THE TUNNEL: Hidden Horrors Beneath Sydney, Australia

The Tunnel. 2011. Directed by Carlo Ledesma. Screenplay by Julian Harvey & Enzo Todeschi.
Starring Bel Deliá, Andy Rodoreda, Steve Davis, Luke Arnold, Goran D. Kleut, James Caitlin, Ben Maclaine, Peter McAllum, Shannon Harvey, Arianna Gusi, & Russell Jeffrey.
Distracted Media/Zapruder’s Other Films/Dishs
Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
TUNNEL1Father Gore always has time for found footage. Even better if it’s in the faux-documentary style. The Tunnel is the story of a documentary crew heading, unauthorised, into the tunnels underneath Sydney, Australia. What they wind up finding is more than a government cover-up of overspending and waste.
While this does follow a familiar path, bringing to mind the groundbreaking Blair Witch Project, there’s a genuine air of unease that follows the characters as they go headlong into a mystery they don’t quite understand. Found footage can often lose tension to the shaky camera, screaming and other too loud noise, among other things. Here, the tension holds up, and the documentary style takes us through the various stages up to the sinister events which the crew experience.
Perhaps why The Tunnel is so effective is because it takes on a real world issue, crafting an interesting plot within that familiar story constructed as a news exposé. The natural feel of the characters, the homeless people they encounter in the tunnels, the story of the tunnels themselves, this all builds up a whole world for the film instead of just feeling like an isolated environment for 90 minutes.
TUNNEL2The faux-documentary lends an air of authenticity to the film, so the events which lead up to all the genuinely creepy horror midway through feel natural, the characters seem real. Best of all, the organic traits of The Tunnel make this better than three-quarters of the found footage out there, avoiding the typical “Turn off the camera” arguments and the expected moves of a lesser film. That being said, certain aspects, in the end, are the same we’ve seen before. Luckily, it all builds and releases a heavy dose of tense fear.
Unique locations add to the film’s feel, made possible by the plot itself.
The whole thing is just like an investigative series you’d expect to find on the BBC or another similar network. There’s an almost Gothic atmosphere, as the news crew venture deeper into the tunnels below Sydney there’s a sense something ancient, amongst mentions of the tunnels having been used as air raid shelters during World War II. Long before the evil down there becomes more concrete later on, it’s a s if the place is a haunted house, only in the form of a series of tunnels, homeless squats, and forgotten spaces lost to time.
Things take an eerie turn with Trevor the homeless man’s scene. Unnerving. Early on there’s a gut feeling something isn’t quite right, prior to any other hints of terror. Once the news crew start experiencing scarier and scarier events, recalling Trev’s brief but memorable freak out comes with the knowledge this man was giving them a warning without words.
TUNNEL3It might’ve been nice to at least get a tiny bit of elaboration on the evil lurking down in the tunnels. However, the way it’s left for what it is on the surface is a testament to the trauma of people like Trev, the other homeless who are left shells of themselves – if they’re lucky enough to still be alive – and are unable to articulate the monstrosity of whatever’s down there.
Simultaneously, we can dig out our own meaning. WWII, the Holocaust, these were modern events which shaped the world, not merely Germany. After these modern warns, the psychological traumas of people suddenly took off, generational or otherwise, and largely they were forgotten. Because post-WWII was a time of celebration, when fascism had been defeated and the world looked hopeful, full of opportunity. Our societal ills were hidden; or, society wanted to keep them hidden. This leads us to the homeless, who’ve literally crawled down into the forgotten tunnels of the war, a fittingly metaphorical space for them.
And down there, a danger grows, some brutal mutation. It feeds on the homeless, the forgotten and discarded people of our collective society. The government doesn’t care too much because it’s solving part of their problem without doing the work; out of sight, out of mind, right?
TUNNEL4The Tunnel genuinely freaked me out. It follows a lot of similar veins as the found footage classics we know and love. Yet it doesn’t go to all the same places, it plays with our expectations from the documentary standpoint while offering up nice frights weaved through the plot while we see it play out via found footage, the tapes shot by the crew themselves. This mix is something I really dig in the sub-genre, and it works for director Carlo Ledesma.
Sure, if you don’t like found footage already, you’ll probably not like this one, too. But give it a shot. This doesn’t suffer from many of the mistakes other similar films do, it’s a smart and well paced piece of work. Ledesma’s pacing is rhythmic, lulling us into a comfortable feeling before bringing out a creepy moment or two until finally falling all the way into a chaotic finale.
Might be a great flick for a group of people in October. You’ll all jump at least once or twice. The characters aren’t archetypes, they’re actual people, flawed and full of shit sometimes; other times, they’re intelligent and raw, honest. Things get emotional, they get weird, and what’s down in those tunnels? Pretty chilling. You could almost see The Tunnel as an unaired special on a news networks, uploaded years later to YouTube as part of a conspiracy people try to unravel.

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Ossorio’s Templar Zombies Return in THE GHOST GALLEON

The Ghost Galleon. 1974. Directed & Written by Amando de Ossorio.
Starring Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Bárbara Rey, Carlos Lemos, Manuel de Blas, & Blanca Estrada.
Ancia Century Films/Belén Films
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror

★★
Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 2.10.03 PMAmando de Ossorio‘s Blind Dead series is one of the more unique of the horror genre, specifically in the zombies/undead category. We’ve seen lots of variations on people risen from the dead, whether it’s George A. Romero and his own Dead series, Haitian voodoo from Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, or the Umberto Lenzi classic which brought the fast moving zombie to the mainstream, Nightmare City.
What’s so enjoyable about de Ossorio is that he took zombies and mixed them with pseudohistory, using the very real Templar Knights and transforming them into Satan worshipping mad men (in real life they did dissolve after charges of heresy) who crawl from their tombs at night to stalk the Spanish countryside, searching for victims to quell their blood lust.
Although The Ghost Galleon isn’t one of the best films out of the series, it’s still a weird, eerie trip through a fog-laden landscape, going from land to the desperate darkness of the sea. The Knights themselves are always great, but in this instalment of de Ossorio’s series there isn’t a whole lot else to enjoy. With a couple lofty themes floating around, the film could’ve been better. But it’s still probably good enough for a Halloween Horrorthon.
Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 3.01.59 PM

The Good

De Ossorio works up plenty of eerie atmosphere, as usual. The mood’s established early on, as we’re drawn into the Old World feel of Spain, an unsettling fogginess surrounding everything, particularly the titular galleon. Part of the fog is also more than just atmosphere, it helps get across the otherworldly feel of the Templar Knights, like their world beyond the grave is literally a whole other world, an entire dimension unto itself.
Moreover, the score does a fantastic job at elevating the atmosphere. Once on the ship, things get impressively spooky with a hypnotic swirl of synthesizers taking us through to that other realm, guiding us, with buoying timpani notes discombobulating us; the feeling of heading into a dream is palpable, the fog like that barrier between sleep and rest. The score, from start to finish, is one of the biggest reasons the atmosphere ultimately works.
Apart from the technical side of the production, there are lost themes that could’ve been used to de Ossorio’s advantage. For instance, there’s a setup of the Old World v. the New World, starting with the capitalist businessmen exploiting women and their bodies – i.e. New World – only concerned with their money than with human safety. They walk themselves right into the hands of the Knights Templar – i.e. Old World – and this is their undoing. That’s what you get, capitalist scum! The concern of the businessmen solely for economics and image (view in the media, et cetera) leads them towards a dangerous resolution. This is all present underneath, it just isn’t used any further than surface level optics. Too bad, because a zombie film of any sort can always become more than the sum of its parts when there’s an additional plot/story/thematic level.
My favourite part of the film is when the cross is used against the Knights Templar. A clever subversion of Christian iconography for which the knights originally stood. In their turn to Satan, they expelled Christ from themselves, which is then used against them as a repellent. Neat little moment.

The Bad & the Ugly

A major aspect of why The Ghost Galleon doesn’t hold up to the other, better entries in the series is the acting. Not everyone is awful; most are, sadly. This doesn’t need a Laurence Olivier, nor does it need a Vincent Price. But it could’ve used much better performances. Think of Dawn of the Dead with Ken Foree, beloved to the genre, Gaylen Ross, and even the rest of the cast who were fantastic. A couple decent performances could’ve turned this into a good zombie film.
The pacing is slow, and that’s fine; if it weren’t for the fact the plot feels boring. All these Blind Dead films are similar, there’s no reinventing of the wheel here as far as writing goes, not in any of them. However, de Ossorio’s other undead Templar films – particularly the first, Tombs of the Blind Dead – have a great pace, keeping you engaged, waiting for the next scare or the next kill or whatever weird follows.
It’s the pacing, above all, which makes this a hard film to sit through without wanting to fast forward. I watched it all, and until the finale, there’s really nothing special to talk about outside the general atmosphere, plus the zombie Templars themselves. Sure, there’s a couple gnarly deaths, a decapitation, it just never amounts to anything better than that.
Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 2.47.59 PMScreen Shot 2017-10-15 at 3.00.52 PMIt’d be hard to argue de Ossorio had no influence on the zombie sub-genre of horror. Certainly not as deep as Romero, probably not even close to Lucio Fulci, either. But there’s no doubt certain elements in the Blind Dead lingered on, inspiring other filmmakers along the line in subtle ways.
Such as the iconic scene later in this film where the zombie Templars emerge from the ocean waters, relentlessly chasing their intended prey from the galleon to land. This watery rise precedes Shock WavesLand of the Dead, and others (in fairness Luci’s Zombi had some good water zombie action; this one has a horde of them instead of just one). Just great to see this kind of thing, knowing de Ossorio’s films aren’t lost to time or relegated to the realm of admiration only amongst the most ardent genre fans. They’ve certainly influenced a few horror filmmakers out there.
This isn’t one of the best Blind Dead films, not even close. It’s barely a mediocre bit of cinema, honestly. A two out of five star affair. Yet, as previously mentioned, it has some enjoyable moments in between the languid pacing and a lot of bad acting, some good practical effects and weird images. And for a near Halloween, this is a nice addition to any zombie movie night.

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE Confronts the Cruelty of Men

The Autopsy of Jane Doe. 2016. Directed by André Øvredal. Screenplay by Ian B. Goldberg & Richard Naing.
Starring Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Catherine Kelly, Jane Perry, Parker Sawyers, Mary Duddy, Mark Phoenix, & Sydney (as Stanley the Cat).
42/IM Global/Impostor Pictures
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2

Disclaimer: This review discusses important parts of the film’s plot + themes. If you’ve not yet seen the film, watch it, then come back and discuss. Or else, be forever spoiled!

AUTOPSY1When I saw The Troll Hunter I knew I wanted more from André Øvredal, whose talent is undeniable. That was a great, unique film that connected the Old World with the New World in interesting ways, juxtaposing folklore and mythology with technology by way of the found footage sub-genre.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe does something similar, yet the subject is wildly different. In this film, Øvredal again conjures the folk tales of the Old World, letting them collide with modern day. A father-son coroner duo, Tom (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch), encounter a Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) corpse found just below the dirt in an unfinished basement, amongst other victims of violent death. Except as the pair conduct their autopsy, looking for cause of death, they find strange links to witchcraft and superstitions of centuries ago.
There’s a mystery aspect to the plot, but the whole story is built on suspense and a severe, restless tension. Øvredal turns up the heat on us and the characters, a feeling of isolation in the basement morgue. In between it all is a look at the fragility of life, the care of bodies – specifically, women’s bodies – and the age old nastiness of misogyny.
AUTOPSY4Out of the gate, the film oozes both atmosphere and a measured style. Mood is set in the opening scene with a frank look at a crime scene, a mysterious, gruesome house of horrors, including the unknown woman, Jane Doe, buried in the dirt downstairs. Everything’s shadowy, grim, macabre, an air of uncertainty blanketing the top of the plot’s bare bones we’re fed in the initial five minutes. Such a strong start, you feel involved before actually figuring anything out, or even meeting the two protagonists.
Claustrophobia and isolation drive the film, down below ground, in a basement; further than that, in a morgue, surrounded by the dead. This ratchets the tension, as one grisly discovery gives way to another, and another, until the eeriness piles atop the characters, the audience, crushing with a steadily paced descent into supernatural terror; very human to something else entirely. Shifting from the grounded plot to a fantastical atmosphere makes the latter half land with even more intensity.
Once the finale rolls around, a horrifying fear sets in, one we cannot escape, and that claustrophobia’s become so stuffy the pay-off deals a heavy, sinister blow.
AUTOPSY3The contrast between the dead and the living is ever present. First and foremost is the care of women’s bodies. An interesting juxtaposition, seeing how living men have desecrated this Jane Doe’s body, inside and out, with such horrific cruelty, versus the way Tom and Austin, even while dissecting her for the autopsy, treat her body with care. Likewise, the way death then affects the father and son is compelling. For instance, we see that death and its continual presence in their lives hasn’t jaded them, after Austin finds a small wounded animal in one of their air ducts, and his father must break its neck to put it out of its misery. Again this contrasts them with the brutes who tortured then murdered Jane Doe.
What’s most intriguing is the film’s thematic consideration of misogyny, through the lens of witchcraft. A woman becomes a witch through the brutality of men, a metaphor concerning how men and their misogynistic violence, whether mental or physical, transforms women, negatively. And in this case, Jane Doe takes her revenge on men ni general, as well as any unlucky women caught up with them. Perfect, as the witch is directly linked to the history of misogyny, their punishment simply for being women, being free, for enjoying the sensual in life when they wish. So the fact Jane Doe, through torture and cruelty, becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy in a sense is such a strong element, a wonderfully unique take at that.
Moreover, the finale shows the evil done by men is cyclical, never over. Because the woman’s been instilled with that evil, just as many women are stained by the awful actions and misogyny of men. Since time immemorial, truly. And so that cycle goes on, the body forever tainted, the horror perpetuating and living on. Even decent men like Tom and Austin are caught in the vicious whirlwind of revenge, because men as a gender have reaped such effects; that’s the point, and the Not All Men crowd don’t get that in general, it’s such a widespread problem we have to accept it’s a male problem, as a whole.
AUTOPSY2The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a fresh breath of horror, up there with some of the best of the past few years. Really fun watching the two leads unravel a supernatural mystery using science, the Old World on a collision course with modern medicine, a witchcraft story from previous centuries in present day. Øvredal squeezes the life out of the audience, in the best way possible, suffocating us with an atmosphere that does not quit.
Of course the acting all around is fantastic. But it’s Øvredal whose talents take this film to the next level. It isn’t always easy keeping things so tightly wound, so harrowing with only a sparse cast, a boxed in setting. He does it with precision, not allowing a moment’s breath or relaxation after the adrenaline kicks in hard.
I’d watch this any day of the week. After it came out, I watched it probably once every couple months until now. Something about it catches me, the atmosphere’s intoxicating. Sucker for those isolated horrors, from this sort of setting to one more like Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s an element that works wonders if a director uses it to their advantage. Put this on your Halloween list. Definitely good for a scare.

The Exorcist – Season 2, Episode 3: “Unclean”

Fox’s The Exorcist
Season 2, Episode 3: “Unclean”
Directed by Ti West
Written by Manny Coto

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Safe as Houses” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “One for Sorrow” – click here
IMG_0355We begin on the River Seine in France. More of the “vocare pulvere” – the ceremony of ash – around the table of Cardinal Guillot (Torrey Hanson). They’re served tarts with something… extra special on top. There’s an eerie comparison to predatory animals and demons while the cardinal fawns over a cat. Everyone has a tart, then Guillot spews blood along with the others. They all catch fire, the table with them. And their server, a woman with a scar across the face named Mouse (Zuleikha Robinson) leaves the place behind, taking the sweet kitty with her. Oh, I like this lady.
All nature will be renewed by fire
Out in Washington, Andy (John Cho) is burying the creepy fetus that Shelby (Alex Barima) brought home the night before. Things are odd, for sure. At the same time, Caleb (Hunter Dillon) is facing his lie about Verity (Brianna Hildebrand) being out by the well with him, only he says it isn’t a lie, that she was holding his hand then… gone. Even with all the tension involved with Rose’s (Li Jun Li) social work visit, Andy tries to get by as usual, plus she’s decided not to make a fuss over the incident at the well.
But Shelby can’t shake the feeling in the woods, believing that something bad is lurking out there. He clutches his Bible, unable to let go of it or the sense there’s an evil close.
IMG_0356Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) and Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) are at their latest destination, the former having received a call from a deacon, a close friend. They’re at a house in a quiet neighbourhood, the home of a Mrs. Graham. She has a daughter named Harper who’s troubled. For six months, she’s been a different person, having visions of an “imaginary playmate” from much earlier in childhood.
Sound familiar? Not unlike Reagan and Captain Howdy. Upstairs, the priest tag team find poor Harper in bed looking horrible, very clearly wrestling with a demon underneath. Mom is distraught, she says something “unclean” has hold of her daughter. The priests start trying to figure out if there’s anything signalling genuine demonic possession. And, oh, there’s good proof. Well, it seems. There’s a drawing Harper apparently did three weeks before, showing two priests battling a monster. However, there’s a Chris McNeil book on the shelf, one with which Mrs. Graham is familiar. I wonder… hmm. Possession? Or Munchausen’s of sorts?
They talk with the girl, she says her friend’s name is Tobias. Although things seem off. Marcus charms and questions, probing to find out if this is real or a big hoax and a waste of time. Then she vomits the familiar green pea soup, convulsing.
What about Father Bennett(Kurt Egyiawan)? He meets with Mouse, telling her about how wrong things went with Guillot. She informs him about the tragic fire. Now, it seems these two might become their own tag team, similar to the priest and the renegade ex-communicated priest.
Speaking of the lads, they’re questioning the situation. They have to be sure, if not an unneeded exorcism could fuck the girl up bad, for life. But then a wound appears on mom’s side from across the room as Harper chomps and chomps at nothing. CREEPY SCENE! Dig it.
IMG_0359IMG_0360We find out a bit more of Andy’s inner life. He has a beer with a friend by the water, talking about a life he imagined long ago. He mentions the inexplicable briefly, wondering if anything’s happened on the island. But he dismisses the talk himself. Meanwhile, I feel like there’s going to be demonic trouble for Shelby. Just because demons love to fuck around with the religious, the deeply faithful.
Now comes a connection – Rose goes over to the Graham house. Mom doesn’t want to let her inside, of course, and the social worker pushes back against that. Uh oh. And up in the bedroom, Tomas is breaking out all the tools. He claims to have had a “vision of this girl.” Marcus believes evil has stained him after he let that demon in his noggin. He’s getting a complex over his feeling of power.
Except now Rose has seen them outside in the window. She’s ready to call in the cops. Before she leaves, she drops info that Harper’s been sick her whole life. This interests the older renegade priest.
Andy is taking little Grace (Amélie Eve) outside, she’s conquering her fears and taking off her unsettling pillow mask. They take a walk down to the garden with the sunflowers together. Above them, a gigantic flock of birds soars. Down at the water, Shelby sees them as he prays to the Lord. Andy runs with Grace inside just as the birds begin pelting themselves into the house by the dozens upon dozens. Some actually fly through the windows. Dead birds, everywhere. Hard thing to explain to a girl as a young as her.
IMG_0361We discover that the lake has dark significance for Andy, where his wife Nicole killed herself. Shelby’s religion leads him to believe there’s an evil force in that area. Poor foster dad can’t take that, though. He draws the line.
Marcus has figured out that mom’s been drugging her daughter, injuring her, even herself, all to make it into a big story. Sickening. We do get a sweet moment where Marcus tells Harper she’ll be stronger after she makes it through this ordeal; she is a survivor. This sends Mrs. Graham on the defensive with a hammer. She gets Tomas when he’s looking through her arsenal of pills. Then she goes after Marcus, who fends her off but takes a few knocks in the process.


Police arrive with Rose to break it all up. Later, our priest tag team is at the hospital. Marcus says that “at least with a demon you know where you stand,” but with evil in regular people, a parent who’d hurt their child, it’s unpredictable. This situation also reveals to Tomas his fallibility, he isn’t an all-seeing visionary, he is a man, a priest, only with faith to guide him. Naturally, we see Rose talk to the two men. She’s going to get Andy to take Harper in. Oh, this is going to get real interesting.
Cut to Antwerp. Father Bennett goes with Mouse to a dingy-looking basement. There is Sister Dolores, or “whats left of her.” Plagued by a demon, chained to the floor.
IMG_0365FUCK YEAH! This is another great episode. One of my favourites, probably, of either season. Lots of good stuff happening, and we got to see a different thing going on in terms of the possession, a hoax with horrific consequences. Just a wild ride. Great Ti West episode this time around, too.
“One for Sorrow” comes to us next week.

Mr. Mercedes – Season 1, Episode 10: “Jibber-Jibber Chicken Dinner”

AT&T’s Mr. Mercedes
Season 1, Episode 10: “Jibber-Jibber Chicken Dinner”
Directed by Jack Bender
Written by Dennis Lehane & Sophie Owens-Bender

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Ice Cream, You Scream, We All Scream” – click here
* Recap-reviews of Season 2 to come on release, as it’s been confirmed the show’s renewed!


A different opener for the finale. Suddenly, in the dark, former Dt. Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) wakes to “Danny Boy” playing. Nearby is a trail of blood smeared through the hallway, out into the kitchen, everywhere. The side of the house is covered in a streak of crimson. Outside is a wheelbarrow with an eviscerated corpse in it. In the trees, a bloody leg. The Mr. Friendly jingle plays. In the driveway, Bill sees his daughter as a girl, Holly (Justine Lupe), and Jerome (Jharrel Jerome) all eating ice cream with the ice cream man himself, Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) who greets him with a pleasant, sinister smile.
Then there’s Ida Silver (Holland Taylor), she takes his gun, tells him to go “have some fun” while Mr. Mercedes serves him up his favourite fudge treat.
But then his daughter’s taken by Brady. When he goes back inside, everybody in his life is dead, murdered brutally. He’s quickly attacked by a rabid, beast-like Brady who tears him apart, ripping his flesh, eating him. Terrifying fucking nightmare.
Such a great contrast to the other episodes, all of those so similar, the same song, the record player, the breakfast. Now, we’ve come to the end of Season 1, and Bill’s in a vastly different, scarier headspace than he was before, worried for the safety of everyone near him.
IMG_0330At the police station, Dt. Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence), Dt. Izzy Torres (Nicole Barré), Captain Brooke Hockney (Debra Monk), and Bill watch the confessional tape Brady recorded before the supposed end. As he rants about his delusions of grandeur, his mom, the “lead boots” of conscience against which his life raged, the lie that his mom died because she wanted to turn him in – he can’t even admit HE was the one who accidentally killed her, a pathetic human. He goes on about history as “scar tissue” and gobbles up a bottle of pills at the same time. Until it looks like he passes out, falling into the lens.
Bill’s thanked afterwards by Capt. Hockney for his involvement, as well as tasked with helping out more while they check for bombs at his place, other places Brady might’ve left a bomb behind. They also get a bit of help from Lou Linklatter (Breeda Wool) concerning where Robi might be.
At the electronics shop, corporate douche Josh (David Furr) realises the killer is the one who setup a display recently, to attract kids and their parents. Nothing’s found. However, better safe than sorry, right? Bill’s house is safe, too. He and Pete have a beer on the front step, chatting, the latter admitting they found an escape tunnel down in Brady’s lair. Quite possible he’s out, alive, plotting.
And yes, he is, of course. Like we all knew. So sinister. He’s got another bomb, he’s putting the finishing touches on it. He has a wheelchair, as well. Underneath which is where the explosives are neatly hidden, nobody any the wiser about its capabilities. Oh, shit.
IMG_0331Josh goes looking for Robi. When he notices his car’s there and nobody answering at home, he calls the cops again. Pete, Izzy, and Bill come to check the place. In the apartment they find no one, nothing. Although Josh notices after a moment there’s no rug near the kitchen like before. So Izzy begins doing minor forensics, spraying luminol around a few areas, locating the presence of some interesting fluids – a large splash on the wall, the floor, some reaching out to the kitchen cabinets. A macabre, fluorescent crime scene.
This is when they call the morgue, to confirm the corpses, and discovering that most likely it was, indeed, Robi left in bed with Mama Hartsfield. So Cpt. Hockney and the rest try determining what Brady’s next move is, what to do in the preemptive hope they can combat the killer.
Speaking of, Brady’s shaving his head, going with a new look. Is he planning on a suicide bombing mission in that wheelchair? Simultaneously, the cops are wondering which events might be targets, a gala, another career fair event, so on. Without a specific threat, they can’t cancel anything. So they add security, they’ll keep their eyes open. Problem is even the shaved head could throw them off his trail, for just enough time to detonate those explosives.
Poor Bill’s haunted, seeing the images of his nightmare over and over. He also believes there’s no way Brady is going for another career fair, just as WE see the killer in his wheelchair, wearing glasses, bald head and a suit to boot. Brady’s at the gala, same place as Holly. Dear lord, no. Bill knows something bad will happen, he rushes for the gala, calls Ida and tells her to get someplace safe; our former detective knows the killer’s going for people he cares about.
IMG_0332In a portable outhouse, Brady opens the wheelchair and produces the bomb. Out on a stage, a speech, a look at the Edmund Mills Art Center opening in the community. In the crowd Bill looks hard for his man, he stumbles onto Holly and asks her to get out of there fast. And Jerome, he’s there with his family. So many in peril.
Lou’s also kicking around, having a drink. Near the bathrooms, she runs into none other than Brady in his disguise: “Shouldve worn sunglasses,” he quips. He stabs her in the stomach before hopping back in his wheelchair. Right at the same time Jerome takes the stage, introduced for his achievements, his getting into an Ivy League college, as he himself introduces a young choir. THE TENSION IS KILLING ME!
The killer doesn’t finish Lou off, so she shouts for help. Bill hears her calls, finding her, and getting somebody to call for an ambulance. She tells him about the disguise.
And wheeling into the middle of the crowd Brady readies himself to detonate. Onstage, Jerome starts clearing people out after Holly alerts him. Bill points his gun into the crowd as they run, Brady holds the detonator ready. But before anything can happen, Holly cracks the killer in the face, beating him relentlessly, and Jerome grabs the device. All to “This Little Light of Mine” in the background. Amazing sequence.


In the aftermath, Holly and Jerome are heroes. Bill’s been vindicated already, as his hunches over the Mercedes Killer case turned out to be entirely warranted. Meanwhile, Brady’s a vegetable in the hospital, our former detectives goes to see him every day: “If he ever flatlines, Ill show up and cremate him myself.” He leaves the hospital after whispering into Brady’s ear, making clear he isn’t going anywhere no matter if the killer’s brain dead or what.
There’s still a flicker. We can hear The Pixies “Here Comes Your Man” playing, the radio in his brain hanging on and on. I wonder…
IMG_0336Loved this finale! Wow, just filled with atmosphere and suspense, tension to fill your boots. Season 2’s been announced already, so I’m very interested if they’ll take into account Finders Keepers, or if they’re going for a whole angle of their own. Exciting stuff to consider in the interim.

SOLE SURVIVOR: Metaphor of the Dead

Sole Survivor. 1983. Directed & Written by Thom Eberhardt.
Starring Anita Skinner, Kurt Johnson, Robin Davidson, Caren L. Larkey, Andrew Boyer, Daniel Bryan Cartwell, Wendy Dake, Stephen V. Isbell, & William Snare.
Grand National Pictures/Moviestore Entertainment
Rated R. 85 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 11.56.14 PMBefore there was Final Destination, there was 1983’s Sole Survivor. Although the plots are different, the influence and homage is certainly there. But Thom Eberhardt’s Sole Survivor involves a woman named Denise Watson (Anita Skinner) who survives an aeroplane accident, the only survivor, after which she begins seeing the dead coming for her, everywhere.
This is an ’80s horror movie that, somehow, slipped by many. However, there are so many places where the influence of its themes and imagery exist, to this day, from the aforementioned Final Destination series to David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and more.
Although Eberhardt’s film works just as a great undead horror story, it’s also works on a more broad scale.
At the centre of the story, Denise’s plight is symbolic of survivor’s guilt, in that many who’ve survived catastrophes, genocide, a mass shooting (et cetera) later feel guilty for having lived while others died. Here, this concept is symbolised by the imagery of the dead coming back to find Denise, and hopefully take her with them. Also a parallel to the inescapable fact of death, that it will come for us all, no matter the circumstances. Much like the creeping death in Romero’s zombies, these undead in Sole Survivor are the epitome of death’s inevitability.
SS1For Eberhardt’s directorial debut, before he did the fantastic Night of the Comet, this is a well executed piece of horror cinema. In a decade with an overabundance of horror it’s easy for a few films to slip through the cracks, in comparison to other bigger names of the era, during a time where Michael, Freddy, Jason were wreaking havoc to big box office numbers. What sets this apart from similar films involving the dead coming back to life is the atmosphere, from bleak images to a constant air of dread and suspense throughout.
The opener is a scene that, today, you’d expect would involve a much larger, more expensive, wild action set-piece. Instead, we’re given an effective start to the film that’s inventive rather than over the top. This is where the dread starts, with bloody carnage, an airy industrial drone, a scattered scream here or there, and a catatonic Denise in the midst of the madness.
Definitely a predecessor to Final Destination, only a hell of a lot more subtle. Terror creeps in slow, the build up burning and the eeriness always present yet just in the immediate background. It Follows has much of the same atmosphere, giving us an awesome homage in a scene where Maika Monroe firsts sees the titular ‘it’ on her college campus; absolutely influenced by one the earlier moments when Denise discovers the dead have come back for her, nobody else able to see it. Even further, how Denise discovers what’s going on through the cryptic warnings of a second party, just as Monroe’s character does, as well. This just goes to show that Sole Survivor has far more influence than its reputation might let on, ingrained in the collective film-going mind either consciously or unconsciously.
SS2The survivor’s guilt metaphor works on several levels. One being the visual motif of Denise being able to see the dead, while others are wholly unaware, even if the walking corpse is right next to them. Many of the film’s best dreadful scenes come out of the rock and a hard place where Denise exists, trying to survive as the dead try just as hard to kill her, at the same time unable to explain to others fully what’s happening to her. This symbolises the struggle of the actual mental affliction of survivor’s guilt, in that it is an invisible illness. Unlike a broken bone, mental health hurts on an altogether emotional, existential level, in turn producing physical effects. So, following the metaphor through, Denise must suffer in silence, as many do with their mental health, and nobody outside of her can understand the nature of her suffering.
Sole Survivor perhaps works best on this metaphorical plane. The film’s awesome, creepy. But the pacing is off. A slow burn can be enticing, can compel a viewer to stick with the story and the characters. This film has too much of it, and so rather than be tight with those suspenseful moments and scenes, that chilly tension, it comes off in many scenes as too tedious for its own good.
There’s no doubt the finale is thrilling. That doesn’t entirely excuse some of the needlessly slow, drawn out sections that could’ve been more efficient, and at times maybe an extra bit scary. That being said, the very end of the film is perfect. And nasty to boot.
SS3Cryptic messages from a psychic. The previously dead rising. A woman descending into paranoia. These descriptions could signify a bunch of movies. Yet one of the best fitting the description is Sole Survivor. Dread, suspense, a dash of blood; these are all fine and dandy. Add to that the central performance of Anita Skinner, whose presence and range suck the viewer into the character, in turn the story. Each eerie moment takes us deeper into her perspective, the perfect atmosphere to explore her guilt.
Highly recommended, particularly for fans of the 1980s in horror. And especially if you want to see early influences on It FollowsFinal Destination, and other works of the genre. Tension, ghostly and gruesome apparitions, a killer score full of swelling synth and typical horror movie tracks that make the mood all the more unnerving at the right times. It isn’t a perfect film, but Sole Survivor deserves better than being forgotten, belonging up there next to some of the best the ’80s ever had to offer.

THE GARLOCK INCIDENT: Broken American Dreams En Route to Las Vegas

The Garlock Incident. 2012. Directed & Written by Evan Cholfin; from a story by Cholfin, Ariana Farina, & Ana Lily Amirpour.
Starring Ana Lily Amirpour, Adam Chambers, Sean Durrie, Joy Howard, Alycen Malone, Sean Muramatsu, Casey Ruggieri, & Larissa Wise.
Loudcat
Not Rated. 78 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
FullSizeRenderI’m of two minds: you can make found footage and not worry too much about ‘following the rules’ of the format so long as the story’s good, scary, exciting; or, you can make found footage while sticking to the format’s unwritten rules, working to make the film feel entirely genuine as a piece of recovered footage. The Garlock Incident is of the latter class, feeling exactly as if this film was picked up from a discarded camera somewhere out in the desert.
What makes this found footage better is not only do we deal with an intense, disturbing plot on the surface, beneath there’s much to admire. The Garlock Incident explores themes of the urban v. rural landscape, how societal norms and morality breaks down outside of the city, among others. Most of all, it acts as an overall metaphor about the deteriorating American Dream by contrasting it against the physical space of Old America.
Putting a group of friends on the road to Las Vegas, on their way to make a film directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (herself an actual, awesome director), director-writer Evan Cholfin crafts a sneaky little found footage film that teases all sorts of elements, but ultimately works on suspense, tension, and draws out a psychological horror that will stick with you well after that story comes to a close.
FullSizeRender (1)Straight away, the opening just jumps into footage; as a genuinely filmed road trip would, with no title, no opening scene like a traditional film, none of that. Not even the typical “On such-and-such date a group of…” Rather, we’re thrust directly into the characters and the plot. The immediacy of how we’re brought into the film allows the found footage format a sense of feeling genuine.
Furthermore, setting this as being footage from a film crew, of friends, heading to begin the shoot on a film gives the footage purpose. Found footage without purpose can often wind up feeling dishonest, because if doing found footage, why not make sure to pose it as actual footage that was found? Otherwise, might as well film traditionally. Lily directing the film within a film lends more authenticity.
Best part of the film is its tension, how Cholfin uses vast stretches of desert to allow isolation to take hold of the viewer. Ambient noise from the wind punctuates silent moments filled with suspense. Instead of the obligatory shaky cam filming of many found footage efforts, The Garlock Incident thrives on longer, controlled, still, silent shots. In these moments, these gaps, our imagination runs wild. These psychological spaces are where the best horror of the film works its nasty magic.
FullSizeRender (3)The haunted mining town setup evokes a sense of American Western tales meets the Gothic tradition, starting a spooky atmosphere. Works on another level, though. The old American Dream is symbolised by the gold mining town, the former path to glory which led many to their demise. Contrast that with the new American Dream, being in the movies, obviously represented by Lily and her friends making a film.
Where it all comes together is in the middle, precipitating an existential haunting. Of course there’s the mystery of what’s actually happening, are they going crazy, or is someone messing with them? Mystery gives way to paranoia, which then gives way to worse, the unimaginable. People get hurt. Some may die. As many often do, through drug overdose or otherwise, people die in pursuit of the American Dream on the silver screen. In the ghost town of Garlock exists the allegorical space where these two visions of the American Dream merge, causing chaos. This is illustrated in tandem with the editing of clips from earlier auditions for the film, candid moments amongst the group, as we see the shattered dream v. the idyllic American dream, the before and after, cutting from the happier moments to the later more unnerving and downright disturbing scenes sometimes in the matter of seconds.
Ultimately, in the face of the unknown, a perceived threat, the group’s morality is gradually questioned, some of them teetering precariously on an edge until the film’s shocking climax and quick finale. This all works towards the thematic consideration of what happens to people, socially, when they step outside the boundaries of their urban spaces, into the wilderness of the rural landscape. When these people, city dwellers, go outside their limits, their comfort even, they’re faced with the primitivity of humankind. In the end, this determines what happens to the characters, if they given in to their primitive side or not.
FullSizeRender (2)Cannot recommend this movie more. Found footage will always get a chance, from me. I’m willing to give anything a shot, because there’s a craving for the deeper subjects, the scarier stories, either supernatural or utterly human. The Garlock Incident plays with the audience’s expectations, then by the final frame you’re left reconsidering everything that came previously.
There’s a horrifying climax to the film, shot from a far physical distance. However, this literal distance cannot figuratively distance us from the brutality of its emotion, giving way to a conclusion that’s one hell of a gut punch. The last five minutes challenge us to go back, look at the events which led us and the characters to that moment, and the film’s last shot before a cut to black is expected after what preceded it, yet it’s no less shattering.
Seek this out, it’s available now via Google Play. Waited several years to see this, truly worth the wait. The acting holds up, a dreadful tension full of suspense and isolation fills the air. If you want blood, this isn’t the film you’re looking for, but if you want something that’ll creep under your skin, likely to stay a while, then you’ve found the ticket. A nice, eerie found footage film for the Halloween season.

HUMONGOUS: The Aberration of Men

Humongous. 1982. Directed by Paul Lynch. Screenplay by William Gray.
Starring Janet Julian, David Wysocki, John Wildman, Janit Baldwin, Joy Boushel, Layne Coleman, Shay Garner, Page Sletcher, John McFadyen, Garry Robbins, & Mary Sullivan.
Humongous Films
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror

★★1/2
Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 2.35.05 AMLoving a good slasher can be unrequited at the best of times, particularly considering 1980s. There were so many great slashers during that decade, then nearly as many, if not more sub-standard ones trying to cash in off the success of their much better peers. After thirty-two years I’ve managed to see the majority of those great slashers, still a few rare titles to knock off my list, and likewise I’ve seen plenty of those bombs.
Humongous is a frustrating slasher, because underneath its skeleton lies a potentially fascinating film. Except that the exterior, the skin, is rough, from a lack of proper lighting to awfully written and acted characters. Its strengths aren’t enough to outshine all the missteps. Frustration sets in with the ineffective handling of what could’ve been a powerful statement on male violence and the cycle of brutality women must endure at the hands of men.
There are a few gruesome kills and creepy moments, enough to make you sit through this once. Although likely never again. Humongous isn’t the worst slasher I’ve seen, not at all. But it’s endlessly frustrating how the story sets up a poignant look at the strength of women under terrifying circumstances, only to squander any hope of it having any power. There’s bad directing, even worse cinematography. Bottom line, this would’ve been so much more if only it lived up to the potential of its themes.
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Men are hateful to her

You don’t have to read into a slasher deeply to enjoy it, not at all, though it’s perpetually interesting when one takes on a deeper meaning. I love the hacking and slashing as much as any horror hound; the name of the site’s Father Son Holy Gore, for Christ’s sake. An additional element, another thematic layer can’t hurt a film. Look at Craven’s Scream, or most recently Get Out from Jordan Peele (among others) – these are horror films with lots of other things going on respectively. This sort of horror has the ability to reach beyond genre, to touch the world.
Unless, of course, these added themes don’t amount to a hill of beans, Ilsa! Humongous starts with a vicious rape-revenge moment at a party by the water, as a woman named Ida (Mary Sullivan) is raped; afterwards, she murders the man who did it. Cut to a couple decades later, Ida’s had a child, who grew from the seed of a misogynist, a rapist, into a killer man-creature, and it’s murdering people in the same location where his mother was assaulted all those years ago.
There’s a setup concerning the rape, one of many products of male violence. The man-creature, Ida’s son, is the metaphorical havoc a sexual assault wreaks on a woman, in turn the world around her, as she spawns this monster which perpetuates anger, brutality, and certainly death. We see the literal idea that animalistic behaviour – i.e. rape – breeds an animal, an inhuman beast. Even the other men in the film are mostly chauvinists, inattentive to women and their needs or their autonomy, they’re perverts, a bit violent themselves, and so on. With so much going on, seemingly pointed in the right direction, it has the potential to be good, right?
Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 2.47.56 AMThis is a film populated with toxic men, the most toxic being the psychopathic man-thing which Sandy (Janet Julian) – our story’s protagonist – must overcome. Just as Ida does in the beginning, Sandy is forced to assert her violent power, in order to survive the horrific abuse of the male gender. In a way, the themes setup early on do play out in the course of the plot.
But it’s how they play out which leaves a lot to be desired.
First, the atmosphere. In the film’s best moments, there’s a definite atmosphere of dread, of suspense, a foreboding sense that any moments might bring true horror. Yet the problem is the cinematography. Shot on 35 mm, you’d hope for that gritty, classic ’80s feel to its look. What we’re given is a sloppy mess of too-dark scenes, so dark you’ll absolutely want to jack up the brightness; there are times you can’t pick anything out, the lighting’s non-existent. No contrast of light and shadow, just a whole lot of shoddy darkness. So, while the atmosphere works to a point, there are too many times when it doesn’t, only serving to piss the viewer off. Does nothing for the scares, either.
Second, the exposition in the second half of the film is a touch too heavy. Visual flashbacks, even more of the killer himself would’ve benefited the film greatly. As is, the pacing clogs up the further time wears on. There are some solid slasher kills here, particularly one head-crushing, eye-popping, skull-cracking scene with gnarly practical effects. But if they cut a lot of exposition, went with a flashback, more of the killer murdering victims, Humongous would be a better genre film.
Finally it’s the screenplay where the problem truly lies. All those themes are in place, William Gray just can’t bring them together. It doesn’t help that Paul Lynch and cinematographer Brian R.R. Hebb muddle the look, as well. The biggest issue is that Gray doesn’t give us any nuance. We can all see how the film works in a circular, return to the beginning-type of technique, when Sandy confronts the spawn of Ida’s rape, faced with either killing or being killed. In between all that there’s a garbled tale about the evil men do to women, and how those repercussions last a lifetime.
Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 2.56.42 AMAt its heart, Humongous is a slasher specifically centred on male violence, it’s also got a drop of modern American Gothic with the small island as a setting, the old house, its skeleton and other things hidden inside. There are many things happening under the surface once you scratch away. Too bad it doesn’t come out a better product.
The ’80s were filled with horror, of all sub-genres. Slashers were the big ticket, after John Carpenter’s Halloween in ’78 made the sub-genre massively popular, carrying on into Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, as well as the lesser known though awesome stuff like Waxwork and others. Stuff like Humongous lies hanging in the middle somewhere, lost in the pack, a coulda-woulda-shoulda film that will forever anger me in its waste of powerful themes.
Definitely check this out, if only to say you did. Even the best copies out there seem to be dark and murky, the Blu ray’s picture is decent, it simply can’t change the lighting itself which is brutal. But throw this one in closer to Halloween, because it’ll still give you a jump or two. And that head crush is worth the price of admission. Enjoy; or don’t.

Too Much Camp in HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY

House II: The Second Story. 1987. Directed & Written by Ethan Wiley.
Starring Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano, Bill Maher, John Ratzenberger, Lar Park-Lincoln, Amy Yasbeck, Gregory Walcott, Dwier Brown, Lenora May, Devin DeVasquez, Jayne Modean, Ronn Carroll, & Dean Cleverdon.
New World Pictures/Sean S. Cunningham Films
Rated PG-13. 88 minutes.
Comedy/Fantasy/Horror

★★1/2
HOUSE3The previous House is the first horror movie I ever remember seeing. Well, I thought for a long time it was a dream I had when I was young, I couldn’t figure out which movie it was I saw. Until a few years back. So, naturally, once I watched it again, I decided there’s no sense in stopping. Why not watch them all?
House II: The Second Story really doesn’t have any continuity with the first film, but that’s okay. No need, really. A young couple, Jesse (Arye Gross) and Kate (Lar Park Lincoln), move into a big, ancient mansion that’s been passed down through generations of his family. Soon after, Jesse and his friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) uncover photos of his great-great grandfather (Royal Dano) at a Mayan temple with a crystal skull in hand. From there, it’s adventure.
While the tone of the first film isn’t present, the comedy is, all the way. There are definitely bits of horror here, but House II feels more like a comedic fantasy than anything else. The horror element mainly comes out of the fact that Gramps – and later his dastardly partner Slim (Dean Cleverdon) – is a walking corpse, plus a few other undead and weird things that show up along the way. It’s not as good as the previous House. Regardless, you can still have a little fun.
HOUSE1There’s connective tissue joining the sequel to its predecessor, even if they really don’t have anything to do with one another in continuity. Such as the theme of family history and family secrets continuing. Although here it’s more grandiose.
We’re treated to a Western adventure-style film spoof. Throw in a time portal-like gateway for good measure. This leads way to madcap action after a dinosaur gets loose in the house, a caterpillar-dog hybrid shows up like a cute little house pet, and the comedy of errors started in the first movie is amplified times ten or more with a bit that prehistoric chaos causing trouble. Throw in a pre-Islamophobe Bill Maher, and it’s a pretty damn wild ride.
Favourites & Tidbits:
– Undead horse, baby! The horse itself is gnarly, in the best sense. However, Slim, the cowboy riding him, isn’t half as cool looking as Gramps.
– Western gunfight in the finale rules pretty hard. Not too often you get one like this, either.
– Kane Hodder, after his work on the first film, returned as stunt co-ordinator. Always great having a genre veteran like him working on a project. The stunts were definitely bigger this time around, too.
– In 1987, Marvel released a comic version of the movie written by none other than Ralph Macchio.
– Anyone out there dig 2001’s remake of Thirteen Ghosts? Me, too. And the house in this movie is the same one used there; if you have a real good eye, you might just pick out the similarities, buried underneath the set design.
HOUSERight off the bat the effects and makeup work are infinitely better. While House‘s dead had a campy quality, the sequel’s got camp but less in the effects department; more so in dialogue and definitely the acting. The risen great-great grandpa looks better than the zombie corpses of the first film, mostly. Not as dark or unsettling as them, though.
Part of what doesn’t work is the pacing. While suspension of disbelief is necessary in a film like this, obviously, as opposed to Cobb’s discover of the haunted house’s spirits in the first film the supernatural moments here are rushed way too fast, with little to no setup, suspense, or any real tact at all. Fun, but absolute nonsense. Coming from someone who loves the foolish first movie, too. If you whittle away too much of the ins and outs of the plot, the events, even the characters, things fall apart at the seams fast. You can enjoy something that’s not the greatest, but if it’s this flimsy on the writing when the effects have a wholehearted feel, the viewer’s left wondering why.
Another large killer compared to the previous movie are the performances. It’s all meant to be infused with camp, no doubt. Yet House retained a dark quality underneath, half in the writing, half in the way William Katt portrayed Roger Cobb, dangling on the edge of comically insane and existentially horrified. Here, none of the performances are worth talking about. In fact, whereas the first movie had Cheers alumni George Wendt, his old drinking buddy John Ratzenberger returns here, giving us what’s likely the best performance out of any of the actors in the cast. So, as fun and spoofy as House II is intended to come off, it doesn’t have the comedic power to make it successful in its aims. Too bad, because despite that there’s fun to be had in the plot.
MSDHOUS EC030There’s no recommending House II: The Second Story as an unmissable film. Neither is it close to the top 50 horror movies of the 1980s. House wasn’t amazing, even though I hold it in higher regard. But it was both creepy and funny, darkly funny, at that. Katt’s central performance grounded the tone of the movie. Its sequel isn’t able to capture any of that same magic, nor is it capable of breaking out into its own thing at any time.
Truthfully, even if it’s not a great movie the next movie in the series, The Horror Show (a.k.a House 3) is better than the second. Just because these movies need that dark edge. Without that, there’s no contrast to the black comedy that emerges. Not to mention House II doesn’t even have much true horror, the stuff we get is decidedly tame in contrast to the rest of the series. By all means, watch them. They’ve all got something worth enjoying, no matter if it’s fleeting. This sequel will, at the very least, make you laugh. Not always in the way intended, but laugh you shall.

The Sequel I Tried to Like: THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2

The Houses October Built 2. 2017. Directed by Bobby Roe. Screenplay by Roe & Zack Andrews.
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, & Jeff Larson.
Foreboding Films.
Not Rated. 100 minutes.
Horror

★★
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 12.14.39 PMLet’s get this straight, I’ve been a huge fan of The Houses October Built since it came out. After seeing it, loving it, I looked for the original documentary that came out a few years before by the same director, the same people. There’s a palpable fear about the first film, one that gets under the skin and works at you, rarely letting up. It also had the benefit of a group of actors who were clearly close friends, reflected in the final product as well-developed, genuine characters.
But, oh, this sequel. After it was announced, I was excited. Not every movie needs a sequel these days, but it felt like there could be more to the story, if the filmmakers were so inclined to show us. The Houses October Built 2 promised plenty, ultimately delivering on little to none of what I’d hoped.
Where I was expecting another gruelling experience, rooted in the unknown yet all too human, I got only a retread in familiar territory. Not great ones, either. What’s more, the tension is near non-existent. The original was a tense experience, one haunted house attraction after another. Even when frights were expected, they were creepy, at times truly frightening. By the time the big reveal comes, it’s too late in the game. What’s worse is the ending feels like a massive bluff, in a bad way. Not that the audience is disrespected, it’s just cheap, it takes away what little power was built in the climax. If the first film wasn’t so damn effective this experience wouldn’t have been as disappointing.
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The Good

Always love when a sequel gives us a taste of happened directly after the events of its predecessor. As in literally; we begin following The Houses October Built‘s finale, after Blue Skeleton has taken the group, Brandy’s pulled out of her grave and left on a desolate road. Then, it’s interesting how Brandy is framed as the wholly central character here, as opposed to just one out of a group. She and her friends, though mostly her, become internet celebrities after it was all livestreamed.
Spectacular premise. Brandy as Coffin Girl, known all over America in the state-to-state haunt circles, promises the possibility of different themes than the first. Along with that is the evolution of the haunt, the various forms of the haunted house attraction getting scarier, or more involved, some including virtual reality elements. These new bits and pieces make for the sequel’s best, most effective elements.
The Blue Skeleton POV shots following the group are chilling, perhaps the more nerve-racking sections in the film. We’ve seen this before, but now the mood changes from one of a sinister playfulness to entirely sinister altogether, malevolent. Considering the overall lack of tension, these interludes are the ones that hook the viewer efficiently, keeping us on edge and in suspense of what might happen next down the road.
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The Bad & The Ugly

Quickly during the opening sequence, the atmosphere of the first film goes out the window. Whereas we spent The Houses October Built entirely in that found footage perspective of the group, this sequel goes for traditionally shot scenes, going so far as to include drone shots that feel totally out of place, like they had a drone and decided just to use it for the sake of using it. The earliest drone shot isn’t their camera, it’s an opening shot similar to the one that opened the newest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, meant as an establishing shot. Here, it’s disorienting, and immediately there’s a sense the first film’s fantastic atmosphere will not carry over.
The found footage sections are all manipulated, too. They’re edited with music, little intros to some of the haunts. Not a total stickler for the unwritten rules of the sub-genre, sometimes people nitpick too much. However, at a certain point if the filmmakers don’t at least try adhering to them whatsoever, there’s a disruption in how we related to this type of film, and it also makes you wonder why bother doing it as found footage.
The worst sin is a dearth of tension. The Houses October Built felt harrowing in particular moments, from the actual haunts themselves to the strange cast of characters the group encounter while spiralling down a rabbit hole looking for Blue Skeleton’s extreme, travelling haunt. There are no quiet, creeping moments of terror, none of the ominous characters we saw in the first like sort of gatekeepers on the road to some horrific place. This never comes to fruition in the sequel, we’re treated to a skull mask turning up in one of the haunts as Brandy spies it and gets unnerved; this doesn’t come until about 70 minutes in.
We’re left bored until over an hour in. Despite any of the creepiness which follows, the build-up doesn’t match the pay off. The last 25 minutes work well, sadly the preceding hour and fifteen don’t provide the tension necessary to make Hellbent, their final attraction destination, as unsettling as it could’ve been. Worst of all, there’s a moment in the end where we’re led to believe a shocking, nasty, tragic act has occurred, only to be twisted around and shown this was an illusion of sorts. It’s a scene that makes the viewer feel cheated. More than that, it would’ve been perfect to end the film there and then. Instead the filmmakers undo the impact of this shattering climax, spoiling the plot with an utterly abysmal finish.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.47.58 PMIt’s hard to judge sequels separately as entirely different entities outside of a franchise. Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween; some of the films in these series’ don’t particularly link well with the others, whether intentional or just because of poor writing, and so it allows us to look at particular entries as a sort of standalone film even under the name of a franchise.
The Houses October Built 2 is very much meant as the second blow of a one-two punch, the sequel works as a direct, sequential follow-up to the first. You can’t take this one as its own film, they should both work in conjunction. On the one hand, the plot continues perfectly, losing no continuity. On the other, we get none of the same atmosphere, none of the same mood, as if we’ve stepped out of this story’s universe and into another.
I’ll always love The Houses October Built, it’s undeniably one of the better found footage horror flicks out there; definitely at the top of the heap in this decade. Because of that love, I can’t help but be disappointed, it’s hard to contain. I always try going into a film without being predisposed to expectation, no matter how much I look forward to the experience. Sequels are always tough, in that light. I gave this a chance. Even without comparison to the other, this one feels like a missed opportunity. Maybe we’ll get a third film to redeem this little series. Until then I’ll stick with the first.