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!

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.

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.

The Exorcist – Season 1, Chapter Nine: “162”

FOX’s The Exorcist
Season 1, Episode 9: “162”
Directed by Bill Johnson
Written by Franklin Jin Rho & Jeremy Slater

* For a review of Chapter Eight, “The Griefbearers” – click here
* For a review of Chapter Ten, “Three Rooms” – click here
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With Chris MacNeil dead, where does the Rance family go from here? Angela (Geena Davis) tells her bullshit story while Pazuzu rules from inside. Henry (Alan Ruck) and Kat (Brianne Howey) don’t know much what to make of it, but it’s clear the demon works hard to cover things up. More than that, Superintendent Jaffey (Tim Hopper), possessed himself, is present. The demon in him recognises the one in Regan.
Then we see a flash to Regan, watching her daughter about to have her neck snapped. And time freezes: “Ah, together again,” says the Salesman (Robert Emmet Lunney) as they become one after so long.
So what will we see from the demons, working in legion as a whole entity? Very interesting, and very troublesome.
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Casey (Hannah Kasulka) is back at home. All the people are gone, only a memorial to Chris, discarded signs, candles remain. But we’re constantly seeing Regan become more ingratiated to the demon’s personality.
In other news, Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) is forever on the case. He still has the help of Cherry and Lester Rego (Keira Naughton & Ken Marks). They’ve got a line on a bit of information concerning Brother Simon (Francis Guinan). Now they’re worried that if Bennett’s in trouble, which he is, then they may know about everything – Mother Bernadette (Deanna Dunagan), the Rances, maybe even Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) and his involvement with it all. Speaking of Tomas, he’s having dinner with the Rance family, who are getting over the loss of their grandmother and the tumultuous times they’ve gone through as of late. At the table, Casey is incredibly quiet; her eyes speak volumes. And Kat, she notices the nonchalant way in which Angela tosses of her own mother’s death. Eerie few moments. Plus a little later Henry talks about hearing a lot of voices, murmuring in his head; the voices all mash together and repeat the number 162.
The Regos are out taking pictures of Brother Simon and they might’ve been spotted. Although the old priest heads on in to meet with the Superintendent of Police, Maria Walters (Kirsten Fitzgerald), and others. Then? Pazuzu arrives. They talk of Father Merrin, plans for Pope Sebastian, so on. Looks as if Pazuzu is much more powerful than any of the other demons present. So powerful, he makes just about every one of them kneel; well, grovel to the floor on their bellies. He makes Simon kiss Regan’s shoes, too. They’re all in line finally, bearing down on the “sanctimonious whores” they’ll target next.


Bishop Egan (Brad Armacost) talks with Father Tomas. He offers up a bigger position elsewhere, as well as the fact they’re closing St. Anthony’s, where Tomas has his parish. And it’s through this conversation the young priest tries divulging his recent sins. However, the bishop doesn’t exactly care too much. Most of all he wants Tomas and his prying ways out of their hair in Chicago. No matter if the priest has been unfaithful to his vows.
The ever sly Father Marcus is sneaking around in the back of the church while Tomas is out chatting. They discuss the pending transfer. But Marcus knows more. He advises “mind your back” and to keep an eye out. Then he’s called away by the Regos.
Casey’s recovering, although her mind weighs heavy. She still doesn’t seem herself even if Kat tries to treat her normally. She’s feeling guilty because of the dead paramedics, regardless if it was actually her doing the killing. “You survived,” Kat tries assuring her. Sometimes, though, that isn’t enough.
When Marcus gets back to see Cherry and Lester, he finds them dead. Bullet holes in them. He says a prayer over their corpses, searching the place for a few bullets to take with the gun. At the same time Mother Bernadette receives a visit from Angela: “We shouldve killed you when we had a chance,” the nun says plainly. Thus follows the death of Bernadette, and who the hell knows what’ll happen to the other sisters who show up immediately afterwards. When Marcus gets there, he finds a massacre (note: a great instance of what sometimes we DON’T see is scarier than what we DO see).
At home, Angela talks to Casey about her possession. “At a certain point you asked for it,” mom tells her daughter. That’s so… gross. Pazuzu tries forming a bond between mother and daughter, though I can’t help feel like Casey’s going to start noticing there is something not quite right with mama.
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There’s a big ceremony going on, Superintendent Jaffey, Mrs. Walters, Bishop Egan, Father Tomas, and all sorts of guests are present. Maria takes the stage to give a little speech for everybody. She speaks of Pope Sebastian and his ray of light amongst the darkness in Chicago. Everyone’s quite excited. Some, obviously, much more than others.
In bed, Angela and Henry get close for the first time in so long. Then she starts choking him, rough. To the point it isn’t remotely fun. I think, finally, Henry’s getting that something is wrong with his wife, more than ever. I worry for him, as well. Then there’s Casey – she witnesses Pazuzu in her mother, running hands all over Kat’s body in a sexual way. HOLY SHIT, that’s disturbing. The demon wants what he wants, and that’s it. Casey can see what’s happening. She knows.
Brother Simon sits in his suite, drinking, eating oysters and other tasty treats. Definitely not what you’d expect of a holy man; he sucks caviar from his fingers and laps it all up. Before Father Marcus barges his way inside, kicking the shit out of the old demon before filling a bathtub with water and a bit of sacramental salt. He dunks the demon’s face in, asking for more info. Except Brother Simon tells him about how the coming death of the Pope is inevitable: “Romes shame, come full circle.”
Marcus is now at the mercy of Brother Simon – he’s got the bowl of ash out, the vocare pulvere dish. Is he going to try possessing Marcus?!?
Under cover of night, Casey gets Kat and her father ready. They’re leaving without Angela; the demon Pazuzu has her. But the demon wants a family meeting. Nobody’s going anywhere. Pazuzu and the girl formerly known as Regan have become fully integrated. Permanent possession. The demon then talks about their history, how God cast them all down after creating Man, et cetera. Turns out the demon is also going to have to hurt one of the family, to make sure they’re punished properly. And it’s Casey. Pazuzu chokes her until Tomas arrives: “Get the hell away from her.”


Oh shit! Another gorgeous, disturbing, compelling episode. As it’s been from the beginning.
The finale is next. Wow, I hope they give us another season. We need it. Last episode is titled “Three Rooms” and I’m not even able to imagine where it’ll take us. Hopefully FOX will renew the show, if not I’m sure Slater & Co. have a fun ending for the season to take us away.

The Exorcist – Season 1, Chapter Six: “Star of the Morning”

FOX’s The Exorcist
Season 1, Episode 6: “Star of the Morning”
Directed by Jennifer Phang
Written by Laura Marks

* For a review of Chapter Five, “Through My Most Grievous Fault” – click here
* For a review of Chapter Seven, “Father of Lies” – click here
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After the longest break of my god damn life, The Exorcist returns after dropping the bomb that Angela Rance (Geena Davis) is in fact Regan MacNeil. We start on an old television show where young Regan and her mother are being interviewed about the whole Georgetown incident. She doesn’t remember much, though her mother insists she does. “The demon girl” obviously had to do some distancing to get away from her past since that show. I find it fascinating they did this, plot-wise, as the whole thing opens up a lot of great paths the show can take from here. Dig it wholeheartedly.
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Chris MacNeil (Sharon Gless) has shown up on the Rances doorstep. She and Kat (Brianne Howey) try to do a little bonding, sort of, while Angela is decidedly unhappy about her mother showing up. Unfortunately there’s the whole cover-up asect to Angela’s marriage, Henry (Alan Ruck), very appropriately, is upset about what his wife has hidden. Can he blame her? She was exorcised, she saw several people die – albeit while possessed – and went through a terrifying ordeal. It’s sad that she couldn’t tell her husband at some point, however, I don’t blame her.
Everyone’s clearly worried for Casey (Hannah Kasulka), who is god knows where and doing who knows what. Right now Henry wants to take his chances with the mother-in-law. All to find his daughter; she’s now on the lam and people are left dead in her wake. I’m even more worried for Angela right now. Her old life is clawing back. She even hears strange noises in her head for just a moment. All the same, Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) feels pissed about not having all the facts before going into Casey’s room. “Possession is like a virus,” he tells the scared mother and makes painfully obvious what the consequences are if they can’t find her daughter in time. “Integration” – the next step – is a permanent destruction of the soul, when the girl’s soul will come inextricably linked to that of the demon. Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) feels that his counterpart is a bit harsh. They simply don’t have enough time to piss about.
A press conference is called, the Rances in attendance with famous grandma in tow. They’re the centre of a publicity carnival. But not everyone is so concerned with the Rance family. People were murdered – butchered, and brutally – recently and nobody seems too quick to seek out the answer on that. Meanwhile, we see some of the dastardly, wholesale nastiness of those that killed these victims, using the organs taken for sinister purposes. A woman at the press conference calls out the names of the victims, hoping for justice. Nobody there understands exactly the significance of those murders, not just yet.

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The police are curious about Father Marcus, having been arrested after performing the exorcism. They want to shut the whole “possession” story down, so as not to confuse the public. Of course they show Angela and Henry the pictures of what happened during the ambulance ride Casey took. Upstairs, Chris tries to talk with Kat about what happened to her mother, formerly known as Regan. A media circus ensued, partly because Chris needed to keep her career alive. She talks about the Ouija board and “Captain Howdy.” Eerie fucking conversation, to say the least. Kat believes her grandmother is victim blaming a little by attributing it all to Regan not listening about the Ouija being no good, although Chris admits she failed her own daughter ultimately.
Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan) and Father Marcus are still getting a bit of help from Cherry and Lester Rego in their quest outside the reaches, and know, of the Church. And in a defiant statement, as per his bad ass usual, Marcus tells Bennett: “I dont care about Gods will.” At the very same time something terribly ungodly calls Angela over the phone, taunting her about Casey. The demon produces a horrific image for the frantic mother. All a dream. Has Pazuzu returned for Regan?
Then there’s Jessica (Mouzam Makkar), she’s left her husband and found herself a new apartment. A place where there’s no “guilt” and no “shame” for neither she, nor Father Tomas. He still resists, even though he loves her. Deeply, too. His faith has been shaken in so many ways at once it’s likely he doesn’t know where to turn.

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Poor Henry’s having a lot of trouble. With his recent head injury there are gaps in his memory. He says what held that together is his wife, his family. Most of what hurts him is the fact Angela couldn’t trust him enough to reveal her former life as Regan MacNeil. There are more problems for Angela, as well. She isn’t happy about her mother returning, dragging the media into their home all over again. “You used me,” Angela yells at Chris. Worse than any of that the coroner calls. They may have Casey.
Simultaneously, a report of wild dogs going mad in a neighbourhood prompts Father Tomas to text Marcus, which sets the renegade priest off to check it out.
At the party Maria Walters (Kirsten Fitzgerald) throws for the upcoming papal visit, Father Bennett comes across Dr. John Rexroth (Michael Patrick Thornton), whose talk of angels on Earth draws his attention. Bennett believes what the doctor is actually talking about are demons in our world trying to influence how it works.
At the coroner’s office everyone awaits the news of whether Casey is dead. In go Angela and Henry to make the identification. Gladly, their daughter is still alive. Yet surely in a great deal of existential agony. Finally, Chris and the girl formerly known as Regan embrace. Maybe those wounds can heal. Someday.
The real excitement is in the journey of Father Marcus into the underbelly of the city. He finds a tunnel filled with homeless, possibly possessed individuals. He searches for Casey, calling her name. One woman looks him dead in the eye, repeating: “Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it.” All around him are the signs of evil at work. Then from nowhere Marcus is attacked. He commands them in the name of Christ, which holds them at bay temporarily. Behind him Casey crawls the walls and the floor doing the spider walk her mother did down the stairs all those years ago.

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At the Walters party we come to discover that Dr. Rexroth, Maria herself, one of the priests, among others, are in fact working together in order to complete the vocare pulvere ritual. They even have the little bowl of ashes those killers filled with the ashes of the organs they’d stolen. Wow. I didn’t see this coming, at all. “Star of the morning” is a reference to Lucifer, The Morning Star. Brother Simon (Francis Guinan) leads the ceremony.
All of a sudden, HE IS COMING doesn’t only signal the coming of the Pope. And what’s worse is the fact there are so many influential people at that table, including the police superintendent. “Please take me” everyone around the table declares, as the priest at the table blows ashes into the air. It is in fact the superintendent who receives demonic power from the ashes, and something other takes over his body.
Everyone present looks very, very pleased. A delighted, evil laughter rises from the table. Maria doesn’t look particularly happy; she wanted to be chosen. How sad when the devil passes you over.
On the shore near the tunnel Father Marcus locates Casey feasting on a sea bird. He approaches her, reciting Christian incantation. Before the demon attacks him, trying its best to murder the priest. A perfect place, kinda. Marcus uses the water to in effect baptise Casey, releasing the demon. Then she returns, herself once more.
Except she tells Marcus: “Hes coming back. Help me.”

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This was the best episode yet! Creepiest, nastiest, wildest, most intriguing. So much going on. The preview for Chapter Seven “Father of Lies” looks insane. Seems Pazuzu is back for revenge against the girl able to survive his wrath. Excited to see what’s next.

Channel Zero – Candle Cove, Episode 4: “A Strange Vessel”

SyFy’s Channel Zero
Season 1, Episode 4: “A Strange Vessel”
Directed by Craig William Macneill
Written by Erica Saleh

* For a review of the previous episode, “Want to See Something Cool?” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Guest of Honor” – click here
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With Mike Painter’s (Paul Schneider) daughter Lily (Abigail Pniowsky) at his mother’s step in Iron Hill, will we discover more secrets behind his childhood? In 1988, Mike and Jessica talking about Eddie, the kids starting to go missing. Then Mike shows her a Pirate Percy doll his brother made recently. No sooner does Candle Cove come on, the skull-headed figure announcing: “Do you sense it? Something is coming. A strange vessel is headed for the cove!”
In the present day Mike tries to figure out how his daughter got all the way back to his hometown, at grandma Marla’s (Fiona Shaw). Lily’s spaced out, no answers for her father. But you know that deep down Mike understands this connects with Eddie, the other missing and dead children. And maybe Marla understands that, too.
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Standing in the hallway of the hospital Jessica (Natalie Brown) can clearly see there are multiple children all witnessing strange things. Candle Cove characters appear all over the wall in kids’ drawings. At least Jessica’s kids are making up. Uh oh – she also notices her boy Dane is missing a tooth. That’s because Katie has it, and the grin across her face as she looks at it is disturbing.
While Mike tries to explain to his wife their daughter showed up in Iron Hill, Jessica goes to see her husband, Sheriff Gary (Shaun Benson), as he sits behind bars. I mean, he fucked up. He’s still convinced Mike is dangerous, advising his wife to go home and get his gun, to keep it close. Just in case. However, husband Gary isn’t aware that his wife’s reconnected online with Mike as of late, before his breakdown and his trip home.
Amy Welch (Luisa D’Oliveira) is busy running things at the station, between actual work and turning down a fellow officer’s sort of sweet advances. I hope to see more of her. It’ll be nice to have her take on a bigger role at work because of Gary’s situation.
Switch back to ’88. Jessica doesn’t particularly like Eddie much, preferring Mike’s company. Especially seeing as how Eddie went pretty weird after watching too much Candle Cove. In the present Jessica meets Lily, who’s still pretty spacey. When she asks the little girl what she likes, Lily replies: “I like pirates.” Oh, for fuck sakes! Then, in the wall of the living room, she pulls out the Pirate Percy doll. She also says she isn’t Lily. Her doctor dad tries to do his thing, analysing; is Lily channelling the spirit of her dead uncle Eddie? Speaking of, we go back to ’88 again when he tells Mike about how every time they send somebody off to Candle Cove, “it gets stronger” – the Tooth Child? Regardless, there was a division between the brothers, and clearly Eddie felt that slipping, worried his brother would love a girl more than him. Tragic, really, as well as part of growing up, figuring life out.

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We get a strange reenactment in the shadows, what looks like kids wearing papier-mâché replicas of the Candle Cove characters. Then there’s an amazing matching shot of young Mike and Eddie playing cards, which then cuts to Mike playing cards with his daughter; more evidence of the fact she’s channelling uncle Ed. Also, a terrifying figure lurks in the shadows as father and daughter/brother play. What is it? A pirate?
Only problem with the whole channelling dead Eddie thing is that it really gets to Marla. She’s a good woman, whose family was just torn right open. Mike has been immersed in this weirdness his entire life, or most of it; she’s only been experiencing the truth behind everything recently. And she doesn’t know exactly how to handle all those emotions. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep it together. At the same time, Mike talks to his brother through Lily; about his murder. Basically Eddie’s soul needs to get put to rest. Until then Lily ain’t Lily.
Those creepy mask wearing kids are no doubt those crazies Mrs. Booth has been training. Deputy Welch winds up talking to the old teacher, worried about what she saw them doing recently by the roadside – stabbing the shit out of a mannequin. They speak a bit of ’88, Jacob… then we’re back to that time once more, as Eddie goes to see Jacob Booth. Oh, my. I can see it coming now. Candle Cove comes on. Mother hugs her son Jacob tight, kissing him with tears in her eyes. Is she doing what I think she’s doing?
Eddie once tricked Jessica and tried sending her to Candle Cove. So brother confronts brother. Eventually, Mike gets the upper hand by pulling back those injured fingers on Eddie’s hand and running off. Present day once more, there are other nasty children skulking about. Amy tries to track down those kids at the school only to stumble into a darkened room where computer screens with Candle Cove screensavers pop up. On she goes to the gym where the mask wearers shout “Protect the ship” before Amy interrupts. Jesus, these kids are creepy.

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Mike and Jessica go the morgue where Eddie’s body lies shelved. They’re taking the next necessary step to try returning Lily to normal. They burn his remains out in the woods. Simultaneously, grandma can’t seem to keep her eyes off her granddaughter, the spirit of her dead son looking back. If all this works, that spirit will be gone soon enough. Good, and sad in a way for Marla.
In other parts of Iron Hill bad things are on their way. Deputy Welch is at home with her Chinese food, the friendly law enforcement suitor from earlier in bed next to her. Little does she know there are awful kids coming for her. In a last minute move she heads over to see Mrs. Booth. No answer. So Amy finds the spare key and lets herself in. Noises lead her down to the basement. There she finds unpleasant jars, a Candle Cove doll, a dead Daphne being feasted on by a cat. GET OUT, AMY!
It seems the masked kids didn’t go to see the deputy after all. Jessica discovers them in her home, wielding knives. They start stabbing her, so she pulls the gun. But who could kill a kid, right? This sends her outside, as the kids crowd her in the little pool and stab her repeatedly under the watchful eye of Mrs. Booth.
Later in the night Lily wakes. She’s herself again, finally. Although she doesn’t remember a single thing. It was all a “nightmare” her father says. But the nightmare’s just beginning.

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What a savage episode. This one frayed my nerves, genuine fright a couple times. There’s just this true sense of dread and suspense. I never expected Jessica to come across those kids. That really threw me for a complete loop.
Next episode is titled “Guest of Honor” and I’m in awe trying to think of what they’ll do next on this series. Love this show. Give me another 5 seasons, right now. So many great, classic Creepypastas they could use.

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.

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.

TASTE OF FEAR: Gothic Family Secrets

Taste of Fear. 1961. Directed by Seth Holt. Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster.
Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee, & Fred Johnson.
Hammer Films/Falcon Films.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterFrom about the mid ’50s up and into the ’70s, Hammer Films were known well for their often Gothic-styled horror movies, known affectionately then and certainly now as Hammer Horror. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who plays the role of Dr. Pierre Gerrard in this film, were staples of these movies, as well as directors like Terence Fisher and others. Too many good titles to name. However, those of us horror hounds who’ve seen more than our fair share probably know Hammer best from their versions of stories about the classic monsters like Dracula (in various forms), Frankenstein, The Mummy, and then there’s stuff like One Million Years B.C. and Rasputin, the Mad Monk.
In fact, Lee is quoted as saying that he felt Taste of Fear was Hammer Films’ best production, from the top on down. And I have to say, much as I love a lot of Hammer Horror this Seth Holt-directed, Jimmy Sangster-scripted Gothic mystery is at the top of the heap; if not the decorative star.
Both chilling and also sly, the further you get into the plot, the less sure you are of who’s keeping the biggest secret from whom. And that’s not frustrating, it is totally compelling. With a grimly fun story that keeps you guessing and the backdrop of a perfect Gothic estate, Taste of Fear also contains a measured performance from Susan Strasberg as the wheelchair-bound Penny Appleboy; her journey towards the truth is the viewer’s next nightmare.
pic3That Gothic feel is twofold. First in terms of the large house, the type of place you’d expect to be in a film such as this one. It gives Holt and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (1945’s Dead of Night, later went on to do Raiders of the Lost ArkIndiana Jones and the Temple of DoomIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade; plus plenty more) one huge location to turn into a haunted playground of memories. Furthermore, the characters make for a perfect Gothic cast, from the jet-set father supposedly away on business, his paralysed daughter who gets left with her new stepmother, a chauffeur who may or may not know of deeper, darker family secrets, and a suspicious doctor. Sangster’s writing is excellent. These characters alone are interesting enough to propel the simple plot. And in no way is simple a bad thing. Sangster is able to give us interesting characters and tons of suspense, which Holt draws out to grasp the viewer.
Cinematography is the biggest reason to love this movie. Slocombe is a genius, and Holt’s directorial choices only help make his work better. The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is striking. More than that the camerawork itself should be noted. At certain points in a few scenes, Slocombe puts us directly in the perspective of Penny using POV shots. One is after she topples into the pool, a very neat shot from out of the water; another while she rolls in her chair, slowly, so that you almost feel your heart pound in place of hers. Also, there are these intense closeup shots of eyes and faces throughout the film, such as when we watch Penny discovering the corpse of her father around the house and her scream literally fills the screen. But what these shots of the eyes and faces, notably in fear, do is make that fear real for the viewer. It’s a great technique and heightens the frayed emotion of Penny at every turn.
pic1The overall haunting imagery is what will keep this movie fresh in your mind. After Penny starts to see her father’s corpse, apparently, staring at her in a deathly pose, she naturally begins to have emotional and mental troubles. This begins her awful paranoia, the questioning of her own sanity. Using those POV shots, Holt and Slocombe place us in a very psychologically fragile perspective. This imagery helps us feel embedded in the story and the idea of secrets. Everybody is hiding something, and until late in the story we’re not entirely sure whose is what or exactly why they’re hiding anything. Without spoiling anything, as the story unfolds nobody is who they seem, and the writing keeps us figuratively in the dark, right to the most tense, effective moment when the rug gets pulled out from under our feet. There’s a reason for everything.
Even if you feel a little tricked by what you’ve seen, isn’t that the job of a film: to trick you into believing that what you’re seeing is real?
My favourite scene is the underwater pool scene when Mr. Appleby is seemingly found at the bottom. The cinematography is perfect, as we wade through the water with the character. The actor playing Appleby is stone-faced, eyes open, with a snarl which slowly settles over the viewer. We gaze into his stare to a point it becomes terribly unsettling. This scene has always stuck with me since seeing the film a few years back.
pic2-1Taste of Fear has a great performance as its crowned jewel: Susan Strasberg. She doesn’t oversell the screams or the paranoia, she hits every note so beautifully on the head. Moreover, her convincing portrayal of a young woman going mad – or is she? – plays to the writing so well that most viewers, now and then, probably would never guess the big twist. If you do it’s still an enjoyable ride.
Too many people pass over classic movies these days because they’re far too immersed in shitty modern style. Lots of great modern horror, I don’t mean there isn’t, but I’ve come across too many supposed film fans who’ve barely seen anything before 1985. It’s absurd. So go back and watch some of these Hammer flicks, especially this one. I forgot to mention that it’s also got one of my favourite scores from the ’60s, so that’s another added bonus – Clifton Parker (Night of the Demon) gives us a load of cracking pieces that pound away, relentless, attacking the nerves and at other moments whisks us away to a dreamy landscape.
Do yourself a favour, experience Taste of Fear, which is also known under the title Scream of Fear. It’s a Gothic horror with a solid dose of psychological terror to boot. The actors will keep you sticking around for the story, and the writing’s fantastic. A underrated bit of cinema from 1961 that we should all be revisiting. Particularly during late October.

Channel Zero – Candle Cove, Episode 3: “Want to See Something Cool?”

SyFy’s Channel Zero
Season 1, Episode 3: “Want to See Something Cool?”
Directed by Craig William Macneill
Written by Harley Peyton

* For a review of the previous episode, “I’ll Hold Your Hand” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “A Strange Vessel” – click here
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We start in 1988. The Painter Twins sit at the table with their parents, making a wish for their birthday; they decide to make a wish for one another. It was a happier time. Nowadays, Marla Painter (Fiona Shaw) tries to get rid of all the memories of her son, since finding out the truth.
In other parts of Iron Hill, new generations of kids are seeing Candle Cove and all its strangeness. Are there about to be more dead children turning up?
Marla goes to talk with her son Mike (Paul Schneider) at the police station. Only he’s not there, of course. Sheriff Gary Yolen (Shaun Benson) is taking him somewhere else.
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Headed elsewhere, Gary shuttles Mike along while he rattles on about broken dreams. Fiona clues Amy Welch (Luisa D’Oliveira) in on what’s happening, as well as Jessica (Natalie Brown); all three are fairly stunned by whatever Gary is up to, and what IS he up to? They’re up at an unfinished home, where the lawman wants to sit Mike down. Y’know, for a chat.
We get a flash back to ’88 and watch Mrs. Booth with her son Jacob (Connor Peterson), the one that tragically turned up in the hills without teeth. We see his mother hit the floor suddenly, having what looks like an epileptic fit. In the present day, Mrs. Booth tries to carry on, although in her classroom one of the kids on their device gets a sudden transmission of Candle Cove that sends him into a near trance.
Tim Hazel (David Brown) shows up at the house where Gary’s keeping Mike. Looks like there may be something nasty brewing, even if Tim says they’re only there to “talk.” Naturally, Mike starts talking about Candle Cove, but nobody’s willing to listen to him. Daphne Bell (Gwendolyn Collins) is also present and she shows Mike pictures of all the kids that went missing back then, including Tim’s brother Gene and her own cousin. Ah, an even more personal connection for them both. Everybody believes that Mike had more to do with the murders than just his own brother.
Another flashback: “Wanna see something cool?” a young Mike asks Gene. He says he’s headed up to the crow’s nest. Oh, my. What else don’t we know about Dr. Painter? The former friends start interrogating him, trying to get what they want; what they need.
When young Mike led Gene up to the nest, Eddie starts showing the kid “stuff in his head.” What? All of a sudden Gene is a mindless drone working off the beck and call of Eddie. To the point he must “pay the toll” by ripping out a couple teeth. OH, FUCK ME. Afterwards he can walk the plank into Candle Cove, which actually means Gene walked over the cliff to his death. So Mike’s story is that, all those years ago he had to stop his brother from doing worse at the hands of that horrific television series.

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Amy is out looking for Gary and Mike. She only finds a group of kids stabbing a mannequin with knives. When she tries to talk to them they scatter like animals. Things in Iron Hill are getting awfully gruesome. Up at the makeshift interrogation Mike is trying to convince them all about what Candle Cove does to people, and that it’s still working its dark magic on them all. Daphne agrees, partly. She’s had dreams about the show, remembering specific images. Even Gary starts to lean a bit towards it, although Tim doesn’t have much time for any of these theories. He’d prefer to break the gun out and get rough. And in a brief second Mike is shot in the shoulder, right before Marla and Jessica show up. They stop Tim from doing something crazy. I’m more concerned about Gary. He’s way too easily influenced and as a sheriff he should lose his fucking job. Certainly doesn’t help his case when Amy arrives, either. She pulls her gun on him to get the one in his hand neutralised. A serious breach of ethics there, Sheriff Yolen.
Out in a field Mike parks his car for a nap. Then up creeps the Tooth Child to suck on his fingers. A grotesquely wonderful image I won’t soon forget!
Psyche – just a dream. In the hospital, Marla sits with her son and he rests up after his gunshot. Like any good cop Amy wants to find out what was going on up at that house. Mike tries laying out his story about Eddie falling under the influence of Candle Cove, et cetera, and you know how that sounds to anybody normal listening: like batshit nonsense. Yet something needs to explain all the mysterious events surrounding Iron Hill, people are looking for answers. One big surprise is that Marla’s now telling Amy that her son didn’t confess to murdering his brother. And why? Maybe mom is starting to clue in on something having gone wrong with her other boy way back in the day.
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Mrs. Booth gets a visit from Daphne, shocked and sickened by the way Tim reacted to everything earlier. The old woman is concerned about Mike, hoping he’s all right, and advises Daphne to turn herself in. That won’t be necessary. Because the older of the two has devious plans. She sinks a meathook into Daphne at the neck. “You shouldnt fuck with Mike Painter.” Seems that Candle Cove and the powers behind it have other things in mind for their old buddy Mike.
The children of Iron Hill are over at Mrs. Booth’s place, watching the creepy show. She has cocoa for them. They’ve been good boys and girls. “Where did you leave the body?” she asks them all before they crowd around for a warm, chocolatey treat. Good lord, this is delicious good horror. Is this lady grooming these kids, so they can make sacrifices to the Tooth Child?
Meanwhile, up in Westchester, the rest of the Painter family sleeps. Little Lily Painter is in for a bad night, though. On the television we can hear the faint music of an eerie show, and then Lily is gone in the darkness. At the very same time something creeps in the shadows around Mike as he sleeps in Iron Hill.
Nobody’s getting any rest tonight. During the night Marla hears strange noises. When she investigates – there is the Tooth Child in the living room. But wait! Only a dream again. Looks like the dreams are infecting her, as well. Nobody is safe from the reach of Candle Cove. Out in the street, Lily stands by herself. Mike rushes to her side and she appears in a trance, as the Tooth Child watches from upstairs in the window – watching, waiting, hungry as ever.

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Jesus christ on a fucking slice of Melba! This was an incredible episode with lots of things happening. Plus, more Tooth Child than ever. Great, great stuff. Excited for the next episode titled “A Strange Vessel” and I’m eager to see how each little plot plays out from one chapter to the next. Solid, terrifying writing with plenty mystery to chew on.

Of Shadows & Smart Directors: Herk Harvey’s CARNIVAL OF SOULS

Carnival of Souls. 1962. Directed by Herk Harvey. Screenplay by Harvey & John Clifford.
Starring Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Stan Levitt, Art Ellison, & Herk Harvey.
Harcourt Productions.
Rated R. 84 minutes (Director’s Cut).
Fantasy/Horror/Mystery

★★★★★
posterCertain films need their elaborate style and screenplay in order to elicit the wanted response. Others make perfectly do with a more minimal and simplistic style, opting to use that bare bones ethic to do wonders. In 1962, Herk Harvey took a break from making industrial and educational shorts, as well as documentaries, to direct the only single feature film of his career: Carnival of Souls.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love the story, the execution, all of it. I don’t think that you can watch this flick without paying attention to how great a job Harvey did as a director in terms of stretching the budget every inch possible while still making the whole production work to the best of its ability.
Harvey’s unexpected cult classic was the precursor to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and to a lesser extent Eraserhead from the twisted mind of David Lynch. Not to mention probably a dozen other movies; those are simply the closest ones after this picture. Carnival of Souls doesn’t need any blood, it came before the genre exploded and some horror relied too much on the jump scare. On – approximately – $33K Harvey filled his tale of life and death with enough atmosphere, creative camerawork, and unnerving imagery to match that of five films. If you don’t find it scary, that’s fine; to each their own.
But me? I still see those pale faces sometimes when I’m looking for things lurking beyond the veil of darkness.
pic1Low budget and a minimalist approach can sometimes push a director to make smart, economic choices which in turn make a film better as a whole. Harvey’s use of light and shadow is impeccable. Along with the makeup, this creates an otherworldly black-and-white film that feels akin to watching one of your own nightmares; maybe one from when you were a kid, one that plays all grainy in the back of your mind while you try and remember all the little bits and pieces. Right as the title ripples onto the frame over the water of a river you can feel yourself dropping into another place, another time. The graininess of the movie’s look isn’t a hindrance. It’s part of the charm.
Another large part of that charming effect is the score from Gene Moore. It’s all done with an organ, and that’s cool for a couple reasons. First, it fits with Mary (Candace Hilligoss) being a church organist, so that is kind of fun switching from music in the movie itself played by her character to the actual score; a seamless move between the same instrument becomes an interesting aural aspect. Secondly it’s a spooky background that pulls the viewer into the gloomy, morbid – though fascinating – atmosphere.
pic2Perhaps the best of Harvey comes in his directorial choices. For instance, in the scenes involving a moving car he opted not to use rear projection; this was, at the time, an industry standard for such scenes. Instead of that Harvey had these scenes shot with a hand-held, battery powered Arriflex camera, so that the scene could literally be shot in an actual car. Of course at the time these cameras and some of the techniques Harvey used were mostly involving newsreel footage, so on. These scenes give the film a nice look, different compared to other similar films at the time. On top of that, there was no need for composite shots in the car scenes, driving the already tiny budget down further. Harvey – always with his eye on the prize.
Aside from that there are a bunch of gorgeously conceived shots, too. The whole script began from Harvey seeing that old empty pavilion from the carnival, it’s only natural a big part of the movie would end up being centred around specific imagery. One shot I can never get enough of is a weird yet effective couple cuts, as we see Mary staring out her window while we cut and zoom closer, closer into the deserted carnival, to a strange, ghostly view of an empty, foggy boardwalk. It’s moments like these where you realise Harvey was firing on all cylinders.
pic3Aside from Candace Hilligoss, none of the acting is anything special. However, they don’t have to be, and she carries the full weight of the story, as her character Mary is the centrepiece. Her performance reminds me of a cross between Maria Falconetti from The Passion of Joan of Arc, and what we’d see in Judith O’Dea’s character from the later groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (as I said, Harvey definitely influenced Romero to a degree). Hilligoss appropriately leaves the viewer feeling in a state much like her character: dazed, lost as if wandering a dream. Without having to need dialogue, she does best when it’s her face, her eyes, the body language talking; she emotes so well that the performance works in conjunction with Harvey’s directorial choices to give the film that penetrating atmosphere of absolute dread. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Harvey himself plays the quietly terrifying man whose pale, horrible, grinning face haunts Mary; the makeup is so perfect, falling in line with the film’s minimalism and working incredibly with the dark shadows of the black-and-white cinematography. He doesn’t even have to speak and yet the pale-faced man is nightmare fuel.
Carnival of Souls doesn’t feel like it was shot in three weeks, even if it feels rough around the edges at certain points. What Herk Harvey accomplished was making of the best psychological horror movies there has ever been, all without falling into any of the conventions the genre would later become known for, to our great dismay. We watch Mary’s descent into madness with the eerie man and his similarly unnerving friends creeping along the periphery of her mind, and vision, almost constantly. This is one of my all-time favourite film, especially horror. But on admiration alone for Harvey and what he did, it’s still a great piece of independent cinema, one that ought never be forgotten or underappreciated.

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER: A Flashy, Slashy, Trashy Good Time

I Know What You Did Last Summer. 1997. Directed by Jim Gillespie. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson; loosely based on the novel of the same name by Lois Duncan.
Starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Heche, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson, & Stuart Greer.
Mandalay Entertainment/Summer Knowledge LLC.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2posteriknowwhatyoudidlastsummerAfter Scream, horror fans out there seemed to only want similar movies. That’s fine, because I see stuff all the time and think “I wish there was more of this!” Problem is you have to draw the line. At a certain point we just need something different. And not every slasher, or horror in general, has to break the mould. Now and then it’s nice to just have a plain ole slasher, a simple ghost story. Whatever the case. So for Kevin Williamson, part of I Know What You Did Last Summer undoubtedly meant to show people he wasn’t intent on solely doing metafictional, self-referential horror. He also liked the slasher sub-genre that his screenplay for Scream took its jabs at, which is great! Why can’t a writer poke fun at a genre that he enjoys? Having a sense of humour about your own tastes is a mark of intelligence in my book.
For all its glaring flaws, I Know What You Did Last Summer has its fun with a loosely adapted story from the novel of the same name by Lois Duncan. It’s unfortunate that Duncan’s own daughter was murdered, she really didn’t like that they made this into a slasher, not one bit. Having all the empathy in the world for her, the book is one thing and her life is another.
Williamson’s script isn’t twisting and turning in the way we’re necessarily spooked by the reveal of the killer or anything. That’s not what this film is about. He examines the lives of four pretty, privileged, young white people who made a hideous decision not to report a murder, choosing instead to assure their promising, bright futures are not derailed. What follows is a wave of revenge, the consequences of guilt come back to punish them all. Like watching the conscience wreak havoc in horror form.ikwydls1The opening scenes before our flash forward a year or so set things up well. When horror has a palpable atmosphere, the story can be forgiven a few faults, even the acting. Director Jim Gillespie does great work with his debut feature, adding atmosphere that’s full of suspense and tension so quickly. From the first scene up until the flash forward, everything is dark, the mood and tone feels so ominous. Once the flash forward happens we’re plunged into the light. There’s a fascinating contrast between the dark subject matter and the sunny seaside town in which the story is set makes for an unsettling feeling, part of the film’s quietly creepy atmosphere.
Once the changeover between dark and light happens, the danger is everywhere. Constant. Around every last corner and each little turn is the potential for any various brutal death, in the name of the slasher sub-genre. We get a bit of brutality, too. Although not quite as much as you’d expect. One moment I always enjoy is how when the unknown, hook-handed killer chases down Barry (Ryan Phillippe), and we know he’s about to get killed barbarically. Only he doesn’t get killed, he’s left alive. Usually this isn’t the case for slashers unless dealing with a Final Girl situation. So that’s a nice little spot in the screenplay which works. Then, the delay of a kill amps up the tension a bit. Another shot I find effective is when Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) opens her trunk, a dead body inside covered in crabs; so fast, short, like a shot to the brain. Awesome horror moment.
ikwydls2One major weak link is Phillippe. Strange to me because, honestly, I usually dig him. He overplays the character, there’s no nuance at all. Surprisingly, someone I don’t often enjoy saves the acting: Ms. Love Hewitt. I’ve never really found her that interesting. The character of Julie James is one devastated by guilt of not stopping the cover-up of her friend’s crime, although no less guilty than any of her counterparts in the fateful act on that deadly summer night. She express the guilt without going into psychosis mode like Phillippe. Definitely helps to have her in the cast, as she remains the foundation of all the drama.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is decent here, as well. The sequence featuring her going to bed then waking up to a tiara on her head is sinister, totally drenched in suspense with great shots. She sees the tiara, the SOON in lipstick across her mirror. Such a beautifully executed sequence that leaves a dry lump in the throat. Gellar sells it well, going appropriately wild when need be.
This is also the gateway to more suspense, as the pace picks up speed. The movie builds steam from here to start churning on the terror. Slasher kill scenes don’t really open up much until late in the plot, which is fine. That’s a plus, as this gives time for everything else to develop. One of the best death scenes is that of Gellar: like our wait for more blood, this draws out awhile, until the Hook corners her and the killing blows are punctuated by fireworks in the sky. Amazing. Because at its base, this film is a warning to the rich, disaffected kids of America – they may not get caught by police, but the killers out for revenge in slasher pictures will find them, no matter how many summers pass. As Gellar’s Helen Shivers is stabbed bloodily to death, the Fourth of July fireworks in the sky, you can’t help but see this slasher as a deeply American movie on many levels.
ikwydls3There are a bunch of ways I Know What You Did Last Summer could’ve been improved. For one, that Phillippe performance needed toning down. Secondly, there needed to be more slasher gore, in my opinion. Part of me feels Williamson went a bit soft instead of going full-on slasher madness because he felt necessary to separate from Scream in any way possible.
But I don’t care. Doesn’t matter to me because there’s still a decent movie in there. A couple performances work, and the bloody bits we do get are worth the time. That July 4th scene is so good, so subtly terrifying. There’s some trashy stuff, a couple slick and flashy sequences. There are a few lessons to be learned on top of everything else. These young, privileged white boys and girls opt to try covering up what they did, not knowing the full story, and everything imaginable comes down upon them in return. I Know What You Did Last Summer is a slice of slasher cinema which aims to freak you out, simultaneously preaching to the teens who flock to see these types of movies about shady morality. Unexpectedly, the moral message works while other pieces don’t, and I dig enough of it that every Halloween this movie makes an appearance on my viewing list.

ALICE SWEET ALICE’s War on Catholicism

Alice Sweet Alice. 1976. Directed by Alfred Sole. Screenplay by Rosemary Ritvo & Sole.
Starring Linda Miller, Paula Sheppard, Lillian Roth, Brooke Shields, Niles McMaster, & Jane Lowry.
Harristown Funding.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterAlice Sweet Alice has been released as Communion and also Holy Terror. There were lots of worries about what the film might do to the religious community. Poor Catholics were worried because of how it made them look. Rightfully so, as Alfred Sole’s underrated 1976 slasher takes brutal shots at the Roman Catholic Church through juxtaposition of murder and Christian iconography.
From the haunting opening credits – a whispered prayer, sweeping music, as well as the creepy image of someone stabbing with a knife and the bloodily written title scrawled down the screen – to the last chilling shot, this is a great bit of horror cinema. With homage to a genre classic, plus plenty of eerie mystery and a strong resemblance to Italian giallos, Alice Sweet Alice brings the business. More often than not people discount this slasher. Either they think it’s no good, not strong enough, or they don’t realise how good it is at the core. Part of the charm is in the ambiguity. Even when you think the film is headed toward its finish, the killer all figured out, you can never be sure
All we can know positively is that people die.
Is Alice the killer? Is it somebody else? And in the name of God; why?
pic2The biggest target of Sole’s slasher is clearly Catholicism. First of all, Karen (Brooke Shields) is killed in church; this is our big plot point which kicks everything off. It’s not enough that the murder takes place within the church walls, Sole makes sure to start in on the Christian iconography. After the masked murderer kills Karen, dragging her body, we see the looming face of Jesus on the cross – a crucifix hangs above, Jesus’ pain-filled face looking down. As if religion in that moment is helpless, unable to actually save anybody; the statue as effective as Catholicism itself. Later, there’s even a drop of dark humour. Aunt Annie (Jane Lowry) insists on getting to mass on time, superseding her sister Catherine’s (Linda Miller) crying over the death of her daughter; darkly funny, especially how Lowry plays the scene (she is amazing in general as the hysterical aunt). No time for emotion when you’re running late for church. That Catholic guilt and rigidity come out, full force.
One of the real frightening scenes involving the Christian symbols is when the killer calls Catherine. Only briefly do we see them, hidden in shadow and holding a telephone receiver. Nearby are the symbols: a red cross on a candle holder and what looks like an small angel statuette. Literally, Sole shows us how the killer is steeped in Roman Catholicism.
pic2Sole hired his friend William Lustig to take care of the bloody practical effects during the murderous scenes; this was four years prior to Lustig giving us the demented Maniac. He did amazing stuff, as well as worked in the capacity of assistant cameraman. Some mad moments make for nice slasher sub-genre fare. For instance, Annie’s stabbing on the stairs is nasty and well edited, too. Her crawl into the rainy street, screaming, is especially memorable. Nice, vivid blood. Dom (Niles McMaster) gets himself a knife to the shoulder, followed by a truly gruesome bludgeoning to the head with a rock. Savage. Not only that, the shots afterwards are so tense. The killer pushes Dom, slow and agonising, and rolls him, tied, over the side of a building – when Dom hits the ground it’s sickening, against a bunch of glass, and then eerily a faded reflection of the killer is visible. All around the violence of the movie is brutal and rough, yet it’s stylised. Perhaps that’s the biggest reason many critics and reviewers have compared this to the Italian giallo films of Dario Argento and others.
A hugely enjoyable element for me is the fact Sole references Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now – masterful cinema, a haunting one at that. The yellow St. Michael’s raincoat we see Alice (Paula Sheppard), the killer, and other girls wearing is a parallel to the slick red raincoat that pops up again and again in the Roeg film. Moreover, the coat serves as a way to throw us off, and the characters. Like yellow herrings.
I’ve got to say that Paula Sheppard – Alice – was downright fantastic. Her acting was frantic in the right moments, calm in others. What I didn’t know the first time I saw this film is that Sheppard was actually nineteen play twelve. That’s probably why she has a sense of maturity about her while playing a young, lost girl. So much good writing goes into the character, little bits and pieces we’re never given exposition on totally but play out in the eyes of little Alice. And there’s also Alphonso De Noble, who plays the paedophile landlord Alphonso – there are a couple stories on this one, the most reliable being director Alfred Sole came across him pretending to be a priest in a cemetery and cast him in the movie. Regardless of how he was found, De Noble plays the character to utterly bizarre effect. Not a major character, he does add a strange quality which works.
pic3There’s much to love in this slasher. It’s one of my favourites, one I find actually close to the perfect sub-genre flick. With Sole injecting lots of anti-Catholic sentiment, Lustig providing gnarly gore, on top of enjoyable acting, Alice Sweet Alice – CommunionHoly Terror, whichever title you see it under – has a horde of likeable qualities. Sure, it’s a very early Brooke Shields movie. There’s a manic performance out of Jane Lowry. But the horror is visceral, it feels real and terrifying. Prominently placing Catholic iconography in certain frames, Sole does violence to the idea that Christ is the redeemer of anything; least of all our sins.
I’ll leave you with this: judging by the almost fourth-wall-breaking final shot, can we say for sure the murderer is caught? Or did Alice use the murders to pass of her own attempted murder on Aunt Annie? Or, are we seeing the literal carrying on of the killer, as Alice walks away with the murderer’s bag, bloody knife and all? I only wonder where Alice ended up years later. If someone could give us a sequel, I imagine her all grown up and living in the city, confused about herself, her religious belief. And who knows how she’d work it all out…

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE’s Metaphysical Horror Will Haunt You

The Legend of Hell House. 1973. Directed by John Hough. Screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on his novel.
Starring Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Roland Culver, Peter Bowles, & Michael Gough.
Academy Pictures Corporation.
Rated PG. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-8-54-41-pmI love anything involving Richard Matheson, so the prospect of him adapting his own novel Hell House into 1973’s John Hough-directed The Legend of Hell House was so exciting. I can only imagine being a fan back then, getting to see it for the first time. Alas, only a few years ago I got my hands on a copy. And it blew me away.
Something Matheson touches on well is the crossover point where science and theology can meet, in regards to the supernatural, life beyond the grave. This journey into a terrifying haunted house is one of metaphysics, exploring how disbelief, in many forms, can work against oneself. As a matter of fact, you can look at the movie as whole in the way of allegory about selling short the afterlife.
Why? Because there are no concrete answers.
Hough’s direction is wonderful and he puts the screenplay by Matheson to film well, using many effective techniques in drawing the viewer into this haunted place. Running the gamut from science to religion, Matheson spins a wicked web of depravity, ghosts, as the figure of Emeric Belasco – based on the nasty modern wizard Aleister Crowley – looms evilly over every character to enter its doors.
screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-8-55-54-pmDoes great evil leave a stain on the place where it occurs?
This is a central thematic question to the story. Essentially, the question of good and evil, as one doesn’t happen without the other. It’s a polar opposite relationship. Using the characters, Matheson creates a perfect storm for such a dichotomous clash. On one side, there’s Dr. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill), he rationalises and tries adapting the idea of spirits into a scientific process. On the other side is Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), a medium; she believes that mediumship is a form of “Gods manifestation in man.” In between them, somewhere, may lie the truth. What I dig is how Matheson has the house, and all its forces, come down upon each person in a different way. Such as Dr. Barrett, whose lack of respect for spirituality is how the house messes with him, and in opposition Tanner is physically attacked, manifesting that supposed spirituality through a black cat clawing her to bits among other things. It’s really perfect writing. Back and forth, Dr. Barrett argues with Tanner, despite mounting proof, how her manifestations are “organic externalisation” and that his machines need to give them the needed proof, nothing else. Back at him Tanner yells at one point: “Were not machines, were human beings.” Ultimately, even with scientific evidence of haunting, how does this help to derive the reason for a haunting? Detecting presence is one thing, determining reason and rationale is an entirely different thing. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Most everybody loses, except those without a clear side and decision on the matter. That speaks directly to the idea that there are no answers, regardless where you stand. But don’t fully discount either side of the line in the sand, or else beware.
screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-9-08-56-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-9-18-55-pmThe film’s visual and aural aesthetic combined is its strongest point. Chilling atmosphere. The score alone can make you feel unsettled; sometimes a kinetic, tribal-like percussion punches in the background, sometimes it’s low and guttural woodwinds. Every shot is drenched in fog, shadows, darkness. You really feel as if you’re standing side by side with the characters, draped in the blackened spaces of the house more often than not. There are wonderful looming shots of Hell House from low angles that make it feel even bigger than it is already, as well as the black cat creeping in the foreground out front – every last detail is dark, moody, and worthy of superstition. More audible eeriness comes in the form of erotic sounds in the night; they’re not sexy, rather they’re unnerving, like the whispers of a mad man instead of passionate noise. All these elements swirl together in a genuinely scary vision of the haunted house sub-genre.
Each revelation inside the house is stranger, more depraved and macabre than the last. With each other, the Hell House myth grows stronger. Once there’s a corpse discovered in the cellar it all points to quite a nasty history, confirming the dirty deeds of the house’s builder Belasco. My favourite moment is still the literal cat fight. Though one of the Scary Movie flicks lampoons this scene, it’s still a legitimately stressful and almost nerve grating sequence. The last shot is hair-raising: Tanner stands back on, bloodied scratches carved in deep along the skin of her back.
Hough’s best work is how he puts us in the physical space of the characters. In a film like Robert Wise’s The Haunting, the characters inhabit a very psychological space. Here, it is physical, and the manifestations of Hell House feel more visceral. Their emotions are amped up, as we spend so much time closed in on their faces, up front and centre for their performances. This is helped by spectacular work, most of all from Roddy McDowall and Pamela Franklin. Haunted house pictures are a dime a dozen. They’re much better with excellent roles filled by equally excellent actors.
screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-9-33-20-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-9-33-54-pmNobody can tell us what happens after life when we venture into the great beyond of death. Nobody; not religion, nor science. We know what happens to the physical form, but what happens to the soul, or that essence of our humanity? And what if our humanity is lacking, replaced by heaping doses of evil? What happens then?
The Legend of Hell House considers ghostly haunting by hedging its bets on every angle. Matheson does a pitch perfect job of pitting science against religion against straight up belief in the horrors of the afterlife. Within that framework, he explores dichotomous characters who are each assaulted by the spirit world in ways speaking directly to their belief, or lack thereof. A quality look on the concept of haunted houses.
This is one of my favourite haunted house flicks ever, up there with Wise and his classic, Burnt Offerings, The Sentinel, and The Changeling (among others). Don’t sleep on it. Creepy, fun, frightening, wild. It’s got so much to show you! And yes, there are a few little gruesome bits to chew on.