FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: RELIGIOUS AND FOLK HORRORS

Religious and Folk Horrors by Kristin Battestella

Horror comes in many forms thanks to these cults, witches, clergy, pagans, and rituals – and some of these contemporary films and period settings are better than others.

The Heretics – Kidnappings, ritual symbols, altars, torches, and cults lead to freaky masks, chanting, demons, and sacrifices in this 2017 Canadian indie. The nightmares continue five years later despite group therapy, volunteer work, and an overprotective mother who won’t let her daughter walk home alone. Assaulted and abused women are meek and apologetic, comforted by time heals all wounds hopeful, but others don’t want to be touched, refusing to be victims and tired of lies that don’t make it better. Would they go back and change their experience or seek revenge? Our female couple supports each other with realistic conversations and

maturity – not horror’s typical angry lez be friends titillation solely for the viewer gaze. Unfortunately, creepy campers, chains, and a scarred abductor ruin necklaces and birthday plans, leading to skull entrance markers, an isolated cabin, and flashbacks of the original attack with hooded dead, white robes, and flowery dresses marred in blood. Sunrise deadlines, whispers of angels, fitting Gloria names, and religious subtext balance faith, doubts, God, biblical aversions, and horns. What’s a delusion and who’s delusional? Who’s right or wrong about what they believe? The multi-layered us versus them, who’s really involved in what sinister, and what is truth or lies aren’t clear amid threats, stabbings, whips, and history repeating itself. Men versus women innuendo and who needs saving attempts add to the less than forthcoming police, lack of answers, and obsessive searches. Who is trying to protect whom? Violence begets violence thanks to fanatical beliefs in the ritual and long-awaited ceremonies. This demon is deceptive, growing stronger and more tantalizing despite a gross, uncomfortable sex scene. Occasionally the boo monster in your face jumps are forced, but the fine body horror, creaking wings breaking out the back, squishing sounds, and black sinews make up the differences. Fevers, convulsions, hairy clumps, and visions increase along with the realizations of what is happening before candles, pentagrams, burns, and one more final sacrifice. Viewers know where it all has to go, yet this remains entertaining getting there via escalating horror invasive, ritual complications, and one ready and waiting demon.

 

Loon Lake – David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows, people, Dark Shadows) anchor this 2019 Minnesota set indie opening with 1880 screams, witchy curses, multiple chops, and bloody heads. An unnecessary contemporary driving credits montage restarts the farm country rural as a drunken widower renting an empty home takes the cross off the wall. Distorted camera angles set off the horror as well as pictures of the deceased and the sense of numbness amid the pretty fields, pleasant breezes, overgrown cemetery, and eerie trees. Details on accidental deaths attributed to the witch and the bad luck that follows if you cross her grave three times come at the local diner, and Selby is quite distinct as the pesky old neighborhood kook and his conflicted minister ancestor. The bereaved, unfortunately, don’t believe in ghosts or witches despite tales of church fires, saucy spells, and bound rituals. Flashbacks provide last rites, fresh graves, and refused nastiness alongside spirits in the window, thunder, tolling bells, and number three repetitions. Conversations on grief versus faith are nice, if heavy handed, calming moments before figures in the cornrows, apparitions of the dead, phantom noises, and creaking floorboards. The past sequences, however, are out of order. That may be an attempt at leaving the history open to interpretation or making a case for crazy with guilt unreliable, but the audience has seen independent, over the top evidence of the witch, so we know it’s not all in his head. Despite surreal visions, alluring forest encounters, willing temptations, dead birds, power outages, and spooky lights; it’s also difficult to be on our modern man’s side. He keeps saying “Let me explain” after grabbing a woman when waking rather than admitting he had a nightmare about the witch, still wants to talk it out when threatened for attacking her and completely ignores a full gun rack because screaming at an intruder is apparently the better thing to do. Maybe this is about his learning to believe in both good and bad, but it’s tough to feel for a guy claiming he didn’t deserve this when the witch didn’t deserve what happened to her either. Convenient writing seen in a dream provides an end to the curse, but he doesn’t try to make it right, insisting he doesn’t care what went down – which isn’t the best course of action when she’s naked and bathing in blood. Putting on a cross makes for instant faith, but the seemingly sunny ending and false fake outs are obvious. Although this makes the most of zooms, music, and in-scene scares, once again the flaws here arise in too few people wearing too many production hats, and the imbalance shows by time our man pain protagonist is literally swinging at thin air. While entertaining for both the good as well as the bad, this really feels like two stories in one, and the elder period tale is better of the two.

You Make the Call

The Ritual – Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey) and Rafe Spall (Prometheus) plan an all bros adventure in this 2018 Netflix original. None of that been there, done that will do, and hiking an obscure trail in Sweden becomes the honorary guilt trip after they stumble into a liquor store robbery gone wrong. This cliché start could have been skipped in favor of the brisk mountain trail memorial toasts directly, for we learn all we need to know thanks to out of shape complaints, new $200 hiking boots, sprained knees, and the realization that they didn’t even climb very far and can see their luxury lodge from the pretty peak. Despite questionable maps, a faulty compass, rain, and no reception, they of course take a shady shortcut through the ominous forest, and if we haven’t seen this movie already, we’ve certainly seen others like it. Rather than the injured and another stay while the other two return for help, logical ideas, talk of bears, and abandoned items from previous campers are dismissed by these husbands and fathers who are a little too old to be acting so stupid. The unrealistic actions dampen the animal carcasses, thunder, and eerie trees as mysterious symbols and carvings lead to a convenient spooky cabin where they can stay the night. They break in, trespassing and ignoring runes and effigies they presume are “pagan Nordic shit” on top of strange roars and growling in the forest. Unnatural lights and distorted dream visuals intermix with bedwetting and sleepwalking frights, and in the morning the men follow a path they know is in the wrong direction just because it’s there and nobody is supposed to talk about what’s happening. More creepy cabins, monsters in the woods, screams, and blood begat missing friends and gory tree hangings before arguments, contrived guilt, and false hopes lead to torches, folk music, and chains. In the end, suddenly brave men make big declarations about their wives when earlier they cowered, passed blame, and couldn’t wait to get away from their families. We know horrors are going to happen, but the giving it away title spoils the supposed surprise. The ninety minutes plus feels overlong because it took so long to get to the creepy death warmed over people and actual sacrificial parts, yet the past looking rural and ancient mythology revelations are the story we should have had. Viewers don’t get to completely see what could be an awesome monster, and the unique Norse legends, pagan worship, and immortal bargains that should have been the focal point seem tacked on after we wasted all that time watching dumb dudes literally going around in circles in a tired guilt versus the supernatural metaphor. The familiar, predictable derivatives are shout at the television entertaining, but it’s tough to overcome the feeling that we should have been seeing the eponymous history perspective while these intruders get what they deserve.

I Didn’t Finish It

We Summon the Darkness – It feels like we’ve seen these rad chicks on the highway before complete with music, talk of make up and sex, and it’s 1988 via 2019 thanks to crimped hair, Madonna bangles, recent vehicles, and modern skinny jeans substitutes that look like dress up for the costume party. Gas station stops, old man innuendo, and televangelist fire and brimstone add to the cliché teases while convenient murder reports on the radio detail satanic symbols found at the crime scene. The jerks on the road are likewise weak with terrible mullets and everyone measuring each other’s meddle with their metalhead expertise gets old very fast. The flashing lights and concert bouncing up and down are also brief and lame tropes alongside the good girl peer pressured into everything cool and crazed, annoying exaggerations. Maybe if you look at this as a parody or if it had been a comedy the tone and style would make sense? The highway home to the rich house is instantaneous compared to drawn out start, and the Never Have I Ever chatting around the fire drinking binges goes on and on when it’s obvious the guys want sex and the girls are disinterested. Who’s really after whom and for what purpose turnabouts are interesting, but not unexpected thanks to the ritual foreshadowing and upside down cross jewelry leading to the drugged and bound. A gender reversal on the horror is supposed to stand out, but one girl’s character development is that she has to pee all the time and everyone is stupid, unlikable, knife playing drunks. You see, this isn’t really about the occult aspects, just a congregation trying to instill fear of the devil by committing murders that look like cult killings. Idiotic interrogations that waste time bothering to explain all this make the threats feel hollow, and I’m so, so tired of so-called righteous assholes giving decent people a bad name. We have enough of that at the top these days, so this didn’t need to be set in an eighties Midwest for the religious hypocrisy commentary. In fact, it might have come across as something deeper if the first half wasn’t wasted on faking period window dressing that doesn’t work. Stepmothers, bloody bodies found, police chases, lone officers who don’t call for backup, psycho daddy pastors – the contrivances just go on and on, escalating until I eventually stopped paying attention.

For More Horrors, Visit:

Witches and Demons

Dracula Video Review

Forest Frights

Kbatz: The Witches

  horrorpedia.com

The Witches a Creepy and Darling Family Caper

By Kristin Battestella

 

Honestly, I think it was three months before The Witches was finally off wait in my Netflix queue.  When the DVD finally did arrive, I was once again able to enjoy this fine 1990 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s spooky, fun, and family friendly take on our titular dames.

After his parents’ sudden death, young Luke Evishim (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother Helga (Mai Zetterling) move to England.  To help with Helga’s health, the pair takes a seaside vacation in Cornwall.  Helga warns Luke to be weary of witches-who are in fact not the stuff of pointy hats and broomsticks.  These cruel witches are led by the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston), are thoroughly organized throughout the world-and they seek to rid the world of smelly little children.  Unfortunately for the Evishims, the witches in disguise are holding a conference at their hotel, and the Grand High Witch plots to turn all children into rats thanks to her new potion ‘Formula 86’.  After overhearing the witches’ plans, Luke and another boy at the hotel, Bruno (Charlie Potter), are indeed turned into mice.  With Helga’s help, however, they devise a plan to stop the Grand High Witch and save all the children in England from her wrath.

 

Director Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth) and his oft screenwriter Allan Scott (The Spiral Staircase) keep all the charm, comedy, and scares of Dahl’s story.  Despite being beloved by children and adults alike, Dahl’s books are, you must admit, a little weird.  However, the built-in creepiness and lessons learned in The Witches adds to the onscreen entertainment.  Part of the film is indeed frightening; especially in our witches’ ruthless pursuits of kids, for the real life disturbances of such child predators need no creepy gloss-over. Audiences may actually speculate whether The Witches is actually a kids’ film, as there’s some darker imagery that adults will certainly find disturbingly entertaining.   Nevertheless, the grotesque comedy moments, suspenseful action, and dangerous chase scenes do a wonderful job of keeping fantasy fun in The Witches.  

Despite the ugly evilness of these bald, square footed witches; Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family, Prizzi’s Honor, The Grifters) is excellent and even devilishly likeable as the Grand High Witch Miss Eva Ernst.  She’s sexy, exotic, foreign, and strangely threatening and appealing all at the same time.  Despite being under heavy makeup and prosthetics when in her true witch’s form, Huston’s physical touches and subtle movements heighten her cold-hearted, witchy ruthlessness.  We fear for The Grand High Witch’s intentions but no less respect her horrible thought and skill at the same time.  Huston is just that slick. Jane Horrocks (Absolutely Fabulous) is wonderfully uppity as Eva’s secretary witch Miss Irvine, too. Then again, controversial aristocrat and Warhol compatriot Ann Lambton (Soul Man, Love is the Devil) is utterly disturbing when trying to lure young Luke from his tree house. We are slightly aware of the witches’ identities thanks to the hints in style- though fashionable, something is always slightly off, askew, or disturbing in their wigs, accents, and gloves. Even so, we are joyfully shocked and dismayed at seeing the true colors of The Witches all the sameIt’s all in good fun whilst so full of cinematic chills.  I Love it! The fact that the witchy extras are actually grossly made up men makes the creepy even better!

 

Mr. Bean fans will also enjoy a funny and grumbling performance by Rowan Atkinson as the flaky hotel manager Mr. Stringer.  Sukie Smith (Peak Practice) is also a lot of fun as Marlene, a pretty hotel maid and Stringer’s lady foil.  The wit of the unbeknowing hotel support against the horrid witches and likeable families works well.  Jasen Fisher (Parenthood, Hook) is totally cute as little Luke Eveshim, and his voice work for the mouse puppets is so dang adorable that you can’t help but almost see his little face in the mouse!  Likewise, Charlie Potter (who seems so familiar from repeat viewings here but hasn’t appeared in anything else!) is great fun as his pudgy pal Bruno Jenkins.  I just love the way he says ‘chocolates’ with his little kid British accent! Brenda Blethyn (A River Runs Through It) and Bill Paterson (Law and Order: UK) are also fun as Bruno’s clueless parents.  Mai Zetterling (My Wife and I) is delightfully hippie-esque, loving, and wise as Grandma Helga.  She’s on the boys’ side always and knows how to keep away from witches.  However, I’m always left with a funny feeling about her, too- like the old ‘say no the Grandpa Joe’ from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory’s film height.  Luke wouldn’t be in all this trouble if Helga hadn’t gone poking around witches and telling scary stories of kids trapped in paintings. It’s so sad that The Witches was Zetterling’s second to last film, but what a charmer by which to remember her!

Yes, The Witches is old to youngin’ CGI-obsessed standards, but the effects still look a-okay.  The make-up styles and fashions perhaps are too eighties, yes; but the witch prosthetics and animatronics overseen by the Jim Henson Production Company all look great.  The decoration and graphics make the fantasy believable, but performance and subtly promote the story more.  The simple and eerie purple eyes of the witches are just downright freaky. Thankfully, the mice work is adorable as well. There’s plenty of the real thing for those squeamish folks, but it’s cute all the same. Cramped camera angles from the mouse’s perspective, scary zooms on the witches, and askew, angled points of view from the creepy gals also get the simple tricks of the trade right. Likewise, the music from Stanley Myers (The Deer Hunter) is innocent when need be and dangerous at times, too.  I also have to say, the tunnels and toys, mice mazes, and tiny playthings are also a lot of fun, and the seaside locations at the Headland Hotel are wonderful.

 

Of course, the DVD of The Witches is at best very tough to find and at worst downright elusive.  It’s merely a bare bones full screen set with no subtitles anyway.  Various editions and Region sets have been about, but a proper restoration of The Witches is long overdue.  Truly, a proper video release should come before any of this new sacrilegious remake drivel.  Today, a film like The Witches can’t –or simply wouldn’t be made with the basics of effects and focus of charm and performance.  We simply must have blue screen witches and teenage hotties in peril. I protest!  It’s amazing to think of something made in 1990 as old, but compared to the likes of Harry Potter, The Witches is perhaps out of fashion for some viewers. Having said that, family audiences can enjoy The Witches again and again.  Some of the witchy imagery and youthful scares may indeed be too frightening for super young viewers, but the happy ending and magical joy here overcomes any scares.  Instead of fantastical graphics and modern fantasy fodder, remember The Witches and have some fun, spooky, family food for thought enjoyment as soon as you can get your greedy little hands on this one!

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HorrorAddicts.net 096, Patricia Santos

Horror Addicts Episode# 096

Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich

Intro Music by: Cancer Killing Gemini

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