TDcore's Horror Journal 2019: March
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This is one of William Castle's better pictures, thanks in large part to a script by "Psycho" author, Robert Bloch. Bloch's script is straight-forward, well written and free of the more cheesy elements that plague most of Castle's films, making this a film that is easier to take seriously. It's still not the most original picture, and quite an ordinary psychological thriller, but it's pulled off in a smooth manner. Joan Crawford's performance is what elevates it above it's contemporaries, and makes it more than yet another "Psycho" ripoff. The twist ending is easy to see coming halfway through the film as well, but the denouement is executed in a high-energy fashion, that feels thrilling even though you knew it was coming. The film also, blessedly, handles it's themes of mental illness in a non-derogatory manner as well. All together, this is a tight little effort, even if not entirely memorable.
This film is incredibly hard to track down. Back when it was filmed, it was intended to be released in theaters by MGM, but was pulled from distribution for unknown reasons. It also never received a proper DVD release. Needless to say, this led to all sorts of conspiracy theories, some suggesting the film was a real documentary. It was then released on Netflix for a limited time a few years ago, and finally received a Blu-Ray release by Scream Factory last year. Obviously, the film is not real, as director/writer "John Erick Dowdle" is a fairly cemented horror director nowadays, who's works include "Quarantine", "Devil" and "As Above, So Below".
My interest in the film stemmed from my affection for POV horror films and my enjoyment of most of Dowdle's other works. But this film is a very different beast from any of those. It's much grittier, more raw and incredibly disturbing. Something about serial killer documentaries and true crime shows has always bothered the hell out of me, and if they unhinge you as well, this film will provide ample nightmare fuel.
There's a few moments that display truly sick imagination. The film is well directed, and acted, and succeeds in doing what it obviously set out to do. It will unnerve you deeply. But it has nothing else to offer. Even the most jaded horror fan will find himself asking why he is watching this, as there is nothing enjoyable about the proceedings. The whole affair feels like a real documentary, maybe more realistic than any other found footage film has felt. Therefore, you won't be able to separate yourself from the reality so easily, and the gruesome events that unfold are not all enjoyable to watch. But as said, it's thoroughly effective in what it does. If you ever get that strange urge to be disturbed and offended, as horror fans sometimes do, this one will do the trick. But it's not the type of film I'll ever watch more than once.
This was the first film in quite a long time from John McNaughton, director of the legendary cult classic "Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer". And while this is a solid film, it's quite different than what most will be expecting. Though it's plot is certainly sadistic, it's not an exploitive film, and it deals much more with character. It's best to go in knowing nothing but a brief plot sympnosis and avoiding trailers, seeing as they outright spoil the film's big twist. Going in almost blind is even better. The plot is quite original, but it's the acting that steals the show. Especially fantastic are the parents, played by Samantha Morton, who delivers a frighteningly unhinged performance and Michael Shannon, who is utterly amazing, as he always is. Charlie Tahan is also quite convincing as their terminally ill son. And even Peter Fonda has a supporting role. There's a decent amount of suspense, although things never become particularly bloody or outright horrifying. Instead, it's the lengths these people will go to, and the quiet, intimate horror of the situation. A very different kind of horror film, and McNaughton's direction is somewhat workman-like, but it works.
The Killing Gene (2008)
This film is too often written off as a low-budget "Saw" rip-off. And no doubt, it takes inspiration from films like "Seven" and "Saw", but it's very much it's own beast, and well worth seeing. It puts an interesting spin on the sub-genre, and doesn't devolve into "torture porn" territory until the end, and even then it never treats it's characters like human slabs of meat. This picture has something to say, and though it says it frankly, it has a conscience. The acting is mostly good as well, with standbys like Stellan Skarsgard and the ever underrated Melissa George in the lead roles. Selma Blair is also more effective than usual, and even a young Tom Hardy makes an appearance. The film isn't especially well directed, and the cinematography is downright shoddy, full of quick cuts and perpetual shaky-cam. But the messy look almost fits the film's grimy, greasy atmosphere perfectly. The city is a character in this film. A huge slum, where there isn't a single place to be safe from the gangs and violence. That's a pretty mean feat for such a low-budget film to achieve. This one is a diamond in the rough, if I ever saw one. Give it a fair chance, though, and it may surprise you.
Orca: The Killer Whale (1977)
This is certainly one of the better "Jaws" imitators, though that's not saying much. But it truly is a decent little film, and quite different in it's approach than any of the other eco-films of it's time. Sure, there's blood and guts, but the film is much more centered on it's emotional themes, which influence even it's most violent moments. The acting is also exceptional for a B-picture like this, with Richard Harris playing the material totally straight. The scenes in which he and the whale interact are filled with surprisingly resonant weight. And the whale itself is more convincing than any of it's contemporaries, in a mixture of real Orca footage and cleverly cut special effects. The characters aren't especially developed and the film's pace can get bogged down, but it's enjoyable and it handles it's theme vengeance with true thoughtfulness. Worth a look for those who enjoy a good eco-horror.
This one is a few notches below most A24 horror films. It's one of the most generic horror films I can think of in recent times, being somewhat of a riff on the classic "changeling" myth, and incredibly similar to a 2009 film called "The New Daughter". This tale has already been told so many times that something new must be done with it in order to remain fresh. Unfortunately, this film plays the material straight and throws in every cliché imaginable from the "killer kid" sub-genre. Towards the end, things even grow wearily reminiscent of "The Descent", further proving their isn't an original bone in this film's body. And, though decently directed, none of it is executed with enough energy to make it anything more than plodding. Luckily, the cast is fairly good. Seana Kerslake gives a good performance as the young mother and young James Quinn Markey is quite good, and reminds one of an Irish Haley Joel Osment at times. But these spirited performances aren't enough to save a film that is so routine that it barely feels like it has a purpose for existing. Not a horrible film, but not worth anyone's time either.
Slaughterhouse Rulez (2018)
I had reasonable expectations for this one, due to the involvement of the ever-reliable Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They aren't directing or writing here, but are present as producers and actors in the film itself. Even having their names attached is usually a sure sign of quality, and while I did enjoy this film, it's certainly a little lower on the ladder than most of the duo's filmography. This film is a gigantic melting pot of tons of vastly incompatible themes, that ends up feeling like a giant mess at times. A mixture of creature feature, political satire, horror comedy and Harry Potter without the magic. Sometimes the film can seem like it's just throwing things into the pot for the hell of it, and it can come off as a bit sloppy in it's execution. Still, the political themes are resonant (right-wingers won't be pleased), the comedy mostly works and the acting is charming. Finn Cole and Asa Butterfield have perfect bromance chemistry in the lead roles, and the film has a surprisingly deep emotional core. The creatures are also rather well designed, and a mixture of practical effects and decent CGI brings them to life convincingly. There's even some gore. It's a mess, and it can be slightly wrong-headed, but those who enjoy cultish, bloody horror comedies should reap some good enjoyment from it. And it's not completely empty-headed, as are many of it's contemporaries.
I was impressed with writer/director Nicolas Pesce's debut, "The Eyes Of My Mother" a few years back. It wasn't a perfect film, but it was a unique, well-directed, incredibly disturbing film. I felt Pesce certainly had the potential to be a brilliant cult filmmaker, not unlike David Lynch or Cronenberg. Needless to say, I was quite interested to hear he'd helmed another film last year, though this one managed to fly right under my radar. It's based on a novel by Ryū Murakami, who is something of the Asian equivalent to William S. Burroughs, so it goes without saying that this one also isn't for general audiences. But in the end, it's not as good as Pesce's first film. The cast is absolutely fantastic, as small as it is, with Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska playing off each other perfectly, each one delivering an intense performance. But the film never goes anywhere with it's narrative, and manages to somehow be less disturbing than Pesce's debut. The pacing is a mess as well, and the whole thing ends rather abruptly, without coming anywhere near a satisfying conclusion. It has it's moments, and keeps patient viewers' attention, but the whole thing is rather disappointing. I still think Pesce has more good films in him, and perhaps even a great one. But this isn't either. Hopefully he can prove to be more than a one-hit wonder.
Forget Me Not (2011)
I was genuinely surprised by how well this film turned out. Let's face it, although I have a serious soft spot for them, teen horror films have always been a maligned sub-genre, and in recent years, declined even further in general quality. So with this being a more modern, and very low budget effort, I wasn't expecting much of anything here. But this is a quite genius riff on the sub-genre, and at times, actually quite frightening. The film eschews the usual slasher elements in favor of a supernatural story that feels lifted straight from "The Twilight Zone", and the nightmarish atmosphere and special effects add to create a disorienting, otherworldly feeling that keeps one gripped. The characters are rather well-written too, and the kids themselves are quite likeable, unlike the kind of brats we're used to seeing in modern teen films. You actually won't want all of these kids to die horrible deaths, which only adds to the horror. The acting isn't always terrific, but there are a few talented performers here, and they get the job done. It never crosses the line into being truly great, but it's a satisfying riff on it's formula, and certainly a memorable film. I'd say it's a bit of a hidden gem. If you enjoy films like this, this one will please you.
This is often regarded as one of the last worthwhile pictures from director Tobe Hooper, before he fell into one of the deepest career slumps in the history of horror. It's an oddity, and the kind of picture that would never be given this large of a budget or studio attention nowadays. It's what I imagine Hammer films would have become had they lasted into the eighties, and is truly nothing more than an updated riff on the sci-fi/horrors of those days. It's not a bad film, and it certainly has it's moments, but it has plenty of issues as well. Chief among them being a complete lack of character. We have a wonderful cast at hand here, but most of all them are wasted on empty, faceless roles. There's the Sauvé CIA agent, the wise professor, the astronaut with a heart of gold, none of whom ever begin to feel like more than empty names. Steve Railsback is quite exceptional in the lead role, delivering an intense and emotional performance. It's really a testament to his ability that he made the role feel so real, seeing as there's almost nothing to his character. And young Mathilda May is stunning and sensually captivating as the vampire queen. She really does seem like the perfect woman, and the role couldn't have been cast better. Still, as cheesy as the concept of "space vampires" is, it's original, and there's plenty of horrific effects sequences. The whole thing is rather silly, but there's a few effective scenes that keep it rolling. Good, cheesy sci-fi, for when you're in an undemanding mood. But really nothing more than a big-budget Hammer film with an eighties aesthetic.
There simply aren't enough body horror films. It's one of the most visceral, relatable and disturbing kinds of horror, yet so underused, especially in today's horror scene. This one is a more recent effort, and seeks to outline the dangers of unprotected sex in a unique and disgusting manner. Sadly, it's not quite the brilliant film it could've been, despite being watchable nevertheless. The acting is decent from most of the cast, but the main character herself is a rather spoiled, contemptable individual. We're supposed to feel for her ordeal, but besides applying the horrific situation to ourselves, it's difficult to feel any sympathy for her as she becomes steadily more self-centered and unlikeable as the film progresses. It's the decent direction and gruesome body horror sequences that keep one watching until the end, in which we're treated to a rather novel twist ending, that puts a different spin on yet another sub-genre. It's enough to make one wish the film had crafted more likeable characters and more involving drama. As it stands, it's simply a mildly enjoyable curiosity for it's niche audience.
Contracted: Phase II (2015)
I'm not exactly sure who was clamoring for a sequel to the first film, but here we are. We have a few returning cast members, but a different director and writer, while original creator, "Eric England" is nowhere to be found. And this newcomer, Josh Forbes, is an amateur through and through. The very existence of this film, in relation to the original, just feels wrong. This story didn't need to be continued, and especially not from the viewpoint of the character that takes the lead. The direction is shoddy, cinematography is muddy and colorless and the acting is uninspired from everyone involved. There's a few wince-inducing scenes of gore, but they simply feel exploitive this time around, as does the whole film. And it does nothing to explain it's antagonist's motivations, besides a hackneyed attempt to set up yet another sequel, which luckily, never happened. As I said, I'm not sure anyone even asked for this film to be made, but even fans of the original would do good to steer clear of this mess.
This little flick has become quite the cult sensation over the years, and for good reason. It's an original, oddly disturbing and incredibly disorienting film. It takes a "Twilight Zone" esque premise and stretches it out to feature length, with varying degrees of success, but remains engrossing throughout. The premise of a "linguistic virus" spread through "infected" words is a stroke of pure genius, and the setting of a radio station makes the whole thing even more brilliant. The small cast is also terrific, with an especially brilliant performance by Stephen McHattie, one of the most underused actors of all time. The first half of the film is excellent, with a mounting sense of dread and confusion expressed almost solely through the back and forth conversations coming in over the airwaves. The fantastic performances help sell the horror, and prove that good dialogue is just as surefire a way of achieving real horror as graphic depictions. But the film becomes more convoluted as it progresses, eventually ending with a hiccup of a denouement that betrays what came before. This could've been a classic, and in some circles, I suppose it is looked at that way. I guess it just comes down to personal preference. Still, this one is more than worth your time, if you can wrap your head around it's insane (in a good way) plot.
This one is a mess, to put it mildly. A film that encompasses parasitic aliens, supernatural powers, extraterrestrials with British accents, a mentally unstable Morgan Freeman, Shit Weasels and touchy-feely melodrama all into one cringy clusterfuck. There are some great ideas here, and some effective moments, but the whole thing becomes much too busy for it's own good. It's tone never settles on serious drama or campy horror either, so the film is throwing conflicting moments at us every few minutes, some of them astonishingly bad, and not in the enjoyable way. But the cast is great (how they got Morgan Freeman to do this, I'll never know), the effects vary from great to abysmal and there's a few moments (such as the infamous toilet scene) that are pure genius. But in the end, it all becomes one giant embarrassment. It's quite confusing, what with the premise being something that could've worked and director Lawrence Kasdan being a usually wonderful filmmaker. This was his first time making a horror picture, and I think it's obvious why he never returned. Hell, I'm not even sure why this particular novel was chosen for the screen, seeing as it's one of King's least favorite of his own works. Either way, I suppose this is something of a cult curiosity, if only to witness how wrong it all goes. If you must, just enjoy the good parts and marvel at how at one time, Hollywood would actually bank on a film this campy. The dawn of the millennium sure was an interesting time...
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