TDcore's Horror Journal 2018: Pt. 4
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The Hunger (1983)
This one is quite different than most vampire films of it's time. It's not a horror comedy, nor does it wallow in the culture of it's time, instead opting to focus on much more cerebral themes like the darker side of love, the loneliness of existence and our obsession with immortality. It's greatest flaw is that it often-times moves a bit too slowly, and the characters can come across as a tad underdeveloped at times. Luckily the acting is pitch perfect from the three main leads, Deneuve, Bowie and Sarandon. Also, the film is much too magnificently directed and photographed to not be enjoyed, with an ending that is both beautiful and terrifying. It makes one wish Tony Scott had pursued more artsy projects like this one, as opposed to his popcorn action-flicks. It's not a perfect film, something about it doesn't entirely satisfy me, but perhaps with repeated viewings, down the line I'll grow to like it more. As it is, this is an underrated vampire flick that deserves your attention if you love films like Interview With The Vampire or Coppola's "Dracula".
This one is based off of a young adult horror novel that fans have been begging for a film version of since the nineties. So expectations should be tempered to such. Adults will be able to see the rather large flaws present, but kids, especially teenage girls will be too busy cheering and crying. In that sense, I suppose the film does exactly what it set out to do. I was willing to give it a chance thanks to the presence of director Rodrigo Cortes, who burst onto the independent scene in 2010 with the masterpiece that was "Buried". Since then he has produced plenty of interesting horror flicks and directed a few off kilter gems, like "Red Lights". I had faith that he would at the very least, make this a watchable picture, and he did. But it's still not on par with his previous works. It's not bad, and there's plenty of brooding, masterfully sustained atmosphere, as well as a decent cast. The young girls are all praise worthy, but Uma Thurman obviously gives the best performance here. There's a few effectively scary moments as well, before the film devolves into outright silliness, a paper-thin plot twist and generic emotional sappery. In the end, it's still not anywhere near awful, we've just seen it all before, no matter how decently it's pulled off.
Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)
It was inevitable that there was going to be another one of these eventually. I, myself, greatly enjoyed the first for it's blend of realistic characters, fantastic acting, social commentary and surprisingly brutal gore. This film is quite different than the first, in that it does not deal with cyber bullying and social issues, but instead opts for a more standard horror story about the "Dark Web". And shockingly, it mostly works. It's not as brutal or gory as the original, but it sustains the sense of ticking clock suspense that the first had, perfectly. Acting is just as fantastic this time around as well, with a perfect cast and likeable characters. One thing I enjoyed about this one was that the characters were much more likeable this time around. Whereas in the first the teens quickly turned on each other as the film progressed, these friends stick together and never devolve into the usual "found footage fighting". They're mature young adults and come across as real, lifelong friends. There's also a few twists that aren't easy to see coming, and although we have seen internet horror stories like this before, this a dynamic, thrilling experience. Not quite as nerve-wracking as the original, but a solid film. Now that this film has killed at the box office, akin to it's predecessor, we can expect more of these coming. And I, for one, am perfectly fine with that.
Cold Skin (2017)
I've wanted to see this one for a while now, and was eager to get my hands on it. It is the third film from French director Xavier Gens, who gave us "Frontier(s)" and "The Divide", both uncompromising, brutal films, but beautifully made ones. This one is also, indeed a beautiful film, but not quite as brutal or disturbing as Gens' previous works. It has more in common with H.P. Lovecraft and fairy tales than it does with New French Extremity. It's an original concept, based off a Spanish novel, and an interesting one, but a part of me can't help but feel it should've been so much more. The film that's here is a good one, impeccably directed, with great acting and fantastic special effects, but it's narrative seems rather empty. It does have something to say about human nature by the end of the film, but I don't feel it enough. It wants to stir the emotions and stimulate the mind, but it rarely does. It's beautiful to look at, and a fascinating experience, but that's about it. Still, despite these flaws it's very much worth your time and no doubt, a piece of art that should be enjoyed. Just not perhaps, for the reasons it should've been.
This one has been gaining quite a reputation since it aired on Netflix, and I was eager to see it. Directed and written by Gareth Evans, the man behind "The Raid", this isn't the sort of film most would expect to see him helming next, having built a reputation for himself as a director of deliriously violent, extremely fast-paced action films. But I knew he would try his hand at a horror film sooner or later, after seeing his segment in the second V/H/S film, which much like this film, centered around a creepy cult. That segment kept intact his lightning fast, utterly chaotic style and was honestly one of the most terrifying pieces of horror film craftsmanship that I've seen yet. Needless to say, I imagined this film would be equally as terrifying, but obviously a bit slower and more measured as a feature length film.
And while it has it's numerous moments of armrest-gripping violence and blood is aplenty as is the disturbing imagery, this one just didn't quite reach those levels. Perhaps it's greatest downfall is that it is not in the least bit original. Instead we have a brilliantly directed hodgepodge of themes from The Wicker Man to Hellraiser, all rolled into one beautiful, but often pointless film. I can see why some would love it, for certain, but I wasn't satisfied. I guessed everything coming from a mile away, and the most fascinating parts of the film are the least explored. Acting is good as well, but character development is very little, and leaves us feeling as though we only got glimpses of the personalities of the people on screen. It is worth watching, and a solidly helmed film that suggests potentially great things for Evans, but it's not my cup of tea, nor what it could've been had a little originality and emotion been thrown into the mix.
This is an extremely rare "killer kid" flick, and one that I was hoping could be a hidden gem, but it became evident why this one is not more well known, rather quickly. In some respects it's a purely average film, with workman-like direction, average cinematography and decent music. But once the "horror" begins, the film's ineptitude becomes more noticeable. Never once is there a properly suspenseful scene, nor an emotionally effecting one. Thanks in part to seriously sub-par acting, but also stiff direction. It's a very pedestrian film, without a single creepy, scary or emotive moment. I can't say I hated it, but I also didn't enjoy it. It's just very bland. It's almost as if the director simply handed the actors the script, told the camera operators where to point and laid down for a nap. Nothing to see here.
I was mildly impressed with director Brian O'Malley's debut feature, 2014's "Let Us Prey", and was fascinated to see what he could do next. This film is very much different than his previous effort, in both style and tone. Whereas "Let Us Prey" was rather sadistic and violent, this film is much more atmospheric and restrained. It's a classic gothic horror story, set in a Revolutionary era America, complete with a foreboding mansion, swirling mists and terrible secrets. The film is quite beautiful, with superb cinematography, and never once suffers from it's low-budget. Everything from the score to the lighting evokes a creepy, rich atmosphere. Acting is wonderful as well, with Charlotte Vega quite possibly having big things in store for her. Good dialogue also ensures that we feel what the characters are going through, and it's all believable. This sort of story is nothing new, and some will find the incest plot too grimy (although gothic ghost stories have been using it for years), but it's all pulled off in an elegant, effective manner that leaves one feeling satisfied. Old school, gothic horror lovers should appreciate what this one has to offer.
I was hoping, what with the involvement of A24, that this would be an enjoyable, zany little horror comedy, possibly even a cult classic. It certainly seemed to be aiming for that sort of goalpost, but it misses wildly. This is one of the most awful films I've seen this year, and certainly every bit as bad as you've heard. Nothing about this film works. It's not the slightest bit funny, the humor is incredibly stilted, the concept is such a mish-mash of ineptitude that I can't conceive, the direction is completely lifeless, dialogue cringe-worthy and worst of all, it never even reaches levels of "so bad, it's good". It's just really fucking bad. Someone should "slice" the next script Austin Vesely writes, so we never have to suffer through a turkey like this again. What the fuck were you thinking, A24? Shame on ya'll.
Return of the Living Dead 3 (1994)
This was the last film worth watching in the "Return" franchise, and is something of a cult artifact. Helmed by Stuart Gordon cohort "Brian Yuzna", I figured this one would be worth seeing. And it's a thoroughly fun B-picture with plenty to offer undead fans. While the film is fun, it's also shockingly serious when compared to the rest of the series. It takes a rather somber and emotional approach, especially towards the end. Surprisingly good acting helps sell the drama, no matter how zany the proceedings become. But there's still buckets of gore and grisly make-up effects for genre fans. It's not a masterpiece, but it's lots of fun and has just enough brains (no pun intended) and heart under the hood to stand out.
Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
This is one of the more notable films to emerge from Roger Corman's "New World Pictures", and one of the company's earliest successes as well. Infamously, Corman was dissatisfied with the final product and had tons more scenes of grisly gore and nudity added in at the last minute. It sure made a buck back in the day, but it certainly hasn't stood the test of time. All that added sleaze doesn't mesh well with the rest of the film, which is quite humorless. Thus the whole thing just ends up feeling nasty and exploitive. You know you've screwed up when you've made a monster movie where the human sub-plots are more interesting than the monsters themselves. The goofy costumes work in small doses, shadows and quick cuts. But towards the end, when a dozen of these things are waddling about at once, it becomes rather laughable. Acting is uncommonly decent for this type of trash, with a cast of recognizable faces from it's time. It's not awful, or unwatchable, and it's mildly enjoyable as popcorn entertainment, but it's also not the best of it's kind, even in that department.
The Meg (2018)
I was reasonably sure this picture would turn out well, thanks to a great cast and the direction of Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure, While You Were Sleeping), despite it's long simmer in development hell. It was originally supposed to be helmed by Eli Roth, who's vision reportedly did not align with the studio's. Still, Turtletaub is a more than competent director, whose output I have enjoyed, and as said, we have a great cast here. But I suppose it's most likely that studio interference that ended up making this one the missed opportunity that it is.
A film about a giant, prehistoric shark should be a fun popcorn flick. And while this film is by no means intellectual, it spends far too much time on stale emotional gymnastics and plays the material far too straight. It's also the most cliched big studio effort I've seen in some time, often feeling as though it was written according to a "How To Make A Blockbuster" handbook. It lifts (read: downright steals) from everything between Deep Rising and Jaws, to Piranha and Twister. There's not one line of dialogue or scene here that hasn't been done at least twelve times before. And I mean that most literally. Even the characters fall into immediately recognizable stereotypes. The action hero with a dark past, the asshole millionaire, the wise Chinese dude, the comedy relief black guy, the handful of endearingly funny side characters to be killed off quickest. Most of the usually fantastic cast just looks bored. Even the action sequences manage to be remarkably non-thrilling. It's not bad stuff, just numbingly un-original and un-imaginative. You won't hate it, but there's also no reason to see it.
The Witch in the Window (2018)
This was a wonderful surprise. Helmed by Andy Mitton, one of the directors behind the two-director team who gave us modern cult hits like "YellowBrickRoad" and "We Go On", I expected this one to be much different than your average horror flick. It's not one that will please those who enter looking for cheap jumpscares, in your face horror or action of any kind. It's a slow-moving, thoughtful and haunting picture, that's bound to leave an impression, one way or another. Most of the film centers around the father-son relationship, and luckily the acting is fantastic and completely believable. The horror is extremely understated, most of the time eliciting the feel of an urban legend, told from a parent to child, up until an ending that delves into some rather disturbing psychological horror. Most surprising is how touching and intelligent the film is. It's about much more than a simple ghost story, but it's the kind of tale anyone will be able to relate to, if they can be patient enough to appreciate it. I was surprised by how much I loved this film, and it's a testament to what an intelligent, talented director can achieve with a micro budget and great actors.
This is an example of how an anthology film can go so wrong. Anthologies are among my favorite horror sub-genres, but there's always a risk that there may be a few good tales, sandwiched amongst some genuine stinkers. And that's the case with this film. Rather, there's really only one worthwhile segment in this batch, as the other three range from mediocre to facepalm-inducing. The first chapter is simply a slight variation on the classic "escaped mental patient" story, the second chapter is the best, dealing with an arcade obsessed teen who must battle an extraterrestrial force from within an arcade cabinet. The third chapter is easily the worst, dealing with a preacher suffering from a crisis of faith whom is inexplicably terrorized by a demonic truck, for no other reason than obtuse Evangelical logic. And the film closes out with a fourth tale of a suburban family terrorized by a huge rat, that has a few effective moments, but suffers from extremely laughable special effects. The film isn't horrible, or really bad, but simply mediocre as a whole, and not really worth the time when all is said and done. There's also no wrap-around whatsoever, just these four stories, with no link between them. I find it strange that a studio like Universal picked this one up, but it was a massive box office flop in it's day, and is only a minor curiosity today, with a handful of admirers, mostly blinded by nostalgia. Not really worth a look.
I tracked this one down after enjoying "The Witch In The Window", seeing as it's the first feature by/and the only one I hadn't yet seen from, director Andy Mitton. This one enjoys a notorious cult reputation, with some considering it one of the finest psychological horror films ever made, and mainstream viewers often finding it annoyingly confusing. I'm an open-minded viewer, who enjoys all kinds of cinema, and can handle not having everything spelled out for me, as long as the film is well made and accomplishes what it sets out to do. In this film's case, it's obviously trying to deeply unsettle us, and in that respect, it smashes a homerun.
This is one of the most disturbing films I've watched, up there with films like "Martyrs" and "Hereditary". It doesn't provide any real answers for the surreal, nightmarish proceedings, but I'm not entirely sure that wasn't the filmmaker's intentions. I feel the whole thing is simply supposed to be an exercise in fear of the unknown, in the strange and unexplainable. I have read some very interesting theories by others about the film's meaning, the most plausible being that it's a meditation on media (film in particular) being used to escape real life issues and ignore responsibilities. I'd honestly have to watch the whole thing about two more times to really see if that holds up, but regardless, the film will keep one's attention and satisfy the itch to be disquieted. It's not a perfect film. Editing can be sloppy, cinematography is fairly cheap and the acting ranges from good to merely decent. It's very obviously a debut feature, but it succeeds where it counts, in being haunting, thoroughly disturbing and memorable. This one will stay in your head for a very long time.
The Dunwich Horror (1970)
This is one of the most maligned Lovecraft adaptations ever laid to celluloid, mostly because it updates one of his classic stories to an (at the time) modern setting. As many others will point out, this is a very 70's feeling film indeed, and because of that, there isn't much of Lovecraft's original style left on the subject. But it's not really all that bad of a film. It's certainly not a good one, but it is solidly directed, with gorgeous cinematography and set design. The acting is also quite good, with Dean Stockwell sticking out the most. His performance imbues equal parts of camp and method acting that make him a pure joy to watch. He commands the screen with devilish charisma each time he's in frame. The first half of the film is actually quite moody and surreal, but things fall apart towards the end, as they often did with earlier Lovecraft adaptations. It took a long time for Hollywood to figure out how to successfully bring Lovecraft's creatures to the screen, and this one builds towards an ending with "The Old Ones" rising from the depths of the sea, only to treat us to an image of what looks to be a giant poodle with snakes for hair, emitting the sounds of an asthma attack. It's disappointing and laughable to say the least, and makes the film not really worth seeking out. It's not good stuff, but it's not one of the worst by any measure.
Cherry Falls (2000)
I've wanted to get my hands on this one for some time, seeing as I have a huge weak spot for pre-Scream slashers. Films like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend and Valentine. They may not be the best horror films ever, but I grew up with them and they introduced me to my love of slasher films in general. This was the only one out of the "pack" of late nineties entries I hadn't seen yet. It's quite often looked upon as inferior, even to it's peers, which is a shame, because it's not at all bad. It's an enjoyable slasher, with surprisingly deep characterization in some places, decent direction and even some social commentary. But it falters in two big places. Gore and humor. Apparently there were a lot more grisly death scenes filmed, but for some reason the studio insisted on toning them down or cutting them out almost completely. To this day, there isn't an uncut/director's cut available on the market, with is just a damn travesty. Thus, most of the kill scenes are botched, and as we all know, a slasher without great kill scenes is like a musical without sound. The film also banks on it's "edgy" humor, but none of the gags or banter are that funny, or even that edgy, for that matter. But the whole thing is pulled together just smoothly enough that it's quite watchable for slasher fans, and as said, features a welcome amount of brains and humanity. Worth a look for those who love the sub-genre.
It's Alive (1974)
This one is a bona-fide cult classic, and a controversial film to this day. It's premise is pure genius, dealing with the concept of a killer, mutant newborn. It was one of Larry Cohen's first films, and contains much of his usual themes, such as police procedural elements and political musings. But when compared to some of his later classics, it's a somewhat inferior product. The first half of the film is excellent, but once the mutant baby begins prowling the suburbs for fresh meat, it becomes rather tacky. The film also isn't in the least bit suspenseful, or scary. Cohen didn't seem to yet have a grasp on how to build tension, and the scenes in which the creature attacks are very poorly directed. Most of the good stuff comes from the writing and cast, with a fantastic performance from John Ryan as the father. He truly portrays the full emotional range of what this situation would be like for a normal man. And it's the moments in which we see how these surreal events affect his daily life that are the most fascinating. Also, the film begins to have a crisis of morality towards the end, attempting to appeal to emotionality when it is completely irrational, or maybe that's just me. It's an interesting film, worth seeing for certain, but not what it should've been.
I'm not much one for rape/revenge flicks, unless the film carries a message aside from cheap exploitation that does neither women or men any good. This one does, and is likely one of the best of it's kind in years. I love seeing me some rapist, racist, rednecks getting their asses handed to them, and this film gives us that pleasure in bounds. The concept of a Native American chief possessing the body of the raped girl is also genius. The revenge scenes are also brilliantly executed, deliriously violent, edge of your seat and surprisingly triumphant. The film is held back however, by some seriously shaky direction and a very cheap look. Cinematography is downright awful as well, but the greyscale look of the film somehow adds to the griminess. It's not a pleasant film to watch either. Much time is spent with the antagonists, perhaps a bit too much, and they are thoroughly unlikeable, extremely easy to hate pieces of human excrement. The acting is pretty good across the board too, with only a few hiccups. But the sloppy craft and grimy feel left in one's stomach afterwards keep this from being a film that one can easily "enjoy". Still, if you dig exploitation films and you're not a butthurt, racist redneck, this one is more than worth a look.
The Invitation (2016)
I've desperately wanted to see this one since it came out, back in 2015. But strangely it never seemed to show up anywhere that I could get my hands on it. When I saw the trailers back when it was announced I knew this would be right up my alley, and continued praise has only furthered my interest in seeing it. It's even become somewhat of a cult film. And I'm happy to report that it was quite good. This film creates tension and paranoia out of thin air. Until the last 20 minutes, there's nary a drop of blood or violence in the film, yet we are thoroughly unhinged just by the performances and the writing. Acting is terrific, with Logan Marshall-Green giving another fantastic performance that further cements him as a rising talent. I can't really say much more without giving the twist away, so I'll just that my only gripe was that I wished some of the stuff at the end had been a little more original. That aside, this is a very effective slow-burn that will get under your skin very easily.
Dead of Night (1974)
Bob Clark released two horror films in 1974. Black Christmas and this one. Obviously, Black Christmas garnered most of the attention, but this little film has sustained a large cult following as well, and rightly so. It's a moody, creepy and surreal flick, although it does have some issues. The concept alone is haunting enough; the tale of a young soldier killed in battle who is risen from death and guided back home by his mother's prayers, but finds he needs blood to keep from decomposing. It's truly an American horror story, and is played out in an intimate, emotional fashion. The direction and cinematography are just as solid as in Black Christmas as well. But there's certain smaller nitpicks that I have, such as allowing the son to speak so much, which I think ruins the atmosphere when he begins to quip one-liners. Still, there's plenty of creepy moments, decent acting and a haunting ending to keep one watching. This one is worth seeking out, especially if you enjoyed any of Clark's other early efforts.
This one has a rather large cult following, and is most famous for it's grisly murder scenes, courtesy of effects master Tom Savini himself. But beyond it's well directed carnage, this is quite an unredeemable film and the furthest thing from "art" possible. As said, the kill scenes are well directed, but the rest of the film is poorly helmed, and simply quite ugly. Joe Spinell is great as the title "maniac", but even at the film's release date, we'd already seen plenty of it's kind. There's actually less of a story or any semblance of character in this film than in most slashers, and the whole thing is exploitively played out for shock-value. There's not much to enjoy, from either direction, story or atmosphere. There is a fantastically gory, nightmarish ending, but this is a completely shallow picture. For my money, the 2012 remake is better in almost every way, and at least superbly directed. If you like your films with absolutely no brain and all gore, this one might please you. Otherwise, steer clear.
The First Power (1990)
This is just a simple, to the point action/thriller, with some horror elements thrown in, that's not trying to be anything it isn't. It's certainly not the most original film on the block, but it's a thoroughly solid riff on it's sub-genre, with decent direction, a good cast, featuring a young Lou Diamond Phillips, before he became a walking caricature of himself and a drop dead gorgeous Tracy Griffith; as well as some tightly executed action sequences. It won't get you thinking, but it's great fun while it lasts, even if not very memorable. If you're looking for some light viewing, and just want to have some fun, this one is a good watch.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
This is one of the great cult classics, and is cited by George A. Romero himself as an inspiration for "Night Of The Living Dead". It's certainly a creepy, atmospheric little film, but not a fully coherent one. I have a bit of a pet peeve for films with a "twist" ending like this one has, especially when they do very little to hide it from the audience. With this film, it's clear almost from the beginning where the whole thing is going. It may well be one of the first films to use this twist, but that doesn't make it any less lazy or unsurprising. Still, the whole thing is quite well directed and shot beautifully, with the sequences at the carnival standing out in particular. The imagery in these scenes is haunting and terrifying, despite them being quite simple. The film is worth seeing, especially for it's mood, but it isn't the forgotten masterpiece that some herald it as.
The very first anthology film from the infamous "Amicus Productions", this one was written and directed by the same team that created the studio's most infamous film, "Tales From The Crypt". One would think that means we have another classic on our hands, but this shabby, albeit nice looking cheesefest in no way holds a candle to Amicus's finest efforts. We have five stories in this film, and not a single one of them is in the least bit original, thrilling or even amusingly campy. They are quite simply, boring. The cinematography is good and the cast wonderful, but the material is all so silly that not even the likes of Cushing, Lee and Sutherland can save it. In fact, the wrap-around, featuring Cushing as an ominous fortune teller who foretells supernatural events, is more entertaining and effective than any of the five tales present here. It's a good looking, competently made production on a superficial level. But as far as entertainment, originality or scares go, it's lacking.
The Tunnel (2011)
This film is mast infamous for it's unusual marketing scheme, in which it was uploaded to several VOD sites for free and offered on it's own website for nothing as well. Those who enjoyed the film were simply encouraged to go online and buy a hard copy. The film made a bit of a buzz in the horror scene back when it released, but sadly, there's not much to it. The concept of exploring abandoned subway tunnels is a good one, and the tunnels themselves are claustrophobic, dingy and creepy. But the film amounts to people running about in the dark, screaming as a poorly rendered special effect whizzes in and out of sight. There's a few tense moments, but most of the time you'll just be straining your eyes to see the creature better. There's absolutely no attempt to resolve anything in the end either. Acting is good, and the characters are blessedly more mature adults as opposed to idiotic, bickering teens, but this is a surprisingly un-effective effort.
This one starts out like your average found footage flick. A group of young friends heads into the woods to go camping, the usual in-fighting and strange noises outside of the tent. But slowly and surely, this one morphs in a completely unexpected direction. By the end, we're in pure insanity and the film has gone completely batshit crazy. I won't ruin anything, but suffice to say that you won't predict where this one is headed. That doesn't mean it's a great film, though. The main character for the first half of the film (before he is blessedly killed off) is one of the most detestable pieces of shit to be seen in a found footage film since that "Mika" prick from Paranormal Activity. He's borderline psychopathic himself and is abusive towards his girlfriend, an asshole to his friend and runs excitedly towards terrifying noises in the darkness. Once he's out of the picture, the film gets slightly better. My biggest issue is that while there is a general explanation to be reaped from the whole thing, in the end it's still so packed with ideas and general craziness that it feels too busy. The final twenty minutes of the film are constant tension and an all out assault on the senses. This is good in the way of an experience, but not so much as a film narrative. The whole thing ends up feeling more like a roller coaster than a film. But it's a thrilling, nasty, disturbing ride. One that you'll enjoy in most ways if you dig the sub-genre.
Tourist Trap (1979)
This film is a notable cult curiosity for several reasons. Foremost being that it was one of Charles Band's first successful productions, as well as it featuring many other future Full Moon Features regulars, being directed by David Schmoeller who would eventually give us "Puppet Master" and edited by Ted Nicolau who helmed "Subspecies". But one must keep in mind that this was an amateur production for all of those involved at the time, so it's not quite on par with some the material that would later come from it's creators. But it's not a bad film either. It's sufficiently creepy, and there's a reason it gained a dedicated cult following. It has a strange atmosphere about it, as well as decent acting and some downright chilling moments. If you're made uneasy by mannequins or dolls, this film will easily get under your skin. But the rest suffers from being terribly unoriginal. The whole thing ends up feeling much too like another riff on "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", especially towards the end. Still, the atmosphere and creepy telekinetic scenes with the dummies are enough to keep things slightly fresh. It won't blow your mind, but it's a serviceable picture and one that has it's effective moments.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
This is not a particularly well made picture, with acting that ranges from decent to hilarious and stodgy direction, but as a slasher and a cult artifact, it's absolutely enjoyable. With just the right amount of weird, inappropriate and gross to satisfy slasher fiends and lovers of cult cinema. The kills themselves are not explicitly depicted, but are fairly original and grimy. There's also enough oddball characters and goofy dialogue to keep things interesting between blood spurts. I can't say too much, without giving away the film's historically disturbing twist ending, but suffice to say it won't disappoint and will surely stick with you. I'd say it's fairly easy from the start to tell who the killer is, but don't think the slasher's identity is the only trick this ghoulish film has up it's sleeves. It has it's problems, and it's far from perfect or well made in many aspects, but it's greatly enjoyable and more than distinct enough to stand out in the sea of eighties slasher flicks.
Monkey Shines (1988)
This just may be Romero's most underrated film. A well directed, wonderfully acted, startlingly intense flick. It doesn't exactly break new ground, but it's rock solid in all the ways it should be. Jason Beghe is fantastic in the lead role, and the tiny monkey "Ella", is a surprisingly good actress as well. There's some suspenseful moments, a little gore and witty writing to ensure that this one is a crowd pleaser. It's got one hell of an ending too. As far as killer monkey flicks go, this one may be the best.
When a Stranger Calls (1979)
A riff on the classic urban legend of "the killer is calling from inside the house", and the first film to use it, this one goes in a lot of unexpected directions, mostly in a good way. It's not a paint-by-numbers slasher film, like most would expect, but instead spends much more time telling the story from the viewpoint of a detective obsessed with hunting down the madman, and even the madman himself. That's my biggest gripe with the film. We're told that this man committed unspeakable acts, but we're never shown him doing anything particularly violent until the end of the film, and Tony Beckley is simply not frightening in his portrayal of him. In fact, he struck me as a lonely vagabond who just wants friends for coffee time, rather than a vicious killer. Still, the film is effective and beautifully directed by Fred Walton. Especially the first twenty minutes, with the babysitter being terrorized on the phone is expertly maneuvered. And the scenes in which the killer is pursued by the detective are also suspenseful, thanks mostly to the performance of Charles Durning. It's not perfect, but it's a very well made film and worthy of it's cult status. Certainly much better than it's wretched remake.
Christmas Evil (1985)
As far as Christmas themed horror films go, this one is a cult classic. And it's certainly an oddity. It doesn't play to the expected exploitation bent, but rather explores the mind of it's mentally unstable lead, as he dresses up as Santa to decide who's been "naughty or nice". There's a few, very nicely executed kill scenes, but this is not a slasher. What keeps the film moving most of the time is Brandon Maggart's fantastic performance as "Henry/Santa". He's a pitiable villain, who is even hunted through the city streets like Frankenstein. But most of the film is simply quite plodding and not at all scary or suspenseful. The ending wraps things up nicely, but there's too much wasted potential here for this to be the definitive Christmas horror film. I think that honor will always belong to "Black Christmas". Still, this one isn't very good, but worth checking out as a very different take on holiday horror.
Burnt Offerings (1976)
This is a pretty straight-forward "haunted house" tale, with solid direction and an amazing cast. But it's weakest points lie in it's overlong runtime. The film does a good job at stirring up an atmosphere, but very rarely does anything that's actually frightening with it. The film has it's moments, but one must sit through a lot of exposition to get to them, not all of it necessary. Thankfully, as said, we have a wonderful cast who keep things moving along. And in the end, while the film is effective, it's narrative presents nothing new to the genre. It's simply passable fare, worth a look if you enjoy it's type.
Richard Bates Jr. is easily one of the most talented and fascinating directors we currently have working in horror. He burst onto the scene in 2012 with his cult hit "Excision", which established his controversial, oddball style. His latest offering, 2017's "Trash Fire", sadly, didn't do much for me. So I was hesitant to check this one out, fearing he may have been a one hit wonder. But if you can stomach the screwball humor, intentional cheesiness and lower budget, this one is an enjoyable horror comedy. Part of what makes it work so well is the exceptional cast, Matthew Gray Gubler (of "Criminal Minds" fame) and Kat Dennings especially, have perfect chemistry. And the film is also chock full of appearances from cult actors as well. The humor can be hit or miss, but I found it to work much more often than not, and there's a few genuinely hilarious moments. In the end, it's cheap effects, some comedic misfires and unsteady direction hold it back, but it's a loveable film that wears it's weirdness proudly. Here's to hoping Bates' next film re-captures the magic of this film and Excision.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)
I'm not sure how closely this one sticks to the original Poe text, but either way, it's a pretty damn good film. It's got a great cast, with Lance Hernikson turning in another amazing performance as "The Inquisitor" and a decent amount of action and gore. The whole thing does end up feeling like exploitation, but it's pulled off with just enough pizzazz and a happy ending. There's probably better "witch hunting" films out there, and it's certainly not director Stuart Gordon's best, but this one is more than worth a look.
We Are What We Are (2013)
A remake of a Mexican horror film by the same name, this is a much better film, but still suffers from some serious narrative issues. The concept is original, and I applaud Jim Mickle and Nick Damici for making the film their own as opposed to simply rehashing the original. The film is a beautifully shot, American gothic piece. It's very low budget, but it looks wonderful and is directed with skill. It's subject matter is no doubt disturbing, but there's not much abundant gore until the climax, which won't be forgotten. There's also a fantastic cast, with plenty of director Mickle's usuals, and great turns from the young cast members. The film's problems arise within the inherently insane logic of it's characters. There's absolutely no reason, besides blind following of tradition, for them to continue living this way. And though it could be argued that the film is a metaphor for just that, it still doesn't provide enough exposition to explain why the characters feel that way. It's an interesting concept, but one that ends up feeling relatively unexplored. Still, a very well made film and one worth seeing.
I wasn't expecting anything more of this film than a fun B-picture at the most. And while it is a B-movie at it's core, here we have a surprisingly solid, wonderfully directed flick with a lot to like. The story is handled in a good fashion, and it's best to go in not knowing too much (read: don't watch the trailer), as there's lots of twists, that actually work for the most part. The film does get progressively sillier, but it's all delivered so effectively, with impeccable direction and a fantastic atmosphere. The cast is decent too, with some recognizable faces like Milo Ventimiglia and Shawn Ashmore, both fairly solid actors, and just right for this kind of material. Also worthy of praise are the mostly practical effects, which are wonderful and absolutely convincing. Some of the best practical effects work I've seen in a low-budget horror in some time. The aliens (that's the only spoiler you're getting) are surprisingly inventive and effective. Those who enjoy extraterrestrial horror, and don't mind some intentionally cheesy plotting are in for a treat. This is a fun, effective horror film that's not trying to be anything else. We don't get enough films like this that work properly these days.
We seem to be getting an "office" horror/comedy every year now. The trend began in 2016 with the superb "The Belko Experiment", and continued in 2017 with the enjoyable "Mayhem". This is 2018's iteration of the formula, and by now it's beginning to grow stale. Especially because this particular film makes no effort whatsoever to stand out from the pack. It has no witty political satire, not much gore that isn't poorly produced CGI blood spurts and isn't all that funny. The cast is decent, and the film is ably directed, but none of the jokes stick the landing. It all just feels like it's doing the motions. It's probably much more accessible than either "Belko" or "Mayhem", but when one is making a horror/comedy about an office overrun by energy drink crazed "zombies", being accessible shouldn't be a priority. Not really worth your time.
I want to love this film, I really do, but honestly it's a bit of a mess. I'm a huge Clive Barker fanatic, the man is easily my favorite horror icon in any field, from his writing and filmmaking to his painting. I don't blame Barker for most of the issues that plague this film, but instead Morgan Creek, the company that distributed the film and skewered it upon release. They feared that audiences were incapable of appreciating Barker's unique vision and thus began an ad campaign that portrayed the film as a slasher, and demanded massive cuts in the editing room. The result is a wonderfully directed, incredibly ambitious picture with atrocious editing that kills it's plot, characters and pace. But it's a testament to Clive's imagination and talent that even still, the film is beautiful, exciting and disturbing.
I watched "The Cabal Cut", which is as complete a cut as we'll most likely ever get. The film's greatest problems still lie within the shallowness of it's characters. Boon himself is barely a character at all. He has the moral compass of a boy scout, is kickass and loves his girlfriend. Beyond that, we know nothing of him. Midian is such a fascinating place too, that it's sad how scarcely elaborated it is, how the place came to be, who many of the most interesting creatures even are and why Cronenberg's character is so evil. Still, despite all of this, the film is magnificently directed, much like Barker's "Hellraiser", with shots that look like beautifully disturbing artwork, and the effects are so imaginative that no horror fan will be able to keep from grinning with glee at the sight of such lovingly composed monsters. The film also serves as a nicely conscious metaphor for discrimination and demonization of minorities and social outcasts. One could even muse that the film is a metaphor for the LGBT community, as Barker himself is a homosexual, and Boon spends much of the film being seduced away from his girlfriend and ordinary life by a pack of outcasts who have been hunted into near extinction. With all of this still to enjoy, Nightbreed is still a greatly rewarding watch and an enjoyable film on many levels. It's just a shame that it's not the masterpiece that Barker intended. Fuck you, Morgan Creek.
The Clovehitch Killer (2018)
This is a pretty lo-fi serial killer flick, but one that is pulled off rather well. It could've been pretty boring, but thanks to good acting and decent writing, it's a very watchable film. Sort of a tale of life in the suburbs gone wrong, it's quiet, slow-moving and thoughtful. It doesn't entirely skimp on the disturbing elements, without ever showing explicit violence, but doesn't feel like it cops out. Dylan McDermott especially is terrific as the father, and Charlie Plummer is convincing in the role of a boy who must learn whether his own dad is a serial killer. I do find myself wishing that the film had been more violent and intense towards the end, only because it would've been that much more effective. I would've liked to see it become sort of a serial-killer companion piece to "Blue Velvet" in that case, but it plays things rather mutedly to the end, without ever feeling emotionless. And there are some narrative and structural twists towards the end, that keep things fresh. It's nothing mind blowing, but it's a good watch and an interesting take on it's sub-genre, that patient viewers will appreciate.
Lord of Illusions (1995)
This is the last film that Clive Barker has directed thus far, and one of the least talked about in his filmography. And that's just a damn shame, because it's a fine film. It's about as conventional as a Barker film can be, but still not without his trademark violence and surrealism. The concept of two battling magicians is original, and the acting is great across the board. Scott Bakula is fantastic as Barker's supernatural private eye, "Harry D'Amour" and Kevin J. O'Connor and Daniel Von Bargen are great as the powerful illusionists. The effects and imagery are as nightmarish and masterful as any Barker film, and the ending in particular is quite epic. There isn't much of a deeper narrative like in some of his films, but the dramatic relationships of the characters work well and the whole thing is so beautiful and tightly directed that it's forgivable for being slightly less cerebral than most Barker adaptations. This one deserves a lot more attention, and fans won't be disappointed.
The House on Sorority Row (1983)
This one is something of a classic among slasher fans, but I honestly prefer the 2009 remake "Sorority Row". This is a nicely directed effort, with a decent cast and some gore, but it plays things far too safe. There's not much variety in the kills, nor any suspenseful chase sequences and the twist ending takes things into purely campy territory. The film is still held together by tight direction, and it never becomes boring or unwatchable, but it's just by the numbers stuff, even if done well. It's worth watching for slasher fans, but no one else need apply.
People kept telling me how great this film was, and I'm always on the lookout for films that combine police thrillers with horror films, of which we don't have nearly enough these days. I finally gave it a chance, and I'm glad I did. This is a low-budget film but never once does it feel like one. It's stylish, full of great acting and constantly involving. The direction is rock solid, and the film is full of creative shots and bright colors. Plus we have a fantastic cast of great modern actors and old standbys like Perlman and Esposito. Beau Mirchoff is also great in the role of the rookie cop thrust into danger and Michael Eklund proves once again that he's one of the best bad guys we have on screen. The writing is terrific also, with witty dialogue and well-rounded characters. There's also an almost Lynchian sense of humor and weirdness to some of it and plenty of gore and grisly moments for the horror crowd. Whether you're in it for a thinking man's thriller or a horror film, this one satisfies on almost every level, and is bound to become a cult classic.
This is about as conventional a film as Cronenberg is capable of directing, and while different than the body of his work, still shares many of his characteristics. It's not a great film, and a very uneven one in both pace and success. There's a lot to enjoy, with plenty of Cronenberg's trademark body horror moments and several memorable scenes of carnage. Sometimes the film feels much more like an early Romero film, however, as it explores the manner in which the Canadian government handles an outbreak and also muses about the dangers of plastic surgery. But it never strikes a satisfying balance between the chaotic outbreak and the more intimate horrors of it's lead character. Acting is good, with a surprisingly solid performance from adult film star, Marilyn Chambers, and there's plenty of well directed moments, but they don't always add up to a cohesive picture. Still, more than worth a look for fans of Cronenberg, and a rather underrated film.
Nearly everyone is afraid of clowns, and still, we don't have nearly enough "evil clown" movies. Most of those that have been produced are far from worth a look, so to date, this may be the best of it's kind yet. Director John Watts originally uploaded a fake trailer for this film to YouTube, which jokingly claimed it was directed by the "master of horror", Eli Roth. Roth saw the trailer and loved it, thus deciding that these filmmakers deserved a chance to bring their vision to life. And while it's a goofy, not especially intelligent film, it's also a fun, creepy and disturbing one. I especially appreciated the body horror elements, and the refusal to tone down the gore just because it's directed towards children. The film's effects also work rather well. We have a pretty good cast too, with another great performance from the underrated Peter Stormare. The direction can be uneven, with some sloppy moments, but also several other wonderfully directed scenes, and the pace can also be a little unruly. It's not a perfect film, but it's the sort that's undeniably fun for horror fanatics.
Split Second (1992)
This is nothing more than a fun, well directed action/horror romp. A large part of why it works so well is thanks to the performances of Rutger Hauer and Neil Duncan. These two have sort of a buddy-cop relationship and their bro-chemistry is fantastic. Hauer himself proves once again to be an extremely underrated actor, and he brings a surprising amount of depth and subtle emotion to the role. Direction is solid, with atmospheric cinematography, and the action scenes are pulse quickening. The biggest issue lies within the film's supernatural antagonist. He's a successful amalgamation of Freddy Krueger and a Xenomorph, and looks effortlessly cool, but the film provides no explanation for what the creature is. Just obtuse occult babble. The film's world, of a global warming ravaged, flooded London is also creative. It's great fun, especially for those who grew up with flicks like this, even if not perfect.
Lovely Molly (2012)
Most of my interest in this film was because of writer/director Eduardo Sanchez. Sanchez was one of the two directors of the original Blair Witch Project, and though I never much cared for that particular film, everything he has directed since has been of some interest. And this one is hands down, one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen. It's certainly not for everyone's taste, but those who enjoy a good psychological horror, and don't mind feeling like taking a shower afterwards, should be interested. The film mixes together indie and found footage elements to craft the tale of a young woman's psychological breakdown. Gretchen Lodge is fantastic in the title role, and is equal parts unnerving and sympathetic. The film is still not entirely successful, with many moments that simply do not make sense, but as an exercise in pure dread, it checks off all the boxes. Approach with caution however, as this one won't be forgotten and some probably shouldn't even watch it in the first place. I feel the need to clarify, that if you are a victim of sexual abuse, you should steer clear of this film. I wasn't aware of such themes and watched it with a friend who has experienced such trauma and had to leave the room. Otherwise, if you're in the market to be unhinged, this one will do the job.
This is a pure cheesefest, but it's a fun, competently produced one, and still miles better than the junk that passes for Ouija horror today. The film's greatest downfall is that it is in no way scary. There's a few scenes of mild bloodletting, but for the most part it's not a suspenseful film. Direction and cinematography are also workmanlike. So what's there to like? A decent cast of surprisingly well-written characters, who really sell the dramatic elements of the script. We have truly well rounded characters here, which only makes one wish they were in a more effective film. A few of the kill scenes are also nicely executed. If you can take the cheese, this one is enjoyable for all the wrong reasons.
We Are Still Here (2015)
I can't remember the last time a film was so middling until the last 20 minutes, which then proceed to be so great they only make it more depressing that the rest of the film is not as good. For the most part this film plays out as a respectable ghost story, with a good cast and some atmosphere thanks to the snowy, desolate locales. But then, those last 20 minutes turn into a parade of top-notch gore, fantastic effects and intense direction. It makes the rest of the film look positively amateur by comparison. It doesn't help that despite a great cast, the characters don't have much personality. Still, the film is worth a look for it's style and gore. If only the whole thing had been as good as those last few minutes.
Needful Things (1993)
This is a somewhat underrated King adaptation. The film's biggest problem is it's bloated runtime. But acting is good, especially from Max Von Sydow as the shopkeeper. It's decent, and worth a look, not the finest in King's cinematography.
The Stepfather (1987)
Here we have a bona-fide classic, horror/thriller. It's really a very simple film, but it's ably directed by Joseph Ruben, who would later direct many more favorites in the genre, and it's got a great cast, featuring a chilling turn from Terry O'Quinn as the stepfather and the beautiful Jill Schoelen. It doesn't break any new ground, but it's thoroughly entertaining.
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