Barrett & Wingard Deal Another Terrifying Blow with BLAIR WITCH

Blair Witch. 2016. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay by Simon Barrett.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, & Valorie Curry.
Lionsgate/Room 101/Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterThis movie was a loaded gun for me when it hit. First, since I first saw The Blair Witch Project I’ve loved it completely. In all honesty, the marketing got to me when it was released, and for those who experienced it in the early days of internet there’s this buzz that still gets you going every time the movie plays. You get taken back to those trailers, the opening scenes, all the faux-reality, but the terrifying faux-reality that gripped horror lovers.
Second, I dig Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator writer Simon Barrett. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, yet every project they take on is unique. They have such an excellent rapport as a director-writer team, which translates well into each film. A Horrible Way to DieYou’re NextThe Guest; each of these, for me, was a thrilling experience, albeit in their respective ways.
When it came out finally that The Woods, their latest collaboration, is in actuality Blair Witch… well, needless to say, I got excited. Taking on a sequel to one of the most groundbreaking horror films ever made, after the first fairly miserable sequel Book of Shadows failed to impress, is a monumental task. Not everyone is going to love Blair Witch. People seem to fall into a couple categories: either they think it strays too far from the original (to which I smirk questionably), or they think it’s too similar (there goes that smirk again).
Me, I find Wingard and Barrett’s film admirable, in a lot of ways. It gets more intense than its predecessor, that alone is saying something; hard to beat, but this sequel gives many of the best scenes from the original a run for their money. More than that Barrett’s screenplay, as opposed to the improvised and looser style of The Blair Witch Project, does wonders for the tension and gives the actors good stuff with which to work, ultimately allowing for better performances. Not every last person is going to love this. I do, and I hope others were as thrilled as me when they sat through its terror.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-29-18-pmOne of the immediate aspects I noticed, and enjoyed a ton, is the great sound design, helping to put it above the intensity of the first film in specific moments. There’s a feeling of being lost in the woods alongside these people because of the sound; a hovering, pulsing sound wraps the audience up, as it surrounds the characters. This, in conjunction with the camerawork – chaotic and frenzied in the more mortifying moments – makes for good scares. The original movie does well with its bare sense of reality, having the actors sent out into the woods relatively on their own and manipulated into being scared. Blair Witch succeeds in its mission to creep people out partly due to the sound and the visuals together, plus the fact Wingard did things similar to The Blair Witch Project‘s directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.
Mainly, Wingard used an air horn in the background of scenes in order to attain the right amount of jump from actors. And some will say, “That’s what an actor is for, they should just act!” – I say nonsense. Sure, don’t go William Friedkin and fire a gun next to somebody to scare them. I feel like the air horn is fine, it did elicit appropriate reactions. There are honest places actors sometimes aren’t going to get simply because they need to be genuinely scared to get there, not pretend scared, and Wingard gets the actors under his care to that place, manipulating horror from them in an unexpected way. Moreover, the actors just haul you to the darkness of that woods and far too many times, in the best kind of sense, you’ll feel as lost as they do, disoriented, frightened, paranoid; the whole gamut of terrifying emotion.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-29-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-30-23-pmThe acting is great, aside from any of the jump scares or the pure bits of scary madness. And it’s strange, because I’ve seen people complain that the acting is no good, or that it takes away from the tension. Totally disagree. Each of the actors gives it their all, as well as the fact a couple of them give absolutely awesome performances.
Wes Robinson & The Following‘s Valorie Curry as Lane and Talia, the would-be guides into the Black Hills woods, don’t only play interesting characters Barrett penned in addition to the others, they’re two of the best in the cast. Robinson particularly gets to the core of the paranoia driving so much of the story’s suspense. Once things progress to a certain point, both Robinson and Curry take us into a horrific space that gets eerier by the minute.
James Allen McCune (whose stint on Shameless was incredible) plays the brother of Heather Donahue, the catalyst of the adventure, and he does a nice job straddling between non-belief and belief until the situation becomes painfully clear near the end. I also can’t forget to mention Corbin Reid as Ashley. She plays a role that could’ve easily been lost in a bunch of blood and moaning and crying; while there’s a little of that, Reid brings an uneasy feeling to the gut when we see her character descend into the forest’s terror. Everybody involved brings their A-game, even the couple more minor characters. With a bigger cast this time, in contrast to the original’s trio, Blair Witch utilises every one of them to the fullest extent.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-36-52-pmI don’t want to spoil any of the best moments, although I have to mention one, hopefully without giving away too much. Just before the final half hour takes us into a frightening place, a scene involving the wooden Blair Witch figurines takes their presence to a whole new level. I can’t say much more – other than the actors’ reactions combined with the editing, and again the sound design, make for the moment that both shocked and pounded me into a state of horror.
Blair Witch is about on par with its original. Maybe a lot of others don’t think so, but damn it, I do. And I can’t deny that. I went into this expecting that there was a possibility I wouldn’t be thrilled. Regardless if Barrett and Wingard made this, two artists I admire and love to see working in any capacity (the latter’s stint with Cinemax and Outcast did wonders for the TV horror lover’s soul), I didn’t count out disappointment.
Yet no part of me was really disappointed. Barrett and Wingard did interesting things with the legacy of such a beloved piece of horror cinema. They refused to move too far from the film Myrick and Sánchez. Likewise, they branched out a bit, too; they didn’t retread too many paths. I loved the ending because it goes out on a similar note to the first, and in doing so almost shows us how the first actually ended. Dig it. As well, there’s an interesting conception of time in the screenplay; that’s all I’ll say. This does wonders in terms of writing to make the movie different, yet similar in a weird vein to the original film. If you want a good spoiler-filled look at this idea, check Screen Crush’s interview with Wingard here.
So even if there’s no general consensus, or even if that consensus is that this sequel doesn’t hold up, I dig this one. Barrett and Wingard confirm once again they’re worthy of helping to carry genre film forward, year after year. And who knows, maybe this will help a franchise get going, which I’d love to see. This didn’t wow at the box office, but it did make a profit for a relatively low budget film in today’s Hollywood system. I know that I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one more film surrounding the legend of the Blair Witch, no matter who takes it on. This movie proves you can update or reboot films years later without being totally derivative and without straying too wildly from what made the original so popular.

BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 is the Epitome of Wasted Potential

Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. 2000. Directed by Joe Berlinger. Screenplay by Berlinger & Dick Beebe.
Starring Jeffrey Donovan, Tristine Skyler, Erica Leerhsen, Kim Director, Lanny Flaherty, Lauren Husley, & Raynor Scheine.
Artisan Entertainment/Haxan Films.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Adventure/Fantasy/Horror

★★
posterYou’d almost expect Joe Berlinger to have done more with the concept for this sequel to Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s groundbreaking horror, The Blair Witch Project. By this point in 2000 he already did two of the HBO Paradise Lost documentaries, another great (and equally as tragic) doc called Brother’s Keeper. With the screenplay from him and co-writer Dick Beebe, I imagined Berlinger could spin his documentary style into an interesting sequel for the story Myrick and Sánchez began.
That’s not the case, unfortunately. I’m sure that even this movie has its fans, a cult following. But whereas other cult films feel justified in their love, often due to the project released at the wrong moment in time, Book of Shadows stinks not only of a cash grab, it’s also one majorly wasted opportunity.
Parts of what I feel Berlinger aimed at work. So much of it doesn’t, and falls into cheese; not even the good kind. You can watch this as a biting, murderous, supernatural satire re: diehard fans of the first film. Not well written. Although definitely, at least partly what Beebe and Berlinger tried to get across. It didn’t come too quickly after the original, that isn’t the reason this did poorly. Plain and simple, this falls well short of being a good movie. The dialogue is brutal, to the point of cringing in many a scene, then it gets far too expository to take seriously. If only the screenplay were tighter, the acting better, and most of all: if only it were found footage. That’s one of my biggest gripes. Beyond that Berlinger tried doing something that would’ve otherwise been good. Somehow he stumbled, fumbling just about every last drop of potential.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-21-48-amThere are a few genuinely unsettling images, I must admit. An early dream sees one of the women having a dream about drowning her unborn baby in a river, blood bubbling up from the water. It’s jarring because we enter the dream seamless, no indication, and then a nice smash cut out of this nightmarish image to see her lying in a tent. A great scene that always gets me.
These gnarly moments are few and far between.
One scene that particularly pisses me off is when the group first wake up to find all the paper essentially snowing down on them. I never judge people TOO much on the decisions they make because they don’t know they’re in a horror movie. But fuck, man. This one chaps my ass. When they’re rationally trying to figure out what’s gone on, they never once question WHY AND HOW THE HELL IS THE PAPER SNOWING DOWN ON US? It’s clearly dropping out of the sky, and they don’t make one reference to maybe looking in the trees to see if anyone is playing tricks on them, et cetera. I mean, I can forgive a lot of stupid stuff screenplay-wise in horror. I love the genre, though I know sometimes the writing isn’t perfect, even in movies I actually enjoy. This screenplay is chock full of garbage writing; glaring omission, poor and unbelievably character decisions, amongst more mistakes. Too bad because, as I mentioned, the concepts alive in the script die on the vine instead of blooming to make the sequel a worthy successor.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-26-41-amI can’t help but be mad at the writing. And I do know that, against his will, the studio shot some scenes to make this more a straight-forward horror, whatever the hell that means. So part of this isn’t totally Berlinger’s doing, regardless of his co-writing the script. Maybe one day we’ll get a version that shows us what Berlinger originally wanted, which would be nice. Either way, this version ends up with bad writing choices dominating everything.
So much wasted potential. Even down to Erica Leerhsen’s witch character and her worry about The Blair Witch Project reflecting negatively on actual witches, such as her and fellow Wiccans. This, along with the satirical eye towards die hard lovers of the first film insisting on the Blair Witch is real, wound up as fodder.
And that’s the frustrating part. Berlinger could’ve made this into a horror containing social commentary, satirising modern film culture, fanaticism, and other big ideas. Instead of following the first film with a powerhouse, this falls just about entirely flat. The original worked because of its reality angle, the rawness and the gritty qualities of the mainly improvised script. This one should have been capable of improving, and yet with a fully formed script this never comes close to achieving any of the goals it lays out theme-wise.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-32-14-amscreen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-41-22-amMaybe giving this two out of five stars is even too much. But there’s enough to keep me watching Book of Shadows, so I don’t feel too guilty; though a bit of guilt exists, all the same. Don’t get me wrong: this is a bad movie. Especially when you consider The Blair Witch Project and how great it was, in many ways. Berlinger deserves better, I’m sure there is a better cut of the movie somewhere in existence, or at least pieces of which that can be assembled into sequel worthy of what Sánchez and Myrick started.
A handful of scenes, or more so moments, does not a movie make. When I compare this with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s recent Blair Witch, it’s easy to see what works and what doesn’t, at all. This is a huge mess. It’s a good one to throw on when you’re bored, doing something else, or for a night when you want to watch something foolish with a group of friends. And if you’re all fans of the original, it’s even more fun to laugh as you watch.
Nevertheless, you might find a couple things that appeal to you. Or, maybe it’s a total trash bin. I don’t disagree, no matter how you feel. I’m going to rally behind anyone who wants to see a Berlinger-approved cut. Behind the mess a Book of Shadows worth the time and worth carrying the Blair Witch name may exist. If the latest entry in the series spawns a sequel, themes from this failed sequel would be exciting to revisit, if they were better written and more extensively explored. Here’s to hope!

Balagueró’s TO LET is a Haunting Story of Moving Day Hell

Para entrar a vivir (English title: To Let). 2006. Directed by Jaume Balagueró. Screenplay by Balagueró & Alberto Marini.
Starring Macarena Gómez, Nuria González, Adrià Collado, Ruth Diaz, Roberto Romero, & David Sandanya.
Estudios Picasso/Filmax/Telecinco.
Rated 18+. 68 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterJaume Balagueró’s given us a good deal of enjoyable horror cinema. His first feature film Los sin nombre is an eerie adaptation of a Ramsey Campbell novel that still sticks with me. From there he moved on to two underrated little movies called Darkness and Fragile before rocking our world with the mostly awesome [Rec] series, as well as the tense thriller Sleep Tight.
Surprisingly enough one of my favourites out of his catalogue is this made for TV movie, To Let (original Spanish title: Para entrar a vivir) – a disturbing, haunted piece of work about a couple who stumble upon a deal too good to be true while looking for a new apartment.
This film is well-directed and Balagueró does great things in terms of tension. Not only that, the horror is visceral, exciting.
To Let could’ve used a slight tweak in the screenplay, although nothing major. The story is creepy enough to reel you in and keep you in suspense. There’s impressive cinematography, horrific twists and turns within the film’s main apartment building location, and a genuinely satisfying(/terrifying) finish.
screenshot-2016-11-02-at-9-50-32-pmThe opening is a disturbing scene with screaming noise, a bloody mother and child in a darkened apartment, eerie whispers all around them. What could be happening? And what’s already happened? Immediately, the excellent production value, considering this is a television movie, is noticeable. Really good stuff. Part of Films to Keep You Awake, the cinematography and the locations used are stunning. They picked a perfect building to film, it has a character and life of its own, which always bodes well for a horror capitalising on setting as part of the plot.
There’s a shot winding up the stairs of the building, cutting from the couple to the real estate agent, and back again, that’s so beautiful and well put together. Visually strikes you as soon as you see it. One of those touches which turns a pedestrian moment, climbing the stairs of an apartment building, into a much more engrossing series of shots.
All around there’s stellar camerawork. Good shaky camera angles and jump cuts to fray the collective audience nerves, as the situation in the apartment building deteriorates fast. Quite intense with smart use of cinematography. While we can get a clear, though still spooky understanding of the plot ahead of the main character, it is a suspenseful, tense ride due to how everything’s shot.
Maybe my favourite sequence in terms of the drawn out tension is one where our main character is trying to escape. She ends up outside a window, grasping at a drainpipe, and lord, is it ever a good scene. Makes you want to bite your nails.
screenshot-2016-11-02-at-10-16-18-pmscreenshot-2016-11-02-at-10-18-58-pmThe story plays out nicely. I truly feel the plot is spectacular and even if you can see certain things coming, Balagueró manages to subvert expectations with visceral bits of horror, pure thrills. At one point I expected a ghost story, like a haunted apartment building similar to the 1977 Michael Winner film The Sentinel. Instead it’s an altogether different tale, so human and real that the concept alone is chilling. The apartment’s inhabitants are each scary in their own way, imagining how long they’ve all been there, what’s happened to them, where they were before; a true creepshow.
At the end, the resolution is appropriately unsettling to boot. You could almost see a few movies about this awful, old apartment building with its eerie landlord, so many tenants. The scariest part of the film, to me, is the utterly horrifying concept of not having control over where you live, forced to stay in a home you don’t want.
screenshot-2016-11-02-at-10-54-41-pmOur protagonist, played by Macarena Gómez, is a treat. There are, as is the case with many horrors, moments where you’ll question her decision making, but then again, nobody’s ever been in quite this same situation. Still, she is tough, she’s relentless. Gómez draws you in and she’ll hold your attention throughout the sparse 68-minute runtime of the movie. If it weren’t for her, the characters wouldn’t be near as engaging. Playing the husband, Adrià Collado also does fine work opposite Gómez. They work great together and as the situation in the building spirals out of control, their reactions, their emotions, everything keeps you charging towards the finale.
To Let is criminally under-seen. Not many people I know have even seen it, which is a shame. It’s certainly better than being relegated to the realm of the dreaded TV movie. While Balagueró has done better work, this one is still up in the ranks of his greatest. [Rec][Rec]2DarknessSleep Tight; these are tough movies to beat. But To Let hangs in there with them and in just over an hour this story will haunt your thoughts.
It’s not easy to track down and took me awhile. Although if you’re able, this is worth your time to find. Balagueró delivers a damn horrific psycho-thriller, at times playing to expectations, other times subverting them to fantastic effect. If you walk away from this one unsatisfied, it’s fine, but I’m not sure why. Because this is the type of horror I’d put on right after watching it through, ready for another round right away. The film isn’t hard to follow. Yet the plot is engrossing, remaining embedded in the mind long after the credits roll.

WER Brings Fierce Werewolf Game

Wer. 2014. Directed by William Brent Bell. Screenplay by Bell & Matthew Peterman.
Starring A.J. Cook, Simon Quarterman, Stephanie Lemelin, Vik Sahay, Fran Drescher, Sebastian Roché, & Brian Scott O’Connor.
FilmDistrict/Incentive Filmed Entertainment/Protoype.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Action/Fantasy/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterMany people put this in the found footage sub-genre of horror. It’s only partly found footage oriented. There’s use of it amongst the story, which crosses from action to fantasy to thriller in a breath.
Wer has a lot to offer. Director (and co-writer) William Brent Bell does a fine job directing, as many of his choices are what makes the movie exciting. Not everybody loved his previous works (Stay AliveThe Devil Inside). Me, I dig them both, but they’re nothing overly special. With this film Bell capitalises on his strengths, mixing in some found footage while doing his best work as director to give us impressive visuals. Certainly doesn’t hurt to have a group of solid actors.
But best of all is the werewolf component of the story. I’m admittedly not a big fan of werewolves. Not sure why. That being said, I do love the great werewolf pictures. The way Bell and his co-writer Matthew Peterman (also the writer of Bell’s other aforementioned films) weave modern science, rural v. city politics, and a drop of superstitious fantasy together is striking. The plot will grab hold and the action, the horror, they’ll whisk you away.

The first scene involves a boy being eaten alive. Of course we don’t see everything. The suggestion, what we HEAR instead of SEE, those briefly visible bits of blood and gore, it’s unsettling. To start like that kicks things into gear fast. Lots of mystery and intrigue then with a frenetic view of clips, a victim’s video statement about what happened, and the pace really gets pumping out of the gates.
Then we take a side step, as the whole thing involves the criminal investigation of this vicious attack. A.J. Cook (Criminal Minds) plays attorney Kate Moore, and she is a natural on camera. Her range works well for the role, as she must first deal with legal fallout before coming to understand exactly what’s been happening concerning the defendant picked up for the werewolf murders. Right away, this guy – Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor) – is one physically intimidating character. He’s shot in such a way that any movement from his is pure suspense, his quiet demeanour renders him even more a scary presence. Plus, he’s made to look like a wild animal trapped in the body of a human: hairy, dishevelled and unkempt, a shaggy dog-looking man. Both Cook and O’Connor are perfect, giving life to the characters at the centre of the storm.
Love the screenplay. Its story is compelling because there’s so much going on, from Talan’s family and his condition, to his mother’s belief that the police are targeting her son due to the state wanting their land. A proper mix of drama, horror, mystery, and some of that fantasy in terms of the werewolf angle. Bell and Peterman do well with the werewolves. When one character is scratched by Talan early on it’s nearly forgotten. Until later it becomes evident we’re definitely in werewolf territory, after tiptoeing around being sure if the story’s headed there or not. This scratch becomes an excellent part of later plot developments.
screenshot-2016-11-02-at-11-30-00-pmscreenshot-2016-11-02-at-11-42-02-pmPLOT SPOILERS AHEAD

The scene when Talan escapes custody while being examined at a hospital is absolutely incredible. There’s a strange mood and tone. Science can’t even help, it has no idea what it’s up against when they test for porphyria then accidentally trigger his true condition. A pounding score starts right along with Talan’s powerful rage, and a bloody bang sets an entirely other bran of the plot into motion.
There are great effects, from big blockbuster-type stuff to the more small makeup effects and even the bits of CGI involved. Once the finale comes around this evolves into a straight up action-horror. I consider this one of the better recent examples of action and horror as a hybrid. Sure to get the heart pounding.
This is a werewolf movie, but one that combines folklore with modern science in order to create an entirely other look at werewolves. And there’s no official explanation as to what Talan is, we’re merely led to believe what we will. The screenplay does well using our expectations against us, never implicitly moving into werewolf mythology and yet never shunning it, right down to medical diagnoses and also Talan’s Romanian blood; there are many avenues down which to travel, not pinning us solely to one answer. In this way, we wind up with more action and intensity all around, which is killer. Movies like this one, Wolfen and Late Phases, bring their own unique vision of the sub-genre with fun results.
screenshot-2016-11-03-at-12-02-40-am
Wer has just about everything I look for in a horror. Bell uses Romanian locations to his advantage, going from handheld camera to using pieces of found footage throughout. The cinematography really is nice, which is always a bonus. Not to mention there’s an A+ score – ominous strings that take on an Old World feel, crossed with some darker, electronic compositions. On the technical side this movie’s an ass kicker.
Again, I’m not the biggest werewolf movie advocate. The others I’ve mentioned, plus classics like John Landis’ landmark An American Werewolf in London, each bring their own innovative sensibilities about the sub-genre to the table. A sea of others just miss the mark, never giving us anything new.
I highly recommend Wer. Well-acted and directed. The visuals are fun, the pace becomes chaotic in the best ways. And yes: there’s a nice portion of blood. Some of the action-styled sequences will have you almost rooting at the screen. So dig in and get hairy!

SUN CHOKE & The Loss of Self

Sun Choke. 2016. Directed & Written by Ben Cresciman.
Starring Sarah Hagan, Barbara Crampton, Sara Malakul Lane, Jim Boeven, Evan Jones, Riley Litman, William Nicol, Joe Nieves, & Daisy O’Dell.
Lodger Films/Easy Open Productions.
83 minutes. Not Rated.
Drama/Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
posterDisclaimerThis discussion contains large spoilers pertaining to the end of the film and its (possible) meaning(s). If you haven’t seen the film, please go watch it. Then come back and tell me what you think.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Sun Choke. Some films leave you with those nagging questions, the burning desire to know more. That might piss certain people off. And in certain cases, it pisses me off. When you don’t get enough answers it isn’t always bad. But when nothing adds up it’s hard to say a movie was any good. Long as some of the mystery filters through.
Sun Choke is the story of a young woman named Janie (Sarah Hagan from Freaks and Geeks) who undergoes radically intense treatments for her mental health, cared for by a woman she’s had as a nanny her whole life, Irma (Barbara Crampton). As the treatment gets more extreme, Janie seems not to get better but to go deeper into whatever psychosis has gripped her. Recovering from a trauma, a nebulous piece of her life to the viewer, Janie struggles on the edge of utter insanity.
This is not at all an outright horror, nor is it squarely a drama, or a mystery, or a thriller. It’s a psychological horror, a character study of co-dependency and how the will to try curing another person doesn’t always leave the person helping, or the one they’re trying to help, in any better shape than they were before. This film won’t give you all the answers, it doesn’t even particularly ask all its own questions, leaving that heavy lifting to the audience. Rightfully so.
Maybe it’ll frustrate you. Either way, Sun Choke ought to leave you with plenty to mull over in your head; for better or for worse.
img_4022There’s so much going that you might find, at times, the story is hard to follow. It isn’t deliberately sly in that Cresciman doesn’t want you NOT to understand. He employs a non-linear story, flashing now and then between past/present, while also keeping certain details from us. In this sense, being hard to follow shouldn’t make you feel stupid. Cresciman saves revelations for later. Instead of how some movies like to repeatedly hit you with twist after twist, this screenplay doesn’t come at you taht way. It milks the tension and suspense for all it’s worth.
The tension comes from this up close and disturbingly personal character study of Janie. Gradually, we unravel the layers of mystery surrounding the psychological state we find her in, and what brought her to the supremely tragic point of emotional fragility from which we begin the film’s journey. There’s an interesting aspect to Janie because she’s our protagonist, while at once we’re privy to the uncomfortable side of her as a character, too. her obsession gets to a frightening height, which in turn is psychosexual in the most visceral way experiencing the lowest moments of Janie’s transgressions.

I just want whats best for you, little girl.”

Ultimately, the suspense and tension involved in these sequences when Sadie oversteps boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour can often reach unbearable levels. I wouldn’t call this a regular horror. No, it’s all the way one hell of a psychological trip, rooted in character study. Hagan’s central performance as Janie is one of the best this year, independent film or otherwise: a fearless and simultaneously fearful role where she plays wounded in addition to being the one that created many of her own wounds. Her performance is aided by Cresciman’s writing, placing his viewer alongside Janie in a horrific headspace, further leading us to physical one filled with terror by the end.
img_4023Little girls are all fucking hateful

Let’s leave the unexplained as unexplained, for now. What do we now? Irma (the ever awesome genre star Crampton) has been the housekeeper/nanny for Janie since her mother died, and we get the feeling that’s been a long, long time (note: I’m under the impression the mother died during child birth due to the ending). They’re close like family and it’s also very evident they’re not family, as well. But Irma holds power over Janie, as a caretaker. A large part of the plot deals with co-dependence, the idea of one person as host and the other a figurative virus, living and feeding off them. What becomes clear over the course of the film is that Janie has issues with her identity, something reoccurring in several scenes (like when Irma stands her by the mirror and asks: “Who do you see?”). Something else painfully obvious is that Janie really should be in a hospital. She had a violent outbreak at a certain point, shown in a horrific, brief moment of rage and some blood, so the trauma to her psyche is very real. No matter what happened to her before, it is real, whatever’s going on inside her mind. And the fact Irma treats her, in strange ways – like using a tuning fork and whispering “Sun choke” in Janie’s ear – only serves Janie for the worse. She does not get better, only learning how to foster a greater sense of dependency; on Irma, later on a woman named Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane).
This is the point where the story speaks volumes as to the endgame of its plot. See, Janie can’t gain control of herself. She can’t fixate on a proper identity. First, she tries becoming Savannah. She finds the man Savannah had sex with, then crawls into bed with him. That is, until she decides on caving his skull in. Worth noting: during this scene, she is both on top of the man and seeing herself looking in through the window. When she figures out there’s no becoming someone else, that she is stuck with herself, Janie goes to further lengths to find control: she decides to control Savannah.
But through it all we can’t forget the odd, often sadistic methods of healing Irma tries forcing on Janie. Every treatment, the girl takes it, as if also expecting it to heal her. Her subservience to others eventually manifests in her taking back control with terrifying results.
img_4026img_4028The only thing standing between you and the abyss is how much I love you

Throughout there are fascinating visuals. These relate directly to the idea of a dissociation from the self, re: Janie. She continually gets further from her own identity, which is shown best via the cinematography and chosen shots. Such as the shot while she’s having sex with the man and she’s also a double, outside her own self, another identity. There are a couple mirrored shots, reflections, and they allow us to get a visual window into the separation happening in her head.
Sun Choke comes at you with a mixed bag of treats. Not that any of them are bad; merely mixed. There’s a weaving of genres, all leading back to psychological horror. We get intense drama, then in unexpected splashes blood flicks across the screen, jarring the viewer because of its randomness. The screenplay helps, the story doesn’t twist and turn. Rather it sort of unfolds its mysteries one by one, revealing only portions to reel us in wherever possible. It’s the suspense of watching Janie struggle, between psychosis and a health regimen of inexplicable treatments, that drives so much of the film’s gruesome excitement.
By the finale, you may either hate or love the movie. Maybe some of it is entire delusion. Maybe all the events are reality. Cresciman straddles a line where you may never know exactly what’s going on, if it’s real or something in Janie’s imagination (or just in her past), but as director and writer he maintains a level of interest, compelling the viewer to keep going, to find out what lies beneath the trauma of Janie. There’s no set meaning, for any art. Authorial intent is one thing; what the audience concludes is another. All I know is that Sun Choke has captivated me. I’ve seen it twice now and both times I’m left with questions. The sort which make me want to watch it again.

Deodato Spearheads Corruption with CUT & RUN

Cut and Run. 1985. Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Screenplay by Cesare Frugoni & Dardano Sacchetti.
Starring Lisa Blount, Leonard Mann, Willie Aames, Richard Lynch, Richard Bright, Michael Berryman, Eriq La Salle, John Steiner, Karen Black, Barbara Magnolfi, & Luca Barbareschi.
Racing Pictures.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Adventure/Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
posterThere’s no shame in saying you’re not a fan of Ruggero Deodato. Many have problems with how he captured certain events in Cannibal Holocaust, and to a certain extent I do agree, however, to a certain extent I don’t: many of those animal killings were brutish, but all of the animals were eaten by the tribe that were on set with the crew, so part of me feels better. How you feel is how you feel.
Regardless of that, Cannibal Holocaust does have a couple poignant things, under all the gore, to say about civilisation (maybe I should preface that with ‘so-called’) and the pursuit of media to get the best story at whatever expense necessary. And more of that comes through in this deliciously deviant little film from 1985, Cut and Run.
Instead of do a sequel to his infamous found footage classic, Deodato chose to make this film, which originally started as a sceenplay from Wes Craven called Marimba. With no funding, the studio apparently kept Craven’s script and eventually got Deodato to make it. Not sure how the original script fares in comparison to this, although anything Dardano Sacchetti-related is always of interest to me.
Cut and Run is a vicious piece of exploitation cinema, still with that heavy hand of nastiness inherent to Deodato. Personally I feel that Cannibal Holocaust, for all its faults, is the better movie. All the same this one gives it a run for its money, so to speak. With a mesmerising performance out of Richard Lynch, a story that semi serves as a fictional sequel to the massacre at Jonestown, Deodato is able to make more statements about the media, the influence of the outside world on indigenous populations(/cultures), and still keep up a high body count, as many of his fans likely come to expect.

Hideous moments of violence open up the film. The practical effects are staggering. In particular, one decapitation scene cuts away from the explicit act. Then afterwards we get a look at the amazingly executed makeup effects. Horrible as they are, it’s hard not to admire the work put into something that’s only seen on camera for about three or four whole seconds. On the whole, this flick is by far less gory than Cannibal Holocaust. No matter. Deodato doesn’t hold out on the ugly killing, he merely tones down the ferocity. That’s not say there aren’t excruciating horror scenes, as made clear right off the bat in the first scenes. This movie has its share of gore, though it takes on a more action-horror element.
And of course these opening scenes introduce us to Michael Berryman’s character, Quecho, a mad bushman in the jungle. He’s always a treat in genre pictures. The natural look he has due to hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia gives him a different look, and his height allows him to appear imposing. Add to that his maniacal abilities as a character actor of horror and Quecho is damn creepy. He’s menacing, pure brute force of a man, and his wild eyes are chilling, not to mention the bloody murders he commits.
The characters are the best part about the film, really. Colonel Brian Horne (Lynch) is an interesting one in the lead. He was a right-hand man of Jim Jones (fictional, obviously) and is said to have encouraged the violence which erupted at Jonestown along with the suicides. Lynch has an aura of eeriness, no matter what role or film he’s in. Here, he fits the bill perfect, adding a theatrical quality to this military madman. Really makes the film so much better having him in there. Just with a look, Lynch can communicate a world of terror.
screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-9-43-29-pmHard not to mention a score when it comes from Claudio Simonetti, Brazil-born keyboardist of Goblin. He’s done so many wonderful scores, from Deep RedSuspiriaTenebrae, and more. This ranks up there with some of his best stuff. He retains that Goblin-esque aura while paving his own way as a solo composer on each subsequent project. His music aids in Deodato’s pacing, breaking into tribal sounds during some moments, and going all-out ’80s during most others, each sound with its respective energy.
The cinematography is worthy of note, too. Courtesy of Alberto Spagnoli, whose credits include Mario Bava’s 1977 ghost flick Schock and the Peter Bogdanovich-directed Daisy Miller. This was the last film Spagnoli worked on and I’m inclined, out of what I’ve seen through his lens, to say it’s his best. Specifically he captures the jungle in several sequences with a tremendous eye. Late in the film during the final 30 minutes, it’s just perfectly beautiful cinematography. Worth the ride to watch Spangoli’s work alone.
screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-9-43-55-pmCut and Run is an odd, entertaining, horrific relic of 1985, mixing Deodato’s brutality with a stellar cast – Lisa Blount (John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness) to the underrated Richard Lynch and genre favourites like Michael Berryman, even Karen Black and ER‘s Eriq La Salle shows up.More than that the film’s theme of corruption, whether in the big city, Guyana, or some other jungle filled with cannibals. People like Lynch’s character, and Jim Jones, they reject other forms of leadership in order to create for themselves a cult of personality, eventually corrupting everything and anything good that ever existed in them. They leave society to create paradise only for it to collapse into hell.
Writing this in mid-December 2016, I find it hard not to connect this to current events in America. Time will well what’s going to happen. But as it stands, the fictional Lynch, even the real Jones, they wanted to get away from the supposed elites running their countries (sound familiar). They want to get away from the swamp, or drain it. Whatever. Yet they wind up in an entirely other swamp, they cultivate the same atmosphere only under a different name. Then the heads start rolling, eventually. 
Cut and Run
is nowhere near perfect. And despite that it was prescient in ’85 about how bad things could get, even while they seemed to be bad enough. Things can always get better, but they can always get worse, as well. Never forget that.

Lower V. Upper Class: THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK

The House on the Edge of the Park. 1980. Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Screenplay by Gianfranco Clerici & Vincenzo Mannino.
Starring David Hess, Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Marie Claude Joseph, Gabriele Di Giulio, Brigitte Petronio, Karoline Mardeck, & Lorraine De Selle.
F.D. Cinematografica.
Unrated. 91 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
posterRiding on the coattails of The Last House on the Left, Ruggero Deodato came on hard with 1980’s The House on the Edge of the Park, another violent and borderline vile film starring David Hess as one of the aggressors. Of course Deodato is forever infamous for the found footage which started it all – Cannibal Holocaust. But this movie has some equally brutal bits, as well as has a few things to say amongst all the violence.
This is another movie that found itself on the Video Nasties list; sometimes this is a badge of honour for certain films worth the effort, others it’s simply a way of telling whether a horror is outrageous. The House on the Edge of the Park is part of the former group. Not all of its scenes play right, the screenplay could use a nice bit of work to tighten things up. Apparently Hess re-wrote lots of his dialogue, he was given half the film’s rights in order to secure him as a star, so I’m willing to bet the script suffered a bit with so much of the actor’s control exerted over the production. Despite any of its faults, this is one horror-thriller that hits deep with hints of class disparity, cruel violence, and a disturbing look at how tragic events push people into becoming someone far from themselves.
pic1As opposed to Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, this one starts out with brutal violence. Instead of lulling us into a bit of complacency Deodato begins in nastiness, then transitions into a more unsuspecting film with shades of class division in its themes, as we watch two men from a much more street life come in contact with the bourgeoisie in nasty, supremely violent ways.
Hess’ character Alex is the physical representation of hedonism – food, sex, violent delights, and more. He only cares about getting off, getting his; whether that’s rape or murder or whatever else. Regardless of this side to Alex, he is aware of his separation from the upper class; he understands his supposed place in the chain of class command. In parallel, his less menacing buddy Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is like a more unaware, less conscious member of the lower class. He doesn’t see the people making fun of him for his apparent differences. It takes Alex to make him realise this is what’s happening, thrusting him into that violence he knows well.
When Alex and Ricky crash the party, this borders on Les Liaisons dangereuses in the form of an exploitation flick. The best way to see the class disparity is how the upper class torture Ricky, they act from a privileged position and treat Ricky like a sideshow to watch instead of someone with whom they can party. But then their treatment of people they perceive as lower class is regrettable, as Alex rises up and makes them regret their privilege and how t leads them to treat others. After this the night spins out of control.
pic2SPOILERS AHEAD!
All around the movie’s chilling. During the assault Alex begins this feeling amplifies. Everything is so quiet, there’s an absence of music. Fear is so viscerally present. However, the plot is slow going, and not in a good slow burn manner. The tension dies out after awhile which kills things. It isn’t even as violent as you’d expect, outside of a couple moments that stick. Almost a softcore porn at times, a bit boring. Although the film makes up for these missteps once Alex goes wild near the end.
One of the best moments of tension is the difference between Hess and his partner. This provides a sense of relief from some of the horror involve with the home invasion, though not much.  The ending is bittersweet – it isn’t great, Alex gets shot in the dick followed by a hilariously fun slow motion scream. But the two criminals get what’s coming to them, despite their differences and Ricky’s reluctant complicity with the crime.
In the end, the partygoers take their own revenge. Question is: are they any better for wanting to hurt and kill Alex particularly? They taunt him, pushing him into a pool, and plan to cover up everything afterwards. Not that Alex doesn’t deserve what he gets; he does, indeed. It’s simply that there’s no moral high ground for the victims by choosing to let Alex die, almost killing his partner with a dose of brutish, violent revenge. So what’s left in the end is a group of upper class people dragged down to the level of the disgruntled lower class. But following this encounter, they’re forever changed, and some aren’t sure death wouldn’t be better than living after such viciousness.
What matters is that its all over
But at what price?”
pic3Deodato could’ve done more. Once more, I feel like Hess being too involved, being given such a wide berth as to what he was able to do re: dialogue and the screenplay, this hindered The House on the Edge of the Park. He does wonderfully devilish things with the role of Alex, no doubt. Simply put, Hess should’ve stuck to the acting instead of trying to hard to take control over the writing.
Through it all there’s a sense of violent class warfare above all the nasty bits. Deodato didn’t really focus on that much intentionally, not that I can tell. Outside of using it to drive the violence. Then again, I can’t count him out. When many see no point to Cannibal Holocaust I feel Deodato, in his best works like that dangerous bit of found footage, he’s getting at what are just as dangerous ideas and messages.
Give this a chance. Although there are a good many flaws, The House on the Edge of the Park is one of those movies on the Video Nasties list that’s actually enjoyable. I consider this one of the better Deodato offerings – up there with Live Like a Cop, Die Like a ManCut and Run, and of course Cannibal Holocaust. You might not discover your favourite movie in this one, but if you’re a horror hound it’ll tickle that urge to indulge something disturbing.

HELL OR HIGH WATER: Desperation and Death in the Dirty South

Hell or High Water. 2016. Directed by David Mackenzie. Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Dale Dickey, William Sterchi, Gil Birmingham, Buck Taylor, Kristin Berg, & Katy Mixon.
Film 44/OddLot Entertainment/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 102 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Western

★★★★★
posterDisclaimer: This review may contain several spoilers concerning the film’s finale.

The prospect of David Mackenzie (director of the phenomenal jail film Starred Up) and Taylor Sheridan (Deputy Chief David Hale on Sons of Anarchy and screenwriter of Sicario) making a film together is enough to get me on board. They’re each talented. After both the aforementioned movies it’s not hard to get excited – Starred Up is one of my favourite prison stories out there and Mackenzie’s directing helped the actors shine; Sicario comes at you like a shot in the night, written with depth by Sheridan.
Post-2000, the Western has seen a comeback. Not that every really went anywhere, but it’s definitely not as popular as it was in the 1950s and 60s when cinema saw everything from High Noon to Shane to The Wild Bunch and Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy.
But over the past 15 years or so we’ve seen films like The Proposition, The Three Burials of Melquiades EstradaNo Country for Old Men, the excellent Elmore Leonard television adaptation, FX’s Justified. Most recently there was Bone Tomahawk, and you can’t forget Tarantino and his Western-styled Django Unchained, as well as The Hateful Eight.
Much as I love all these more contemporary Westerns, and as much as I consider a couple of them genuine masterpieces, none of them capture the modern spirit while paying homage to the classic Western feel, characters, and plots. Perhaps it’s the past couple years especially, one thing’s for sure – Hell or High Water epitomises the economic struggle of people clinging to old ways of life in a world moving further into modernity every minute, for better or worse.
pic1Throughout the film there’s a pervasive sense of desperation. The seriousness yet amateurish execution of the brothers and their robbery(/robberies) is quickly made evident. Both Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are complicit in their crimes, although the former is crazier, a little less predictable. Toby wants to secure a future for his boys. Tanner’s already been to prison, he has nothing left to lose and only money to gain. So the desperation is different between the brothers.
Another part of the story involves how, in some places like little rural towns, not-so-subtle racism is rampant. There are a bunch of perfect instances of this at various points. “Theyre not even Mexicans,” an old man says as one bank is robbed by the Howards. When ole Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges at possibly his greatest; that’s saying something) questions people on the robbery he leads with they must’ve been “Mexican, black” and later Hamilton even says to his own partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) that he knows “how you injuns like the bottle.” Hamilton represents that weird dichotomous supposed Southern gentleman who’s borderline to full-on racist at any given moment, yet a guy who’ll stand with a slight bow for a lady. There’s a lot of good writing from Sheridan, who seems intent on showing Texas in all its glory, whether that’s good or bad depends on the moment. But it’s warts and all, which makes everything feel right in place.
pic2On a technical level, Hell or High Water is beyond fantastic. The cinematography helps show a small town in an economic slump, its slightly desolate sense of atmosphere, from which the desperate characters reach out to us begging for understanding. The look of the film is simultaneously gorgeous and full of grit, a perfect combination somewhere in the middle of the two. Then there’s the score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who coincidentally did the score for another masterpiece Western (The Proposition). Their sound is perfect for the tone of the film and lifts many a scene, lending gravitas to even the tiniest of moments.
Again, I have to praise Sheridan. He writes the action well, opting not to go for all guns and chaos and instead focusing most on the characters to give us the impact necessary. Moreover, the dialogue’s the fresh kind. Not afraid to feel informal, personal, as well as the fact it’s funny at times and also deadly serious where necessary. Above all else, the Howards feel like actual brothers, Hamilton is a true old school Southern man. There’s a spectacular true to life concealed carry gunfight in one of the banks, followed by other Texans with guns waiting outside; sort of perfect, on the nose representation of how an actual robbery in the South could go down. Just all around awesome stuff continuing the screenwriting roll Sheridan is on as of late.
Tanner: “Only assholes drink Mr. Pep
Toby: “Drink up
On display in the screenplay is that dying Southern ideology of pretending racism is all in good fun, jokes and stuff, when really the laughs are only a cover for the true prejudice hiding underneath. This is clear through the tenuous partner-to-partner relationship between Marcus and Alberto, which flares up now and then getting fairly serious from time to time. Further than that, it’s tragically funny and at once awful that the cops blame blacks and Mexicans for so much crime when it’s actually two dirty white boys running around committing crimes. Classism is also there, as the two dirty white boys, like so many immigrants, are only trying to keep themselves from being fucked over ultimately by the banks and bullshit bureaucratic policy that affects the most vulnerable. In the end, it’s the elusive American Dream that’s always knocking at the door, increasing the desperation of cops and criminals alike.
pic3This is a downright incredible Western, such a great contemporary take on the genre. Hell or High Water seems standard until the tail end when the brothers’ plight opens up story wise, revealing a few things that make the film’s final ten minutes one mighty treat to chew on: “Im the man who killed your brother,” as if ripped from an old Gary Cooper flick or something with John Wayne.
All three of the leads – Bridges, Foster, Pine – are impossibly perfect in their respective roles. Bridges, whose characters feel more good ole boy than Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men and thrice as grizzled, gives one of the best performances of his career. He shines as a man who’s well cemented in leading roles yet also has the makings of an impeccable character actor. The little things about Marcus Hamilton make him enjoyable, even as you hate him.
A 5-star bit of cinema, one of the best contemporary Westerns out there; if not the best in the past couple decades. I can’t for more directorial efforts from Mackenzie, proving himself double after this and Starred Up. And if Taylor Sheridan keeps producing the work he’s been pumping out in the last couple years, he’s bound to give us lots more to enjoy.

BE MY CAT: A FILM FOR ANNE is One Blurry Line Between Movies & Murder

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne. 2016. Directed & Written by Adrian Tofei.
Starring Adrian Tofei, Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton, & Alexandra Stroe.
Produced by Tofei. 87 minutes.
Not Rated.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★posterFound footage annoys certain people. Me, I’m always willing to give it a chance. There’s a lot of good stuff out there – unique, innovative stuff. No shortage of it, but now and then you’ve got to dig through a heap of trash to find the diamonds. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne uses its found footage premise well, driving the main theme of the film: obsession.
Director and writer Adrian Tofei blurs the line between fiction and reality so well that at times it’s easy to forget you’re watching a film. Using the idea of trying to get the attention of Anne Hathaway in Hollywood, Tofei puts himself in the lead role of a director badly wanting to make a movie with her. This isn’t exactly a totally original premise. It’s the way Tofei enacts his plot, the dread which follows and everything in between that makes this slice of found footage different.
As is the case with most of the sub-genre, this entry doesn’t have much style to it. That matters not. Tofei’s acting, his eerie presence, and the raw qualities of the filming, these are elements which make this a worthwhile watch for any fans of the found footage style.
img_4032There are plenty films involving stalkers in this sub-genre, but they’re so often masked, or unseen behind the camera’s lens. Tofei is upfront and centre the entire time. This allows us a way into his mind, giving the audience a passenger side seat to the psychosis that overtakes him gradually; or maybe it’s been with him the whole time. Either way, it’s ugly. Not in a way which detracts from the story. There’s a compelling feel to watching this guy unravel.
Obsession is the theme driving everything. Underneath, this film is about the blur between fiction and reality. Philosopher Jean Baudrillard talked about the simulacra and how the world’s become hyperreal, in that everything real has more so become just a form of something fictional we all recognise (that’s a very liberal take on his extensive concept). In a way, this is how Be My Cat is structured. Tofei dives deeper and deeper with each scene into that psychosis I mentioned, along with the audience. The further he gets into the movie he’s making to send Anne, the more he feels justified in the things he’s doing. “This is the sacrifice Im making,” he tells the camera, as if urging us to believe in him. What happens is a process of dissociation. Tofei dissociates from the self, becoming his character – Adrian, himself – far too literally. Reminding us that he is in fact this character Adrian and not the real Adrian, he says: “I would never do something like this.” Real murder becomes mere character action, the progression of his psychosis is then development in his dangerous metafiction view of the world, through his film. It’s like method acting gone past the point of normal psychology.
img_4029The story’s trajectory is relatively obvious. Early on we understand there’s something not quite right with Adrian. Doesn’t take long. It’s how he takes us there that makes the plan uniquely terrifying. Adrian’s kinda crazy, kinda nonchalant attitude is unsettling, at the same time not wholly without charm either. His character, gradually flipping from fiction to reality to metafiction, engages the audience even in the slower scenes. You can’t help wondering what he’ll do or say next, which keeps you off balance, and never quite capable of pinning him down with any understanding.
A pivotal moment for his character comes when he says that “boys and dogs are bullies” when he talks about girls and cats. We hear a bit about why he likes cats, or why the character likes them. And this is one major point of division between Adrian and his fictional character Adrian. There’s a clear line you can follow, watching the dissociation get worse.
This movie isn’t built on shock value, either. You expect it to be, but what the story focuses on most is Adrian’s descent into fiction that becomes brutally real. Along the way there’s obviously blood. Rather than go for a gory mess constantly, the blood is at times partly off-screen and the full nastiness is hidden. What’s worse is one scene where a victim comes upon a slow realisation that Adrian is actually preparing to do a homemade dissection on her. Too creepy. He fully dissociates from reality at this point, the ultimate separation, and doesn’t for a single second come to grips with the real murder he’s committing.
img_4031I remember hearing of Be My Cat and just the short description, the Twitter account, caught my attention. There’s an edgy psychological aspect that sinks its teeth in and never lets go. Admittedly, I know that some may not find it as compelling. Not everyone wants to do a slow burn into madness in found footage format. And that’s fine, I understand. I suggest giving it a chance. Tofei has done something here that’s on the verge of greatness.
There are times you might feel the acting isn’t up to par. I disagree. Tofei’s uncomfortable moments are used to good effect, and that also plays into the worrisome metafiction of the film overall. The performances of the actresses are equally as impressive. When you fall down the rabbit hole of despair alongside the fictional Adrian Tofei and his unsuspecting victims it’s all the more troubling that the performances on either side of the murder-victim aisle pull you into a space where fiction gets questionable.
Can’t recommend this film enough. I’ve seen it described as revolutionary for the found footage sub-genre, as dangerous, many other things. They’re pretty much all right, as far as I’m concerned. Looking forward to whatever this guy takes on next. If Be My Cat is any indication, Tofei has an intriguing perspective on the horror genre.

Frontier – Season 1, Episode 4: “Wolves”

Discovery Canada’s Frontier
Season 1, Episode 4: “Wolves”
Directed by Kelly Makin
Written by Greg Nelson

* For a review of the previous episode, “Mushkegowuk Esquewu” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Disciple” – click here
screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-9-06-55-pm
We start this episode in James Bay. Two redcoats spot a ship heading for land.
Lord Benton (Antun Armstrong) and Captain Chesterfield (Evan Jonigkeit) have a chat about dealing with the tribes; or, well, how they’ll dispatch of them. When they hear of a company ship approaching, they wonder exactly what’s going on. Hmm. Trouble abound?
screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-9-07-54-pm
Declan Harp (Jason Momoa), Dimanche (WiLlliam Belleau), Michael Smyth (Landon Liboiron) and Sokanon (Jessica Matten) are cast out into the woods, no longer in the good graces of the Lake Walkers, specifically the new Okimaw, Machk (Raoul Trujillo). For his part, Harp feels they need to go their own way, take on Benton with their strengths and a bit of surprise. There’s a lot tension between Dimanche and Harp, the former not wanting to follow the latter; he leaves telling Declan: “Im taking the men with me.” Truly on their own now.
In Montreal, Douglas Brown (Allan Hawco) goes to see Samuel Grant (Shawn Doyle). Although he only gets to meet with the murderous Cobbs Pond (Greg Bryk). He makes clear this is how business will be going, they’ll take what they want. Furthermore, Pond tells Douglas about his brother Malcolm (Michael Patric), what Cedric pulled involving Kitchi and the Lake Walkers. One thing I know: don’t fuck with Mr. Pond.
Captain Benedict Johnson comes off the ship into James Bay, meeting Chesterfield, who tries to get information out of the man. But Johnson only wants to meet Benton. There’s going to be some trouble here, definitely. They head on into Fort James, to the Ale House of Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle). Chesterfield ingratiates himself to Johnson and his men, trying to keep an eye on him.


Out in the woods, Declan tries to figure out whether he can trust Michael. The young man says he can indeed. Harp obviously sees something in Michael, a spirit of fighting; something the Irish know all about. Will these two stay on the same side? Or, will they end up against one another? For the time being, Harp sends Sokanon and Michael off on their own little quest, as he pushes forward by himself.
Captain Johnson is brought to the table of Benton, as the two and Chesterfield sit for a meal of caribou. Turns out that Lord Fisher back in London is wondering what “strides” Benton has made all around. We start to hear more about “a proper Christian example” that London hopes is being set in Fort James. Ah, yes, the spread of Christianity. Like a god damn plague. But worse, we hear that Johnson’s brought Clenna Dolan (Lyla Porter-Follows) to Benton; what’s he going to do with her? I worry. “Lets see if the sugar attracts any wasps,” the dastardly lord tells Chesterfield.
Then there’s Father James Coffin (Christian McKay) – I keep trying to figure out his place in all this, what he’ll eventually come to do or mean in the grand scheme of things. Right now he’s merely a drunkard, worth a chuckle or two. At the back of the Ale House, Chesterfield goes to Grace for the company ledger, which she made changes to so they can protect themselves while slipping pelts out from under Benton’s nose. Grace claims Johnson is likely here to oust Benton, but Chesterfield’s too dangerous and greasy to let that go down. What Grace does is send Imogen (Diana Bentley) to lure Johnson back to the Ale House; they’re going to use his religious faith “against him.”
Michael sees Clenna being brought through the woods, as he and Sokanon hide away. This sends him into a fit, heading off to find her. Clenna’s brought to the Governor’s house, where Benton acts brutally creepy. She worries, as one would, about what may be expected of her. You can already tell Benton will use Clenna to try bringing Michael in, and Declan too, he hopes.
screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-9-16-22-pm


Declan goes to meet Grace, she tells him of Captain Johnson’s arrival. He needs gunpowder, a bunch, to take on Benton and whatever the Hudson’s Bay Company throws at them. They talk a good deal, about when Harp lost his family and stayed at the Ale House, how long they’ve known each other. Then Michael arrives to find Declan, telling him about Clenna. He thinks Benton is going to punish her. Harp decides not to do anything just yet, though knows the young Irishman plans on going after the girl on his own. “Michael Smyth would die for you,” Sokanon tells her fearless leader before heading out, as well. Lots of things happening. Now, Grace is helping Harp with the gunpowder, so long as he clues her in on the plans. I hope she won’t betray him to Chesterfield; I don’t take her as that type, but you never, ever know.
So Michael heads up after his lady. He locates her, asleep in bed. They reunite for the first time in a long time. A bit bittersweet with a hug and a slap from her. The young lovers are glad to be together again. Clenna doesn’t want to rush off right away, thinking they’ve got time to sit and have a wash and reminisce. Jesus, that’s not a good idea. But it’s because she is already being brainwashed by Benton, that Harp is a “savage” and all sorts of things. Michael leaves her there for now, heading back to his new friends, and Benton sees him go from the window. Uh oh.
Douglas Brown goes to see Mrs. Elizabeth Carruthers (Katie McGrath), wife of the recently deceased at the hands of Cobbs Pond. Brown brings the lady word that Grant would like to speak with her. She’s not so willing to meet: “You tell your Mr. Grant if he wants my company hell have to murder me, too.” Tough woman. I dig it.


Imogen can’t get Captain Johnson in her clutches for Grace, so she puts Mary (Breanne Hill) on the case. She goes for “virgin” rather than prostitute, hoping this will make the man more susceptible to their ruse. Mary does a good job, talking of her prayers, his faith, lots of that. She quickly makes an impression on Johnson. The lure’s been set. The Captain ends up in a room alone with Mary, as she tells him about naughty thoughts in her mind, to which he replies he understands “the flesh is tempting.” And this puts the man right where Grace wants him; compromised fully.
The letter from Grace, by way of Jean-Marc Rivard (Paul Fauteux), gets to Grant in Montreal. Well, to Bond, anyways. Rivard talks of Harp as a “crazy person” and that he’s unpredictable to everyone else, which intrigues Bond.
A corporal sent to speak with the Cree comes back burned to death, laid at the doorstep of Lord Benton and his men. Not only have the Lake Walkers fallen out with Harp, they’ve got a real fire in them against Benton, the Hudson’s Bay Company, anyone encroaching on their land. Meanwhile, Clenna goes to meet Michael, but she’s been lied to wildly by Benton, promising her so many things. Sadly the girl is afraid for her life, appropriately so, and she doesn’t want to follow Michael any further.
Harp and Sokanon are about to leave when Michael gets back to them. They’re ready for action, as redcoats bear down on the Ale House. Then, a fight. Harp helps Michael get free, killing several men, before he’s arrested by himself.

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Next episode is “The Disciple” and we’re about see some very intense emotions, fighting, and all out bloody madness. Let’s do this!

Scream Queens – Season 2, Episode 6: “Blood Drive”

FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 2, Episode 6: “Blood Drive”
Directed by Mary Wigmore
Written by Brad Falchuk

* For a review of the previous episode, “Chanel Pour Homme-Icide” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Hand” – click here
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At the CURE Institute life goes on, though not exactly well. Dirty blood, all because of Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) recycling the stuff they mopped up. Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis), ever the businesswoman, has Chanel #1 (Emma Roberts) organising a blood drive. That’ll likely bring some new drama to the hospital.
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We get more on Ingrid Hoffel (Kirstie Alley), whose sister was Ms. Bean – the Chanels maid from Season 1 at the sorority house. She wants revenge on those “little bitches” and she’s kept tabs on them since they were released after the whole Red Devil mess. Now, the blood drive might allow Hoffel a bit of cover to do her dirty work. The drive is now a contest, the winner getting a trip to Blood Island; actually a terrifying, war torn island full of awful insects and other gross things.
Lots of good dialogue here out of Brad Falchuk’s writing, as Chanel quips to Cathy about her “semidamp orifice” and Cathy talks sly about Dr. Brock Holt (John Stamos) with his big dick, suggesting Chanel and most of her generation already have or expect to get HPV. A totally hilarious back and forth between these two, as Brock finds himself literally stuck in the middle. In other news, Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) wants to use the blood drive for her own investigation into the “baby in the belly” from ’85, so that they might figure things out amongst the hospital staff.
Poor Dr. Holt has more problems than just with Chanel v. Cathy. His hand replacement continues acting up, playing a knife game with himself under stress. Brock wants Chanel to get a massive STD test before they get together, even though he’s a walking hard-on. Also, Ingrid warns Brock that getting closer to Chanel could be very bad for him.

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And Hester (Lea Michele), oh Hester – she’s extremely bored. When she gets bored, she gets murderous. So it’s either find her a job, something to do all day, or a few people are going to die. Chanel goes to Munsch, landing Hester a bit of a trial period job. This involves diagnosing a guy named Brandon Sathmary (August Emerson), who’s a vampire. He has the teeth, his skin burns in the sun. He’s got a reflection, but he drinks blood “like iced tea” he gets from some creep at the Red Cross.
On an on goes the blood drive, all the new Chanels give their donations, plus #5 (Abigail Breslin) is sucked just about dry. #1 is only concerned about getting to “bone down with Dr. Hot” on Blood Island. Back at the hospital, Munsch is lurking around the blood donations. She finds #1’s packet. But the Green Meanie is also lurking, right behind her. Only to vanish into the dark without a sound. Now, the Meanie knows what Chanel is up to.
The next day, Munsch brings Dr. Holt, Hoffel, and Chanel in for the news: #1 has all the STDS; all of them. “There was a crab just floating in the sample,” Ingrid claims. Oh, my. The games Cathy likes to play. This doesn’t only ruin #1 and Brock’s plans together, sexually and otherwise. It also puts Munsch at top of the list for the blood drive. No more Blood Island for Chanel. A hilarious “O Fortuna” scene with Chanel v. Cathy in the strangest yet fucking riotous moment perhaps ever on the show. The look Brock gives Chanel then Cathy is worth a whole episode of laughs. I honestly cried, that’s how hard I laughed. Amazing scene.


Hester believes she’s diagnosed Brandon. An incurable disease, but the blood drinking is all in his head. She tells him a story about binge eating Ring Dings. Her aunt helped with a bit of Ring Ding aversion therapy, which Hester now plans to use on the vampire. Only he needs lots and lots because he’s obviously been enjoying the stuff way too much.
Oh, and Chanel, she robs herself a bunch of blood to boost the stats for her personal drive. When she goes to deposit them there’s none in her cooler. Leading away from it are drops of blood, and you just know where those are going, right? Hester’s been blood cooking: soup, sausage, tons of different dishes for Brandon. This puts Chanel awfully behind, and even though Munsch wants to be ahead she’s more hoping to put Hester back in a crazy cage.
In other news, Zayday tries keeping her investigation from Chamberlain Jackson (James Earl). He knows that she believes it’s him. He also knows all kinds of what’s going on, he’s a smart guy. We already know that Dr. Cassidy Cascade (Taylor Lautner) is the son of Jane (Trilby Glover), but could there be more to it? We know there’s always more than meets the eye on Scream Queens.
#9 is getting tapped for blood against her will, as #1 needs someone to milk other than #5. But when Dr. Holt appears, #1 runs off to try telling him she doesn’t have “sexual Ebola” or “vaginal Zika” and wants him to give her another chance, to prove herself. But he needs the proof. Then, as expected, #9 gets a visit from the Green Meanie. He’s gonna do a few tests, too. Until Ingrid walks in. She wants to help. And when she asks the Meanie to take off the mask, he does: it’s Cascade. They strike up a deal – the Meanie keeps killing, Hoffel gets the Chanels to herself. Yowzahs. Two sickos. However, Cascade reveals he didn’t kill all the victims. Someone else is posing as the Meanie, as well. Now this is very interesting.

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Hester’s trolling for blood. She wants to treat the vampire, to escape a cell again when Munsch sends her packing. In the cooler, she comes across Chamberlain, and discovers tainted blood. Oh, no. Is she planning on doing what I think?
Meanwhile, #9 is found dead, drained of all her blood. She’s a deflated football, essentially. “At some point this swamp is gonna be like 90% dead bodies,” Munsch says. She’s convinced Hester is the culprit. When they talk to her, she’s upstairs using Chanel’s supposedly STD-ridden blood.
But the reveal is Hester tested it: no STDs. A-ha, Munsch! You got got. Not only is #1 clean, she’s also winner of the blood drive, on her way to Blood Island. Except there’s issues with the flight, Chanel only goes charter. Then she decides she’ll take cash, and Ingrid’s plans are spoiled.


Chamberlain is proving himself useful to Zayday, as he winds up getting some of Jane’s saliva through a bit of food trickery. Plus, he’s AB+ and can’t be the baby in the belly. The baby, he’s O+, and he’s also a god damn doctor. Cassidy switches up the stickers on his blood, throwing the trail off a bit. This puts Dr. Holt in the firing line. Zayday and Chamberlain bring their findings to Munsch, although there’s no way the “ridiculously handsome” Brock can’t be young enough to be the baby.
There are worse things happening behind the curtain of Holt. His hand, that transplant, it is devious. I wonder what that’ll bring eventually. Down in the basement there’s more madness, with Cascade giving Ingrid her very own Green Meanie mask, bringing the tally of Meanies to three. And who’s the other one? How long until they’re revealed?

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A solid episode. Just a ton of great writing; witty, outright hilarious, and mysterious stuff. Can’t wait for “The Hand” next time.

The Walking Dead – Season 7, Episode 5: “Go Getters”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 5: “Go Getters”
Directed by Darnell Martin
Written by Channing Powell

* For a review of the previous episode, “Service” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Swear” – click here
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After the events of the season opener, we’re back at Hilltop with Maggie (Lauren Cohan). She’s safe and sound, feeling better. At least physically. Dr. Carson (R. Keith Harris) helped her out with pregnancy troubles; she’s out of the woods, for now. The baby is fine, as well. A little Glenn or Glenda is still on the way down the road. Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) is well, too. They both go to where their men are laid to rest. Sasha gives Maggie the watch Hershel gave to Glenn, still in his pocket the moment he died. “All Abraham had was a cigar,” she quips. Going forward, these two women will be even stronger than they were already. They’ll take this and make it into more strength. You just wait.
Jesus (Tom Payne) is on the side of Maggie and Sasha, but Gregory (Xander Berkeley) isn’t keen on having the soon-to-be mother around any longer. He feels they’ve put themselves out enough on their behalf. I don’t like this dude’s attitude. Although he was promised to have the Saviors taken care of, and that didn’t happen. He’s concerned with “plausible deniability” and wanting to not get his head cracked open by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). For his part, Jesus does his best to stand up to the Hilltop leader. Not that it does much to sway the guy.
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Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) are headed out from Alexandria, leaving a pissed off Carl (Chandler Riggs) and a reluctant Michonne (Danai Gurira) behind. Nothing is good in their world, still with a Negan boot against their windpipe permanently. One nice thing is that Michonne and Rick feel back on the same page again. She refuses to let up with him, unlike when he had Lori around only to bitch at him, to tell him what he’s doing wrong. Now, Michonne does her best to both encourage Rick, as well as let him know when he’s out of line. Even if she doesn’t, she always makes sure there’s a Plan B. As for Carl, he’s always concerned, about everything. That shit happens when you lose your mother, lose your eye. He sees Enid (Katelyn Nacon) sneaking over the walls to go to Hilltop, to make sure Maggie’s okay. And Carl says he doesn’t want to save her anymore, like a cocky little prick. Up at Hilltop, Jesus tries to reassure Sasha things will be fine. But he isn’t the take charge-type, he isn’t a leader admittedly. She does her best to help him realise he might have to “do more” in order to make Hilltop what he wants it to become.
Later in the night, music starts playing from a car. The Hilltop gates are open and fires are lit nearby. Sasha and Maggie try to figure out what the hell is going on. Walkers invade the premises by the dozens. When Sasha heads into the streets, so do Jesus and others. It’s take charge time. The car with the music is locked tight, caged in. And what does cowardly Gregory do? He cowers inside while the others work hard. Then Maggie shows off, driving a bit of farm equipment through Hilltop to crush a bunch of zombies, as well as that damn car. Good show, Mags!


Carl catches up with Enid on the road, running down walkers in his own car. They then walk on the road together. He tells her about needing to watch what Negan did to their friends, to remember. For the day when they need to kill the bastard. Enid likewise worries for Maggie, not wanting anything bad to have happened to her. They share a kiss together afterwards. Once she realises Carl is trying to hunt Negan and his people. She tries to stop him, but you know him. Hard-headed just like dad.
Simultaneously, Gregory is bitching about Maggie, not wanting her around, as Jesus fights for her. I mean, she helped them fight off an attack the night before. And he’s quite ungrateful. The Saviors have shown up, that makes it all worse. Simon (Steven Ogg) is there to have a little chat about going forward, recent developments and all. He brings the message that people at Hilltop ought not forget how bad things are out there in the world, outside the walls. He’s impressed the walkers were all cleared up by the Hilltop citizens. But worries Gregory’s people are getting “soft.” One thing is painfully evident, that Gregory is Negan’s full-time bitch, on his knees serving the master.
When the meeting’s over, he takes Simon to where Maggie and Sasha were hiding. But not for them: for Scotch. This will make a nice gift for Negan, though Simon takes the credit. Plus, they’ll take half of the supplies on-hand at Hilltop. On top of that he makes Gregory kneel for him. Like a bitch, as I said. Seeing the whole thing makes Jesus sick to death looking at their supposed leader. Gregory actually tried giving up the women, though Jesus did the right thing and hid them elsewhere. He’s taking charge a little more, or at least he’ll be making sure the leader makes less decisions without the whole community.

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Maggie finds Enid outside in Hilltop, near the graves. They head inside after and eat, chatting about old times, laughing a little. Sasha soon joins in and they’re like a family again. In a sweet gesture, Maggie gives Enid the watch Glenn was given by her father. However, she also says they don’t need any items to remember the dead by; they have each other, they have the memories in their minds, never to be forgotten.
And their time will come. They’ll have revenge, in some shape or form, some way. Maybe not today or tomorrow. Someday, though. Amazing enough, Jesus sneaks on the Saviors truck as they go, meeting Carl stowed away out back.

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Very slow episode, yet there was a lot going on all the same. We’re getting a shape and sense of the whole world going on in the zombie apocalypse, instead of the finite plots and stories of Rick and his crew. Lots of things happening as they mingle together.
Next episode is “Swear” and I feel like Season 7 is gaining steam with every episode, setting up good things for the latter half.

Scream Queens – Season 2, Episode 5: “Chanel Pour Homme-Icide”

FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 2, Episode 5: “Chanel Pour Homme-Icide”
Directed by Barbara Brown
Written by Ian Brennan

* For a review of the previous episode, “Halloween Blues” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Blood Drive” – click here
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Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) hears #5 (Abigail Breslin) from across the hospital. As #3 (Billie Lourd) explains, #1 has developed a “fine tuned” addiction to #5’s pain. Along with Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis), the Chanels and Zayday (Keke Palmer) find #5, as well as the corpse of Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash). So now sleazy Cathy has to come up with a story while they dispose of the body. Oh, and they leave #5 to wallow in agony alone. With more dead bodies piling up they’re forced to call the police in.
Downstairs, Munsch shows Zayday a cryogenic chamber she bought with some of the Radwell cash. They put Denise’ s body inside to test it out. Meanwhile, Cathy is still dying little by little.
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No longer blue, Chanel and Dr. Brock Holt (John Stamos) continue getting closer. He apologises for the mix up with the medicine, then goes on about his relationship with Ms. Munsch, how he did it only because of being distraught from missing out on Chanel. But she has no “emotional object permanence” and surely they’ll be together sooner than later.
A week later after the publicity surrounding the murders, Munsch’s CURE Institute is booming again. All kinds of strange illnesses pour in and the place is on wheels. Ingrid Hoffel (Kirstie Alley) is up in her business trying to get more and more all the time. Otherwise things are fine, except the fact Cathy is a complete fucking loon. She winds up on a case trying to treat a woman who’s switching from accent to accent, all over the globe. Her name is Penelope Hotchkiss (Mary Birdsong), and she can’t control the voice she uses. Now that’s an interesting one.
Ingrid gets under everybody’s skin, including the Chanels; she calls them “nondoctor idiots“, “dead inside“, “Dr. Tiny Bitch“, among other names. Usually I find Alley a irritating pain to watch, but the writing is too good not to enjoy. Her delivery is perfectly condescending. She has #1 and #3 doing the worst of chores around the hospital, which they’re obviously not happy about, and thems the breaks, right? Not when Ms. Oberlin’s putting her mind to it. Or, y’know, trying to.
Zayday goes to see Munsch about Chamberlain Jackson (James Earl). Turns out there aren’t any candy stripers. Cathy says she hasn’t hired anybody. Certainly not off Craigslist. Might have something to do with all the serial killing going on. Like Season 1, another baby mystery is at hand, and Zayday decides she’s in to solve the puzzle.


Chanel sent out word she’s accepting applications for more Chanels. Concerned about the Green Meanie. #1 wants “cannon fodder” in case he’s intent on doing her in. So when everybody on their previous list passes, they turn to the patients in the hospital getting a couple new recruits.
Then, they have no choice but to talk to someone named Tristan St. Pierre (Pablo Castelblanco). He started writing explicit, lesbian fan fiction about Chanel. He got extremely obsessed with her. Creepy. Tristan is brought in as a Chanel Pour Homme; brilliant title. They have Chanels #7 and #8, as well. All for human shields in the face of murder.
Dr. Cassidy Cascade (Taylor Lautner) and Chanel #3 try to work on Ms. Hotchkiss. In rushes Brock with information, but then it seems as if the accent issue goes viral. All three of them start talking like Penelope, shifting accents themselves.
In the lower levels of the hospital, Chanel gets a scare from Hester (Lea Michele). She tries to ingratiate herself to the Chanels again. And #1 lets her back in. She’s intent on finding the Green Meanie. No matter how crazy things must get.
Zayday and #5 go visit Jane Hollis (Trilby Glover) about her husband who died that night two decades ago. She believes Dr. Mike and the nurse covered that up. Obviously Chamberlain is out of the running for the baby. Or is he? Because Jane’s husband was black.

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The accent virus keeps going strong, changing in everybody. The writing does a smart job poking fun, as they even make fun of how bad the accents are, too. Great little bit. They also drop a lot of movie references. Also, Doctors Holt and Cascade and Chanel #3 come up with a treatment to help Ms. Hotchkiss. Moreover, Dr. Holt figures out they’ve contracted “Madonna syndrome.” They have to lock themselves up watching American films to get themselves back on track.
Zayday keeps on trying to figure Chamberlain out. He explains his presence there is only about making people feel good. “Ima let my freak flag fly,” he tells her going about doing his Willy Wonka hospital routine. In other news, Cathy has a talk with Ingrid; to fire her. She doesn’t dig the way Ingrid treats the staff. The woman has a drug addiction, however, she knows of Cathy’s disease – blackmail.
The Chanels have a big night planned. A slumber party, including makeovers. Never a good sign when the girls are being nice. Chanel #8 has to go to the morgue to find a gift they’ve supposedly left her. A “sacrifice” to the Green Meanie. Will he take it? Tristan confronts #8 because he wants the gift, putting himself in the way of possible death. When #8 turns up it’s clear who’ll be killed. And boy, is he ever dead.
Naturally, Munsch is pissed. The Chanels are always bringing her more trouble, as if she doesn’t have enough on her own. Chanel #7 is now down with being a human shield, and #8’s been in for a while. Now, Cathy has three more Chanels for admittance; #11 even has eleven fingers. #1 has the girls put to work already cleaning up #5’s “monster dumps” in her bedpan. Man, the writing kills me sometimes. I rarely laugh out loud by myself unless something is really funny; this series does it to me often. Anyways, Munsch wants to find Hester, and she wants #1 to give up the info.
The Green Meanie kills #11, after first doing a bit of homemade machete surgery on her extra finger. That poor girl didn’t last long.
Most intriguing is the finish, as Jane Hollis receives her son for dinner: it’s Cassidy. He was the baby in the belly. And now he tells her that their secrets will be safe: “Ill take care of everything.”

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Solid episode. Well worth the wait!
Next up is “Blood Drive” and I anticipate more intensity, foolishness, and more importantly – MURDER.

The Exorcist – Season 1, Chapter Seven: “Father of Lies”

FOX’s The Exorcist
Season 1, Episode 7: “Father of Lies”
Directed by Tinge Krishnan
Written by Charise Castro Smith

* For a review of Chapter Six, “Star of the Morning” – click here
* For a review of Chapter Eight, “The Griefbearers” – click here
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Possession has gripped Chicago.
At a Roman Catholic Church service, Angela and Henry Rance (Geena Davis & Alan Ruck), their daughter Kat (Brianne Howey), many people are gathered. Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) is leading everyone, praying for Casey Rance’s (Hannah Kasulka) safe return to her family.
Nine days prior, Father Tomas rushes Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) and a horrifically unwell Casey to see Mother Bernadette (Deanna Dunagan). The girl is obviously close to being “integrated” with the demon inside her. All the same, it looks like Fathers Marcus and Tomas are on the same page. Right now they have to keep Pazuzu at bay. He wants revenge.
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The media circus surrounding the Rance family and grandma Chris MacNeil (Sharon Gless). Sounds as if Chris is taking her role in the family more seriously, regretting the past and what she did to their family using Regan’s plight for financial gain.
Bernadette worries if they can’t beat the demon they’ll be unleashing an “ancient violence into the world.” For his part, Marcus has more faith than anybody. Ironic, no? The man who’s been excommunicated wants to fight the forces against God the most.
With the creepiness going on in the upper echelons involving Maria Walters (Kirsten Fitzgerald), the police superintendent, the priest with whom Father Tomas meets, there’s no telling what might happen next. One thing is made perfectly clear: Marcus is an enemy of the Church. That means many things at the moment.
The Rances and Chris give an interview concerning Casey. Naturally, the past tries to emerge. Right away things go sour. The interviewer goes hard at them until Angela and Henry walk out. Instead of solely trying to find the girl, the media wants to dig up dirt first. Typical of certain news outlets. At the same time Casey’s being exorcised, or at least the trio of exorcists – Tomas, Marcus, and Bernadette – try doing the job. Tomas walks away with a bite, and Pazuzu smiles from inside Casey; almost loving the exorcism. So damn creepy. Moreover, Marcus feels responsible now for Casey, after the end of last episode when he nearly expelled the demon for good.
Outside of the Rance house people are holding up signs, some hateful Westboro Baptist Church-like and other more Gothic. A woman confronts Angela about Casey having killed her husband in the ambulance, calling her daughter “demon girl.” Henry quickly rushes his wife back inside.

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Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan) has to deal with all those crooked weirdos, including one of the ring leaders Brother Simon (Francis Guinan). He’s come up with a bit of dirt on the finances of those involved with the Papal Planning Committee. Oh, this is all too ominous! I’m worried for Bennett. I like him a lot, and worry his time is drawing to a close. Hopefully he proves me wrong. Seeing all those kooks around him is chilling.
At the house, Chris mentions to Father Tomas he reminds her of one of the priests who helped Regan; she’s talking about Father Damien Karras. Well, Tomas does his best in comforting Angela and her family. He has “faith,” but Angela particularly isn’t convinced. Having a demon come back for her four decades after the first possession, now for her daughter? I’d probably not be too hopeful about God, either. Meanwhile, Casey’s body is withering. And that nasty bastard Pazuzu, he’s hiding. There are literal maggots eating the girl alive, worming through her flesh. If they can’t draw Pazuzu out, they can’t finish the exorcism. If they can’t finish the exorcism, the girl dies. Even worse Bernadette feels that the case is a lost cause, and that perhaps Marcus holding on so dearly, fighting so hard might no longer be about her; is he fighting because of his own past, or does he still genuinely believe? I’m inclined to say the latter.
Angela and her mother talk seriously for the first time in a long while. Chris tells her daughter she’s a good mother. Even the girl formerly known as Regan admits that growing up in the lap of celebrity wasn’t always so bad. Further than that, she understands now how hard it had to be for Chris to watch her be possessed, virtually helpless.
Back with Casey, Father Marcus tries using love to cast out the “Star of the Morning” (but isn’t the demon itself Pazuzu from when it possessed Regan? Little confused on that one now) and make it understand it is forgiven. The girl comes to a moment, crying: “No more.”


The ever diligent Father Bennett finds himself in a precarious position, snooping around looking for clues. He locates the burned ashes of the organs used in the Ceremony of Ash, Vocare Pulvere. He’s also being watched, by one of the possessed homeless men. When he comes across a room full of dead, bloodied corpses, some of the possessed men attack. He manages to fend them off, then starts killing demons like a bad motherfucker. YES! YES! This must continue. We need more Bennett in our lives.
Tomas is slipping further from the faith, as he’s in bed with Jessica (Mouzam Makkar) and shirking those vows he took; not that I agree with his vows, but still. Although it’s not exactly as if he’s easily doing it, the whole situation evidently weighs heavy on his soul. She can tell. We can tell. He winds up going out to try getting something for his bite and gets punched in the face by a pharmacy customer. Maria bails him out. That ain’t good. She acts as a shoulder to cry on. But maybe, after being passed over for demonic possession, she’ll have a change of heart? Yeah, right.
Things at the Rance house are rough. Angela’s breaking down. She asks to have Father Tomas come over, her mind is frantic, her speech, too. She believes that Casey’s dead. “Part of me is gone,” she tells Tomas, her husband, Kat, Chris, each of them watching with a deep sadness in their eyes.


Marcus is about to administer a cup of belladonna tea to Casey when he realises “This is his design; I will not interfere.” He won’t give up on her. His faith is so pure that there’s no stopping him. And likewise, Angela isn’t giving up. Tomas brings her in and from the moment Pazuzu senses her, he comes alive once more. He is drawn out.
A sow,” the demon says looking at the woman he once knew as Regan. It is time for a brutal battle between the one who got away and that ancient evil, Pazuzu.


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What a fascinating and well-written episode! Another of my favourites, I think. There is so much depth to these characters, I can’t even imagine where to begin on that. Also, side note: the score is fucking incredible, that piano riff we hear that plays off the intro song. I mean, I honestly feel this series surprised me, many of us. It is leagues better than I ever hoped.
Let’s get geared up for Chapter Eight “The Griefbearers” next week. And how will the showdown between the demon and Regan MacNeil go? I wonder.

Digging Up the Past in THE TRIANGLE

The Triangle. 2016. Directed & Written by David Blair, Nathaniel Peterson, Adam Pitman, Andrew Rizzo, & Adam Stilwell.
Starring Andrew Rizzo, Lee Rizzo, Brick Patrick, Nathaniel Peterson, Ciara Rose Griffin, John Budge, Nicholas Daue, Hendra Mylnechuk, Andy Greenfield, & Karen Jean Olds.
Firework Brain/BadFritter Films.
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
img_3997When found footage films go for different concepts from what we see so often, there’s always a bit of worth in watching them. Not that it automatically makes them good; not at all. But credit where credit’s due. Every inch of found footage could be the exact same plot, over and over, if it weren’t for a few great titles out there. Even a few that follow the repeatedly lifted plot of The Blair Witch Project are still good, simply for the fact they’re actually scary.
The Triangle is a horror, yet it isn’t traditional. Having loved Ti West’s The Sacrament and its fictionalised retelling of the tragic Jim Jones story, my initial worry with this movie was that it might follow too closely in line with his, either ripping it off or just feeling way too similar to be any good. It actually goes in its own unique direction, to surprising lengths. The story starts out as a real documentary, in that the postcard these guys receive from an old friend is true to life. From there, reality gives way to beautifully organic plot, to strange horror bordering on science fiction.
This is one found footage flick that has great camerawork, which is an added bonus to all the weird, wild plot developments over the course of a lean 94 minutes. You won’t quite know what to expect, and part of that works on your nerves. A lot of complaints I see online are simply due to the slow burn plot. So, if that’s not your thing maybe you’re not the target audience here. I’d still suggest giving it a chance because of the unique events that unfold in front of the camera, as well as some of the questions you’ll be left asking later.
img_4001Just starting from the premise it’s an interesting way to begin this faux-documentary. A vague, mysterious opening with the postcard, holding endless possibilities. Wondering about many of those sketchy possibilities is a reason why the initial scene is kind of tense. There’s also this hopeful mood, too. Still, a lingering sense of uneasiness accompanies the postcard and even once they decide to head out after their friend there’s an undeniable apprehension inside them all. Like them, we feel on the precipice of a life changing adventure, never knowing if what’s next could be something terrible dark, or if it’s all worry for no reason. You might doubt your thoughts, which is a recurring feeling, and it’s in those moments The Triangle catches you in its tangled web.
There’s talk in the community, as it is with these types of places, about self-sufficiency. What does that really mean, in the end? What must one sacrifice in order to gain it? Or, do these cult-like people simply give themselves over to something or someone else to replace modern society (et cetera)? Often so-called self-sufficiency in these communes, in reality, requires devotion to an Other: a god, a deity, or in these situations a charismatic leader in Rizzo. And when there are these hierarchical positions amongst supposedly open, free communes, there are always secrets, things kept from people and those people kept in the dark about something. Of course we find this is truer than ever throughout the course of the plot.
Any horror, mystery, thriller needs suspense and tension. If not, there’s nothing to grasp onto and even an interesting story can end up plenty less compelling. From the time these guys get to the Ragnarok commune there’s a great deal of slow, mounting tension while the documentary crew – representative of the modern world, that old society from which the commune tries escaping – clashes with everyone they meet. Not in a totally overt way, either. That’s  one reason why it feels dangerous. There is a gruelling passive-aggressiveness about their behaviour, especially Rizzo; he’s the number one. His sense of domineering status and narcissistic attitude comes out more and more after we get to know him a bit. At first, he doesn’t seem to hold that narcissism. He’s open, welcoming, friendly, foolish. As the time passes this changes, and Rizzo emerges, subtly, as absolutely like all those other cult leaders in history. That’s his, and their, ultimate aim is to talk the talk, walk the walk, no matter what lies behind the veil. Perhaps scarier is the fact Rizzo isn’t the only narcissist in the cult, that he’s a mere figurehead for a main group who all share something in common that others in the commune don’t – what that is, you’ll have to find out on your own. Such a thick tension goes on for a long while, then once the mystery of the plot breaks the impact of the coming horror feels significant. We get time with all the main characters, not only Rizzo, so after having spent that portion of the film getting into their lives and their emotions, et cetera, it’s gripping to watch what goes on past the halfway mark.
img_3999SPOILERS: from here on in there’ll be a bunch of spoilers – turn back, lest ye be spoiled!
The commune is named Ragnarok, based on the Ragnarök of Norse mythology which is most commonly translated to mean “the final destiny of the gods.” Later in the film we discover a core group in the commune has had what they call “the dream” and it’s about being led on a journey by this shapeshifting creature, at the end of which it disappears leaving a dinosaur skull – a tyrannosaurus – and then, as one of them puts it, “at the end of the dream, were gone.” Certainly by the time this dream comes up we’ve seen the skull they’ve dug up in a nearby cave, we get the sense it has an effect on people emitting a high-pitched noise the closer you get to it. When the end of the film comes, the main group from Ragnarok who’ve had the dream are all ill, going a bit crazy, and they wander off up into the hills. We see a flash of light in the cave, and everyone is gone.
What does it all mean? Here’s my take.
One of the purposes of their commune was to try and get back to a time they felt was lost in modern society. These people reject the modern world so much that when it comes time for them to sign releases for the film crew, at first there’s significant contention. This changes, yes, but Rizzo even talks about simply not having time for the logistics because they live in the middle of a desert, no real houses, self-sufficient, so they’ve rejected that entire system of living. Point being, they wanted to go back to a lost time, a time before, another place almost. In the end, as it went in their collective dream, a nearly genderless woman comes to take them up to the dinosaur skull, and then they’ve disappeared (“at the end of the dream, were gone“). Have they been transported through time, back to another place? Did they will it to happen through their collective brain power and wanting it to be true? They strip down, almost in a primitive sense. As if going somewhere closes aren’t needed. Everything speaks to going back to the past. Right on down to the fact they’ve dug up the past, literally, by finding the fossil. We’ll never know where they’ve gone. Not for sure. We can only assume from what we’re given, and it’s good fun trying to piece the puzzle together.
img_4002I’ll probably be in the minority, although I couldn’t care any fucking less. The Triangle is an interesting addition to the found footage heap, definitely nearer to the top of the pile. When I felt it was about to rip off West’s recent Jim Jones-inspired effort, the plot threw me for a loop. Not everything was perfect. Even for a slow burn this one takes its sweet time drawing out the story.
All the same, no matter its mistakes this is a weird, worthy little movie. The camerawork is top notch for found footage, giving it more credibility than about half of them in the sub-genre. Better still, I enjoyed the performances and they help make this faux-documentary feel more like the real thing, giving the emotionally charged moments a sense of gravitas. You can do much worse than this movie, as the suspense does a fine job making the stretched out plot feel like an enjoyable breeze.
The Triangle deserves a watch. At least one. Maybe you’ll be pissed off, having felt it was a waste of time. Or maybe, like me, you’ll enjoy trying to figure out the answers to all the questions left after the finale. Either way, it makes you think. And that can’t be said for so many other found footage horrors out there. This one isn’t filled with shaky camera angles, screams, or even blood. It works on your brain until the last moment.

There’s Twice the Psychosis WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK

When A Stranger Calls Back. 1993. Directed & Written by Fred Walton.
Starring Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow, Karen Elizabeth Austin, Babs Chula, John Destry, Duncan Fraser, Jenn Griffin, Gary Jones, Terence Kelly, & Kevin McNulty.
Krost-Chapin Productions/MCA Television Entertainment/Pacific Motion Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
poster1979’s When A Stranger Calls is a favourite of mine. There are far too many people who either don’t know it, or they don’t appreciate it enough. Tony Beckley’s performance as Curt Duncan, the titular stranger, is the stuff of pure nightmare. And somehow, 14 years later, Fred Walton’s sequel When A Stranger Calls Back nearly hits all the same eerie notes with a different story and some of the same characters.
Walton gets a bit wilder in this sequel, although just about every bit of it works. Charles Durning and Carol Kane return again as John Clifford and Jill Johnson respectively, each hardened and experienced due to their experiences with Duncan in the first film. In the position of Kane’s Jill this time around is Jill Schoelen as Julia Jenz, a woman whose life becomes a horrorshow at the hands of a demented, relentless stalker.
The sequel goes for a more outlandish stalker. His psychosis is much stranger than that of Curt Duncan’s urge to kill. Some might find the stalker’s gimmick cheesy. Me, I find it terrifying.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-25-amMimicking the original, Walton starts off with a suspenseful opening sequence with Julia babysitting. However, he sets it apart from the first film by not opting for an outwardly foreboding, unnerving phone call. So much so that Walton’s actually taken the phone out of the picture by literally having it cut dead. This allows the sequel to tread its own ground rather than march straight through the original material all over again. It’s the same, yet isn’t, and the familiarity solely helps as a jumping off point for the tension. At one point Walton cuts back to shots of the doorknob, ratcheting that tension to a maximum. The viewer waiting on seat’s edge to see it turn, or move even in the tiniest way. This moment never comes. Sidestepping the payoff leaves Walton with unresolved tension, poised for a wicked crash once the perverse and threatening action of the titular stranger breaks loose.
When it gets genuinely disturbing is the second stalking. Like Duncan, this stranger comes back again after the first time. But what this guy does as opposed to Duncan is play a far more psychologically threatening game with Julia than Duncan did with Jill; not to say she didn’t suffer, but boy, this stalker is a doozy. Here, the stranger plays sick games to ingratiate himself with Julia, to put himself in her life, somehow in a twisted frame of mind. When you find out what he’s doing later in the film, it is a trip.


Having both Kane and Durning back brings with them credibility, as well as a degree of continuity instead of a sequel that feels like a cash in, put together to get a quick payday for everyone involved, maybe boost the sales of the original. This way, their characters make the story more interesting; there’s more depth, more at stake. Of course it works out well because Jill’s experience in When A Stranger Calls is sort of how we also saw Sydney Prescott in the Scream series eventually become a victim counsellor over the phone – she provides a unique perspective that plays into Julia’s predicament with her own stalker. While the stalker feels weirder in a spooky way, this sequel is less psychological horror – even though there’s plenty of that – and more a dark, emotional thriller full of mystery.
Still, Walton does play well with the psycho-horror of this screenplay. He makes Julia’s apartment into an ominous, paranoid location where each shadow means potential danger. With lingering shots and choice edits, the apartment is like a haunting character in and of itself, which lurks around the viewer, and of course Julia. Walton and cinematographer David Geddes (Legends of TomorrowHalloween: Resurrection) give the film a great look, especially considering this sequel is a TV movie after all.
There are quite a few spectacularly creepy moments and scenes. At one point, the stalker stands over Julia as she lies in a hospital bed – he slaps her over and over, and it’s so horrific because you can clearly see the psychotic behaviour brimming along the edges, past ready to break out fully. SPOILERS! SPOILERS AHEAD! When we get a look at the stranger in his element – a ventriloquist painted black, a dummy on his knee with no facial features – there’s a shocking element to this revelation. Suddenly you understand, all of it. Honestly, this scene starts out funny. Then gradually it becomes unbearable. Totally unsettling shit. Particularly once people start leaving, weirded out by this ventriloquist act, and the owner of the club all but kicks the hell out of the stranger, there’s a sad, pitiful aspect to this man. Sort of emotionally crushing because he’s obviously got issues. Although there’s no connection, no empathy for him – we’ve seen what he does. The final showdown between him, Jill, and Julia is crazy. Very fitting and just as intense. A legitimately frightening finish, at times as frightening as Curt Duncan from the original.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-57-amI’ll always love the original most, and I do feel that it is rightfully the better film. That being said, When A Stranger Calls Back is one of the more underrated sequels to a classic horror that, for whatever reason, never gets its due. That’s probably in part because this went out as a TV movie. Not sure why it ended up that way, because it has the makings of a genuine film and Walton follows his own footsteps lightly, treading carefully in most of the right places.
My only complaint is that I wish we were given a bit more insight into the stalker. We do get plenty later once everything kicks up a notch. But there easily could’ve been more. Perhaps that’s part of it being a TV movie. If we got a full fledged theatrical release movie from Walton on this sequel, there may have been changes in that department. We’ll never know.
Despite any small complaints, this Halloween you need to see When A Stranger Calls Back. This one gets a bit more disquieting simply for how it gets a bit more out of control with a stalking stranger even more unhinged than Curt Duncan; if you can believe it.

SHELLEY: What Would You Accept to Replace a Dead Child?

Shelley. 2016. Directed by Ali Abbasi. Screenplay by Abbasi & Maren Louise Käehne.
Starring Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Cosmina Stratan, Kenneth M. Christensen, & Peter Christoffersen.
Profile Pictures.
Not Rated. 92 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★1/2
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-02-07-pmThere’s an especially horrific aspect to horror movies which focus on pregnancy. There have been plenty of those, most recently an awesome little movie called The Ones Below. Certainly the famous Polanski chiller Rosemary’s Baby is one of the films that kick started the genre fascination with such a subject.
Now, there is Shelley.
For a debut feature Ali Abbasi does impressive work. Well, it doesn’t hurt that the two lead actresses Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Cosmina Stratan pull more than their weight to bring the characters alive. Their efforts together with Abbasi’s creeping atmosphere make the slow burn screenplay – co-written by Maren Louise Käehne – so much fun to wait out.
Although not everybody’s a fan of the slow-moving horror, but trust me, if you give the story a chance to play out the reward is much better than you might expect. A great story is one thing. If you’ve got the brooding, eerie atmosphere to go with then it doesn’t matter how gradual a build the terror takes work under your skin; the time you take to get there becomes all the more enjoyable for the payoff.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-03-58-pmWithin Shelley‘s dream-like atmosphere, the characters are setup well. The initial half hour spends the time wisely doing so. Eventually when the genuine suspense and tension kicks in, along with full-fledged paranoia, there feels to be much more at stake. Because we’ve grown into knowing these people, the horror visited upon them feels scarier and much more genuine than horror where flimsy characters are thrown into terrifying situations without the viewer taking any interest in them or what happens to them.
By the time we figure out what’s actually happening the revelation is near devastation level, setting in with quick fright. On the way there’s lots of eerie ambiguity to haul us into the story. A particularly upsetting instance is when Elena (Stratan) wanders in the woods, feeling strange, only to stumble upon a baby amongst the leaves. Or should I say, a dead baby. At least that’s what it looks like: dead, in the dirt, worms crawling all over its corpse. This is dream, or should I say nightmare, imagery and it takes us deeper into the core themes of the film. Paranoia starts driving the suspense after this point, as we’re walked through a tense, personal drama always with echoes of the supernatural hovering around the characters. The best horror can often keep you questioning reality, right alongside the characters, and Shelley succeeds due to how actively the screenplay keeps the viewer cloaked in literal and psychological darkness, giving us over to images like the baby, which come at the best times to knock the viewer out of their seat.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-05-19-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-17-23-pmObviously the movie channels Polanski and Rosemary’s Baby, although its setting and use of character skews in a different direction, which does well for its refreshing feel. Any pregnancy-related horror always gets the Polanski comparison. Shelley does purposefully homage, but never strikes as trying to copy any of Polanski’s work. It is far more ambiguous in nature. Not in any bad sense. For all its vagaries the film is well-directed to give off an atmosphere full of dread, and rather than give us all the answers Abbasi chooses to root us in emotional depth rather than a bunch of twisting, turning exposition. Most of all we dive deep through themes of loss and how we each individually deal with loss. Plus, the entire film works as an allegory about the wrong that can be done to oneself, one’s partner, and those around you trying to replace a dead child. The danger, especially here, can get very real.
The standout performance from Stratan will take you above and beyond. If you’ve got problems with the slow burning plot, Stratan can usher you through to the meaty goodness of the story. There’s a bunch of great stuff, but two scenes stick out in my mind particularly. One is when she sits at the table with her hosts and their friends, she stares at a little boy, and then the child suddenly runs to her, punching her in the pregnant stomach. It’s a bone rattling, resonant moment of innocence attacking innocence, unforgettable. Stratan’s reactions are what sell the moment and its terror. Secondly, there’s another belly-striking scene, but this time it’s Elena alone with the woman whose baby she’s carrying, Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen). Out of nowhere, Elena loses her mind, punching and smacking her belly, thrashing about. Just a frenzied moment that will leave your jaw agape. The look in the eyes of Elena after Louise calms her to the bathroom floor is stunning. An all-around terrific performance, and a solid role in general.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-18-50-pmSuch a quality screenplay, which also helps Stratan in her role, as we’re never totally sure – until late in the film – if Elena has gone completely mad from pregnancy and hormones, or if some evil thing truly grows in her belly. It’s the not knowing that terrifies. Along the way every aspect of the production helps ingratiate you into the plot’s darkness. An element I dig, so much, is the sound design: often we get a low, crackling hum that adds to the paranoid moments the audience spends feeling trapped in Elena’s mind and body, and this also extends to the other characters later; you just need to see how that plays out to understand why it’s so wonderful. On top of that is an atmospheric, ambient score that bleeds into the sound design to create such a developed, creepy mood throughout.
Shelly is a slow burn, though a tour-de-force. From the opening shot – a crooked, dead tree grows up in the middle of a healthy green forest, the screen turns bloody red – there’s a sense of constant fear, a choked feeling that grips hold. Considering all the Polanski comparisons, this film goes where his didn’t, allowing the last 20 minutes as an epilogue to show exactly whether Elena went insane, or if she knew some horrible evil had been growing, stronger all the time, inside her.
I can’t recommend this enough. Going in I hadn’t expected such brilliance. And again, if you’re not into the slow plot you may find yourself unimpressed. But please, wait for the reveal in the end. There’s much worth in it. You spend most of your energy trying to determine who or what is influencing all the problems Elena experiences from one scene to the next, that once you’ve discovered the truth it’s a spooky shock. One of my favourite films of 2016, a pleasantly spine-chilling surprise.

Science Fiction Icarus in X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. 1963. Directed by Roger Corman. Screenplay by Robert Dillon & Ray Russell.
Starring Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, & Don Rickles.
Alta Vista Productions.
Not Rated. 79 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★
posterRoger Corman helped a lot of young directors and writers, as well as actors, get their start in an often ruthless business; one he knew plenty about. We can’t forget his genius as director, though. He might not get the praise he deserves, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out here praising him. I’ll gladly add my name to that list of folks.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is, as I see it, one of his best pictures. It’s such a unique and fun, old school movie with a sci-fi brain and a horror heart. The script comes from Robert Dillon (French Connection II) and Ray Russell (Mr. Sardonicus), together making the character of Dr. James Xavier one of the more tragically mad doctors of cinema.
While special effects heavy due to the nature of the plot, Corman does a fine job directing this to make it stand out as one of the more interesting films of its kind during the 1960s, when sci-fi had already been pumping out for years and only continued to more so afterwards. The psychological nature of this tale and its examination of a doctor with a God complex, to an extreme length, is a personal favourite of mine in the science fiction genre.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-33-43-pmWe start with a macabre opening on a loose eyeball, which is then bobbing in a test tube of fluid. Followed by the hypnotic spiral that pulls us into this strange film. As if preparing us for the oddities to come; the weird and unexpected are about to unfold. Corman’s best films, of which X most certainly is one, are amazingly vivid in terms of visuals. Especially those shot by Floyd Crosby, including this film, and the Corman Poe adaptations The Fall of the House of UsherThe Pit and the PendulumThe Premature Burial, and the loosest of all Poe movies The Raven. The gorgeous, colourful widescreen beauty is in full force here. More than that, Corman and Crosby used some interesting techniques to visualise the x-ray vision of Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland). Hell, even when the doc has eye drops put in Corman opts to include a point of view shot from the eye itself, blinking lids and all. This serves as a method of immersing us in the experimentation of Xavier along with those fun x-ray shots and other similar sequences.
The inevitable seeing people naked is a fun moment, if not a tad disturbing as Dr. Xavier finds his ability to control the x-ray vision slipping. Moreover, he’s a constant invasion of privacy, privy to your most private birthmarks. That ethical breach then extends, as the doctor uses his vision in order to push his way into surgery, to prove himself as the best in the profession. Of course this proves correct when Dr. Xavier can see exactly what’s wrong with a patient by looking inside her; this is the definitive commencement of his newly formed God complex – or at least recently exacerbated complex – which only gets worse, the hubris building him to scary heights. So high, in fact, that the only fall imaginable is on the same tragic level as that of Icarus, plummeting out of the sky.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-59-23-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-11-46-pmI consider the plot on par with great sci-fi literature, the likes of which Richard Matheson might dream up on a dark, stormy night. There’s wonderful thematic material. Most importantly, great power – no matter how beneficial – when mishandled and disrespected can lead to nothing except woe. The proud doctor goes from top surgeon to sideshow carnival freak to a desperate gambler at the end of his rope. Another doctor tells him during the first scene: “only the gods see everything.” Almost as if taking that as his mantra, a challenge to achieve, Dr. Xavier makes the God complex of doctors into something which ultimately proves near lethal; at the very least, capable of destroying one’s sanity.
In the end one of the biggest concepts is, essentially: if/when man finally witnesses something so much bigger than himself, god-like, will he then also be able to handle the sight of such pure, magnificent power? At the centre of his new vision Dr. Xavier can’t seem to see that one last radiant glow of some Other right behind the wall. It drives him mad. Partly, this speaks to an idea that religion, in whatever form (Christian, Muslim, Pagan, anything else), doesn’t have all the answers, nor does science. When Xavier gets to the point he thinks he’s utterly at the top of the food chain, in a manner of speaking, he discovers there’s still a final dimension which he cannot see. At least not in life.
During the final scene, the doctor proclaims to a pastor and his flock that at the core of our existence lies “the eye that sees us all.” And this is what drives him over the edge, that he – merely a man – cannot ever rise to the level of a god. He can be a doctor, perhaps the closest literal occupation to that of a god, wielding life and death right in his hands, but he will never be god-like, not really. That is still something too powerful for even his scientifically engineered eyes to grasp wholly.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-16-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-18-19-pmThere’s much to love about X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Milland does a fantastic bit of work as Dr. Xavier, making us feel sorry for him even after watching his out of control hubris get the best of his better self. The progression of his intent on becoming a god is at times uncomfortable, simply because we can smell a downfall coming a mile away. But that doesn’t mean this story is predictable.
Corman is a great director, whose interest has always been to make the films he’d like to see, in hopes that others share his macabre sensibilities. He runs the gamut of pure horror to more sci-fi-type stuff such as this flick. His influence on genre filmmaking is nearly unparalleled; truthfully, nobody else has touched as many movie making lives as him. He deserves the genre community’s love as much as any other director in the business.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes in this day and age probably looks, in title, cheesy to people. To me, there’s not an ounce of cheese in this movie. There are little funny moments, such as the dialogue from Xavier at a party when a woman says she’s noticed him across the room and he replies that she has “sharp eyes” – the screenplay is not void of humour entirely. Mostly, this is a serious look at a doctor falling headfirst into the deep end, sinking quick and harsh into the mess he’s made fro himself. The God complex in doctors has never before felt so tragic because at the end of the day Xavier did all this to himself, rather than test it on another person. So, in line with poor Icarus and his ill-advised flight, the doctor with his x-ray eyes is more sad than scary, although no less horrific in psychological terms.
All I know is that this film doesn’t ever get enough love, and more people need to see it. We should all be talking about this when the conversation about top science fiction crossed with horror comes up; in Corman we trust.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE: The Nasty Ballad of Harry Warden

My Bloody Valentine. 1981. Directed by George Mihalka. Screenplay by John Beaird from a story by Stephen A. Miller.
Starring Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight, Alf Humphreys, Cynthia Dale, Helene Udy, Rob Stein, Thomas Kovacs, Terry Wayerland, Carl Marotte, Jim Murchison, & Don Francks.
Canadian Film Development Corporation/Famous Players/Paramount Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes (Director’s Cut).

★★★★1/2
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-54-52-amThere are few slasher pictures which give me as much joy as 1981’s My Bloody Valentine. Many non-genre lovers will write this off as just another hack-and-slash serial killer romp, when it is, but it has so much more to offer than only being a toss away horror. In an era when horror was alive, kicking like nobody’s business, this George Mihalka-directed film is one of the greatest. That’s saying something.
This is easily Mihalka’s best work, having mostly dabbled in TV – from movies to series work. I’m not sure why he didn’t stick with the genre, honestly. Maybe this wasn’t as big a hit as expected. Certainly it’s gone on to cult status, with even the likes of Quentin Tarantino raving about it being his favourite of the slasher movies. Regardless, Mihalka does a fine job directing and he’s a big part of why it succeeds.
Having not seen My Bloody Valentine for about 5 years, I almost forgot how vicious it is as a slasher. I remembered loving it, yet throwing it on again recently I found myself pleasantly shocked by some of the death scenes. Better than any of the gory, messy havoc the killer wreaks is the chilling suspense that relentlessly pulls us into the story, only to have us watch victim after victim fall heartlessly (pun intended) to a terrifying menace.
screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-52-50-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-55-38-pmAlways have to do a good opener, and boy, this is a god damn knockout. With the female miner murdered down below ground we get an upsetting and gruesome kill to start off on, as well as the fact it contains such on the nose imagery with the heart tattoo over the woman’s heart, which is then pierced by the mining pick. You’d think this might play as cheesy, instead it’s appropriately nasty. Immediately, the title of the film is more than relevant. It joins the big seasonal horror names, standing alongside the greats like Black ChristmasHalloween, and the superstitiously named Friday the 13th. Much better than stuff like April Fool’s Day, which is still okay, and definitely leagues ahead of far lesser fare such as New Year’s Evil. Funny enough, screenwriter John Beaird did uncredited work on another slasher from ’81 – Happy Birthday to Me.
But My Bloody Valentine does belong up there with the greatest slashers of all time. The killings and the legend behind the story are chilling. One of those campfire-style tales you’d hear from a Scoutmaster trying to scare his troupe; a genuinely creepy story that would chill an adult as much as any kid. Moreover, apart from other holiday-themed horror, setting this film on Valentine’s Day of all days is a stroke of genius. Big corporations and media have already commercialised the day of Cupid to sickening lengths. Mihalka and the ghost of Harry Warden go further to desecrate a day about love by morphing it into a bloody, brutal horror affair, a day when the killer comes home to take revenge on those who celebrate the day of love. Only perfect and fitting that the colour of the day is bright red.
screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-10-33-pmSome of the greatness is in the cinematography. Unlike too many slashers with poor camerawork, the cinematography from Rodney Gibbons – likely the best of his career – is a standout aspect of the production. Over and over, great POV shots from the killer’s perspective turn up to haunt the viewer as victims are hunted like animal prey. The launderette scene is legitimately scary. Our killer is totally savage, but the mining outfit is unnerving, slick black and that mask; jesus! A few times these POV shots crop up and they benefit the suspense incredibly, giving a lot of scenes that perfect spook factor. So many of the kill scenes, all of them, are impressive, as the killer stalks in the darkest spaces, literally driving the plot underground where the tension raises to near unbearable heights. Once we’re down in the mines the look of the film gets even darker, the Sydney Mines in Nova Scotia providing an amazing feel for those scenes.
Aside from the appearance, filming in the mines was rough for the crew due to methane levels necessitating a measured use of lighting, and also in regards to the logistics of taking equipment (plus cast and crew) down to over 2,000 feet below ground. That’s intense. All worked, though. This Nova Scotia location could never have been replicated on a soundstage.
The best of the film is obviously the kills; always is the case with any proper slasher. Finding Mabel’s bloody, torn up corpse in the dryer of the launderette is one of the most shocking and visceral kills of any slasher flick; ever. The reaction from police chief Newby (Don Francks) is entirely appropriate, a horrified, sickening look from head to toe. Then the sadly ironic death of bartender Happy, setting up a Harry Warden scare, cackling to himself only to have the murderously real Warden pop up to stick a pick through his chin right up into his eyeball. Later, a girl dies in the shower and has the shower head spouting water out of her mouth, a creative and horrific death. The practical effects all around are vivid, scary, and unbelievably accomplished. Part of what sells the horror so well overall.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-24-37-amscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-27-13-amMy Bloody Valentine has very few flaws, if any, in terms of the genre. Even a nice score that changes from kill to kill in a unique way, courtesy of Paul Zaza (Prom NightCurtains), something that’s always welcome in a good horror. Mihalka does a sterling job in the directorial department, shame he didn’t go on to more creepiness.
Certain slashers do best for their atmosphere, letting the kills act as byproducts of the story and character. Some get the atmosphere just right and add in plenty of blood to slick the screen. This one is of the latter category. You can cut the tension with a knife in more than a handful of scenes. And really, if you find yourself lacking the necessary kill count or bloody onscreen then maybe you just want a splatter flick. Because this one brings the goods.
Ever since first seeing it, this film has stuck with me. I dig slashers, I don’t always need them to be truly awesome. Now and then I settle for one only for the fact it has a decent premise at the core; if it goes nowhere, at least maybe a couple gnarly kills can make up for a lack of compelling story. But Mihalka’s work here with the screenplay from John Beaird does wonders for the genre. More people need to see this, and stay away from the shit pile of a remake. This is a slasher that stands the test of time. It has a great look and even better murder. Let’s face it: the death is why we come. Everything else, for better or worse, is secondary.

THE CRAZIES: A Different Romero Infection

The Crazies. 1973. Directed & Written by George A. Romero; based on a script by Paul McCollough.
Starring Lane Carroll, Will MacMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar, Lynn Lowry, Richard Liberty, Richard France, Harry Spillman, & Will Disney.
Pittsburgh Films.
Rated R. 103 minutes.
Action/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★
posterI’m a huge fan of George A. Romero and his movies, and not just the zombie flicks either. He’s always been politically and socially aware, even if he’s telling stories of terrifying epidemics. People too often overlook the genuinely poignant ideas in certain screenplays of his simply because they’re only horror movies.
But horror is like any other genre. When a writer wants to infuse their stories with sociopolitical messages, no matter how heavy or light the infusion may get, they’ll put it in there. Night of the Living Dead, the series it begat, these were aware, conscious films that used zombies to carry various little messages Romero felt were worth exploring.
The Crazies isn’t particularly one of Romero’s best works. I’d put the Dead series and Martin above this movie, without a second thought. That’s not to say this is all bad. Romero does a few really great things in The Crazies, and regardless of whether the whole matches up to its parts his writing is still solid. There are issues with pacing, too much needless dialogue. What the film gets right is its sense of panic, the frantic nature of how people would react if an unknown epidemic came down upon their quiet little town. And yes, things absolutely do get crazy. Of this there is no doubt.
pic1After an unnerving opening scene the pace lags for an inordinately long time. The screenplay plays like a procedural, except it would’ve served better to get into more action or horror. There’s a definite intensity to the plot, there’s just a lack of any real tension. Romero could easily have done better by starting with a bigger heavier bang. The first scene is creepy, but after that it’s a near half hour before anything else significantly creepy and/or violent happens. This makes The Crazies a bit tedious for the first while. Yes, that does change. Doesn’t change quick enough.
Yet once that old lady uses a knitting needle to stab the NBC-suited man and then sits back down happily, the scary, all too human horror commences bearing down on the viewer with a frantic passion. Although the pace lacks in certain sections much of the acting is appropriately intense and even frenzied when necessary. The feeling that everyone’s going crazy, all human interactions tense, comes across well in a few of the performances. One sort of funny though perfect moment happens when a field full of infected people run mad, being gunned down at the hands of the military – the whole sequence is totally unhinged and beyond depraved, however, it’s the infected woman sweeping the grass I find interesting. This shows us violence isn’t the only option to the infection’s madness; the remnants of these people still exist.
pic2This brings us to one of the best parts about the film. What’s scariest to me about the infection in this Romero story is how the people inflicted with it seem like the same, regular people they were before, just gone totally insane – unlike zombies from Romero’s other works, these crazies aren’t hideously deformed, or even dead, they’re human beings gone utterly mental. The clearest, most precise look at this horror comes when the survivors make it to a farmhouse. Plot-wise, the movie gets most brutal and grim at this point. We see here how infection can drive people to the most sickeningly nasty recesses of their own mind.
The Crazies is one of the earliest movies involving infection/epidemic to explore the military dark side, in that as survivors from the small town try desperately to escape for safety, the army flies overhead and marches on the town, trying to kill off anyone and everyone attempting to leave the quarantine zone. This becomes a norm in the sub-genre of zombies (et cetera): the military is most concerned with covering their own mistakes than saving lives. A lot of themes swirl around the writing from Romero here, which explore the nature of war, the way science and technology have affected our war (and our morals), plus how during times of crisis not all the rules get followed. Again, so much good writing despite the screenplay’s downfalls.
pic1My chief problem with this picture is that it lacks the appropriate amount of horror. What we do get is good. There’s far too much drama and dialogue that doesn’t necessarily do justice to the characters or the plot and story. If Romero went harder at the horror in more scenes, The Crazies would be a genre classic, rather than a mediocre footnote on his career as director.
The depravity and murder comes out in full force. We’re never totally lacking. I’m not sure exactly how much of the original script from Paul McCollough, a close friend of Romero, made it into this final draft. His story, The Mad People, was given over to George with McCollough’s blessing to turn into something different. So, I’d love to know what was in that original draft, as opposed to what ended up onscreen. I feel like Romero held back something, that he maybe felt his friend had a better concept than what he’d imagined. Or who knows. Maybe he just wanted to do something different from the Dead films.
I don’t care if parts of the movie are boring. There’s always gold in even some of the lesser Romero movies. This is a 3 out of 5 star horror flick. Not his best, although saying it’s his worst doesn’t do it the right justice, either. I mean, you get to see a priest self-immolate in front of his congregation and the army, lots of wild death and mayhem. There are sections you might want to fast forward; don’t. Because in between the craziness and the little boring pieces, there’s dialogue worth hearing, other things worth noticing. You might not love it all. Give it a chance, don’t expect the exact quality of Romero’s best, and you’ll likely enjoy it enough for a nice romp on Halloween.