out of the frame, and overhead shots parallel the us versus them debates and whirlwind talk of undead religions and vampire persecutions. Although flashbacks add to the dreamy tone, they also confuse the wild library scene and talk of past crusades, former vampire slayers, and predestined deadly fates. But hey, killer nipple spikes! Yes, the premise is thin with strung together coming to and going fro or looking cool, meandering scenes. Rather than one vampire perspective or the young couple viewpoint, the focus constantly resets. Who’s dead? Who’s alive? Who’s undead? Rival vampire hierarchies at first seem tempting, but twists and true colors ultimately show. Granted, you can say that if you’ve seen one Rolling vampire movie, you’ve seen them all. However, had there been seriously proper writing, The Nude Vampire, Shiver of the Vampires, and Requiem for a Vampire could have been a fine trilogy. Fortunately, the nicer production values keep this bizarre romp brimming with an Avante Garde but no less creepy atmosphere.
Ciao, Horror! By Kristin Battestella
These Italian set and produced chills provide retro horror and unique creepiness to spice up your staycation.
Blood and Roses – Mel Ferrer (Falcon Crest) leads this 1960 French/Italian Carmilla influenced production brimming with lovely outdoor locations and lookalike relatives mixing romance and Karnstein history. Though the currently gathered descendants scoff at vampire myths and stories of peasants taking stakes into their own hands centuries ago; familiar names, 500 year old Mircalla voiceovers, and a costume party in a ruined abbey add period piece mood to the modern suits, fifties frocks, and swanky cocktails for a slightly baroque blend. While not as lavish as the later Hammer pictures, this is indeed colorful thanks to quality titular motifs, white wedding dresses, and red fireworks. Peppering creepy words accent the smoke, crosses, tombs, heartbeats, and vampire spirits ready to possess anew. Mirrors, screams, and zooms make for some suspenseful moments – unseen vampire deceptions escalate over the discovery of bodies with neck wounds. However, there is a symbolic sensuality, implied saucy, and very Bava-Esque pretty in the surreal, black and white dream sequence winking with water, sanitariums, naked mannequins, and nurses with bloody hands. It’s a bittersweet, medieval feeling with all kinds of lesbian vampire shade, blonde versus brunette rivalries, and so close you want to be her Single White Female innuendo. Director Roger Vadim (Barbarella) certainly liked his statuesque blondes, and there are fine personality changes for his then-wife Annette Stroyberg (also of Vadim’s Les Liaisons dangereuses) as the bewitching, possessed Carmilla – she’s minuet dancing, can’t work the record player, and horses misbehave around her. Elsa Martinelli (Hatari!) is also divine in several portrait-like stills paralleling Carmilla’s feminine desire to be loved as much as her necessity for blood. Different edited or longer versions affect the plot here, but the dubbed seventy-four minute edition is currently available on Amazon Prime. While it won’t be scary for modern audiences, this sophisticated and creepy but no less tender tale is impressive and worth seeing.
The Church – Three films claim to be Demons 3 in the somewhat confusing Italian Demoni series. Fortunately, this 1989 Dario Argento produced stand alone sequel opens with galloping knights versus witches, scary organ music, demonic signs, prophecy, torches, and head chopping slaughter. So what if it is kind of small scale, the helmets look like spray painted buckets, and kids literally have baskets on their heads! Crosses, stonework, church bells, Gothic spires, and gargoyles bring the medieval ecclesiastic yet sinister atmosphere to the modern day prayers, Biblical quotes, maze-like catacombs, and dusty library tomes. The titular temple was built to sanctify mass burials and keep evil caged below, and the tale sticks almost exclusively to the sanctuary setting as Indiana Jones temptations for buried treasure lead to coded parchments, architectural clues, suspicious altar sounds, and ghostly horses. A crusty old bishop, the new librarian reading backwards Latin, an art restorer cleaning morbid murals, the rebellious custodian’s daughter – innuendo, icky saucy, and nasty behaviors increase as evil seeps out over this interesting variety of trapped people also including a school trip, one bickering old couple, and a couture photo shoot. Even dripping water becomes suspect once the bloody spouts, blue smoke, booby traps, gruesome deaths, and reptilian hands spread evil manifestations and infestations. Frightening confessions, decaying bodily possessions, literal bleeding hearts – today’s audiences may not appreciate the slow burn one by one, but knowing it is just a matter of when adds to the robes, stained glass, rituals, and chanting. How can one fight the bestial Satan when he’s entered the hallowed itself? Although the past and present connections can be confusing and remain unexplained beyond a happened before and will again warning, the skeletons, gory bodies, wings, and horns make for a very wild finale. This picture is not shy with its imagery nor its parallels – the demons only escape because human corruption was already there, using unleashed horrors to remind us that it’s safer to leave well enough alone.
The Ghost – Skulls, storms, candles, deathbed cripples and melancholy music to match immediately set the Gothic mood and Scotland 1910 period stylings of this colorful 1963 Italian haunt starring Barbara Steele (Black Sunday). The dubbing is off kilter – the occasional dubbed Scottish accent is especially bemusing – and the innate video quality isn’t the best. However, syringes, séances, poisons, and risky medical research mixed with black magic possibilities add to the up to no good atmosphere and twilight surreal. Illicit meetings, gin, revolvers, straight razors – the scheming lovers are getting desperate and antsy waiting for those in the way to die. Steele is divine in white furs and lace to start before switching to black mourning veils for the reading of the will. It’s tough not to hear her voice, but some sensuous melodrama accents the suspenseful tone, tolling bells, howling dogs, and foreboding Psalm 23. Is the missing key to the safe in the dead and buried’s coat pocket? Eerie sounds, shadows, and wheelchairs moving on their own escalate to ghostly callings and spooky music box playing while the hysterics, a suspect housekeeper, and creepy apparitions intensify the macabre treasure hunt even when there is only one person onscreen. Contemporary viewers may find the ninety-five minutes slow, and this is rough around the edges – a derivative scandal and haunting that should have been tighter. Too many late but wait there’s more twists border on preposterous, yet the increasingly trippy specters do make for a few surprises. The audience dislikes the phantom, but turnabout upon the adulterers is fair play with chilling irony, mysticism, double crossings, crypts, and coffins. We know a set up is coming, but it’s tense good fun in getting there thanks to some ambient captions such as “Sound of someone knocking,” “Creaking Door,” “Sound of Footsteps,” and “Clap of Thunder.” Oh yeah.
Macabre – It’s murder and passion via New Orleans in this atmospheric 1980 Italian swanky from director Lamberto Bava. The colorful locale is part of the plot with river boats, historic architecture, street corner jazz, and romantic melodies. The lush décor is both tacky seventies with velvet curtains and tawny patinas as well as of old thanks to gilded wallpaper, candelabras, and cluttered antiques. Cigarettes, cocktails, and pearls set off the easy to slip out of satin as illicit phone calls make mom leave the kids to babysit themselves during her dalliance. Moaning and heavy panting overheard by the white knuckled blind neighbor are intercut with child terrors, bathtub horrors, shattered glass, bloody beams, and vehicular shocks before an institution stay and return to the love nest becomes suspicious self love with altars to the deceased, ghostly footsteps, and unseen phantom encounters. Through the banister filming, windows, mirrors, and similar posturing add to the naughty mother and creepy daughter duplicity while our blind virginal musical instrument repair man must listen to the saucy and toot his own horn, so to speak, as the silent awkwardness and martini music provide emotion with little dialogue. The narrative may over-rely on the score, meandering on the pathetic situation too much, but there’s enough weirdness balancing the mellow thanks to the cruel temptations and nasty bedroom suggestions as white negligees become black sheers and candlelit interiors darken. The effortless jazz switches to pulsing, scary beats as some serious unexplained ghost sex, undead voodoo, or other unknown witchcraft escalates the decapitation innuendo and like mother, like daughter warped. Our blind audience avatar hides to not be seen, others unseen can sneak passed him, and we’re all unable to see behind closed doors – layering the suspense, voyeurism, and two fold bizarre amid bedroom shockers, ominous tokens, overcast cemeteries, and one locked refrigerator. The saucy, nudity, and gore are adult sophisticated without being vulgar in your face tits and splatter a minute like today, and tense toppers don’t have to rely on fake out scares. Granted, there are timeline fudges, some confusion, and laughable parts. It’s probably obvious what’s happening to most viewers, yet we’re glued to the screen nonetheless with ironic puns, turnabouts, kitchen frights, and titular twists. I guess edible and sexual horrors don’t mix!
For more Foreign Horror Treats, check out Our Mario Bava Essentials!
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.
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!”
Mirrors and Superstitions!
By Kristin Battestella
I don’t know about you but I won’t purchase a second hand mirror thanks to these reflective frights!
Dark Mirror – I stumbled upon this 2007 thriller late one night on IFC and enjoyed the unique aspects here. It’s so nice to see a non-blonde or idiot buxom pretty perfect lead in Lisa Vidal (New York Undercover). An ethic mom with issues like sneaking a smoke, possible marriage trouble, unemployment, and creepy neighbors- we haven’t seen the likes of this realistic well-roundedness in a horror film in sometime. The intriguing twists on cameras, mirrors, flashes, glass, and illusions are well done- not overly excessive but better than other similar films like Mirrors and Shutter. Even Feng Shui gets involved in the twisted mythos here. The spooky L.A. house design also has some non-Sunny SoCal flaws, complete with hidden objects, altered reflections, deadly history, deceiving twists and turns and an unreliable narrator hosting the entire picture. What exactly are we seeing? What is real and what isn’t? Some of the storyline is a little confusing, and not all the acting is stellar, but the freshness here is entertaining and thoughtful throughout.
Mirror Mirror – Ironic country music and frightful orchestration accent the bloody period introduction of this 1990 teen creeper. Yes, that’s a generic title complete with a barebones DVD and no subtitles, but the spooky mix of antiques, hats, and shoulder pads make for a gothic mid century meets eighties style. Like dentistry, the innately eerie mirror aspects pack on the macabre along with blue lighting, distorted demonic voices, gruesome dreams, and bugs laying on the atmosphere. The 30-year-old looking teens in too much denim are mostly tolerable thanks to relatable new kid in town outsider feelings and feminine spins. Rainbow Harvest (Old Enough) is perhaps too wannabe Lydia from Beetlejuice and there is no sign of authority or investigation whatsoever, but the dark tone, a bemusing Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) handling the research, and the neurotic Karen Black (Burnt Offerings) make up any difference. This is a solid R, but the blood, nudity, water frights, and dog harm are done smartly without being excessive. The familiar Carrie, Teen Witch, and The Craft designs will be obvious to horror viewers, but it’s a fun 90 minutes of out of touch parents and teachers, high school cliques, and escalating creepy crimes. The titular evil from the other side takes hold for a wild finish – but never, ever put your hand down that garbage disposal, ever!
Oculus – Family scares, guns, and glowing eyes creepy get right to it as siblings are trying to both remember and forget their past tragedy in this 2013 mindbender full of askew dreams, unreliable memories, statues covered in sheets, and one cursed antique mirror. I would have preferred leads older than their early twenties – clearly appealing to the young it crowd – and despite an understandable awkward or instability, Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaites (Gods of Egypt) are too wooden at times. Fortunately, the more mature Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galatica) and Rory Cochrane (Empire Records) and child support Annalise Basso (The Red Road) and Garrett Ryan (Dark House) do better. The non-linear past and present retelling, however, is confusing – the parallel plots aren’t quite clear until the paranormal investigation brings everything together in one location with elaborate equipment, carefully orchestrated timers, and fail safes for a night of ghostly activity. The video documentation makes for smart exposition at the expense of a larger cast or showing the accursed historical events – replacing the tried and true research montage for today’s audiences without resorting to the found footage gimmick. There are no in your face camera effects or zooms with booming music when the frightful appears, and the viewer is allowed to speculate on the seen or unseen reflections, there or maybe not whispering, and distorted blink and you miss them doppelgangers. Is there a psychological explanation or is this all supernatural? Although the recollections or flashbacks of the crisscrossing events should have been more polished – are we watching two, four, or six people as this battle replays itself? – the paranoia builds in both time frames with canine trauma and alternating suspense. Yes, there are Insidious similarities, the product placement and brand name dropping feels unnecessary, and the uneven plot merge cheats in its reflection on the warped or evil influences at work. The finale falters slightly as well, however, there is a quality discussion about the titular manipulation, and the time here remains entertaining as household horrors intensify. WWE Studios, who knew?
The Witch’s Mirror – Oft spooky actor Abel Salazar (The Curse of the Crying Woman) produced this black and white 1962 Mexican horror treat with Isabela Corona (A Man of Principle) as a creepy housekeeper amid the excellent smoke and mirrors and titular visual effects. From a macabre prologue and illustrations to Victorian mood, candles, and rituals, El Espejo de la Bruja has it all – love triangles, jerky husbands, revenge, betrayals, grave robbing, and ghoulish medicine. The plot is at once standard yet also nonsensical thanks to all the sorcery, implausible surgeries, ghosts, fire, even catalepsy all building in over the top, soap opera-esque twists. The sets are perhaps simplistic or small scale with only interior filming, but this scary, play-like atmosphere is enough thanks to wonderful shadows, gothic décor, and freaky, sinister music. Several language and subtitle options are available along with the feature and commentary on the DVD as well – not that any of the dubbing, subtitles, or original Spanish completely matches. The audio is also messed up in some spots, but the script is fun and full of cultish summonings and medical fantasies. Maybe this one will have too much happening for some viewers, as every horror treatise is thrown at the screen here. However, this is a swift, entertaining 75 minutes nonetheless and it doesn’t let up until the end.
You Make the Call, Addicts!
Doppelganger – The opening Drew Barrymore suckling scene feels a little too carried over from Poison Ivy, but the follow up blood and screams with mom Jaid Barrymore add to the 1993 kitschy. The very dated style, light LA grunge feeling, and passé cast are way over the top, and vampire lovers are removed from an onscreen script rather than a shoehorned in plot necessity like today. Thankfully, Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H) is bemusing and so is the “Hey, it’s Danny Trejo!” moment, but seriously, George Newbern (actually the Adventures in Babysitting guy) isn’t Paul Rudd? Sadly, the slow motion soft core wanna-be shots don’t work until more blood and creepy aspects enter in- symbolic windows bursting open and yes, growling winds just make things laughable. It’s all too quick to get to the sex and titillation- casual lesbian on the dance floor motifs and forced use of the word ‘twat’ feel more awkward than cool. The scares are obvious, and poor music choices, sound mixing, and bad dialogue re-dubs don’t help as Barrymore comes off more like a PMS queen or mental bitch rather than an innocent girl with a slutty, killer lookalike. Though the plot itself is too thin, things becomes more interesting when the murder investigation raises a few questions. Unfortunately, even the FBI agent (Dan Shor aka Billy the Kid from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) lays the smack on really thick! Barrymore doesn’t have a full command on the dry dialogue scenes, either. However, despite the baby doll dresses and old lady headscarf, teen Drew is looking flawless. I’m sure there’s a male audience that can have fun with that, the unintentional camp, and the cheap entertainment value here- except for the finale. Good Lord, what happened there?!
Recent Lady Horrors
By Kristin Battestella
These contemporary pictures provide a little bit of everything for our would be ladies in peril – be it camp, scares, ghosts, or morose thrills.
The Love Witch – Artist, witch, and murderess Samantha Robinson’s (Doomsday Device) romantic spells go awry in this 2016 comedy written and directed by costumer/producer/Jill of all trades Anna Biller (Viva). Rear projection drives and teal eye shadow establish the tongue in cheek aesthetics while cigarette smoke, colorful lighting schemes, purple capes, and nude rituals accent flashbacks and sardonic narrations. Magic has cured our dame Elaine’s nervous breakdown after her husband’s death, and she’s starting fresh in a quirky tarot themed apartment inside a sweet California Victorian complete with a bemusing chemistry set for making potions with used tampons. Kaleidoscopes, rainbow liners inside dark retro clothing, blurred lenses, and spinning cameras reflect the “vodka and hallucinogenic herbs” as magic bottles, local apothecaries, and pentagram rugs set off the pink hat and tea room pastiche. Our ladies are so cordial when not plotting to steal the other’s husband! Her dad was cruel, her husband had an attitude, and her magic guru is in it for the sex, but she’s spent her life doing everything to please men in a quest for her own fairy tale love. When is Elaine going to get what she wants? She’s tired of letting the childlike men think they are in control, but she puts on the fantasy each man wants nonetheless, impressing a literary professor with her libertine references as the to the camera elocution and intentionally over the top Valley acting mirrors the courting facade. Psychedelic stripteases tantalize the boys onscreen, but the actresses are not exploited, winking at the customary for male titillation while instead providing the viewer with a sinister, if witty nature and classic horror visuals. Different female roles as defined by their patriarchal connections are addressed as ugly old eager dudes tell matching blonde twins that stripping or a rapacious sex ritual will be empowering – because a woman can’t be content in herself or embrace sexuality on her own terms unless there is a man to ogle her – while our man eater must break a guy down to the emotional baby he really is for her gain. It isn’t Elaine’s fault if men can’t handle her love! A man not in love can be objective while one wanting sex will excuse anything, and the shrew wife or female black subordinate are put out to pasture for an alluring white woman – layering the women in the workplace and racial commentaries as similar looking ladies must switch roles to keep their man. Tense evidence creates somber moments amid police inquiries, toxicology reports, and occult research – so long as the casework doesn’t interfere with their lunch order, that is. Is this woman really a witch or just a bewitching killer in both senses of the word? Is it batting her eyelashes lightheartedness or is she really an abused, delusional girl masking her trauma as a blessed be? The serious topics with deceptive undercurrents and feminist statements will be preachy and heavy handed for most male audiences with uneven pacing and confusing intercuts. However the fake blood in the bathtub, renaissance faire ruses, and melodramatic humor combine for a modern Buffy trippy satire dressed as a retro gothic That Girl homage that takes more than one viewing to fully appreciate.
My Cousin Rachel – Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), Holliday Grainger (The Borgias), Ian Glen (Game of Thrones), and Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown) begin this 2017 Daphne du Maurier mystery with happy strolls on the beach and fun bachelor times be it lovely greenery, carriages in the snow, or reading by the fire. The epistle narration gives a hear tell on the titular marriage via secret letters recounting illness and a wife forbidding correspondence before final, unfortunate news leaves the estates to heir Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) on his next birthday – not the unseen widow said to be so strong and passionate. She’s a suspicious enigma for the first twenty minutes before a cross cut conversation introduces the charismatic storyteller, where the audience isn’t sure who is more uncomfortable or telling the truth despite the captivation. Divine mourning gowns, black satin, and lace veils add to the half-Italian allure amid more period accessories, libraries, old fashioned farming, candles, and top hats. Between would be scandalous horseback rides, church whispers, and awkward tea times, our once vengeful youth is smitten by Rachel’s progressive charm. Interesting conversations on femininity break Victorian taboos, for childbirth is the only thing a man knows about a woman and if she has a foreign remedy she must be a witch. Is Rachel wrapping her wealthy cousin around her finger? Can she when he is forbidding her work giving Italian lessons? Rachel is dependent on his allowance, and at times they both seem to be recreating the late benefactor and husband between them – the awkward new master wearing the dead man’s clothes and she the woman he didn’t think he needed. Such romance and heirloom Christmas gifts could be healing for them both, but viewers except the other gothic shoe to drop amid holiday generosity, seasonal feasts, and group songs. Overdrafts at the bank, raised allowances, a history of previous lovers and duels – Rachel puts on her finest grieving widow pity with a child lost and an unsigned will that would leave her everything. Is she orchestrating a careful seduction or is he a foolishly infatuated puppy despite clauses about remarriage or who predeceases whom? The ominous nib etching on the parchment leads to cliffside shocks, birthday saucy, blundered engagements, drunken visions, and poisonous plants. The suspicions turn with new illnesses and financial dependence, as Rachel goes out on the town and says what she does is nobody’s business. After all, why can’t she have a life of her own if the estate is now hers? Why should her independence be defined by a man’s piece of paper? We relate to Rachel, but she can only cry wolf and fall back on her sob story so many times… While this isn’t as creepy as it could be – audiences expecting horror will find the pace slow – the drama and mood are well done amid the wrong conclusions and written revelations. Were the suspicions warranted? The finale may not be satisfactory to some, but the unanswered questions and ultimate doubt remain fitting.
What say you, Addicts?
A Dark Song – Psalm warnings, beautiful skyscapes, and an old house with no heating paid for up front set this 2016 Irish tale amid the train station arrivals and others backing out on this specific plan with west facing rooms, twenty-two week diets, and purified participants having no alcohol or sex. More fasting, dusk to dawn timetables, serious interviews on why, and reluctant rules of the procedure build the cryptic atmosphere as the price for this dangerous ritual rises – speaking to a dead child isn’t some silly astral projection, angel psychobabble bollocks, basic Kabbalah, or easy Gnosticism you can find on the internet. The isolated manor with salt circles and invocations feels seventies cult horror throwback, however the metaphysical talk and extreme meditation bring modern realism as tense arguing, religious doubts, and questions on right or wrong match the bitterness toward the outside world. Hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and vomiting increase while physical cleansings and elemental phases require more candles and blood sacrifices. Some of the slow establishing and ritual minutia could have been trimmed in favor of more on the spooky half truths, suspect motives, need to be pure, and distorted state of mind. Black birds hitting the windows and missing mementos don’t seem to get the waiting for angels and forgiveness rituals very far for the amount of time that has passed, and heavy handed music warns us when something is going on even as more should be happening. A third character also seeking something he cannot find may have added another dynamic rather than two extremists getting nowhere, and short attention span audiences won’t wait for something to appear in those first uneven forty minutes. After all, with these symbols painted on the body and awkward sex rituals, wouldn’t one suspect this is just some kind of scam? Untold information, vengeance, backwards baptisms, near death extremes, and knife injuries meander on the consuming guilt and mystical visions before demons in disguise make for an obvious finale treading tires when the true angels, spirits, and goodness revelations were there all along. Maybe more seasoned hands were needed at the helm or a second eye to fix the pacing and genre flaws, for the quality pieces suffer amid the bleakness. This really shouldn’t be labeled as a horror movie, but it doesn’t capitalize on its potential as a psychological examination and surreal stages of grief metaphor either.
Shut In – Widowed Maine psychologist Naomi Watts (The Ring) is trapped in a storm while being haunted by little Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 international but already problematic PG-13 paint-by-numbers crammed with the isolated blonde, ghosts, kids horrors, weather perils, and one spooky basement. Accidents and home movies on the cell phone also laden the start before the lakeside locales, snowy blankets, and paraplegic burdens. The grief and inability to care for an invalid teen is understandable, and our step-mom considers sending him to a facility. However, the frazzled woman increasingly replacing her sick son with a younger therapy patient and the creepy temptations on holding the invalid under the bath water become hollow thanks to the obligatory it was just a dream jump cuts. Unnecessary technology and time wasting glances at watches and clocks are also intrusive – the camera focuses on dialing 911 with the finger poised over the send button and intercutting person to person like a traditional phone call flows much better than up close Skype screens. Weatherman warnings and news reports as the research montage lead to flashlights outside, icy footprints, and car alarms, but again the tension falls back on textbook raccoon scares with round and round scenes outside in the snow or inside on the phone doing little. Maybe one doesn’t think straight in the panic, but most of those frosty searches include shouting for a deaf mute boy who can’t hear you nor answer back. The psychology is also common fluff, i.e. teens have difficulty with divorce, you don’t say – Skyping Oliver Platt (Chicago Med) provides better therapy, so we know what’s going to happen to his character! Besides, all the shadows in the hallway, hidden wall panels, unexplained scratches, locked doors opening by themselves, and ghostly little hands in the bedroom yet the women still end up talking about a man. Fading in and out transitions mirror the sleeping pills and drinking, but such shifts break the world immersion before the storm even hits. When the doctor says her bloodwork indicates she’s being drugged, mom doesn’t even care – because the twist is for the audience not the main character. Lanterns, black out attacks, and video evidence right before the power failure could be good, but random people arrive despite blocked roads and the oedipal sociopath jealously provides a dumb chase finale as the stalker conveniently sing songs “Hush Little Baby” so we know where he is when he’s coming for you. Good thing that foreboding blizzard talked about the entire movie stops in time for the lakeside happy ending that apparently has no legal, medical, or parental consequences.