FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Witches and Demons!

Witches and Demons, Oh My!

By Kristin Battestella

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

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

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

 

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

Skip It

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

For More Witchy, Revisit:

Witches and Bayous

Witches of East End 

Teen Witch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

HorrorAddicts.net 120, Chantal Noordeloos

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Horror Addicts Episode# 120

Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich

Intro Music by: Valentine Wolfe

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chantal noordeloos | madalice | found footage

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54 days till halloween

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A Few Thoughts on the Passing of Wes Craven

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On the morning of Sunday, August 30, 2015 the day dawned magnificently. With that evening’s approach, an uncanny shadow began to cast a dismal hue across the landscape, projecting a bleakness that the next morning’s rising sun would not soon obliterate. How could it? For word had been sent forth that the world had just lost one of the true masters of the macabre with the passing of Wesley Earl Craven after his battle with cancer. He was 76 years old when he departed from this earthly life at his Los Angeles home, leaving behind a wife, two children and a legacy of creative genius.

Wes, as he was commonly called, is best known for directing and/or producing the films, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), during which he introduced us to the deformed abomination known as Freddy Krueger, and the 1996 slasher film, Scream, which was followed by three successful sequels.

Mr. Craven was born near Cleveland, Ohio on August 2, 1939. Although he was brought up in a strict Baptist family, he went on to earn an undergraduate degree in English and Psychology at Wheaton College in Illinois as well as a master’s in both writing and philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. For a short time he served as a humanities professor at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, New York and taught English at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

Unknown to many of his fans, Mr. Craven’s initial experience with the cinema began as a writer, editor and director in the adult film industry, during which time he worked under a pseudonym. His first real break however, came in 1971 when he teamed up with Sean S. Cunningham to produce a successful film entitled Together. The following year, he rejoined Cunningham to create his first horror movie, serving as both writer and director of The Last House on the Left.

Over the course of his career, Wesley played a major part in the creation of over 60 productions, including several TV miniseries. The official website of Wes Craven describes his style this way:

…Wes Craven has become synonymous with genre bending and innovative horror, challenging audiences with his bold visions since the release of his first feature film…Craven has demonstrated that he is a filmmaker with heart, guts, humor – and an unbridled imagination expanding into films, television and literature.”

It would be difficult to disagree with the above assessment. After all, not only was Freddy Krueger a concept borne of Mr. Craven’s vivid imagination, but so were the cannibalistic children featured in the 1991 film, The People Under the Stairs. Further, he had a keen eye for talent and is credited with giving Johnny Depp his first role in a major film when he featured him in A Nightmare on Main Street.

In 1999 he directed a non horror production entitled Music of the Heart for Miramax. The film, an inspirational piece about a school teacher in Harlem, earned Meryl Streep an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

In addition to his important role in the film industry, Craven authored two books, which include Fountain Society, published by Thorndike Press and a five-issue comic book series entitled, The Coming of Rage, which word has it, is still scheduled to become a film production.

During the course of his career Wes Craven has received several awards for his work, including the Critic’s Award at the Sitges Film Festival for his film, The Hills Have Eyes and the Gérardmer Film Festival’s Grand Prize in 1997 for Scream. In 2012 the New York City Horror Film Festival granted him its Lifetime Achievement Award.

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In addition to his cinematic and literary interests and ambitions, Craven was a nature lover intricately involved with bird preservation.

It is always difficult for those of us left behind when a person of Wes Craven’s stature passes from the scene. Yet, those of us who have loved his work can take comfort in knowing that as long as his masterpieces of horror–those tangible pieces of his vivid imagination remain, he will never truly leave us.

Oh and Wes, thanks for the nightmares!

David Hess a Rememberance

David Hess was born in 196 in New York City, and sadly he passed away on October 8, 2011.  David Hess left a career that spanned several decades and involved not only his horror films but also a career in music.

Hess actually first got his start in music in 1956 and found a career writing for artists such as Elvis, Pat Boone, Sal Mineo and other stars of the era.  He at one point became the head of A&R at Mercury records a few years before he started a successful acting career.

It was in 1972 Wes Craven put him in the staring role in The Last House on the Left. Hess portrayed Krug Stillo in the film who was the lead protagonist in the movie.  Craven’s film was so disturbing that several countries at the time banned the film, or wanted edits before it could be shown.  Some of this controversy can easily be pointed back to Hess’s portrayal of the sadistic Krug.

Hess continued to have a career not only in film but also in music. Over the past decades leading up to his death, horror fans would have seen him in Craven’s Swamp Thing in 1982 and heard his musical influence in Cabin Fever (2003).

Hess was a man whose influence wasn’t just felt in the United States but also overseas.  The man will be known to those in Germany as well as he had a career in film dubbing.

David Hess continued to be involved in the convention circuit as he regrouped with his co-stars form Last House on the Left at Fangoria in 2009.

So, it is with sad news that we have to say good bye to David Hess.  His influences and works are something that no one will forget and as people  continue finding movies he will continue to exist.   This is something we all hope for in life, and that is knowing others will remember our life and works.  To the family of David Hess his memory will not just reside in you, but all those fans that loved him and those yet to discover him.