FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Recent Horror Ladies

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.

 

Skip It!

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.

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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.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Brimstone

 

Brimstone a Disturbing yet Must See Parable

by Kristin Battestella

 

I want to write an entire opus on the 2017 European co-production Brimstone, starring Guy Pearce as a hellbent minister and Dakota Fanning as Liz, the mute midwife afraid of him. The layered statements from writer and director Martin Koolhoven (Schnitzel Paradise) are heavy handed and uncomfortable – many may find Brimstone at best over long at two and a half hours plus and at worst, the picture will be trigger inducing to sensitive audiences. However, with those caveats said, I don’t really want to summarize much else nor especially spoil this western thriller, as it is best to go into this must see genre bending parable cold.

The bleak narration and biblically steeped onscreen chapter titles hit home the seasoned frontier, rough childbirth, and rustic farms. The white church and cross atop the steeple stand out as a sense of order amid the natural wilds, and sermons warn of false prophets, wolves among the sheep, and hellish retributions worse than one can imagine for those who stray into lawlessness. Breach births mean choosing between the mother or the child, creating an ostracizing, easy to manipulate divide. Is such a delivery up to God or the midwife’s fault? Whispers of evil doing can quickly sway a community to fear and violence. Fiery calls for retribution and paying for one’s sins add to the fear and grief of an unbaptized stillborn not finding salvation. Reverse persecution is disguised as divine, and the wolf in sheep’s clothing is almost the devil himself indeed. Why be afraid of a reverend and not welcome him into your home? The foul afoot need not be said, and Brimstone doesn’t underestimate the audience, letting the drama play out with gruesome animal paybacks, abductions, and torturous injuries. The simmering suspiciousness allows the audience a sense of stillness, time to focus on the characters while the iconography builds suspense. The man in black before the burning building or dragging a girl in white through the mud and calling her unclean are allowed to speak for themselves. Brimstone uses a western setting of creepy brothels, servitude, and no justice for working women to tell a medieval morality play – an already damned purgatory epic a la Justine’s virtues made vice with shootouts, dead horses, and all the abuses we can infer. Brimstone’s pursuits may be taking place in an abstract limbo, beyond time and space with different girls who are one and the same, perpetually chased by the same terror with precious few other devil or angel on the shoulder characters. The out of order segments change the settings as they advance the tale, behaving more like acts themselves where the audience is at first unsure if this is what happened before or what comes next. Brimstone keeps viewers interested enough to see how the vignettes tie together; we trust the unique constructs are part of the juxtaposition highlighting how the code of the brothel and the rules of the fanatical minister aren’t very different and both inescapable can even be one and the same. Obey the nastiness of the patriarchal for body and soul or you are guilty and will be punished. Whatever the origin of her sinful behavior, a girl should be ashamed – it’s her fault that menstruation makes her Little Red Riding Hood fair game. Once there is blood there is no innocence, and the vicious cycle continues with twisted irony, fateful orchestrations, and sins that cannot be out run. We’d like to think this was just how it was ye olde back then, but not much has changed has it?

Many actors today simply would not take such a role, but Guy Pearce puts on an incredible presentation in Brimstone as this extremely unlikable manipulator. Our foreboding minister justifies his grooming righteousness with warped scripture, remaining nameless beyond his title or fatherly names – respected monikers advantageously misused along with creepy chapter and verse and touchy feely, uncomfortable familiarity. He knows when Liz is hiding near him and taunts her on how she as such a terrible murderess can sleep at night. This minister has come to punish her and will use her husband and daughter to do it. He immediately expresses a shuddering attachment to her little girl, and after initially claiming his actions are of God, this minister festers into an unstoppable, almost immortal embodiment of the sins made flesh carrying him. Hellbent and beyond salvation, this Big Bad Wolf howls and embraces his brutal scourge. I’m not often disappointed in Pearce’s work despite learning early on thanks to superior quality like The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, L.A. Confidential, and Memento (For shame on those who discovered Memento and Christopher Nolan so late, and why is Snowy River: The McGregor Saga still not properly available in the U.S.?) However, this may be his darkest, finest performance, and it’s surprising no awards followed. Likewise, Dakota Fanning (The Secret Life of Bees) looks the pioneer part. She’s kind in an unforgiving landscape, mute and disliking guns, but strong and we immediately root for her survival at every struggle, be it a neighbor’s cold shoulder or a freezing last stand. There’s never a doubt that she’s in the right, doing what she has to do – her lack of a heard voice lets her actions speak louder than words. Emilia Jones (Utopia) as the younger Joanna is also a spirited girl who learns of her own strengths the hard way. Despite all the abuse and persecution in Brimstone, these ladies are not victims. The Minister believes a woman can’t out run what a man has in mind for her and she will pay the price for her resistance, but Joanna flees to the frontier for her freedom. She continues to outrun evil in all its disguises whether it is a losing battle or not, and Liz repeatedly take matters into her own hands, refusing to surrender regardless of all that’s taken from her.

The ensemble behind the leads in Brimstone really is a supporting cast helping or hindering, well-intentioned or misused, stepping stones and catalysts. Carice van Houten’s sorrowful mother and helpless wife Anna is completely relatable. The audience wants to protect her from her husband or see her stand up and do something for Joanna, but her weakling mother who can’t do anything contrasts the strong woman alone daughter we see later. This minister’s wife won’t do her wifely duty, thus she needs to be gagged in an iron mask for not holding her tongue and whipped until she can gain the Lord’s favor. Hers is a pathetic existence, and this bittersweet role is the complete opposite of Van Houten’s Game of Thrones ruthless. Fellow Thrones star Kit Harrington is also featured in Brimstone for Chapter Three – perhaps mostly for the financing incentives and audience appeal after several casting changes – for his accent is terrible and he looks a little too pretty boy modern rather than a gritty cowboy. Although we don’t doubt his anti-hero outlaw’s earnest or sincerity toward Joanna, his masculine intrusion is the first of many would be hopeful sparks used against her. Fortunately, Carla Juri (Wetlands, but more importantly, the gal plays ice hockey!) is a fun and feisty prostitute when it comes to the disagreeable male clientele. She’s tender with Joanna, and they plan to leave together as mail order brides after one too many pimp abuses. Viewers hope for their escape from the cathouse – even if we know better. The leaning toward lez be friends because of male hatred innuendo and sacrificial BFF turns may be slightly cliché, but the ladies are likable and charming with turn about twists right up to the end.

 

Brimstone is visually aware of its bleak tale, contrasting the gunfire, outhouses, hangings, and blood on snow with birds chirping, hymns, and the sunshine. Fine cinematography accents the international locations with overhead angles and camera work that knows when to move but also how to be still and let the action happen. The sign language, costuming, horses, and wagons add authenticity, and the color schemes don’t feel digital or over saturated. The natural outdoor palette and interior patinas reflect the chapters being told – a rustic harvest autumn, the hot summer and barren saloons, the budding fertile spring of a New World congregation, and a frigid, snowy twilight with cleansing water bookends. Ironically, Brimstone was shot in relatively chronological order with Three first, then Two, and later chapters One and Four, and the impressive looking blu-ray release includes lengthy behind the scenes interviews and detailed sit downs with numerous cast and crew members. Brimstone is recognizable as a western yet when and where it takes place isn’t definitive. There are no cowboys in white hats or other familiar archetypes, only a desolate mood and lawless atmosphere that doesn’t shy away from the period brutality. While not horror per se, Brimstone has many horrific scenes to match its warped attitudes, telling its difficult to watch tale in its own time with no genre limit to stop it from going too far – a refreshing lack of cinema restraint which again, for many audiences, will cross the line. Brimstone is difficult to watch, yet there’s little vulgarity, no unnecessary visuals, and no major nudity. Corsets and pantaloons invoke enough saucy, leaving the story and characters to tell the numbing brutality instead of today’s desensitizing flash in the pan in your face style. However, I must say I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of… um… creative… use of intestines in a movie, ever.

So many Hollywood movies go through the motions, and Brimstone’s negative stateside reviews may be because American audiences aren’t accustomed to this kind of hardcore storytelling. Period piece horror dramas transcending genre like Brimstone such as Bone Tomahawk and The Witch are being made, however, their statement-making frights inexplicably remain elusive festival finds outside mainstream release. Spoilers aside, I didn’t cover all the details here simply because I didn’t take many review notes. I was too busy paying attention to the not for the faint of heart as Brimstone strips the viewer mentally and emotionally with its offensive no holds barred. Maybe rather than shying away from the viewing conversation, we should be embracing a quality motion picture that wouldn’t be any good if it didn’t push us to our limits as Brimstone does.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: BONE TOMAHAWK

 

Bone Tomahawk is a Wonderfully Horrific Western Road Trip

by Kristin Battestella

 

For audiences that don’t like westerns or straight, terse drama, the opening half of the 2015 genre bender Bone Tomahawk will be too slow. However, for viewers seeking gritty period pictures and horror films set in unique places, this is definite yes!

While tending to the crazed and wounded outlaw Purvis (David Arquette), Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) is abducted by a mysterious, hear tell tribe of nameless, ruthless cave dwellers the local Native Americans fear and avoid. Nonetheless, Bright Hope Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), his elderly deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), and local gunslinger John Brooder (Matthew Fox) mount a rescue. However, foreman Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) is also determined to join the mission to save his wife despite a broken leg that has kept him off the work trail. It’s a dangerous ride with raiders, injuries, and rough terrain testing the posse’s prayers, convictions, and mettle – yet more primitive, gruesome, bone chilling horrors are in store…

 

Not Your Average Western

Flies buzzing” is the first caption of writer and director S. Craig Zahler’s (The Incident) two hour and thirteen minute festival darling, and those words set the tone for the throat slicings, body crunching, and bleak western horrors viewers aren’t supposed to see coming. This is just the lawless ways of the 1890s frontier – robberies and thieving never mind those skulls on torches and Indian burial grounds. The people in this era were gun belt wearing badasses, nothing more than the Wild West is supposed to be happening, right? Howling wolves and spooked horses invoke a western realism, and we expect to see this ironic but charming Old West gritty. The nearby Bright Hope pioneer town provides quaint Victorian interiors, polite men escorting women at night, and a laid back, boots up, playing checkers comfort. However, Bone Tomahawk has no rousing music and sweeping pans or thriving, progressive hustle and bustle to its town. Despite respectful and articulate mannerisms, there’s a gruff to these voices. The empty edge of white civilization is relatively silent with no ritzy to its saloon and a drunken piano player in need of whiskey to finish his ten cent tunes. Although side actions are told rather than seen, that hearsay unreliability adds to the lack of knowing what really occurred, and excising this surplus action builds surprise for when abrupt shootouts and violent confrontations do happen. Suddenly, missing livestock, mysteriously empty jail cells, and torn up bodies add to this isolated town’s crimes and scares.

Arrows in the dark and shadowy figures suggest Indian suspects to the frontier folk, but even friendly Native American scouts fear this no language, nameless troglodyte tribe with behaviors more beast-like than of men. Although everyone looks the part in Bone Tomahawk and we believe these rugged but civilized men forming a revenge posse can handle what’s out there, these old fashioned heroes on white horses are facing some untold, cave dwelling ruthlessness. Bone Tomahawk is very well acted with quality players audiences may not expect would do this kind of seemingly smaller western or horror fair. Hopefully, one recognizes a good script when he sees it, for time is taken to get to know these excellent characters as individuals. Strong banter and a period sense of courage add dimension among the not so unblemished men before the primitive horrors add new terror to the traditional western rescue. Prayers about the campfire, dry humor, personality – viewers quickly come to like these boys, and we’re rooting for them in a pursuit already struggling against the usual trail perils such as gangrene, raiders, and dead horses. There’s a simmering, on edge at night when the posse bed downs. We don’t know what’s going to happen next any more than they know what awaits in the dark. Will such ongoing strain and the agony of travel get to one of them? The exhaustion and hopelessness add tension, arguing, pointing fingers – this is a terse, escalating journey whether the troglodyte horrors are ahead or not. Difficult group decisions must be made amid cynical thoughts and suspicions on what heavy tolls are inevitably happening to the captured. Of course, those horrors are worse than the rescuers of Bone Tomahawk could ever imagine. Survival is slim all around, yet they forge on to face the intense man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself battles.

Nail-biting pocket watch ticking and ominous horns blowing in the wind make the audience pay attention as Bone Tomahawk switches from bright tumbleweeds, dangerous expanse, and western perils to dark caves, trapped interiors, sudden sieges, otherworldly screeching, and harrowing wounds. Yes, there is an hour and a half onscreen before the film horrors arrive – that’s the length of most quick horror productions. One could also argue there is no need for an entire movie’s worth of western study ahead of such horror. Some viewers may want to see the western in itself alone without a horror finale or vice versa. There are several flaws in the final act regarding logistics and implausibilities as well, but the onscreen terrors in Bone Tomahawk forgive any contrivances. We appreciate the deaths, sacrifices, and final cigars before the goodbyes more because we are totally invested in seeing these characters through whatever comes at them in final forty minutes. All that has happened is summed up in few terrifying sentences – arousing all our fears of violation, injury, and desecration and leaving all the heroics we have previously seen for naught. The unpleasant nudity will not be soon forgotten by anyone who sees this movie, and a countdown of kills adds to the hopelessness. Who’s next? The tedium of waiting is at times far worse, and silly discussions fill the interim between the unknown time when life and death is imminent. The horror and fantastics may be tough for the realistic western audiences to accept, however, Bone Tomahawk is a brilliant and complete before, during, and after emotional experience with rubber necking can’t look away and a realistically cringe worthy not often seen in today’s cinema.

A Fine Ensemble

Despite a calm exterior and seemingly quiet post, Sheriff Kurt Russell (Overboard) has the mustache to match the grit in Bone Tomahawk. Franklin Hunt is a wise, relaxed, old fashioned lawman who’s good at his job but nonetheless indulges his old deputy when a stranger’s manner is suspicious. Sheriff Hunt doesn’t think there’s much hope in rescuing those abducted, and his wife objects to the journey, too. However, he is going to see his mission through regardless. Hunt prepares as best possible – he knows they need to care for themselves, their horses, and keep their wits about them to trump any thieves or beasties and do what needs to be done. Polite even when the circumstances turn barbaric, Hunt also knows Arthur O’Dwyer shouldn’t come on this rescue with a broken leg, yet he doesn’t bother asking for the objection. Russell gives a wonderfully poignant performance, and it’s bittersweet to see a man unchanged, doing what he sets out to do, and keeping his word whether the beholden are there to know his convictions or not. Likewise, Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring) has become a pleasing go to horror actor. Arthur’s a strong foreman not used to being laid up at home thanks to injury – nor his doctor’s assistant wife being on top in the bedroom. Arthur doesn’t share his emotions well and has difficulty talking with her, but his love and tenderness are unquestionable. He rides on this mission, learning how to handle his broken leg and show his tears while on the move. Wilson brings to life Arthur’s contradictory behaviors as the desperate husband comes to rely more on opium than prayer to go forward. How can he continue as his injury worsens? We may not think of such breaks, splints, and pain as being so difficult today, but in this wilderness, love is not enough to mount a rescue – or is it?

Arrogant and vain but no less witty and likable gunslinger Matthew Fox (Lost) is the suave, white suit wearing sophisticate of Bone Tomahawk. John Brooder says he’s the most intelligent man there and this rescue needs his smarts, fast shot, and fancy gunnery. Though not always as right as he thinks he is, there is a grain of truth to his tactics when it comes to making camp or taking defensive positions. Unfortunately, his suspicions on outsiders, potential theft, and his shoot first, ask questions later mentality doesn’t always help. Eventually, there are consequences to this quick draw attitude, and while he has good reason to hate certain Indians, Brooder gains sad respect for his horse and learns to trust his compatriots. By contrast, aged deputy Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) is not on his game but Chicory will continue to do his duty nonetheless – even if he can’t figure out something as simple as how to read a book in the bathtub without getting the paper wet. He talks too much, sometimes adding dry humor and reflection or philosophical speculation, but again, such seemingly random conversation helps fill the idle and take one’s mind off the impending horrors. Chicory is slightly off his rocker yet remains the voice of reason and moral center of the group – a lovely audience anchor pondering what we too are thinking. Although their scenes may seem slightly out of place, humorous but ruthless and hands on killer David Arquette (Scream) and expert throat slitter Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses) have some warped fun to open Bone Tomahawk, and their offbeat charm bookends the horror.

Fine older white men though they are, Bone Tomahawk is unfortunately a picture populated with precious few women. Despite being a respectable wife and doctoring assistant named Sam, Lili Simmons (Banshee) is nude fifteen minutes into the movie and feels out of place compared to the more developed male characters. Broadly swinging the pendulum from tender wife to bitchy snob, Sean Young’s (Blade Runner) uppity, domineering mayor’s wife is addressed on the situation instead of her little husband. These frontier women are tough pioneers yet remain sickly or put in their place with sex from their man, and even with these injun abducting the womenfolk fears, the audience sees too little of them to feel a personal investment. Big shocker – the few African American stable hands and servants are killed early in Bone Tomahawk, and Mexican moments or brief Spanish words are treated with xenophobic suspicion. Horses are more important than questioning the death of foreigners, but there are onscreen arguments about whether such reactions are right or wrong, fortunately utilizing the ills of the time for layered social commentary. More importantly, Bone Tomahawk makes the distinction between its horror neanderthal savages and local Native Americans, recognizing this is not normal tribe behavior whilst also implying the Manifest Destiny trespassing of the so called Bright Hope should have left the area alone. Locals knew to steer clear, but did the supposedly smart and superior white man? Nope.

 

Must See Looks

Old fashioned suits, cowboy hats, and late Victorian décor add to the frontier town woodwork and simplicity in Bone Tomahawk. Proper beds and an oil lamp patina with quills, books, a magnify glass, and period ephemera create a would be civilized and golden interior. I almost wish this was a television series to revisit and explore! However, natural sounds, horses, creaking wood, and swinging saloon doors add a lawless atmosphere alongside the beautiful, but untamed outdoor scenery. Precious few weeping strings and fiddlery accent choice bittersweet moments and echoing gunshots. While animal action, well edited attacks, and on the move tracking shots do capture the restlessness when it happens, Bone Tomahawk is a simple tale simply shot with no need for the sweeping panoramas and whirlwind camerawork often seen in expansive westerns or period pieces going for scope rather than inward terror. Gruesome frontier surgeries, scalping, disemboweling or worse provide enough horror gore while the briefly see beastly men leave room for the audience to imagine more fears. Their natural camouflage, animal trophies, horned masks, and primal, swift moving resistance to bullet grazes completes the disorienting civilized versus uncivilized frights. Subtitles are necessary for any whispering, but the Bone Tomahawk blu-ray release also provides plenty of deleted scenes, featurettes, and film festival Q&As with cast and crew. Unfortunately, it is just baffling when finely crafted pictures such as this are overlooked by the major movie awards. Tsk tsk.

Though worth seeing for the uniqueness alone, this R/Unrated horror is not for everyone. Instead of a cheap slasher with teens in minimum Victorian dressings, this is a niche western brimming with scares we don’t expect. Granted, Bone Tomahawk has many of the same flaws seen again and again with a one and the same writer/director who has no soundboard on what to do or not do. The lengthy run time could have been trimmed further and some scenes should have been more swiftly paced. Bone Tomahawk is also oddly structured as two halves of two different movies – leading with a western character study uninteresting to audiences expecting fast shootouts, boobs, and horror a minute. In fact, most viewers will be unaccustomed to having time dedicated to such full embodied and well developed characters. However, we should embrace this kind of ingenuity not bury it and push pictures like this to fringe audiences, and I would rather have a few slow scenes with extra time to achieve a cinematic vision than a butchered PG-13 picture sacrificing its meaty for maximum cinema screenings and more almighty millions. Despite a blink and you missed it limited box office release, Bone Tomahawk is currently available on several rental and streaming options. Go into Bone Tomahawk cold for full immersion into the fine performances, western drama, Deliverance effectiveness, and entertaining horror.

 

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.

 

FRIGHTENTING FLIX BY KBATZ: MORE KID FRIGHTS!

 

More Kids and Family Frights!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Because there are just so many tales of twisted teens, killer kids, and paranormal abnormalities!

 

Alice, Sweet AliceFrantic Hail Marys, church bells, rectories, and crosses in nearly every scene steep this 1976 slasher in layers of iconography alongside matching yellow jackets, similarly named long hair lookalikes, sisterly favoritism, and saint versus sinner parallels. Little Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan) is fond of her priest, goes to confession, and is gifted with a crucifix necklace while twelve-year-old Paula Sheppard (Liquid Sky) wears a mask to scare the cook. The ceremonial crown, veil, and white dress feel medieval bridal amid the Latin sanctity and old fashioned Sunday best formality – composed women in hats, gloves, pearls, and Jackie O suits are soon hysterical once murder blasphemes the sacred within its very walls. Creepy hints of the strangling attack, feet dragging beneath the pews, and a charred fate intercut the kneeling at the altar and passing wafer, turning the white confirmation into a black funeral. The uptight roosts point fingers, cast blame, and belittle husbands, but the parents are also too busy to notice the gluttonous downstairs neighbor obsessed with cats promising not to bite Alice if she visits him. Out of wedlock, divorced, and remarried taboos squabble while hidden periods and no longer playing with dolls maturity layer the well-done shocks and mask scare. Intense lie detector tests, cold yes or no questions, and scary needle movements add atmosphere along with thunderstorms, bugs, and basement hideaways. This murder acerbates a preexisting family strain, and such repressed attitudes would almost rather there be a grief approved death than admit to potential schizophrenia problems. Retro cameras, typewriters, big phone booths, classic cars, old school police, and formal psychiatrist interviews reiterate the mid-century rigid while prank calls, cramped stairs, and penetrating stabs invoke a frenzied response with violent twists. Do some of the victims get what they deserve? Confessions, warped revelations, mother Madonna saintly and Magdalene whore shaming cloud the case, and the children pay for the sins of the father indeed. This is a taut little thriller with fine scars, mystery, and parables made horror.

The Cabin in the WoodsBradley Whitford (The West Wing), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and more recognizable faces anchor this 2012 horror satire written and produced by Joss Whedon. Droll corporations and mysterious technological surveillance parallels the intentionally cliché coeds off to a lakeside weekend – the blonde, a jock, a virgin, the fifth wheel jester filled with zany pot wisdoms. Naturally, the GPS goes haywire amid retro Rving, backwoods confrontations, throwback tropes, and nods to old school slashers. The hokey isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but eerie mountain tunnels and hidden systemworks add suspicion. Though at times cryptic for cryptic’s sake, it’s pleasing to have the experiment aspects up front – trick paintings, double mirrors, camera observations, and a cabin that’s bigger on the inside than outside. Useless scenes, comedic quips, and windblown characters that delay rather than inform are annoying, and the attempted Buffy for the big screen tone is apparent with social commentary and upending the genre expectations. Ironically, these Initiative knockoffs never feel urgent or dramatic. Some viewers may wish this was either straight horror or totally from the scientific parody perspective. The global fright-creating branches are often more interesting than the typical teens disregarding warnings to not read Latin aloud amid zombies, free for all monsters, fun house mayhem, and meta on meta horror that plays into stereotypical scares just as much as it lampoons them. Fortunately, a self aware attitude adds intrigue – despite being up to something sinister, the technicians cast bemusing bets and celebrate their wins over predictable spooky cellars, creepy antiques, fanatical pasts, and ominous diaries. Occult prayers, bloody rituals, and creative set piece kills accent the inevitable price to be paid. While slow to start for longtime horror viewers, often silly or derivative, and uneven in its multi-layered execution, the familiar ensemble has a good time with this spooky puzzle. Youthful audiences tired of the same old scary movie banal or casual, horror lite fans can enjoy the uniqueness here.

 

PhenomenaJennifer Connolly (Labyrinth) and Donald Pleasence (Halloween) star in this 1985 Italian production from director Dario Argento along with Walkmans, a giant computer, overhead projectors, retro school buses, huge headphones, big boob tube TVs, off the shoulder sweatshirts, and crimped hair. The horseshoe phones are so hefty one breaks through the floor when it falls, and top heavy metal names such as Iron Maiden anchor the score. Pretty but bleak Swiss scenery, foreboding roads, suspicious chains, and an isolated cabin speak for themselves with blood, shattered glass, cave perils, scissor attacks, and strangling violence contrasting the rural vistas and scenic waterfalls. The on the move camera tracks the scares, panning with the staircases, chases, and penetrating knives rather than hectic visuals working against the action – leaving heartbeats, ticking clocks, and rage music to pulse the frenetic dreams. Congested tunnels, dark water, and rotting heads build tension alongside sleepwalking shadows, blue lighting schemes, and saintly white symbolism. Insects, monkeys, and bizarre medical tests collide with missing teens, amnesia, and an old school sense of being lost in the foreign unknown. Despite the young protagonist, the horror remains R without being juvenile or nasty. Although necrophilia and rape are implied amid girls in short shirts, dirty old men, and killer penetrations, the innuendo isn’t like today’s overt teen T-n-A exploitation. Doctors and a strict headmistress suspect epilepsy, schizophrenia, or drugs before the otherworldly but friendly communication with animals – cruel schoolmates and religious extremists view such talents or swarming commands as demonic rather than embracing the literal fly on the wall fantastics. Would you follow bugs to the scene of the crime to see the decomposing victim through their eyes? The notion to be in tune with nature and commune with insects as allies is unique in a genre usually reserving such crawlies for scares, and cool bug eye viewpoints, covered mirrors, freaky dolls, and maggots accent the deceptions, twists, and escalating revelations for some gruesome surprises and a wild finish. And oh my gosh there is a classmate wearing a Bee Gees t-shirt. Want it!!

Tale of Tales – Salma Hayek (Frida), Vincent Cassel (Black Swan), Toby Jones (Infamous), and John C. Reilly (Chicago) star in this international, R rated dark fantasy bringing three Italian parables to life with medieval castles, vintage plazas, and divine forests. Colorful period costumes add to the carnival atmosphere amid jugglers, fire eaters, and traveling wagons entertaining at court. There is, however, a sinister to the bemusement with youth and beauty versus old age, life and death bargains, nudity, and sexual undertones. Parallel fates, duality, and mirror imagery accent the charlatan fortune teller promising a sea monster’s heart cooked by a virgin and eaten by the queen will ensure pregnancy. Good suspense, underwater effects, gory slashes, choice red, disturbing violence, and bloody carcasses escalate the action without making the fantasy a ridiculously overblown spectacle. Ogres, funeral processions, albino twins, and creepy old ladies share in mystical connections, enchanted springs, separations, and temptations. Precious offspring are mere extensions of their parents’ rule, but man that is one freaky giant pet flea! We don’t notice the two hours plus length thanks to unexpected circumstances, ironic riddles, and brutish suitors. This is a beautiful looking movie with a little bit of everything remaining entertaining even in its darkest moments with caves, terrible bats, and deceptive appearances. Changing one’s skin may not change what’s inside, but some people will help or hinder fate for their own selfishness and there are consequences for trying to change what’s meant to be. This is sad at times and not scary for many – most may not like the collected meanwhile in the realm style either. However, Hollywood would Princess Bride frame these Basile tales with narrator bookends toning down the brutal and not shy with a Disney gentrification. This is period accurate and elaborate for adults but no less a fantasy with darkness and charm bringing the well paced, quality stories full circle. The lessons are learned without being as exploitative or nasty as Game of Thrones, and I wish there more mature baroque fantasies like this instead of the same old cutesy.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SUMMER VAMPIRES!

 

Summer Vampires, Oh My!

By Kristin Battestella

 

It’s SPF 1000 for these pale undead tales!

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – The black and white patina of this 2014 Persian language spooky invokes a specific fifties or spaghetti western mood. Retro cars, big old TVs, and greaser styles are transposed to a modern, mid-century rundown and post-industrial bleak with kids begging on the street, unusual hookers, an old man injecting “medicine” between his toes, and icky drug dealers. Arash is already paying for his father’s mistakes and taking guff from the rich – but a deadly vamp with a demonic voice and a belying angelic appearance rolls into town, cleaning up Dodge and making things better for the downtrodden. Fine scoring with carnival music touches and rhythmic, edgy throwbacks contrast the stillness and topsy turvy gender roles, for the fallen pimp, collapsing father figure, and absent mothers have created a vacuum for our eponymous mystery and the dark power hidden under her chador. We know the fangs and deservedly gruesome will happen amid the slow build drama or drug and sex frenzy but not when, leaving brief squishing effects, mild blood splatter, and attacking crescendos to speak for the minimal dialogue. A well-behaved stray cat parallels the titular feline predatory, yet sardonic skateboarding adds humor. Arash dresses up as Dracula, gets some bad ecstasy, and meets the real thing but retains his innocence and kindness among the cruelty – the simplicity of homemade ear piercings is much more charming compared to today’s wham bam sex or moon eyes romance. It’s an unconventional mix of straight drama and simmering horror, however at times writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour seems unsure which storyline is priority. The quirky vignettes and dialogue are nice while other scenes are pointless and the silence or music does more. This should have been a short feature or a limited series – viewers want to know The Girl better but this picture can’t rely on earlier unseen shorts or companion comic books. With 100 minutes to fill here, the structure should have been tighter, perhaps with labeled character chapters and our vamp in both senses of the word connecting them. A sagging middle dampens the impact of critical scenes, and this feels more indie cool than truly foreign film – it’s almost faux foreign with no real cultural references. Audiences accustomed to frights a minute will also be disappointed in the handful of horror moments amid the isolated interplay and justifiable girl power. Fortunately, this unusual world gets better as the protagonists go forth. Her bad frees his bad, is that a good or bad thing? There really should be a vampire drama category, and despite its flaws, this unique tale using horror to address social contradictions is worth a look. And there’s a Bee Gees poster, people. ¡The Bee Gees!


Kiss of the Damned – This 2013 vampire tale feels much older thanks to a seventies style opening, video stores, Old World names, European accents, retro clothes, and bonus Montgomery Clift movies on the television. Ominous music, moody candlelight, and a bleak seaside house foreshadow the blood spilling to come, and the property comes complete with an un-tempting, blood disorder maid taking phone messages for her mistress – a lonely translator who’s never available during the day and indisposed until evening thanks to a “medical condition” where she can’t be exposed to sunlight. Wink. Intercut, handicam vamp violence and edgy, intrusive music or over-emphasizing flashes, however, are unnecessary, and melancholy pain with choice pop moments or ironic classical cues do better. Blue lighting, headlights, and golden interiors accent nighttime filming, creating a stylish mature alongside the frank conversations addressing how to chain a girl to the bed. Sexy turned killer teeth, wild eyes, askew angles, and violent thrashing elevate the alluring but dangerous as the heavy petting escalates in spite of the consequences. Reluctant Djuna knows this romance could be doomed, but Paolo wants to get sucked dry at both ends. (¿¡?!) Such erotic yet creepy may be too weird for some, but this realistic vampire relationship is refreshing and fast moving – the vampire turning happens early and the entire picture isn’t a dying for love question. More time is taken for the lifestyle details on living forever, heightened senses, and the charming couple that preys together stays together. Problematic sisters and centuries old sibling rivalry parallel the role reversals and too good to be true good vampire behaviors. Biting on the club scene versus love and living posh, sisters forgetting their mother’s face, cocktail parties and a close-knit vampire community discussing why inferior humans reign and synthetic blood isn’t FDA approved – there’s just enough gore and blood to recognize the messy brimming beneath the gilded surface. The tense debate on whether they are monsters or not and why they shouldn’t self-loath gets better as it goes on with bloody slip ups, saucy conflicts, sunlight perils, and deliberate virgin blood trickery. Although some scoring and editing are rough around the edges and debut writer and director Xan Cassavetes packs a lot of flash early on in the film to lure audiences, the likable cast and fine drama don’t need anything else. This would have made a fine long form series, and I’m glad the vampire genre is growing up again with films like this.

 

Twixt – Washed up horror writer Val Kilmer (The Doors) stars in this 2011 Francis Ford Coppola directed askewer set in a sleepy town featuring zany Sheriff Bruce Dern (The ‘burbs) and a belfry with seven clocks each telling a different time. One hear tells of twelve ghostly kids playing at midnight and a thirteenth child damned, and bodies in the morgue are free for the viewing since the serial killer’s calling card is a giant wooden stake. Bat houses are totally different from bird houses, and the abandoned hotel once sheltered Edgar Allan Poe. Val’s ponytail, Fedora, and drinking hit home the hoofing it, down on his luck author – his bookstore signing is in the bookshelf half of the hardware store! He’s asking for advances so his estranged wife won’t sell priceless literary collectibles, and Joanne Whalley’s (Willow) angry video chats tops off the backwoods humor. Old fashioned lanterns, fax machines, radios, split screen calls, tolling bells, clockwork groans, and wonky camera angles accent the weird nighttime blues, silver patinas, eerie woods, and decayed buildings. Distorted movements, slow motion fireplaces, skyline perspectives, exaggerate neon signs, specific red accents, and individual lighting schemes become increasingly distorted, and Elle Fanning’s (Maleficent) a mysterious porcelain doll-like girl. At times, the Sin City-esque style seems odd for odd’s sake, but the onscreen editor wants a vampire book with a story not just bullshit visuals, and a portable table and chair, ritual writing space, and blank computer screens wink at the select all delete that perhaps only writers can understand. Yes, it’s obvious we may be in an onscreen fiction thanks to the maybe maybe not dream quality, moonlit breakfasts, and imaginary conversations with Ben Chaplin’s (The Truth about Cats & Dogs) Poe blending the titular sense of time together. Is this the creative subconscious, a story in progress, or a purgatory limbo for our author? The interpretive subtext layers the warped atmosphere, but the busy tale within a tale, life imitating art twists end abruptly with typical creepy minister prayers, snakes, mea culpa, and literary catharsis. This isn’t perfect and probably too full of itself – nobody is going to red pencil Coppola – but this didn’t deserve to be a festival blink with a delayed video release. In fact, Coppola’s intentions as a live interactive film with different versions depending on audience reaction remain intriguing, making the picture either all dream, all reality, or all inside story rather than a patchwork narrative with pieces of each. Today, this choose your own adventure concept would be a water cooler Netflix event! Of course, the industry doesn’t embrace out there film making, and one also needs Coppola’s Godfather clout and financial freedom to do this kind of hobbyist release. Many will hate such uneven indulgence, but the oddities here are worth a look.