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The House by the Cemetery. 1981. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Lucio Fulci/Giorgio Mariuzzo/Dardano Sacchetti, from a story by Elisa Livia Briganti.
Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Anioa Pieroni, Giovannia Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Dora, Gianpaolo Saccarola and Carlo De Mejo. Fulvia Film. Rated R. 87 minutes.
I came to Lucio Fulci about ten years ago, after seeing City of the Living Dead. His classic look, the effects, an insanely nasty sense of style – how could I not enjoy his films? After that one, I found The Beyond, which is tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as my favourite of his work. So I made my way through everything by him I could find. Though his movies aren’t perfect, I find them perfect for me, for horror. They’re not full of grand metaphor, they aren’t even particularly complex in plot. What Fulci offers is a visually pleasing aesthetic, crossed with the brutal qualities of his own personal horror movie madness.
The House by the Cemetery isn’t his best, though, it’s nowhere near his worst. While many might have you believe it’s overrated, or that it’s “typical Fulci”, I say that’s nonsense. Especially those who think it’s “typical” of him – what’s wrong with typical Fulci? He’s a classic horror filmmaker, his style is all his own. Added to that, there are always solid gore effects, you can count on that. This film has all the earmarks of Fulci with a bit of inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and other sources.
Essentially, this is Fulci’s version of the haunted house horror.
Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco/Catriona MacColl), along with their young boy Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move into a home belonging to a colleague of Norman’s who committed suicide; he plans on researching the house itself, as well as the other previous owners. Soon enough, Bob sees a young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina), but only he can see her. She tries to warn him of the danger in the house. No one will believe him, certainly not his mother. Eventually a woman comes to take the position of babysitter for Bob – Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up out of nowhere for the job.
Things slowly get scarier in the old house, as Norma and Lucy discover a Dr. Freudstein once lived in their new home, around the turn of the century. He was a Victorian era doctor who performed illegal surgeries and experiments. This leads to more gruesome discoveries around the property, as the past comes alive and tears its way into the present.
When the movie’s filmed in English, yet still dubbed in post-production for some odd reason, you can’t expect it to be an outright masterpiece. Can you? No. So, when you watch The House by the Cemetery I’m not saying you’ll be blown away by all the technical aspects. Nor am I saying the story makes perfect and complete sense. Not in the slightest. What I am saying is that Fulci manages to do excitingly eerie things with atmosphere, as well as the fact he does his best to include some proper gore to wet the whistle of all those gore hounds out there.
My favourite part of this film is that atmosphere. The overall tone is grim. There’s something common to Fulci, I think. Every movie feels hopeless, not an ounce of actual happiness and figurative light manages to make its way into these stories he tells. Which is perfect for horror, and why I’m always inclined to enjoy so many of his films. The House by the Cemetery has the pretense of having those happier moments in the beginning, but the immediacy in Fulci’s presentation of the horror going on inside the house sets the tone quickly. It reminds me of how George Romero starts Day of the Dead with that neat, brief little dream sequence; sets us on edge from the start, almost like a visual manifesto. From there, Fulci works on us with his imagery alongside an unusual and exciting score from Walter Rizzati. The aesthetic of the film is, again, very Fulci.
I mean, even the scene where Norman (Paolo Malco) gets attacked by a bat becomes something intensely horrific. It latches onto his hand for what seems like ages. Finally, after a tough wrestle with it as everyone watches in horror, Norman stabs the things, blood pumping everywhere. The mark it leaves is savage. Such a normal event like finding a bat in the basement – something which happens plenty to people around the world – transforms into the stuff of nightmares. Such is the power of Fulci. He doesn’t have to be doing anything extraordinary in terms of plot or story in order to make things interesting, or in this case pretty nasty.
I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the story, like the plot is completely nonsensical. Not sure why so many complaints. There’s not much going on here to really need to comprehend. It’s a haunted house style horror movie, there are reanimated corpses in the house – chaos and supernatural terror ensue. What’s so tough to get? Not saying that everything is tied up into neat little packages and the screenplay rounds off every edge it fashions. But seriously – I don’t get the labels of incoherent other reviews have put out there. Does not make sense. There’s a surreal nature to this creepy house of Fulci’s, I feel The House by the Cemetery is like a fever dream full of haunting images. As I said earlier, this is like the past meets the present. The visceral entities of the house’s past come alive to keep taking lives, to keep Dr. Freudstein in business and corpses for experimentation, surely. Is that not the whole point? Just can’t get my head around why people feel the need to criticize Fulci here when the movie isn’t trying to be anything more than it is: a creepfest with nasty kills and a grim tone.
Despite all my love for this Lucio Fulci film, I do find a lot of the acting – aside from Catriona MacColl who is always fabulous – pretty damn bothersome, and tiring most of the time. Regardless, I still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. It’s got a nice dose of gore, the typically awesome and gnarly horror expected of Fulci. Not only that, the story is creepy enough to keep things going; no matter what people say about its supposed incoherence. Mainly, it’s just not an overly complex plot or anything. It has the goods to satisfy a haunted house movie craving, on top of that the blood and vicious bits will keep the hounds at bay. Not Fulci’s top horror, but like I said it’s light years away from being the worst. This is a good flick for Halloween and it’s a generally good one to take in if you’re getting into Fulci, or if you’re into him and have yet to see it because of Negative Nancies and Davie Downers saying this is overrated, or yadda yadda whatever else they say. Judge for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear other perspectives, as long as you’re civil – then this Dude abides.
The Sentinel. 1977. Directed & Written by Michael Winner; based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz.
Starring Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, and Beverly D’Angelo.
Universal Pictures/Jeffrey Konvitz Productions.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
When I really started to become a horror hound years ago, The Sentinel is a haunted house horror movie I’d heard about yet could never get the chance to see. Years later, finally, I was able to and it blew me away. Personally, it’s my favourite haunted house-style film. There’s an intimacy to its depiction of haunting that really gets to me and lingers; sort of how I feel about Robert Wise’s The Haunting, another haunted house movie I feel is built on an intimate feel of perspective. Even more than that, Michael Winner’s movie is such a creepy, slow burn style horror, as well as the fact it draws on religious elements to achieve its supernatural thrill.
Haunted house movies are incredibly common. It’s hard to set a movie aside from the pack and say “This is the best.” So many are actually good, too. In my mind. You’ve got the aforementioned Wise film, The Legend of Hell House, The Shining (even if it’s not as good as King’s book), The Changeling, and the list goes on. What makes The Sentinel special for me is its pacing, the interesting and slow building screenplay Winner adapted from the Jeffrey Konvitz novel is tight. Then there’s all the imagery.
Trust me, this is a hellish ride.
Model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) and boyfriend Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) are on the verge of marriage. However, Alison would rather be independent and have a place of her own instead of moving in with Michael. Just in case. So she rents an apartment in a seemingly ancient New York brownstone, where the landlady gives her a nice price and all the eccentric neighbours come out for a visit. Though, after a little time in her new home, Alison starts to feel strangely. First, her own motor skills start to cease functioning correctly causing bedlam all over the place from home to work on photo shoots. Then she begins to witness eerie happenings throughout the apartment, the apparition of dead people from her past, and it only begins to get worse.
Eventually after some investigation Michael starts figuring out what’s been going on at the apartment building. By the time Alison clues in it may or may not be too late for her to do anything about it.
The brownstone may have its new Sentinel yet.
Immediately the score from Gil Mellé is noticeable. Such a lush sounding composition from the start, as we’re introduced to Alison (Raines). Then suddenly Mellé spins everything down in this strangely appropriate dark twist. You’re almost jarred out of place by the music, explicitly made aware there’ll be spookiness to follow. A required element for any proper haunted house horror is a chilling score. I mean, okay, it’s not required, but I think they benefit greatly from having a refined sound behind it.
The score works so well at other times because it isn’t just a bunch of single pieces linked together. Mellé incorporates his compositions into the sound design – shrill strings whittle away at your nerves in certain moments of suspense, other scenes have an ambient swell surrounding them and an electronic feel, then he also brings out the church bells and other ominous sounds to mix their presence with everything else into magic. This is one horror score I could easily sit and listen to, completely out of context; not many of those out there aside from John Carpenter’s scores and maybe a handful of others. The music here becomes its own entity, and without it the tension and suspense of many scenes wouldn’t be as effective.
When Alison first comes across the ghost, or zombified ghost, of her father it’s full-on terror. Some impressively executed practical effects here, as she hacks at his face with a knife, slicing him and cutting off a chunk of his nose; it’s vicious stuff! You don’t expect it to happen, really. Nice surprise. These macabre aspects continue throughout, though, that’s probably the most outwardly violent thing to happen.
Except for later, once things get worse and worse for Alison, her mental state deteriorating almost exponentially day to day. At one point we get a glimpse of the two strange lesbian women apparently feasting off the dead corpse of a man, bloody leaking out, some on their faces and mouths. So, I suppose the cannibalism would be even more violent. Still, I think probably the best moment is the previous one between Alison and her dead father. Just such a visual jolt I’d not been expecting; always the best kind. And the way her father sort of shambles out of the shadows at her, his face revealing in the bit of light, it’s a subtly effective horror technique instead of going for a ridiculously nervous jump scare.
Overall, Winner does such a nice job crafting the screenplay with intense visuals, from the look of how its shot to the actual horrific elements. I love the beautiful, vibrant colour in this movie; particularly I find the scenes in the church stick out, with the heavy burgundies, the wood tones of the pews, and so on. Cinematographer and director of photography Dick Kratina does the film justice by capturing it so well. Not is there just nice looking visuals on a surface level, some of those spooky bits throughout are all due to the way Kratina manages to frame the scenes – his use of shadow at various points, from Alison’s first walk around the apartment at night to when Michael (Sarandon) explores the entire building alone, is very good and casts everything in an unsettling light.
Once the final ten minutes begin, especially after Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith) calls out to the other ghosts, The Sentinel evolves into pure terror. There are deformities, burn victims, rotting dead corpses, the lesbians cannibalizing Michael’s body, and more. It’s an intensely visceral sequence, which again pits Alison against her dead father; his makeup is scary, he creeps the hell out of me whenever I see him. Just the whole finale, it works on you and it does my head in every single time I watch this movie. Winner paces this scene so perfectly, too. He could have had a very frantic set of shots, typical modern styled horror we see too often nowadays. Rather, instead of going for the adrenaline he makes your pulse pound, he makes the suspense ramp up in your gut and the tension tickle your veins, and by the time we hit the finish Winner has the audience in the palm of his hand. Again, Mellé’s ominous sounding score comes out in an amazing wave that builds up to a crash, really putting the cherry on top. Couldn’t ask for a better finale. It’s weird, it has a bit of blood and unnerving shocks, there’s pure emotional terror at work, and the plot’s conclusion kept me wanting more in the right sort of sense.
5 stars for Michael Winner and The Sentinel. This one has all the greatness of the best haunted house horror, as well as the fact it’s got plenty of unique charm. We get a heavy dose of classic horror, plus Winner brings innovation to his adaptation of the source material and gives us an odd, quirky piece of terrifying cinema. There are lots of practical effects to gorge on – something of which I’m a massive fan – and then the spooky moments will genuinely make you uncomfortable and scare you proper. You’ve got to see this soon because it’s an underrated and lesser known gem from 1977, before some of the best known haunted house pictures.
The Haunting. 1963. Directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding; based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn. Argyle Enterprises. Rated G. 112 minutes (Black & White).
Whatever the equivalent of a Renaissance Man in film, it certainly was Robert Wise. He crossed over genres and did so many incredible movies in the span of his career that it’s almost not even sensible. Not nowadays, even with lots of great filmmakers popping out here and there.
Think about it – The Curse of the Cat People, The Body Snatcher, The Set-Up, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Somebody Up There Likes Me, West Side Story, The Haunting, The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain, Audrey Rose, and even Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That’s not even all of them, just the good ones (except for the first Star Trek).
Wise has that classic sensibility about his filmmaking. Here, he uses such beautifully constructed angles and lighting, shadow, to create a haunting feeling. His ability to put us in the perspective of a character is uncanny. The Haunting is not just a ghost story, nor is it simply a typical haunted house horror movie. Wise constructs a supernatural type film around very psychological premises. Working off the excellent novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the screenplay by Nelson Gidding is woven finely and Wise makes it something intimate, as well as very universal. Though we spend so much time getting into the head of one particular lead character, the story and its trappings draw on a widely held fear – one that comes out of wondering what lies beyond the veil of death.
Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) plans on conducting experiments concerning ghostly entities. He is able to secure the use of Hill House: a legendary home built by Hugh Crain (Howard Lang) for his wife, though now supposedly haunted after he was plagued by the deaths of his wives.
Markway invites several people to come to the house, all in the name of studying fear specifically. Two women, Eleanor (Julie Harris) and Theodora (Claire Bloom), along with a young man named Luke (Russ Tamblyn) come to Hill House in order for Markway to start experimenting. However, not long after her arrival Eleanor starts to lose her grip on reality. Not too long and everything begins to get more terrifying, not just for Eleanor but for every living person who comes into contact with Hill House. No telling if any of them will make it out of its walls alive.
I don’t care what anyone says, some of the old school film techniques are the best. For instance, just the way Wise creates a disorienting feeling with simple methods instead of using any elaborate effects is part of The Haunting‘s charm. Early on, after Eleanor reaches the house and everyone’s settling in, she has a sort of panic attack and the camera dips, giving us an inverted look at her as she screams out. It’s such a deceptively simple shot, but god damn if it doesn’t work proper. Even so far as very quick angles and switches of point-of-view, which Wise executes flawlessly. Particularly there’s a scene where Eleanor goes back to her room alone, lying on the bed, then the camera moves from above her looking down to a shot next to the bed, no edit. Such a smooth switch and it just has a nice look. Lots of modern horror is so concerned with pushing a scare on you and throwing it in your face. Wise lets a lot of the psychological effects of the noises, the ghostly whispers (and so on) really sit with you and he twists and turns things about as you’re sinking in it. Again, it’s the fact we’re so often thrown into Eleanor’s perspective I find the film is so creepy. You eventually get a sense of something terrifying happening, even in the times Eleanor is with someone else and the ghostly presence is banging a door or shaking something – it still feels very much like we’re riding along with her specifically. I enjoy all the characters, it’s simply the way the story is told and how Wise is able to give us such a close, intimate feeling of seeing things through her eyes.
So much of the psycho-horror comes out of the innovative filming and creative editing, such a spooky overall product. Wise deliberately wanted to throw people off, so there are cuts where characters walk through a door on the right only to enter through the left of the screen, thereby confusing any sense of understanding the layout of Hill House (so remember this people when you think about Kubrick’s The Shining). I love that because it adds another purposefully, and awesomely, eerie sense of disorientation.
One of my favourite moments in terms of technique is the staircase. We get that neat shot, strangely creepy, where the camera seems to zoom down through the stairs. As per commentary on The Haunting Blu ray, this was achieved by basically using the staircase as a dolly and sending the camera down slowly, then once in reverse the effect came out weird and highly effective. Just like another shot where Eleanor is alone, thinking to herself and letting the thoughts of dead Mrs. Crain get in her head, then the camera sort of zooms down at her from high above, her wide and screaming mouth open – then a quick cut to Dr. Markway grabbing hold so she doesn’t fall off the balcony. This quick bit is so unsettling, it draws you closer and closer towards Eleanor’s mindset.
The performances are all pretty top notch, classy style acting overall. Of course it’s Julie Harris as Eleanor who steals the show. Without her ability to portray such a damaged, fragile woman, the plot wouldn’t have been able to take hold. Not only does Wise put us in her shoes visually, her skills as an actor take us the next leap forward. She’s very quiet and subtle at moments, then others time there’s a fire inside her, in her eyes, and it rises up quickly. Harris has wonderful range and displays it, fine-tuned here.
Further than that, this movie had a great depiction of a lesbian woman for 1963. Usually there’d be a foolishly stereotypical version of a gay woman in other big films. Instead, Theodora (played by Claire Bloom) comes off elegant, feminine and not someone trying to lure the only other woman around into a sexual encounter – funny enough, the 1999 remake sort of retracted all that and made her into a hound for pussy, but whatever, that movie was awful. This one, though, it really did good things for the character. That’s just another example of a nice addition to the source material. Jackson is very, very present throughout this adaptation. But Gidding and Wise have their hands in some places where it counts, including Theodora’s character and the in-depth focus on Eleanor and her mental state.
If there were ever a quintessential haunted house-style horror movie, it is absolutely Robert Wise’s The Haunting. 5 stars, hands down. I can never see this movie enough. It’s especially good for Halloween, but every day is good for horror. This will sink in if you let it. Too many people today are getting desensitized by gore and blood. But that is not the epitome of horror. The real creepy stuff, the genuinely unsettling horror movies, they’re the ones that slowly climb into your brain and don’t let go. They’re the things made up of well crafted writing, careful direction – both in terms of cinematography, editing, and also regarding the design aspects of the house, the look of it all. The Haunting has every bit of this, and more. You need to experience this Wise masterpiece in Blu ray, it will blow your mind. Excellent horror and one hell of a classic.
The Inhabitants. 2015. Directed/Written by Michael & Shawn Rasmussen.
Starring Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Vasilios Asimakos, Danny Bryck, Judith Chaffee, Erica Derrickson, Edmund Donovan, Victoria Nugent, and Rebecca Whitehurst. Lascaux Media/Sinister Siblings Films. Unrated. 90 minutes.
A few weeks back, one half of the filmmaker duo the Rasmussen Brothers (writers of John Carpenter’s The Ward) contacted me in regards to their new film The Inhabitants. Now available on VOD, the Rasmussen Bros were kind enough to give me the Vimeo link and password to watch the movie ahead of time. Only now getting around to it – busy man here – I must say, the depressingly low rating on IMDB is exactly that: depressing. Now, to start, I don’t go by what IMDB tells me; it’s a site I use, I rate things on my own scale to try and balance so many of the unfair ratings of decent to good (sometimes to great) films. However, it’s not something I gauge films by, as I leave that to my own sensibilities and taste. There are, yes, certain aspects of film you can objectively look at and say “This is well done” or “This is bad”, yet so much of how we experience any art, film included, is entirely subjective. You’ll never separate yourself entirely from the subjective part of your mind because in all your opinions you’re coming from some place, a location. I always keep that in mind with my reviews and ratings, so should you if you’re reading mine or anyone else’s opinion on a film – I recognize my reviews are from a subjective place.
That being said, The Inhabitants is not a great film. Though, it has some really great aspects. Not breaking any fresh ground particularly, the Rasmussen Bros do create a pretty decent aesthetic from their use of the camera itself to the nice spooky sound design. Perhaps a meatier plot would’ve done the film well – it feels a lot like the skeleton is there, the story itself, just not enough actual plot points other than vague elements through which the characters allowed to walk. Still, I found this indie haunted house-style movie effective in terms of its mood and the generally solid atmosphere of creepiness the filmmakers were able to build from start to finish.
When Jessica (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed) purchase a quaint little bed and breakfast in the New England countryside, it seems like the American Dream – idyllic forest and sprawling landscapes. Then they start to find problems, such as the nagging legend of a witch and the strange occurrences happening throughout the old house.
In the beginning, even the weird moments Jessica experiences aren’t too threatening. Slowly as the couple get acclimated to the bed and breakfast, its surroundings, the nearby Witch Museum, it is painfully clear the house’s own history is much darker, more terrible than any real estate agent would ever be willing to admit.
What I do enjoy about The Inhabitants is the aesthetic overall. The sound design itself adds a wonderful layer of spookiness. There’s no score so much as there are a few small pieces, plus a ton of the sound design in terms of very dark, brooding and destabilizing sounds; it puts you on an edge, even if there’s nothing exactly threatening or sinister happening the at times dark ambient noise in the background makes everything feel uneasy.
Something which makes the sound design better and more effective is how the Rasmussen Bros don’t opt for a bunch of jump scares in order to spook us. Yes, there are some in there, but it’s not a relied upon method the director-writer pair are interested in exploiting. I love a good jump scare, if it’s properly done and doesn’t become a trope within one movie itself; nothing worse than a technique overdone, regardless of what it is in the end. So most of what the Rasmussens are able to create here is a genuinely unnerving mood, with the visuals shot pretty beautifully alongside the sound design’s low, creepy swell.
One of my favourite moments come just barely past the 1-hour mark – Dan has this dream, a terrifying image of Jessica comes to him: she’s breastfeeding a small child, then when he gets closer it appears as some dead corpse-like thing, a skull for a face. It’s so brief that it works wonders for the scare factor! Not even a jump scare so much as it’s a quick little WHOA. Very cool and grim stuff.
My only big legitimate problem with The Inhabitants is the plot, as I mentioned earlier. Not that I feel the plot is bad, there just isn’t enough. The bones of the story exist – it isn’t innovative or new, but at least there’s a story in place which could be used to flesh out a scary plot and some decent characterization. Even further, we get bits and pieces of the main characters, who they are, their personalities. Though, I don’t feel as if there’s enough of Jessica or Dan to truly care and become involved in their personal plight. Ultimately, issue being, in all the wandering of the characters – through the darkness of the house, et cetera – the screenplay wanders about a great deal.
The actors do a fairly decent job with their characters – Couture and Reed do a solid job for the most part with the two leads. It’s simply a problem of character. Sure, we get lots of nice stuff happening as the house sort of takes hold over Jessica in particular. There’s even a part earlier when she finds a sonogram, a few little clever lines thrown in without too much overt and talky exposition. However, none of it pays off in the right sense. The characters aren’t dull, I just wish we could’ve gotten more of a sense about who these two were before the plot of the film begins. As it stands, they’re just two people in a haunted house being affected by all its eeriness, like there’s no way to gauge how the effects are running wild on them because all we get really is a look at the post-haunting couple. But I’ve got to make it clear, I think the Rasmussen Bros do well with the characterization and plot present by at least not going hard on the exposition. Too many films, horror specifically, try to heavy hand the dialogue in and let you know EVERY LITTLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING/HAS HAPPENED, and then there’s absolutely no mystery left. At the very least, the screenplay keeps an air of intrigue instead of hamfisting the plot and story down our esophagus. There are pieces which go nowhere, there are also no pieces where I felt a few morsels ought to bed. Overall, I’m just glad that – while too overly vague at times – the writing isn’t completely spoon fed to the viewer, and the writer-director brothers still try to leave some of the legwork to their audio/visual aesthetic.
I’m not going to be a pessimist about this film and say it’s no good at all; it is good. There are some excellent things happening and I feel, as directors, the Rasmussen Brothers know how to properly create a sense of dread, an atmosphere full of creepy, spooky mood and tone. This is, to me, a 3 out of 5 star film. Definitely could use more work on the plot itself, I would’ve been even more impressed with this independent horror movie if the writer brothers cultivated better characters. Still, the acting wasn’t typically atrocious like a lot of indie horror, and the palpable atmosphere from the first scene right to the last is enough to keep you glued. Plenty of gorgeously dark imagery and the house/the forest is captured visually with such eeriness it’s hard to deny. With a little more work, though, the Rasmussen Brothers are on their way to making really solid horror movies. I hope they’ll keep it up.
FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 4: “Haunted House”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by Brad Falchuk
The opening scene is excruciatingly funny and so acidic in terms of how it takes on popular “bitches” like Chanel #1 (Emma Roberts). Chanel-O-Ween sees her send presents to tons of girls who idolize her, supposedly the “losers” or whatever you want to substitute for a description.
Way too funny. Hard to describe, yet it’s just so good. Solid opener for the episode.
At Kappa House, Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) is being questioned by the police, but not really. She is great friends with the detective questioning her. Not only that, she does make sense – it would be awfully hard for her to get out, dress up as the Red Devil, climb down unnoticed outside, and then attack. Or is it? Wes Gardner (Oliver Hudson) is not convinced, neither is Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad) particularly. I am, though. Munsch is dirty, just not a killer, I don’t think. Then in bursts guard Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash) trying to tell everyone Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) is the real killer.
Mostly this part is an amazing showcase, once more but longer this time, of Niecy Nash kicking out the comedy jams. She is awesome and perfectly fits this character. We always hear how black women are “sassy” or something similar. I think Nash allows herself to be goofy, which is super fun. Not that she’s a weak character, but she doesn’t necessarily have to be strong, she just gets to be silly and it works proper.
In another confrontation between Denise and Zayday, we find out Denise was rejected from Kappa House at the same university she now guards. Great, quick flashback to her being tossed – once again showing off Nash’s hilarity.
Meanwhile, Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) and Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta) track down the woman who was once a sorority pledge at Kappa House – Mandy (Jennifer Aspen). She tells them about how her life is “split in two: before that night and after“.
Flashback to 1995 where Dean Munsch talks through the process of covering up the young girl’s death in that bathtub. Then, she makes the girls wear hoods on the ride out to bury the body, so they’ll never know where it is buried. Munsch locks them all down with a highly nasty little plan, all to cover her own ass – though, she claims it’s to protect them, to protect their families. Real chilling scene. More and more, we see how sinister Munsch is, but again: not a killer. I’m sure there’s someone, or a couple someones, out to get Munsch and anyone else linked to Kappa House, or the original women.
SHOCKER? The baby was/is a girl, confirmed by the woman who was there. Hmmm, the plot thickens.
Chanel #1 gets a big smack in the face when Zayday reveals her intentions to run for president of Kappa House. Ms. Oberlin makes a bit of a threat, then takes off somewhere to grieve. The other Chanels find her in the shoe closet, sharpening kitchen knives.
I think Emma Roberts is pretty great, too. Honestly, she pulls off the incredibly awful sorority girl role. Slightly similar to her role in American Horror Story‘s third season, but very different than the one she played in the fourth season. There’s more comedy here obviously and it’s a satirical, even farcical look at the sorority/fraternity mentality which is especially rampant in this day and age in America, particularly. So while some think it’s either over-the-top, or what not, I find it on the nose and Roberts does well with making us truly believe she is a stone cold bitch of a young lady.
A bit of nice horror in this episode. Mandy, in her little trailer out in the dark, out off the grid somewhere, finds herself at the mercy of someone outside causing mischief. She walks around brandishing a baseball bat. Then, in the mirror behind her, the Red Devil appears, knife in hand. As she screams out, the Devil stabs her to death. Nice little clip of Leprechaun plays in the background, cut in briefly; I’m pretty sure it’s one of those films, anyways.
Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) is out in the graveyard about to have a yank over a grave, when Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele) shows up with her new look going on. She proposes they’ll have sex in a “very scary location“, and that maybe he can head in the “back door“. Hilariously twisted scene.
Professor Gardner is showing more horror again in class. This time it’s Children of the Corn. He’s going on about children in horror movies attacking the adults, that we “can’t escape our inner child“. More of the film professor nonsense, or is it? You be the judge. I think it is, if you’re examining a film like this, others maybe not so silly.
Grace shows up then to question her father about her mother, who went to the same school, supposedly pledged Kappa. She point blank asks if her mother died in the bathtub, to which her father replies with surprise. She’s convinced something is going on with him, in some way. I am, too. All the same, the moment between them here feels genuine, like he’s telling the truth: “I saw you come out of your mother”
We’ll see where it all goes.
Grace then heads off to meet Pete at a local haunted house, or so Pete and Denise say – the house on Shady Lane. At times this sequence is spooky, others it’s fucking riotous with Pete and Denise telling the tale simultaneously, or in tandem more so, which comes off like a scary version of Abbott and Costello. They talk about a hag living in the house, shrieking and wailing coming from inside, et cetera, typical legend type stuff. A super creepy room full of weird little dolls is found to boot. Turns out the woman lived in the house around 1995, when the Kappa House tragedy happened, or just after – that’s where the screaming must have come from, I imagine.
There’s a PERFECT scene where the Chanels are about to eat cotton balls, dipping them in sauce, when Hester speaks up and changes Chanel #1’s mind. They decide to go for pizza. Then, the world of the sorority at Kappa changes. Great little feminist bits where Chanel #1 points out the hypocrisy of how men can look versus how women are expected to look. Then, a moment between the girls and a couple fratbro douchebags where they lay it out for the men: don’t whistle at me, don’t ask me to give you a smile, don’t belittle women under the guise of trying to talk to them, and so on. Love, love, loved this bit! Such an excellently written scene.
Right afterwards, Chad is being brought out to the house on Shady Lane, where Hester seems to be letting him “throw her a bone”. Then comes the HORROR – bodies everywhere! First, it’s Ms. Bean and Hester pokes a hole through her leg accidentally, believing it to be a wax replica of some sort. Then there’s Chanel #2, Denise’s partner Shondell, Coney a.k.a Aaron Cohen, and more. Even poor Mandy who was recently dispatched by the Red Devil.
Solid homage to John Carpenter’s Halloween with Ms. Bean’s headstone above the bed where she lays. Love all the homages and references in the episodes so far.
I thought this part was absolutely fitting. Using all the real dead corpses of those killed off previously in the series as supposed props in the haunted house, it’s genius!
Chad: “Don’t go to the haunted house on Shady Lane! There are dead bodies. Like real, live dead bodies.”
Zayday gets nabbed by the Red Devil in a great freeze frame with red filter. The aftermath sees just about every main character at Kappa House, the detective and other officers present to try and suss out what’s been going on around their campus. So much madness and mayhem and murder. Professor Wes wants answers, threatening to go to the media if nothing is done in regards to the safety of the students.
Pete and Grace decide they have to discover who the Hag of Shady Lane was, the woman in that house, that way they may break through to find out more about the murders and the original tragedy.
Perfect closing shot sees Gigi sitting in the Shady Lane house, in a chair with all those dolls, hooded in the Hag cloak, wailing away. Very, very spooky!
Can’t wait for the next episode titled “Pumpkin Patch”. Stay tuned for another review next week! Hope at least some of you are enjoying the show as much as I am. Been having a blast, full of comedy and equal parts horror. Cheers.
Last Shift. 2015. Directed by Anthony DiBlasi. Screenplay by Anthony DiBlasi & Scott Poiley.
Starring Juliana Harkavy, Joshua Mikel, J. LaRose, Natalie Victoria, Sarah Sculco, Kathryn Kilger, and Mary Lankford Poiley. Skyra Entertainment.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Marketing has dubbed Last Shift as a cross between Satanic style horror and John Carpenter’s amazingly tense/low key thriller Assault on Precinct 13. Now it’s not a copy, regardless of how the trailer might have you feeling. Absolutely the setup to this film is directly mirroring Carpenter, but that’s about where the similarities end. The premise itself stands as something lifted from that movie. After all the initial bits of the story stand in place, the foundation of what’s to come, things change and drive further into horror than Assault on Precinct 13, which was savage in its own right but more in the vein of nasty thrillers.
As far as Anthony DiBlasi goes, I’ve personally enjoyed some of his previous work. At least what I’ve seen. I absolutely LOVE his screenplay adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story “Dread”, the film as a whole is chilling and effective. Furthermore, I thought Cassadaga was an equally nasty follow-up; not without faults, but an interesting horror movie. Having not seen his other films, such as Missionary and the segment “Mother May I” from The Profane Exhibit, I can’t say I’ve been a fan of all his work. However, I think he’s a decent hand in the modern horror game. Not at the top, though, he’s certainly got a lot of strengths as a horror filmmaker.
Last Shift has flaws, the writing is not as good as it could be, nor is the acting from Juliana Harkavy or Joshua Mikel always at the level of emotionality and range it needs to attain in order to match the horror aspect’s intensity. Either way, this is a solidly unsettling horror movie that wears its bloody entrails on its sleeve, and even when the swings for the fences strike out, I think DiBlasi does a real good job crafting a unique film. Part homage, part haunted house film, Last Shift might get to you at times.
If you let it.
A rookie cop, Officer Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy) is left on duty at a police station overnight. It’s closing time for this cop shop, the one already ready for operations. By herself, Loren needs to wait for a pick-up by the Hazmat team; they’re coming to take something out of the station’s armoury.
What Officer Loren does not know about is that the station is haunted. A year before, cult leader John Michael Paymon (Joshua Mikel) and a couple of his followers killed themselves – a year to the day. Loren is forced to confront the terrifying presences at work in the station, all by herself on the last shift.
One thing I’m always harping on about in my reviews is atmosphere, mood, tone. I’m a big fan of all these things; some might say atmosphere is mood and tone, I think they’re different things. Regardless, Last Shift does an excellent job from the start in terms of atmosphere – even in the first scenes between Loren and the sergeant, I thought there was this spookiness about everything, a sort of sterile look to the station and just this lingering air of dread about these moments. This continues on, as some of the things we see starting out are shots of Officer Loren walking the halls of the station alone, the cold and lifeless halls around her – very quiet and subtle bits.
A great eerie scene comes quick before we’re even 20 minutes in. Loren finds herself in the locker room of the station. First, she picks up a picture of her and her father in a locker, she ends up placing it back behind the shelf. But secondly, as she turns, Loren almost smacks into an open locker door right next to it… only to discover every locker door is open in the whole room. It’s a really easy scene, yet I found the quietness of it all chilling. The way Loren sort of pauses, looking around, the moment lands and sets under the skin. Also, it’s not played as a jump scare, like it may have typically been done under direction of another filmmaker, or in another script. Instead it’s a nice little thud in the chest. Afterwards Loren has to go on about her night, but both she and the audience can feel the tone of the film really setting in with these creepy build-ups.
Lots of people have their opinions on what’s scary or what’s not. Personally I don’t get jumpy when terrified, no movie has ever lifted me out of the seat I’m in. However, I’ve walked away from plenty films (and I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of horror movies) feeling like I really want to check behind the shower curtain, or make sure my doors are locked, windows are shut, and so on. I’ve crept around with a knife once or twice from being so unsettled by horror. Not afraid to admit that. If you’ve never been affected that way, at least ONCE, then you may be dead. Seriously: check your pulse.
What Last Night does effectively is use the atmosphere of dread DiBlasi conjures up and levels you at times with legitimately eerie imagery. At times the dialogue lags, as does the plot, but I think just about every solitary second of horror comes across as vicious. It’s excellent, most definitely my favourite part of the entire movie.
Like the moment when Officer Loren realizes SPOILER AHEAD BIG TIME Officer Price (Matt Doman) is dead, a hole through the back of his head. END SPOILER!
I found that one real top notch moment. Mostly because I honestly didn’t expect it. There was a genuine moment between Loren and Price, as if they were bonding like two real police officers over the job, its duties, the daunting tasks it requires often. Yet it took a whole other turn, which was well done.
After this the horror imagery continues in large doses. This is probably the ultimate turning point in the film, where the screenplay takes things down the rabbit hole, so to speak. Officer Loren basically descends into a hellish place after her meeting with Officer Price. A sound of voices leads her down the hall to where a group of women sing together, sitting in a half circle wearing strange bloody masks made of white sheet. But a second later… they’ve disappeared. From there things get progressively more horrific for Loren.
What’s so fun, to me, about this movie as a whole is that it takes the beginning of Assault on Precinct 13, subtracts a blood oath from a relentless street gang and adds in a Charles Manson rip-off cult, a dash of Satanism, and makes it into a haunted house styled horror movie; set, of course, in a police station. So the station is like our everyday haunted house, Officer Loren the unfortunate soul who has to “spend a night inside”. This is obvious to everyone, but it’s still one of the major aspects of Last Shift which appeals to me.
The screenplay could have been better, as well as the acting overall. Still, I think Last Shift deserves 3.5 out of 5 stars. It has definite claws, and I found myself unsettled at times. If only the acting and the characterization were a little better, I think this could’ve been an amazing horror movie. There’s no doubt either way, but I wish Anthony DiBlasi worked out some of the dialogue better, as well as added a bit more character to Officer Loren; she wasn’t a helpless female archetype, however, I thought with her being a police officer and all she might have been a bit more tough of a character than she ended up being. Not saying you can’t have a weak police officer, I just think at times it would’ve been more interesting to have her be tough, hard headed, and not falling so much prey to the ghosts and the horrifying images haunting her.
Ton of nasty, excellent horror here! Despite any reservations about the script and the acting, and they’re only slight, Last Shift proves to be a solid horror film with savagely effective makeup effects, nice atmospheric mood and tone throughout, and some disturbing psychological thrills set inside a claustrophobic location used to the director’s advantage.