The Last Winter: Larry Fessenden’s Fossil Fuel Horrorshow

The Last Winter. 2006. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay by Fessenden & Robert Leaver.
Starring Ron Perlman, Connie Britton, James Le Gros, Jamie Harrold, Zach Gilford, Kevin Corrigan, Jamie Harrold, Pato Hoffmann, Joanne Shenandoah, Larry Fessenden, and Oscar Miller. Antidote Films/Glass Eye Pix/Zik Zak Kvikmyndir. Rated 18A. 101 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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It’s no secret I’m a huge Larry Fessenden fan. His collection of films recently hit Blu ray, so I luckily snatched up a copy from eBay at a solid price. The entire 4-disc collection includes his films No TellingHabitWendigo, and of course The Last Winter. Included are a ton of extra bits like music videos and short films Fessenden pulls out of virtual obscurity, as well as the man himself talking us into the pictures, plus the short pieces too. The commentary is great all around, everything about this collection is magic.
The Last Winter is a rare bird. While I’m not huge on certain special effects in this movie, I can’t fault it much more outside those elements. In a day and age where too many people deny climate change, not to mention its impact(s), Fessenden takes the horror genre and weaves a contemporary issue through its cliches and tropes in a unique way. The story, above all else, is what matters. Add to that some solid performances, excellent tension developed by Fessenden’s directorial style, and this is a supremely creepy effort among a ton of post-2000 horror movies which aren’t worth their weight.

American oil company KIC Corporation is drilling in the arctic, constructing an ice road into the Northern Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to find more locations in which they’ll explore for more deposits. At a station ran by corporate shill Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), a team of environmentalists work side by side with people from KIC. James Hoffman (James Le Gros) and his assistant Elliot Jenkins (Jamie Harrold) are the most recent scientists evaluating the project. When Pollack bumps heads with Hoffman, the latter is taken away from the project permanently; no doubt due to Ed’s pull at KIC. At the same time, young crew member Maxwell McKinder (Zach Gilford) goes missing for a while. Upon his return, he seems distant, disturbed. One night, he wanders out into the wilderness, naked and mentally unstable. The rest of the crew find him dead, eyes only empty sockets. And then, they realize the environment may be starting to take back what they’ve drilled so relentlessly out of its bones.
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Hoffman: “Why do we despise the world that gave us life? Why wouldn’t the world survive us, like any organism survives a virus. The world that we grew up in is changed forever. There is no way home. Is there something beyond science that is happening out here? What if the very thing we were here to pull out of the ground were to rise willinglyconfront us. What would that look like? What if this is the last winter, before the collapse? And hope dies.”

The cinematography is spectacular. So many of the exterior shots in particular, they’re marvelous to look at – from the wide shots of the Arctic Circle, to the helicopter and sweeping crane shots of the camp. Every last sequence in the entire film looks gorgeous, even the dark, shadowy moments. Again, as I said earlier, there are a few shots involving special effects I don’t think come off so great. At the same time, the camerawork itself is all around fascinating. Fessenden has a great eye for unique looking shots, things which catch the eye: crane and helicopter shots, tight and wide angles, the whole spectrum alike. Here, he’s aided by cinematographer G. Magni Ágústsson.
Together with a distinctive look and feel, The Last Winter‘s atmosphere comes across so feverishly in part due to the inclusion of an eerie score by Jeff Grace (Cold in JulyThe House of the Devil, The Roost). Not only is there a quality score, the tone consistently set between that and the visuals, there’s incredible sound design courtesy of Abigail Savage (who many will know well from her turn as Gina Murphy on Orange is the New Black). Everything is creeping, in terms of sound: the wind in the background, the stamp of ghostly hooves across the frozen arctic plains, and later the crashing plane, all the fire which follows and so on. I’m always keeping my ear out for good sound design, as well as score. But there’s something about the background sounds and noise of a film which really elevates a film properly if accomplished well. The sound design can truly make a movie less interesting if the sounds incorporated are annoying or aggravating, instead of compelling and rich, as they certainly are in this film.
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While I could rave on about Ron Perlman, even James Le Gros or Connie Britton, most of what interests me about The Last Winter is the plot and the story. Fessenden creates an ecological horror film out of the fear of global warming/climate change. The character of Pollack (Perlman) represents those stubborn sort who think the tipping point has passed, even if they’re willing to admit the world climate is changing for the worse. His hardheaded nature is the type which got us to this point. But yet in this film, we literally see the evidence climbing up and out of the ground. The living embodiment of nature fighting back against us. I know a lot of viewers may find Fessenden’s themes here heavy handed and obvious. However, I find the presentation makes things so interesting, it’s hard to deny the thematic power at play. Fessenden uses many typical horror genre tropes to explore the sociopolitical issues inherent in the dynamic between those who quest for oil versus those who keep telling us to be wary of our reliance on fossil fuels without worrying (or caring) about the consequences.
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The Last Winter, despite some of its less than stellar computer generated imagery, is a 4 out of 5 star film. For me, it is. Others may be turned away from its environmental message, buried beneath its thrills and its horrific moments. Some might not like other aspects, who knows. But I cannot tear myself away from the grim tone, the compelling cinematography, sound design and writing. Even more than that, the writing helps bring out some timely messages about us, our world, and the future that could come to be eventually. I don’t think it’ll look exactly like this portrait of madness Fessenden illustrates. All the same, I’m inclined to feel we’ve absolutely treated this planet like shit. Some day we might pay for all our transgressions against this world we claim to love.

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The Fog: A Chilling American Ghost Story

John Carpenter’s The Fog. 1980. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Hal Holbrook, Charles Cyphers, George ‘Buck’ Flower, and Jim Haynie. AVCO Embassy Pictures/EDI/Debra Hill Productions. Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
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An impressive aspect about John Carpenter, other than stuff I’ve already talked about in reviews, is that his filmography as director has covered such ground in terms of genre. While a lot of it is horror-centric, within horror he crosses over into science fiction, the thriller, and even ghosts/the supernatural. He can cross any genres and make them work well with his slow and steady pacing, his suspenseful style. The ghost story style plot works for Carpenter, as he has a way of creeping up on you, every frame draped in the lurking presence of danger.
The Fog is a super interesting story of ghosts looking for revenge and a town with deep, dark secrets. Carpenter and frequent partner-collaborator Debra Hill came up with a nice screenplay, which he in turn crafted with style into one hell of a creepy horror movie.
tnt24.info_Mg³a_-_The_Fog_1980_Horror_HDRip_XviD_AC3-HQVIDEO_RUS_.4060__97446In Antonio Bay, California, a one hundred year celebration is about to happen. Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) is busy preparing the town for its big shindig, while Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is playing his part well enough, except his church is obviously in financial ruins; all the money flowing into big parades and such for the centennial. Then there’s Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) who keeps herself and her son afloat, barely, by owning/operating the lighthouse radio station. At the same time, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) rolls into town with a hitchhiking young woman named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis).
But things start to go wrong, or at least they begin to get strange. A boat full of men doesn’t come in like they usually do, which prompts Nick to go looking for a friend who’d been on it. Once they track down the boat everything gets weirder, and not a soul is found aboard.
On land, Father Malone happens to find a diary lodged in the wall of his office at the church – it paints a gruesome picture of the residents in Antonio Bay during 1880 who did terrible, unspeakable things all under the guise of keeping their citizens safe from sickness. What has begun to happen in the little town turns out to be the revenge of those beyond the grave… those who will rise up from the water, in the fog, to come for every last descendant of the ones who took their lives.
FOG_1 screenshot_27Said it before, I’ll say it over and over: Carpenter’s scores are undeniably infectious. The swell of the electronic sound he often lays under a scene, how the swell then builds and builds, it’s so effective. I think that’s a big reason why I’ve always been so in love with 1980s horror – not only was I born in the ’80s, the music of those films was always so interesting, so brooding; not every last one of them, but so many, even the shit ones some times. But Carpenter infuses each of his films with such an intriguing sound in that way. It helps his style so much, the way he works off of suspense and tension. The music really lends itself to that. Particularly I love it here because the way the fog creeps in during many scenes almost matches the sound of the score. There’s more to simply throwing a bunch of special makeup effects and a fog machine into the shot – Carpenter actually crafts an atmosphere of genuine tension, his ghostly apparitions sneak into the frame and into our heads, they slowly take over the small seaside town. At the same time the terror slowly works its way up your spine and seeps into your brain. I’m not one to get JUMP UP AND SCREAM SCARED. But I love a good slow burning, deeply tense horror movie. Carpenter almost exclusively does this type of work.
Another big part of this film are the landscapes Carpenter includes. The cinematography from Dean Cundey, a Carpenter-collaborator on the regular, is fascinating. So beautiful, at the same time it sets up this incredibly desolate feeling. Much like his work in The Thing. Here, the way he captures so many of the wide open spaces, the ocean, the hills, it’s really disturbing in a gorgeous visual sense. There’s always a feeling of isolation in Carpenter’s work, whether it’s Assault on Precinct 13Halloween, or The Fog. Cundey is able to provide big lush visual feasts in which the suspense/tension of Carpenter comes out perfectly.
the-fog-1980-Screenshot-4There are plenty films which use radio deejays as plot devices, such as Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Don McKellar’s Last Night. What I enjoy about Adrienne Barbeau in this film, as lighthouse personality Stevie Wayne, is that she’s not used as a plot device. Rather, Stevie is just a solid character who we come to know intimately through her soft and silky voice going out over the waves in the dark of night. Then once her plight begins, things feel more tense.
And this comes back to the fact I feel Carpenter and Hill are good writers. They’re not trying to do anything crazy here, nothing metaphorical or anything (though you can absolutely take away stuff like that if you want/look into it enough). But really they craft a nice story with good characters. They’re able to get you to care for these people and pity them for being caught in the crossfire caused by their ancestors; while hating what the people of Antonio Bay did back in the latter half of the 19th century, these genuine, nice characters don’t deserve to die for that – do they?
Stevie Wayne is not the only good character. I love them all. Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone is solid, right to the end. Aside from him there’s the always charismatic Tom Atkins, who I was recently enjoying in the underrated (and misunderstood) Halloween III: Season of the Witch. And last but not least, not at all, the wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis in another early horror movie performance; she is funny, sweet and has great presence in this film whenever she’s onscreen. The chemistry between Atkins and Curtis’ characters is phenomenal and adds a little something extra to their subplot, as they try to survive their time in Antonio Bay.

So many creepy moments and scenes. One of my favourites is when Nick (Atkins) is telling Elizabeth (Curtis) a story, then first a locker tips over scaring her before an actual body, its eyes gouged out, falls against her back; what an awesome two-punch technique! Love that one. Usually I’m not one for jump scares, but I love them when done right. Carpenter utilizes them appropriately a lot of the time, much as he started doing back in Halloween. He knows how to do them with an interesting touch instead of heavy handed, making it a cheap scare tactic.
But the best spots in The Fog are those that slowly catch you. Like when the fog overtakes everything in Antonio Bay, and one by one people start to get sucked in and killed by the ghosts of the lepers. I love how you know what’s coming, yet Carpenter draws you in and makes things incredibly suspenseful.
A top pick for favourite moment has to go to when Stevie (Barbeau) ends up climbing, climbing the lighthouse trying to outlast the fog coming for her. I’m afraid of heights (even though I once worked as an electrician in Alberta at ridiculous heights; never again), so this part really grates my nerves. In the best filmic sense. Also helps that this scene comes nearing the finale, obviously. There’s a great intensity watching Stevie try her damnedest to survive. A real trooper.
Another top pick – Elizabeth encounters a reanimated man. I won’t say anything further. Wildly creepy scene.
the-fogAnother 5 star ’80s classic from John Carpenter. He and Debra Hill did so well with this story. It’s a gothic, macabre piece of writing. Pile onto that the excellent cast, the score, all those awesome shots and effects – it’s a real masterpiece of ghostly horror. I can’t recommend this one enough. Always a huge fan of Carpenter, I consistently come back to this one because it’s spooky, it has great writing, and I’m always entertained. You’ve got to add this to any Carpenter marathon, as well as any proper Halloween/October movie list. It has a ton of great qualities, especially for a creepy night with the television on and the lights off.

Isolated Paranoia: John Carpenter’s The Thing



John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay by Bill Lancaster, from a story by John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, and Donald Moffat. Universal Pictures/Turman-Foster Company. Rated R. 109 minutes.
Horror/Science Fiction

★★★★★
2uffzarIt’s hard to choose a favourite filmmaker. For me, and for many, there are tons of great directors out there. Especially when you consider the different genres. I often have a hard time saying I like one director – who happens to stick with a certain genre – over another, simply because I feel particular directors are best within certain genres. Still there are a handful of them I’d place at the top of my personal list.
One such filmmaker is John Carpenter.
Not only does Carpenter direct, he is a master of his craft. Something I’ve always admired about his style is that he likes to do his own scores, which is a big part of his overall aesthetic (funny enough – this movie isn’t scored by him: it’s the prolific Ennio Morricone, so fucking awesome regardless!). He pretty much has what I’d call an auteur style. Nobody does horror-thriller as good as him.
The Thing brings all of the best aspects of Carpenter together, alongside the solid performances of the likes of Kurt Russell and Keith David, as well as Morricone’s wonderfully suspenseful and effective score. This is not just one of the best horror movies from the 1980s, it’s one of the best horror movies. Ever. What starts out like a tense thriller evolves into a horrifically existential science fiction film, all based on John W. Campbell Jr’s short story “Who Goes There?” (also the basis of this 1951 film). I can never get enough of the dreadful, isolated horror Carpenter brings out in this movie. There’s a reason people always talk about this one. And a damn good reason Carpenter is a master of horror.
the-thing-ufoAt an American base in the Antarctic, a chopper chases a dog across the snowy mountains equipped with a man holding a high-powered rifle. When the American crew – including R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), Childs (Keith David) +more – come out they discover two crazed Norwegians. One tries to throw a grenade but blows up their chopper. The other, aiming for the dog, shoots George Bennings (Peter Maloney), so one of the crew shoot him dead.
At first it seems as if the men simply went insane up in the wilderness. However, after the dog transforms into a hideously deformed creature, MacReady and the crew start to deal with a situation beyond their control. Some sort of virus seems to be spreading, but no one is able to tell who it’s infecting – moving from person to person, The Thing inhabits anyone’s skin it wishes.
Will any of them survive? And if they do, is it really them?
the-thing-1982-1080p-mkv_snapshot_00-33-19_2011-06-10_20-29-06Carpenter really sets up his atmosphere well, in every film. Almost none better than The Thing, as he starts out first with a long cinematic stare into space. From there we move to the Antarctic wilderness, vast landscapes of nearly nothing except for the white snow stretching on for miles and miles. It’s an appropriate way to give us that immediate sense of isolation. Once the exterior isolation is setup, Carpenter moves inside to where all the human elements of the story come into play. Then, furthermore, we start to get their sense of isolation – from the moment you see Mac drinking, playing around on the computer and then dumping a couple shots of J.B. into it, there’s an obvious idea of how sick this guy is with his lodgings up north. It only gets better from there, but I’ve always thought the film’s opening sequence really made the isolation sink it quickly, yet easily.
Not only the isolated feeling, either. With the Norwegians chasing the dog, the chopper exploding after a fumbled grenade toss, adrenaline is flowing hard. The tension is instantaneous and you’re already champing at the bit for what’s coming next. The music, the cinematography, the actors – all pistons are pumping. Carpenter is good for this usually. Again, though, I’m inclined to say one of his best instances is here in The Thing. Carpenter’s sense of atmosphere and tone is so important to what makes him great, as well as unique in the horror genre.
the-thing-1982-screenshot-5While most Carpenter movies have stellar effects, The Thing boasts such an innovative and terrifying creature. It’s truly epic (a word that is overused improperly; I used it in seriousness). Honestly, after the dog becomes that hulking, massive monster, the first time I witnessed it I was awestruck for a minute or two. I still am, really. Such good effects, plus it’s unexpected. Even as I watch it again now, for the who-knows-how-many-times, there is an aspect to that scene I always find reels me in. Plus, afterwards there’s the scene with Dr. Blair (Brimley) dissecting The Thing; even the look on Brimley’s face, his disgust, it makes you almost smell the nasty reek of this alien creature’s insides. Downright incredible, these special effects. From start to finish this movie has such carefully crafted practical effects, you can’t help but admire the work put in.
The entire film isn’t built on effects, nor is it solely leaning on horrific elements to make its mark. Only other stuff Bill Lancaster wrote was Bad News Bears-related. With The Thing, adapted from Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?” (great read by the way – check it out), Lancaster did some solid work. The screenplay is tight, it’s mysterious and has a ton of suspense, which the master Carpenter draws out perfectly with his style. There are genuinely creepy aspects I find unsettling. Such as when the crew starts watching the grainy videos, then they make their way out to the crater where the ship is sunk down, I find that entire portion so impressive! Morricone’s score is beyond perfectly fitting, it has that classic horror movie feel to it and at the same time there’s stuff you could call very archetypal Morricone (a.k.a dig it). So I’m actually amazed Lancaster did so well with this script, considering he’s never done anything else science fiction or horror. Hats off. Put into the hands of Carpenter this story soars to a new level of terror.
the-thing-original-1There a few performances in The Thing which help it greatly. Kurt Russell, obviously, is one of the reasons this movie kicks ass. They could’ve put a lot of actors in this role and it would’ve been all right. But with Russell there’s that little extra charisma, he’s tough and yet there isn’t some kind of superhero-ness about him. He gets afraid like anyone else in the same situation. Russell and Carpenter work well together, this may be the pinnacle; I dig Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China, but there’s something so perfect about this movie I can’t help single it out as their best collaboration. Then on top of Russell’s skill, Keith David does a nice job – he also did They Live 6 years later with Carpenter, wish he’d been in more of his films. And as much as Brimley gets shit for the “diabeetus” kick, he is spot on here; that scene when he flips and everyone tries to bear down on him, I always thought it was a great moment and shows how well Brimley can play a good character when he wants. Plus his fit lends to some more of the isolated, desolate feeling happening from there on in. All around excellent cast.
Vlcsnap-2011-12-30-07h42m32s88The Thing is a 5 star film. Without any shadow of a doubt. There’s so much happening. Above anything else, there’s a supremely existential terror flowing throughout almost every scene. Once The Thing takes hold, nobody knows who is who, who to trust, and it moves from one person to the next, some times even to animals. So there’s this incredibly dreadful horror at play. Then you throw in John Carpenter’s tense style, Ennio Morricone and his suspense-filled score, a well written screenplay with good actors to play it all out. What a mix!
If you’ve never seen this, my god, get out and watch it soon. Not only that, read the original short story by Campbell, as well as see the 1951 adaptation The Thing from Another World, which was a huge influence on Carpenter overall but especially for this film (obviously). I can never forget this movie, and it’s one I’ll put in any time I need a real creep.

The Creeper a.k.a Rituals: Early Canadian Horror

The Creeper a.k.a Rituals. 1977. Directed by Peter Carter. Screenplay by Ian Sutherland.
Starring Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, Gary Reineke, Murray Westgate, Jack Creley, and Michael Zenon. American Pop Classics. Rated R. 100 minutes.
Adventure/Horror/Thriller

★★★★

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis 1977 horror-thriller, The Creeper a.k.a Rituals, is one I’ve heard about for about for well over a decade now, almost two. Horror fanatic since the age of twelve, when I first discovered Hal Holbrook outside of those interests I soon came to discover he’d been in an early slasher type film. So sticking that in the back of my head, at the time with no real way to see the movie since it wasn’t at my local video store, I hoped someday I’d be able to finally see it. Somehow. Some way.
Well recently I tracked down a digitally remastered copy from American Pop Classics, which was reasonably priced and pretty decent looking for such a rare cult horror flick. This one came out on the verge of slasher horror becoming super popular, due to John Carpenter. It wasn’t the first, with classics such as Black Christmas coming out in 1974, Psycho having been released seventeen years prior. But still, I think The Creeper did some interesting things. This movie might not have hit it big, it didn’t at all from what I gather, don’t let that sway you. There’s a good bit of backwoods horror here and most certainly anyone who has seen it will find themselves influenced by its creepy qualities.
Rituals2-1600x900-c-defaultA group of doctors get together in the Canadian wilderness. They’re dropped off by plane out to some remote part of the forest. The men head to a place called “The Cauldron of the Moon” by Aboriginal peoples. Hiking through all sorts of terrain, the doctor friends camp for a while. However, once they’re shoes go missing, except for one man, things start to get scary.
The one with his shoes left decides to walk out for help. It’s after he leaves when the others discover something disturbing is happening in those woods. A deer head appears outside their camp, then the terror truly begins.
1200There’s a bleak atmosphere from the beginning of The Creeper. Everything is isolated, so far up into the backwoods. Even further, director Peter Carter captures the desolate feeling with a ton of great wide shots; the forest and the mountains together swallow up each of the characters. There are so many beautiful scenes. Even when one of the doctors ends up with his decapitated head on a pike, and another of them throws it down the mountain in anger, there’s this sweeping shot that goes over Hal Holbrook’s head as the head/stick goes flying; strange for it to be a beautiful shot, but it certainly is that.
Another thing I think helped overall is that this screenplay wasn’t the typical slasher horror writing either. Perhaps because it was one of the earliest slashers, a prototype, it didn’t fall for all the exact similar things later slashers made into the genre tropes. Better than that, the characters themselves were decently developed. There were a few points where I thought the development was subtle, things didn’t get spelled out obviously right in front of us; for instance, a conversation around the fire has two of the doctors revealing bits and pieces of their lives before the events of the film, sort of filling in gaps to who they are as people. A lot of modern slashers try to jam pack loads of exposition into their screenplays. Here, there’s enough to hook us, but also leaves some things to our imagination. Part of The Creeper‘s charm is, evidently, the way it sort of creeps on you. Between the isolation, the wide and desolate shots, as well as the characterization, everything in the film will grow and fester in you until the events start to get real terrifying.
hed-ritualsThe moments of slasher horror, so to speak, are pretty damn effective. From the beginning, when the deer head shows up, things are nasty enough. Solely because of the malicious intent. But things only get worse and worse. The decapitation, as I mentioned. Afterwards, one of the doctors ends up tied to a a stake and lit on fire. There are several truly gruesome aspects to the film.
I think it’s the very finale I found most jarring. There a two instances where the sound design uses an echo, which was interesting. It worked and had a strange effect. It’s unsettling, yet I can’t say exactly why. Sort of amplified the emotions happening at the time, almost as if the echoes were in the characters’ own heads.
Ultimately, what makes so much of The Creeper work in terms of its outright horror is the solid acting from Holbrook. He really has great skills. Even when the rest of the acting isn’t all perfect, Holbrook keeps us grounded and his intensity, the anxiety he gives us through his character, all the tension in him, it helps the horror and terror of the plot become more plausible, it feels more real. In particular, there’s a scene where Harry (Holbrook) discovers a deep cut around his femoral artery, and he stops for a moment, regrouping, as his friend is tied to the stake; the way Harry is calm compared to the other man, the demeanour he displays, this gives us such an excellent impression of this man’s character. I imagine Harry as a good doctor, someone who doesn’t allow the pressure to bear down on him. These few moments were great in this respect. Not only that, the entire sequence following after is horrific and Holbrook makes it come off spot on.
The final shot of Harry sitting on the highway was amazing – panning back behind him, the open road ahead, such a fitting way to end things after all the chaos. Everything becomes sunny, open, beautiful, as opposed to the darkness and horror in the forest. Love this finish.
rituals rough halWhile there are some aspects which could’ve been improved upon, The Creeper deserves a 4 out of 5 star rating. I truly feel this is a good slasher, especially considering this came a year before John Carpenter’s Halloween. With a good lead actor to hold things in place, some nice writing and very effectively creepy effects at key moments, this is a solid cult classic. It’s tough to find and the quality of the DVD I found isn’t even immaculate, nowhere near. But you’ll be surprised. This is a very subtle and low budget film, though, its merits are evident once you get through the film. For a rare movie, I’m pleased to have even gotten a copy. Check this out if you’re ever so lucky. You’ll find a nice dose of slasher horror in an unusual package.

Prequel to Cannibalism in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. 2006. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Screenplay by Sheldon Turner; from a story by Sheldon Turner & David J. Schow.
Starring Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matt Bomer, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Lee Tergesen, Terrence Evans, Kathy Lamkin, Mariette Marich, and Lew Temple.
Platinum Dunes.
Rated 18A. 91 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
TCMB1Sht_rgb3000pxAs I’ve mentioned time and time again, I will always consider The Texas Chain Saw Massacre one of the scariest films of all time. That original Tobe Hooper movie is just terrifying to me. It’s fine if others don’t agree, but something about that horror movie absolutely gets to me right at my core. The whole family and Leatherface himself, they’re creepy. Almost the definition of macabre. Plus, there’s the fact Leatherface is VERY loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein, whom I’ve read a ton about. So I think my own interests play into part of why the movie scares me so deeply.
I’m not a fan of the 2003 remake, but honestly I do dig Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It is nowhere near being a perfect movie, however, I found it a hell of a lot scarier than the remake to which this is a prequel. While there’s still a little of that flashiness from the 2003 film which I complained of in my recent review. Luckily for this movie, it doesn’t try to focus too much on the sexualized females as that one, either. I’m not saying there isn’t any seemingly obligatory sexualization from serial culprits Platinum Dunes – there are bits of half nudity and such, focus on the gleaming wet bodies of young people – but compared to the remake in 2003 it is nowhere near as foolish in that sense.
What I do like is a peek into the history of Leatherface, here named Thomas “Tommy” Hewitt, and his adopted family. This is a nasty bit of horror, that’s for sure. While there are some problems, I think it’s a more interesting movie than the one to which this acts as a prequel, and the script is much better, as well.
01I found the whole Vietnam War angle pretty intriguing. Brothers Eric (Matt Bomer) and Dean (Taylor Handley) have an intense dynamic, as the former – the oldest – clearly cares about his country, in the sense he’s willing to go back over after already clearly experiencing horrors his first time. On the other hand, younger brother Dean burns up his draft card, knowing the post traumatic stress his brother suffers having already served in the army over in Vietnam. So I like how they clash, as well as the fact the climax of their situation comes right at the biggest moment of tension when a biker is chasing them down, gun drawn, and they end up smashing into a cow crossing over the road.
Furthermore, it plays a bit into the brothers’ confrontation with Charlie Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey), a.k.a Sheriff Hoyt after he killed the last bit of law enforcement in their tiny, dying Texas town. When he finds the burned draft card, things get super intense.
the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_the_beginning_01What I love about this one, as opposed to the 2003 remake, is that the four main characters on the road trip kicking everything into gear feel genuine and real. There’s still a bit of that ‘sex sells’ nonsense here like the previous movie, a couple beer ad-like moments. But overall I feel we get to know and care for these characters, as opposed to the 2003 film where it’s just a bunch of sweat glistened young people who have little to no personality, and the whole tired pot angle played into things making it worse. Here, I honestly feel – for all its flawed bits – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning gave us a nice dose of character, both in terms of the victims and the Hewitt family themselves, a.k.a the bad guys.
Almost more than Leatherface, I really wanted to see more about Sheriff Hoyt after the first remake in 2003. Most of that movie is pretty mediocre to crap, but R. Lee Ermey does such a terrifyingly fantastic job playing the character he drew me in. Then, of course, with this sequel to the remake we’re finding out deeper, even darker secrets about Hoyt. So while I love Leatherface, Hoyt – or Charlie, whatever you want to call him – is a huge part of the interest I have here. To my mind, things get way more disturbing after the opening events of this film, once we find out what Hoyt is really all about. Watching his mental state sort of go from ‘dealing with things’ to ‘scorched earth’ is pretty chilling.
the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-the-beginning-2006-1080p-largescreenshot2Several parts of the screenplay make this Texas Chainsaw entry better than others. First, I like how there’s an inclusion of different themes from war – what people will do in one while they’re fighting, or what they’ll resort to in situations simply to survive (which further leads into the cannibalism aspect of the story) – to staying true to one’s roots and holding on to one’s culture, to the bonds people people whether blood and family or not. Between all those elements there are so many things happening. Not a groundbreaking work of art, this screenplay, but I think compared to its predecessor this movie has great stuff going on. Because ultimately, we know what’s going to happen – this is a prequel, we get that part. So the writers did a few neat things in order to make the journey more exciting.
Secondly, most of the Texas Chainsaw films – good or not – tend to see one group of people fall into the trap, ending up at Chez Leatherface and then they’re killed. Part of why I enjoy this movie as much as I do is because we see the brother duo and their girlfriends have an altercation with bikers, leading to a crash and that leads into the meeting with Sheriff Hoyt. All the while, this allows for the story to flesh out the backstory of Tommy Hewitt and his adopted family. I’ve always found there was a fun mixture in the plot, which allows for interesting developments – leading to prequel bits filling up/bridging the gaps to the previous remake – and some wild characters + situations.
chainsaw 07This is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film, for me. It could’ve definitely improved on a few things, mainly losing the glossy 21st century remake look so apparent in many Platinum Dunes productions. However, I can honestly say this is much better and more worthy of your time than the 2003 remake. The acting is better, the characters are more developed and less hateable, as well as the fact you’ll find it cool to watch how things evolved from Leatherface’s meager beginnings to where he horrifically stands now. You can do far worse in terms of remakes, though, it still could’ve done Leatherface and the legacy of Tobe Hooper more justice. But I’ll take what I can when it comes to prequels. I love them, they just don’t turn out the best all the time. This one is good enough to make me recommend it to those wanting more TCM.

Underrated Slasher Horror in Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers

Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers a.k.a Halloween 4. 1988. Directed by Dwight H. Little. Screenplay by Alan B. McElroy from a story by McElroy, Dhani Lipsius, Larry Rattner and Benjamin Ruffer.
Starring Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, George P. Wilbur, Michael Pataki, Beau Starr, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson, Gene Ross, Carmen Filpi and Raymond O’Connor. Trancas International Films. Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
halloween-iv-the-return-of-michael-myers-1988After the good yet unfortunately improperly marketed Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the powers that be brought the series back around to another Michael Myers-centric entry in this solid slasher franchise. While I see a bit of love out there for this one, Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers is often unfairly lumped in with so many poor horror sequels in the various big franchises. It isn’t the best one, though, it is a long ways from being bad or the worst in the series.
For me personally, I love Halloween IV and Halloween V as two well connected entries in this whole run. Yes, there are spots where you might find yourself rolling your eyes. But honestly, especially compared to some of the terrible films in Friday the 13th‘s series and Nightmare on Elm Street, this movie is lots of fun. Plus there are great, genuine scenes of terror and the ending will very likely have you totally amazed regardless of whether or not you liked the rest. Atop everything else, it’s the savagery of the slasher aspect which really impresses me about Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers.
h4revTen years after the events of Halloween, Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) wakes out of his supposed invalid state. Killing his way back to Haddonfield, he searches out his niece Jamie (Danielle Harris); daughter of his sister Laurie Strode.
Under the care of a foster family, specifically her step-sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), Jamie tries to lead a normal life. But when everyone around them starts dying her own life is in more and more danger. Naturally, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) – with scars of his own having survived through Michael’s violence twice (burned in Halloween II) – rushes back to the town where it all began, fast as he can. The only trouble is Myers has been supposedly killed before, he’s been incarcerated, and every time he manages to come back; each time worse, more vicious than the last.
Can young Jamie and her step-sister Rachel survive his wrath? Is it possible Loomis can stop him? Is it even possible to stop him at all?

Dr. Loomis: “We’re not talking about any ordinary prisoner, Hoffman. We are talking about evil on two legs.”
vlcsnap-2014-10-21-22h53m48s59There are plenty of supernatural implications in this third sequel, some blatant, others a touch more subtle. My favourite part in regards to the supernatural stuff has to do with an even more incredible strength in Michael Myers. Even in the first film, Carpenter showed how utterly brutish Michael was having him lift a teenage dude off the ground easily, pinning him to the wall, killing him. Then in the second Michael lifts another victim up with a single hand. Now in this fourth installment, there’s a strength we’ve not yet seen. Monstrously, Michael – while escaping early on – jams his thumb into the forehead of an EMT in the ambulance, puncturing the skin and bone; it’s impressively nasty and goes to show, so immediately, how strong Myers is or has become.

Dr. Loomis: “You’re talking about him as if he’s a human being. That part of him died years ago.”
LaquOThe dynamic in this film concerning Laurie Strode’s daughter, Jamie, and Michael is pretty interesting stuff, which is a big part of why I’ve always found this movie lots of fun. What I enjoy is how their plot sort of goes to compound how deranged and relentlessly driven to murder Michael is as an evil entity. I mean, it’s not enough he tried to kill his sister, now he wants the niece to die. It’s as if Michael wants to try and wipe his entire family off the face of the earth, anyone sharing the same DNA. And so I feel like Halloween IV is a huge return to form for Myers, a further meaning for the title itself.
Furthermore, there’s another good angle with Michael and Jamie. The poor little girl has to deal with the fact the Haddonfield boogeyman is her uncle. She’s having visions of a young Michael, the masked older Michael, and it’s terrifying to watch a young girl like her go through such an intensely awful ordeal. If it wasn’t all bad enough beforehand, Jamie’s whole existence is thrown into disorder once Uncle Michael starts slashing and killing his way further and further towards her. Being so young at the time it’s amazing how well Danielle Harris acted the part of Jamie, there’s truly no one else who could have done the job she did. So many child performers are either the same, or in the end rather dull. Harris has never been dull it seems. She had the charm of a little sweetheart and at the same time there’s a maturity about the character, something you wouldn’t normally expect from a tiny actor. Real great stuff and helps to add a bit of legitimacy to this sequel.

Dr. Loomis: “What are you hunting, Mr. Sayer?
Jack: “Apocalypse. End of the world, Armageddon. It’s always got a face and a name. I’ve been huntin’ the bastard for 30 years, give or take. Come close a time or two – too damn close! You can’t kill damnation, mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”
halloween4bdcap6_originalThere are lots of great little touches in Halloween IV. Like the fact Jamie ends up wearing the same Halloween costume as little Michael wore when he first killed, back at the beginning of the original film. Then there are so many similar style shots where Michael lurks at the periphery of the frame, there yet somehow not there, hiding behind the vision of everyone seemingly. Even more so than the first sequel to the original, this one has lots more slasher style horror. There are more violent scenes here than the first two films; it’s right on part with the third movie, even if that one is not a true-blooded Halloween film and more like a spin-off. So there are lots of ways in which Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers follows suit with the first two in this franchise, then there are elements which feel part of the story’s universe and still fresh to it, too.
I’m willing to give this sequel a 4 out of 5 star rating. It’s definitely not as good as Halloween or Halloween II, but it’s solid. There is great slasher horror here, as well as excellent suspense and tension in several scenes. Out of the series, I would probably rank my favourites in this order: IIIIV/VIIIVI, & the others get worse. This one is up there tied for third place, I have to give the movie its due. Haven’t seen it yet? Check it out soon. You’ll have a bit of fun returning to the Michael Myers plot missing from the previous installment. The Blu ray is phenomenal, from the sound/score to the visuals all around. A classic for October and nearing Halloween season.

Dawn of the Dead: Consumer Horror

Dawn of the Dead. 1978. Directed & Written by George A. Romero.
Starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Crawford, David Early, Richard France, Howard Smith, Daniel Dietrich, Fred Baker, and James A. Baffico. A Laurel Group Production. Rated R. 127 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
dawn-of-the-dead-1978George A. Romero started the modern zombie craze with his 1968 horror movie Night of the Living Dead. Ten years later, he came back swinging with Dawn of the Dead. Full of iconic moments, even iconic zombies themselves (see: Hare Krishna zombie), Romero gives us an even more nuanced, darker, and at times funny, bit of horror cinema.
A lot of people nowadays are hugely into the zombie sub-genre. For good reason, as these Dead films from Romero, including the ones after it, are a whole lot of horror fun. The reason why Dawn of the Dead is so celebrated and loved after all these years is because not only does it do a fine job creeping you the hell out, like Romero’s 1968 film, even more than that it again explores social issues. Soon as the characters in this movie make their way to a mall, hordes of zombies trying to get inside, you can tell there will be some kind of commentary on Romero’s part. Dawn of the Dead is written incredibly well, with good characters, dialogue and action, as well as the fact Goblin does the soundtrack, Dario Argento worked on the music/editing, and master of special effects Tom Savini supplied all the zombie nasty work. This is one damn good piece of zombie horror and it’s no wonder we’re still talking about it today as much as we do.
dd3After the dead reanimate and start to feast on the flesh of the living, a group of people hoping to survive make their way via helicopter to a large mall: Stephen “Flyboy” Andrews (David Emge) and Francine Parker (Gaylen Ross), along with two SWAT team members Peter Washington (Ken Foree) and Roger DeMarco (Scott Reiniger). Upon arrival, they try and set up camp finding a safe room to spend their nights, food for sustenance and any other various items they can manage to whisk away from the stores in the mall. Only problem is the zombies have filled up a nice majority of the shopping complex, so they’ve got to maneuver their way around the huge building efficiently, and quietly, as humanly possible.
But when Roger gets infected by the zombie virus, their situation changes. With the situation inside the mall getting worse with every passing day, the group is forced to confront other options; that is, if there are any left.
dawn-of-the-dead-zombiesOne of the most intriguing things about this movie is how Romero expands on the idea of a post-apocalyptic United States of America. During Night of the Living Dead, we do see a microcosm of the aftermath with all the sheriff’s boys out hunting ghouls and seeming to have a grand ole time, plus there are the news reports and all those aspects. However, with Dawn of the Dead this plot allows Romero to give us a bit bigger of a look at the post-zombie society. Big part of that is the mall itself.
When they first arrive, Francine questions why the reanimated corpses would be at the mall, to which Stephen replies “Memory of what they used to do; this was an important place in their lives“. Later on, as the group listens to a radio, a commentator talks about remembering past lives and how the actions of the zombies are merely them working out what they once used to do. The thing I find interesting, the social aspect of Romero’s screenplay, is how he chose the mall/shopping complex itself. It speaks volumes about human society just in the number of living dead wandering around the building and outside; it’s evident how involved we as humans are in consumerism already, but Romero – back in 1978 – was already on to the fact we’re creatures of habit, as well as creatures of leisure wanting to shamble our way into the mall, mindlessly picking away at the things inside (a.k.a “shopping”). So I think, again like his first zombie movie, this one can be considered relevant today, if not even more so than it was on its original release. The way we consume things as a society of people has gotten out of hand, especially now in the post-2000 world. Say what you want about Dawn of the Dead, or the films which follow it/the one preceding it, Romero infuses his horror with a ton of commentary. Not every last shot is done like this. Overall, though, you cannot deny Romero’s zombie films encapsulate social products of their time and even then they go on with their strength for years. I won’t be forgetting these films any time soon, if ever.
Dawn-Of-The-Dead-1978-Flick-Minutedawn06I have to talk about Tom Savini. As someone whose love for horror grew out of older films intent on using practical makeup effects, before CGI ruled the industry, Savini is one of my personal gods. Honestly, even the first three films he worked on show off his immense talent – from his uncredited work on Bob Clark’s Dead of Night and putting his hands into the loose Ed Gein inspired Deranged, to doing fun stuff on Romero’s 1977 unusual yet awesome vampire flick Martin, to the stellar makeup/special effects he did in this film. I won’t go through the man’s entire filmography, but I’m just trying to show you how immediately Savini made an impression on the horror movie industry. In fact, Romero wanted him to work on the original ’68 Dead film. Unfortunately at the time Savini was called off to war; he actually applied some of the nastiness he saw during the Vietnam war as a combat photographer to the special effects/makeup he did in films. Luckily, they got together for this movie and did  a ton of bloody, fun horror work.
The look of the zombies alone is great. There’s a satirical part in how they look, as they’re all zombies yet representative of our own zombie-like qualities as humans. So while I’ve seen some horror fans wonder why the zombies are blue-ish coloured, I think there’s a wickedly dark comedic edge to their look. At the same time, they’re still fucking terrifying! Not just that, the head shots and the flesh eating and all that rotten business works well. Most of all, it’s the blood itself I find so wonderful. There’s nothing like a good looking bit of blood on camera and something about the blood in Dawn of the Dead is at once cartoon-ish and simultaneously nauseating: its rich red makes it appear almost like paint, like comic book blood, and the thick texture of it seeping out of chests/heads/et cetera has a visceral, raw essence which is kind of gross. Needless to say, without boring you too much to death on my thoughts about the effects overall, without Tom Savini this would not at all be the same type of horror film. Furthermore, I’d venture to say the zombie sub-genre wouldn’t be as rich and magical in terms of effects if Savini hadn’t done such good work with Romero here. This movie has influenced so many filmmakers and endlessly captivated the minds of legions of horror fanatics, and will continue to until the end of time.
dawnofthedead3 draft_lens21649007module169844112photo_ee321358980351f4a352aIt’s hard to say anything that’s not been said before concerning Dawn of the Dead. One thing is for sure, though, George A. Romero is the man who gave us modern zombies and this film is an intense piece of horror cinema which dives further into the zombie lore he created in 1968, as well as touches on aspects of human nature from friendship in close quarters to a reflection of our inherent consumerism as people in the 20th century. 5 stars, right through the roof and to the sky!
As I said in my review of Romero’s first zombie feature, Day of the Dead is actually my personal favourite. All the same, each of the three first films in his Dead series are perfect in my mind and neither are technically better than the others, at least that’s how I see it; I just prefer Day over the others, something more apocalyptic and foreboding about its plot.
Regardless, Dawn of the Dead constantly affects me, it always entertains and I love the two-disc DVD set this came in, which I ordered a few years back now. Lots of fun features on the release, as well. If you’re a fan it’s worth the cash. If you’ve not seen this: smarten up and watch it for Halloween.

More Disturbing Halloween Horror: Blood, Guts, Skulls and Stuff

With a list for the disturbed, one for zombies/living dead/infected, a 31-day map of horror and even a list for Halloween-ers who aren’t horror fans, I’ve come to one with a special disturbing dedication: blood and gore and uncomfortable pains!
While the other disturbing list is a bunch of general unsettling movies, this one is based mainly around effects and the visual nastiness. Now, these aren’t meant to be the BLOODIEST, or the wildest gore imaginable, nothing like that. The movies on this list are some of the ones with the effects I enjoy most, the nastiest depictions of violence, and so on, which I’ve found throughout the 4,100 films I’ve seen in the past 30 years.
Hopefully you hardcore horror fans will enjoy some of these and you’ve probably seen a few, if not all. Either way, let me know what you think and if there are any others you enjoy that ought to be shared.


Anthropophagus (1980)/ Absurd (1981)
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A perfect double feature if you want a big helping of senseless violence, relentless terror and creepy atmosphere. These two landed on the Video Nasty list during 1983; they were also prosecuted successfully.
Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagus sees a group of friends on a Greek island terrorized by a tall cannibalistic man of mysterious origin. No more explanation needed because there’s honestly nothing much else to say. It’s the way D’Amato shows everything, his style, which really makes this something to see. Truly nasty bit of work. Goes well together with a want for blood, guts, and flesh wounds of all shapes and sizes.
Absurd1Moving on to 1981, D’Amato comes back with a spiritual sequel to his earlier Anthropophagus from 1980 – Absurd is the story of a priest chasing down a monster whose blood coagulates incredibly fast, rendering it near impossible to kill, and its killing is unstoppable.
This isn’t near as good as Anthropophagus, still it is some more savagery from D’Amato whose nastiness knows no bounds at times.
A ton of head action here: no, not a blowjob, I’m talking heads being drilled, heads being sawed, et cetera. If you’re in need of a bit of rough violence, this is certainly the ticket. However, as I said, D’Amato doesn’t come back near as good with this film as he did with the previous.
These two films make an interesting, nasty double feature. Don’t say I didn’t warn you – not plot heavy, but definitely thick with murder!

Blood Feast (1963)/ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
BloodFeast
The second double feature (out of 4) on this list, it’s another one with both titles from the same director. This time, it’s the Godfather of Gore, Mr. Herschell Gordon Lewis.
The entree: 1963’s Blood Feast.
While this is by no means a great film, it’s definitely ambitious in terms of the blood and gore. With Blood Feast – the story of a killer slaying women in order to get blood to appease an Egyptian goddess – Lewis began introducing the world to his vibrant brand of gore horror. Right from the very beginning of the film, its first sequence comes off totally awesome and bizarre; a proper portion of H.G. Lewis signature style gory makeup effects. So pretty much immediately you’ll know whether or not you’re in for his type of filmmaking. I dig it and think it’s nasty as hell. This is one ridiculously fun and equally rotten bit of gore horror.
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After Lewis shocked with the previous little blood & guts flick, he came back swinging with a much better film the next year: Two Thousand Maniacs!
This one is the story six people who find themselves trapped in a town, deep down amongst the Southern U.S. and one by one they’re killed, as part of a celebration/their revenge for the town being destroyed in the Civil War.
Talk about bloody! The poster does not lie. Early on in the days of splatter horror movies, H.G. was rocking it hard. Furthermore, there’s a real dreamy quality to Lewis’ filmmaking and I feel that’s a part of appreciating what he does; sure, it’s kind of cheap, yes it is also tame compared to things today. But is it really tame? I don’t think so. Either way, there’s a certain atmosphere Lewis creates which not a lot of people take into account. Sort of an avant-garde-trash mixture. Bless him. This is a wonderfully fun and bloody piece of work.
These two Hershell Gordon Lewis movies work so well together, though, the second is much better. This gives me my fill of organs and bleeding cuts and slashed throats and more. A perfect Halloween splatterfest!

Eraserhead (1977)
ERASERHEAD - UK PosterMy full review is here.

One of my three favourite Davids – another one comes later (and the third is my dad) – Lynch dropped his first feature film onto the midnight circuit in 1977 with the existentially horrifying and viscerally churning Eraserhead.
The story… ah, if you don’t already know what this movie is, there’s no real point trying to explain it. Maybe best put: the story of a man living in an unbearable industrial landscape, whose girlfriend gets pregnant and then they both must deal with it after coming out a tiny monster. Oh, and don’t forget the woman who lives in the radiator.
A whole mind trip of a film, this Lynch masterpiece has tons of the existential dread happening, from start to finish. But the visuals – holy fuck, the visuals! There are moments even some hardcore horror hounds find nauseating, simply because of the way Lynch shows us his imagery. I won’t ruin anything for those who’ve not seen it. Needless to say, you may never look at a turkey or chicken again in the same way once you’re ready to carve it up.
Fun note: Lynch still says to this day no one has ever really pinpointed what the film is about, for him.

Dans Ma Peau a.k.a In My Skin (2002)
d6This French film is the story of a woman who experiences a bad injury while at a party, then becomes increasingly obsessed with self harm – serious cutting.
A lot of people might find themselves flinching throughout large portions of this one. Honestly, it’s a tough piece of cinema. The amount of nasty cutting and self-violence here is extraordinary. Perhaps what makes the blood and makeup effects here so devastatingly effective is the fact we get inside the headspace of the main character – also the director and writer, talented woman – and come to actually care about her, maybe some of us will identify with her. So this takes it to another level. Go into this expecting you may turn it off due to discomfort.

Hostel (2005)/ Hostel: Part II (2007)
hostelFor my full review of 2005’s Hostelclick here

For my full review of the sequel – click here

Another double bill, again each from the same director. This one would actually make a great quartet feature with H.G. Lewis, come to think of it.

Say what you want about Eli Roth, he’s effective. Can you honestly say the special makeup effects in Hostel aren’t well executed? If so, you’re kidding yourself. You might not like how Roth plays out his film, you may not even like the content. There’s just simply no fucking way you’re convincing me the blood and gore here isn’t properly nasty.
Hostel came out and turned up the label “torture porn” (get what it implies but hate the term). The whole thing, to me, is a sleazy masterpiece of bloody horror. Its first half plays like a roadtrip comedy with the three dudes, cut with bits and pieces of murder. Once the second half begins, Roth takes us on a gory ride. That eyeball effect? Come on… don’t let whatever your opinion of Roth/the movie overall may be cloud your judgement: this is some hardcore brutality. There are plenty more bits to “enjoy” when it comes to all the bloody goodness, the eyeball is my favourite.
Hostel-Part-II-New-Poster-horror-movies-42168_1296_1920I wasn’t expecting a good follow-up, honestly. Regardless of that, though, Hostel: Part II is one hell of a sequel from Roth. Of course the end turns out to be a nice little feminist twist, but most of the film sees a trio of women in peril, as opposed to the three dudes from the first. The savagery is just as prevalent here. Love the homage to Erzebet Bathory with the bloodletting bath scene. Also, I’m always a big fan of piece of shit men getting their dicks cut off. So there’s that.
Both of these films are incredibly horrific, in their own ways while still being similar. Even better than that, I find the sequel Roth came up with did well with creating an entire universe with the story, going deeper into the global club of psychopaths who round up victims for murder tourists to have a go at. On top of all the bleeding and the screams and the terror, there’s also a cherry of a decent plot, too.

Island of Death (1976)
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Back to another of the infamous Video Nasties. And I’m not putting this on the list all due to it being on there, either. Only awhile ago did I actually get the chance to see this, but christ… what a doozy.
In 1976, director Nico Mastorakis put out Island of Death after seeing how well Tobe Hooper did with his indie shocker The Texas Chain Saw Massacre only two years before. Except without much of an intent, as I feel Hooper had with his own film, Mastorakis only wanted to bring the awe with a sadistic and perverse plot based around a British couple – who say they’re recently married yet are actually later revealed to be a brother-sister incest duo – wreaking absolute havoc on people while visiting a Greek island. Strangely enough, for two inbreeding siblings, they kill people who they deem sinful.
You’ll find yourself, most certainly, struggling to get through this because it’s not particularly good, in regards to plot or story. Neither is it overly well-acted. It’s the brutish violence and boundless depravity which will take you in. The blood flows and the gory scenes will make you understand easily how this ended up on the Video Nasty list.

Masters of Horror: “Imprint” (dir. Takashi Miike) (2006)
imprintMy vote for most disturbing segment ever made for television – Takashi Miike’s Imprint from the horror anthology series Masters of Horror.
Miike has turned up on another list I did for Halloween this year (for his 1999 horror-thriller Audition). He comes back here again with a vengeance.
Without giving away too much, an American traveler who once visited Japan for a time goes back for another trip. When he looks to find the geisha with which he connected so emotionally on his first visit, she is nowhere to be found, and he soon begins to unravel the devastating mystery surrounding her disappearance.
Think it sounds okay? One of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, and it was a television episode; though, it wasn’t allowed to air if I’m not mistaken. I bought the two seasons of this show and found myself blown away by this one in particular. Lots of nastiness from one of the true masters, Takashi Miike.

Videodrome (1983)
videodromeFor my full review, click here.

A personal favourite of mine, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is similar, in a few respects, to what he was doing in eXistenZ later down the road. However, they’re definitely different, vastly so, as this 1983 classic goes much harder and more metaphorically at the body horror sub-genre.
Sleazy TV producer Max Renn (James Woods) searches for the ultimate in raw, real content for his channel. In his search, Max comes across an ultra-real show named “Videodrome”, featuring what seems to be actual snuff and torture, et cetera. Slowly drawn in, his quasi-girlfriend Nick Brand (Deborah Harry) goes to audition for the show, having an interest in masochism particularly. What happens next takes Max to the brink of reality and sanity at once.
Cronenberg is one of the genius filmmakers of cinema, even better that he’s Canadian (as I am one; he’s a national treasure). He’s very much an auteur, I would say he’s pretty much the king of body horror. Even further than that, I’d definitely say Cronenberg is at least ONE of the godfathers of the sub-genre. Lately he’s moved a little bit away, which is fine. You just cannot deny his power. Some of the effects here, provided by maestro artist Rick Baker, are simply unforgettable – the fleshy VHS tape, the mutilated/deformed bodies, and so on. Plus, on top of all the body horror, as is his style, Cronenberg also gets into how we relate to media, whether movies or television, what have you. Very interesting movie and also harrowing in terms of its body horror imagery.

Haute Tension (a.k.a High Tension a.k.a Switchblade Romance) (2003)
high_tensionFor my full review, click here.

Alexandre Aja is a favourite of mine, in terms of modern horror filmmakers who have emerged over the past 15 years. He’s vicious, funny, he’s displayed – in some of his films – that practical special makeup effects still have a place in post-2000 horror, it isn’t all about CGI. Most of all, I think he wears the biggest and best of his influences on his sleeve.
The story of Marie and Alexia, two college friends – they head for a vacation back to Alexia’s parents home in the country, deep in the cornfields. On their first night, a killer comes knocking at the door. Systematically he murders the family, except for Alexia – all the while, Marie is hiding upstairs in a room at the top of the house. Marie manages to slip into the killer’s creepy truck before he whisks Alexia off. This begins an intensely vicious night of cat-and-mouse maneuvering, swimming in blood.
I never once saw where this horror movie was going the first time I saw it. Then when you watch it over and over again, which I’ve done (because I fucking love it), it’s interesting to watch knowing where it will go and still find yourself enthralled. There are some of the most perfect special makeup effects in High Tension. It has such a great 1970s/1980s horror sensibility, one of the biggest reasons why I can’t get enough of this Aja masterpiece. Some will tell you the twist is something you’ll see coming. I don’t believe that; people who say those things, some of them anyways, are usually just naysayers unable to point out anything particularly bad about a movie they don’t like (for whatever reason). You’ll be blown away, or in love depending on how sick you are like myself, by all the blood and gore from start to finish. Plus, the performances are incredible, even the near mute killer. This one is a definite shocker you need on the Halloween movie marathon list. If you don’t dig subtitles, get over it or miss out on a fantastic piece of modern horror-gore cinema.

Macabre (1980)/ Demons (1985)
macabre_posterMoving on to our next – and fittingly final – double bill: back to back Lamberto Bava madness!
To start, the 1980 horror (amazingly it is loosely based on a true story) Macabre. This one is insanely fun in the sickest horror sense. A woman is reeling from the death of her extramarital lover; they were in a car accident and he was decapitated. After a 12-month stay in an institution, she gets out and heads back to the apartment where she and her lover would meet to make love and be together. Soon, her landlord begins to suspect there’s still something going on between the woman and her lover.
So that description alone should intrigue you + the poster art there! To tell you the truth, the poster itself I’ve got there is a bit telling. But still, not like my description wasn’t either. If you want some nasty horror dealing with dead bodies and psychosexual tension, this will make any Halloween properly disturbing with a nice spate of – you guessed it – macabre imagery.demons_1_poster_01After Macabre‘s more subtle story, believe it or not, is the 1985 cult classic Demons. For those who don’t know, Lamberto Bava is the son of revered Italian horror/giallo director Mario Bava (see: A Bay of Blood & more). So while his father was an absolute powerhouse overall in cinema, not someone I would banish to simply being a great genre director but a true artist, Lamberto doesn’t quite rise to that height. That being said, he is still an amazing horror director. Demons is an all-out barn burner: a bunch of people are trapped in a theatre, home to demonic entities, and they proceed to kill/possess everyone possible inside. Honestly, there’s nothing else to say about the plot – it is what it is, and that’s all right. This is one wild piece of horror, similar to a zombie film yet these are demons; the more they possess people, the greater their numbers. Not only that, the special makeup effects in this one are gnarly and awesome as hell. You have to put this one on if you’re watching Lamberto Bava, it’s a wild ride, and a nice contrast piece to Macabre, a very different sort of horror. These two movies together will really get your blood flowing. Turn Halloween into a night of terror with this double feature full of depravity and utter chaos.

Offspring (2009)
offspring_xlg It’s strange because so many people seem to have seen Lucky McKee’s The Woman from 2011, yet inexplicably ignore its predecessor – the 2009 indie Offspring.
Based on a novel by Jack Ketchum, and subsequently his screenplay for the film, this is a tale of the remaining cannibals from an old clan who move in on a nearby town and begin to wreak havoc on its people.
There are some intense bits here, especially with the inclusion of the feral children in the clan; one scene immediately comes to mind when a woman walks into her kitchen, only to find blood and body parts and kids nibbling on the tasty little bits they’re holding. This is one really macabre story and its execution I find pretty damn good; not perfect, but good enough. Not sure why this one has a super low rating on IMDB, perhaps some might find it cliched or overdone, I don’t know really. The mind of Jack Ketchum comes out pretty nicely, to my mind. He is a unique and terrifying writer.
Either way, I do know this has enough satisfyingly disturbing bits of gore and morbidity in it you might spend a few minutes before bedtime making sure no cannibals are hiding out in the kitchen.

Angst (1983)
ANGSTCULTEPICSNEWSFor a full review and examination of this shocker, click here.

Loosely based on the real murderer Werner Kniesek, Angst is the tale of a madman released from prison, after which he brutalizes and murders a family in their small home.
Truly, to me, this 1983 cult horror film out of Austria is actually an examination of institutionalization crossed with an already violent psychopath, almost the meeting of two immovable forces crashing against one another. Right from the first scene, we know how madly gone the psychotic (Erwin Leder; best known from Das Boot) has become in his time through the prison system.
And that’s part of why Angst is so powerfully disturbing – aside from the messy, bloody bits, the entirety of the film has us knocking around in the head of this man. We’re never given any of what’s going on outside of him, anything from a different perspective, but rather this depraved killer is our guide, our sherpa into the heart of utter darkness.
If your Halloween season hasn’t been viscerally disturbing enough, get ahold of Angst. It’s becoming better known over the past few years, particularly with the Blu ray release, however, it’s still not widely recognized enough in my opinion. There are easily drawn comparisons between John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Though, trust me: this movie is far different, it gets deeper into the brain matter of its killer and really tries to strip things down to push us into the main character’s uncomfortable headspace.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
MV5BMTQyMDQ4NTY2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjk2NDQ3MQ@@._V1_UY1200_CR110,0,630,1200_AL_This 1975 Pier Paolo Pasolini-directed shockfest is one you’ll undoubtedly see turn up on most of the disturbing horror lists out there. Anybody in their right mind will find this completely raw and hateful nasty, no doubt about that. The most hardcore horror fans readily admit this is one insane piece of cinema.
While I do think there’s a major part of this movie speaking to fascism, et cetera, the majority of what you’ll find incessantly horrifying here is the imagery. And it’s not subtle, not even for a hot second.
Think – have you ever thought to yourself “I’d love to see a movie where people commit sodomy, eat human faeces, then throw in some violent torture/murder and a suicide to boot”? If so, this one is for you!
Okay, I don’t make this one sound in the slightest appealing. Because it’s not and I’m not trying to fool you here. This is a list of disturbing horror to do solely with imagery, effects, and so on. You won’t find a more visceral piece of cinema ever, maybe. Many argue this has no purpose, but under all its nasty and in-your-face nausea, Pasolini had something to say with Salò and after all these years – four decades later – people are still debating it, still fighting it, the controversy surrounding the film and Pasolini himself continues to burn in the public heart of film lovers. So can you say, either way, love it or hate it, that Pasolini’s movie is not effective? You’re kidding yourself if the answer is no.
Putting this one on could ruin October for you; the entire month. But if you’re adventurous, and a little messed up, pop this in and rock out to the Pasolini mindfuck machine.


Thanks for reading another of my Halloween lists this year. Once more, as always, I’m hoping you’ll find at least one flick to put on during October. Especially the closer it gets to the 31st. This list will induce shock and awe, I know it does for me. These are all pretty wild movies, to me. If you have any other suggestions for blood, guts, skulls and assorted nasty stuff, please drop a comment and let me know in what sort of madness you’ll be indulging over the next couple weeks.

Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno Chews Up Misguided Social Justice

The Green Inferno. 2015. Directed by Eli Roth. Written by Guillermo Amoedo & Eli Roth.
Starring Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Magda Apanowicz, Sky Ferreira, Nicolás Martínez, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Ramón Llao, Richard Burgi, Matías López, Antonieta Pari, Eusebio Arenas, Sally Rose, and Paul Norris. Worldview Entertainment/Dragonfly Entertainment/Sobras International Pictures. Rated R. 100 minutes.
Adventure/Horror

★★★★
59a974d3f370f45574815cb4805e8ac3WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Finally, I’ve had the chance to see Eli Roth’s long gestating, much awaited cannibal sub-genre horror movie, The Green Inferno. Its roots very much coming out of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, including the title (the film within a film in the 1980 cult classic), it isn’t all simply a rip-off like some people want to make you believe. Just because the plots are similar, the locations, et cetera, does not mean Roth has ripped anything off. What I see is a lovingly nasty homage, a letter to the brutal films which transformed Roth into the filmmaker he is today, and pound for pound this is one relentless bit of cinema.
Some want to say Roth is lifting all his plots, for all his films, from earlier horror movies. I don’t think so. Much like Tarantino in this respect, I feel Roth merely wants to make fun grindhouse type movies for the new millennium. He likes to show his inspiration, he enjoys making clear his influences. This is not plagiarism, so can that foolishness. People, in this day and age, seem to not understand homage when it’s done correctly. Here, we get Roth’s homage to Deodato with a whole dose of his own sociopolitical commentary much like Cannibal Holocaust had lurking underneath its grim exterior.
green-inferno-nativesIn New York City, Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is a college student immersing herself in classes and extracurricular campus life, or well… sort of, anyways. When one of her professors does a lecture on female circumcision, or better put female genital mutilation, Justine starts to get the social activism bug. Yet her roommate Kaycee (Sky Ferreira) is pretty uninterested and the two of them make fun of the campus Social Justice Warriors. However, after a little bit of time passes Justine finds herself enthralled with the idea of going to the Amazon rainforest in order to stop logging companies from destroying the forest and the tribes located there. A local activist Alejandro (Ariel Levy) and his group plan on going, so Justine tags along with them and plans to use her father – a UN attorney – as a way to draw attention to the cause.
But once the group arrives in the Amazon, things are a little more scary than anticipated. The protests get underway and even become a bit of a sensation on the internet. Then, on their way home, the plane’s engine explodes and they crash back into the Amazon… where the local tribes aren’t exactly welcoming to the people who came to supposedly save them.
The-Green-Inferno 25-green-inferno.w1200.h630Part of what Roth is doing in The Green Inferno, which he has already discussed at length through his AMA and other interviews, is taking on the Social Justice Warrior trend that has really taken off over the last couple years, due in great part to social media. Now, Roth isn’t trying to say we shouldn’t care about social/political issues. What he hates, and what many of us hate, is how so many people who fall into the SJW mentality only do it online, they’re retweeting and favouriting things, all in the name of doing some kind of activism over the internet; slacktivism. He perfectly sets up all the characters from America as these very superficial, naive and foolishly stubborn individuals who are more concerned with what’s happening on the other side of the world than what is going on right at home. This plot and story rings true in this day and age, and I think many of us are thrilled with seeing a few headstrong SJWs get eaten alive.
I found one of the most telling moments about the group’s naivety came early, in a meeting with Alejandro (Ariel Levy) and his activist group after they touch down at their destination, comes when he tells them (holding cellphone in hand): “These are our guns.” It comes off as a great line, inspirational to the other SJWs champing at the bit to get out and try to initiate some good. But in reality, the line expresses how idealistically ridiculous these so-called activists are, to think they’ll be able to infiltrate a logging operation, surrounded with militia, and not need any kind of defense mechanisms other than cameras. Such a good line which expresses so much, so quickly.
Green-Inferno-2-1024x576A few minutes past the half-hour mark, when the activists chain themselves to the trees and stand in protest together, Justine is thrown under the bus by Alejandro’s amour, Kara (Ignacia Allamand); she gives Justine a faulty lock, preventing her from being chained across the tree and secured. One of the militia is about to shoot her, however, Alejandro screams about her father being with the United Nations – AMAZINGLY TENSE SCENE! I can’t even describe those few moments, you actually fear for Justine even though she’s the main character. This is also the beginning of all the savagery and madness, from here we move back into the jungle and begin our descent into the darkness of humanity has officially gotten underway.
When the plane crashes, Roth moves the film into pretty nasty territory. The pilot gets his head ripped off by a log flying through the plane’s window, Carlos (Matías López) is impaled, a few of the group are ripped from the plane. Even one of them has their head grossly sliced by one of the still moving airplane propellors. Full on CARNAGE! Kara gets her just desserts, when an arrow blows through her neck, and then another puts her out of her misery through the middle of the forehead. It’s just outright mayhem for about five minutes until the activists are brought back to the tribal village. Nice little bits of gore up to this point, brief and momentary, but awesome; all courtesy of the incredible KNB team led by masters Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. You’ll only fall further headlong into their disgustingly awesome effects work as the film goes on.
Things really get rocking when poor Jonah (Aaron Burns) is given a drink by the tribe before being placed on a sacrificial rock – one of the tribesman (Ramón Llao) and The Edler (Antonieta Pari) quarter him up, first the eyes and then the tongue, then all the limbs. This is one of the most devastating sequences Eli Roth has yet to produce. Especially the scene afterwards, with a bunch of village women preparing and curing his body before they put it in a nice jungle oven to cook it nicely. I mean, what a brutish few moments! An undeniably scary bit of horror cinema, full of gore and shock and awe.
Screen-Shot-2014-08-21-at-1.21.06-PM-620x400I’ve already spoiled a few of these pieces, so mostly I’d like to reiterate some of the earlier points I made. Above all else, Roth’s Green Inferno makes the huge statement he means to: good intentions aside, the Social Justice Warriors blindly aiming to be activists not only do themselves a disservice, they’re doing a disservice to the issues they’re trying so idiotically to champion. Case and point comes in the film once Alejandro makes a dramatic revelation, albeit after the group are all caged in the village; we finally realize how some of these SJWs – again, these are the ones not doing real justice but merely doing it for the ‘look of being righteous’ – only do what they do in order to appear as if they’re activists, they don’t truly care much other than for personal gain. So, while many want to take Roth’s horror movie as simply a bunch of gore, body parts and nasty murder, which there is PLENTY OF, I do believe there’s a definitive and clear point beneath it all which is made. It’s not even as heavy handed as you think because Justine, and a couple of the others, certainly don’t fall in the same SJW category as Alejandro, for instance. But Roth easily makes his case and makes it well with an interesting, well-written screenplay (co-written with Guillermo Amoedo), alongside a solid helping of blood and gore.
Just a note: the last few scenes, Justine and her decisions, will put across the point of SJWs – she decides to do something selfless, all in the name of going against the stupidity of their activism which brought them into a world they did not understand, nor will they ever understand either. Then, there’s a bitch of a turnaround in the final shot before the credits, plus a SECOND ONE in between halves of the credits. Great stuff to add in, which really puts forth a few of Roth’s intentions even better and further than he’d already done throughout the film.
mv5bodmzndiwntm3of5bml5banbnxkftztgwodu4ota4nje-_v1__sx1234_sy636_A spot on homage to Cannibal Holocaust without lifting the screenplay, the plot as a whole, The Green Inferno is one of Eli Roth’s most brutal and simultaneously interesting films of the past few years. An absolute 4 out of 5 star horror movie, to me. I’m a fan of the cannibal sun-genre in horror, especially the classics like Deodato’s aforementioned grandfather of found footage and other wildness like Cannibal Ferox directed by cannibal forefather Umberto Lenzi. However, where some of those films lack in plot/story due to their insistence on explicitly showing tons of gore, simply for the sake of it, Roth excels with The Green Inferno because – despite all the bloodiness – beneath that exists commentary. Aiming this cannibal horror film at the Social Justice Warriors perverting the name of activism, Roth is able to break through from this being another shocking gorefest to achieving a bit of greatness.
1814116f9a7b44d6af79ba9cff76b981Others would have you see this as only a bunch of blood and body parts and cannibals. Me? I can see where Roth was going and I think, in a day of social media gone awry, there’s a message at the heart of The Green Inferno. If you choose to only see the gore, that’s fine, but if you can’t “make it through”, then don’t judge this film solely on the fact it contains lots of nasty, bloody effects because that’s not the main focus. Don’t let the unrelenting horror guide your opinion, look at what Roth is saying and try to understand his intentions; if you can manage to do so, this shocker may hold more than a few grossouts for you and despite any apprehension, you may just have a bit of fun. This is destined to fall in line with the great movies in the cannibal horror sub-genre, mark my words. I hope Eli Roth continues to do this sort of work because horror needs a nasty bastard like him to keep us all honest.

Ti West’s The House of the Devil: A Slow Burn Satanic Panic Period Piece

The House of the Devil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, and Graham Reznick. MPI Media Group/Constructovision/RingtheJing Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix. Rated R. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
house_of_the_devil_ver2Ti West is one of the modern horror directors I think you could say is an auteur in his own right. All of his films have a similar feel, maybe all aside from The Sacrament, as in they’re all done on film (again aside from the aforementioned last of his films to come out), they have the full, rich look of movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Not only that, West is great at drawing out the tension of a film to create atmosphere and to setup excellent uses of suspense.
The House of the Devil is no exception. I’d actually seen this before any of his other work before, and loved it so much I went back to see anything else he’d done I could get my hands on. The Roost is a highly underrated indie horror gem, even Trigger Man – an early attempt at shooting digitally – has its merits. Since then he’s done The Sacrament, of which I’m a big fan, and another fun little spooky flick called The Innkeepers. Loves titles starting with The!
With this movie, West throws back to the ’70s/’80s Golden Age of Horror, not deliberately making a period piece but still harkening directly back to that time by use of similar techniques, camerawork, music, and aesthetic filmmakers were in the habit of using. Essentially, The House of the Devil ends up as West’s scary love letter to movies he grew up, the vibe of filmmaking happening at the time which influenced him, as well as he gives us a slow burn horror rooted in the false Satanic Panic especially prevalent during the 1980s. If you don’t like a slower paced film, this won’t be for you at all. If you don’t mind letting a horror build, letting it grow on you, then give it a shot; you will not regret it.
the_house_of_the_devil_18Trying to get out on her own, away from terrible roommate living, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) ends up taking a mysterious job babysitting for Mr/Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov). Mysterious due to the fact the Ulmans don’t have a child. The job is, in reality, for Mrs. Ulman’s mother who lives with them. After some negotiating, Samantha gets a massive payday all for a single night. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) tags along to make sure everything is fine, and though not entirely satisfied she leaves Samantha at the house, almost literally in the middle of nowhere with the Ulmans.
And once they leave, Samantha slowly begins to feel as if something isn’t quite right in the big old house. Not to mention a young man named Victor (AJ Bowen) blasts Megan’s face off just a little ways down the road.
Nobody ever told Samantha babysitting would could be so hard.
houseofthedevil_still2_cmykThere are lots of things to admire about The House of the Devil. While big films often try to go for period looks – such as how Martin Scorsese for instance did the different portions of his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator according to how films looked at various instances throughout the 20th century – it is’t often an independent movie, horror at that, will try and emulate the particular look of certain decades. West not only shot this on film, but 16mm film, which gives it a great look that was very popular in the 1980s. Other ways West achieves his retro feel is through the zooms, nowadays a technique you’ll mostly see done through use of a dolly shot. Even right at the beginning with the freeze frame on Samantha, music playing, movie title in big block letters; totally ’80s style, through and through. Down to the fact this was the only movie since A History of Violence in 2005 which got released on VHS in one of the clamshell style cases, this is a unique and fun indie horror. So there’s a quaint charm about West’s film I feel gets lost on a lot of people who don’t care about any of that. Should you care? Well, that’s totally subjective. Me, I think there’s a certain artistry involved with all the care that goes into making a movie into more than just a movie, but instead making it become an experience. The House of the Devil, for me, has always been a solid horror while also very much being a horrifying experience all around because of its style.
tumblr_le86wpjc6p1qcc83zo1_1280When Samantha puts her ear close to the door, asking if “everything’s all right in there”, the slow and brief reveal West gives us of the Satanic-like markings, the bloodied corpses on the floor is shocking. It’s not shocking like the scene is going to make you gasp, or lose your breath and hide away. This shot and the scene is shocking in that you’re not expecting such blatant nastiness right behind the door. Even how slow West shows us what’s in the room is incredible, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the ‘mother’ in the dark, looking sinister in the corner, or anything close to that. Instead, it’s a pretty ballsy visual, such that West announces at this moment things are definitely going to start getting savage. At some point, anyways. Afterwards there are more moments of horror later like this, and also some key shots of very dreamy imagery in certain scenes. Generally, West strikes a nice balance between these two methods.
2394_5 158868544_9aea38When Samantha discovers the full extent of what’s happening in the house (think: drinking blood from a horned skull), the plot takes us into the depths of horror. Mixing subtle creepiness with plenty solid doses of nasty violence, the finale of the film plays out with pumping adrenaline in a sequence washed with blood. In particular, a few shots remind me of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, almost homage-like cuts to a hooded demonic character much like how Friedkin made several subliminal cuts to the Pazuzu demon in his film.
Most of all, I found the atmosphere of the film combined with the characters pretty damn eerie. Such as the Ulman family themselves. First there’s Tom Noonan whose creepiness knows no bounds, never once calling back to his stint as The Tooth Fairy a.k.a Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which is an unfair criticism of his acting I often see when he plays in horror movies; here, his character is all its own and he plays it quietly with great nuance. Then Mary Woronov does a spectacularly unsettling job with the character of Mrs. Ulman, even in the brief time she’s actually onscreen. Of course, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha is a perfect fit – she’s an ongoing yet at times quiet sort of person, but there’s a strength Donahue gives the character which is really great and adds something to the story. Throw in AJ Bowen and Greta Gerwig as interesting, smaller characters, and I’ve got to say West’s screenplay is a tight one with plenty of intrigue and none of the heavy, sagging exposition of other horror movies trying to spell every last thing out through dialogue.
hero_EB20091111REVIEWS911119997ARThis is a great film, 5 stars in my book. Ti West could’ve done a typical slasher with this, however, he opts to draw on his biggest influences from the ’70s/’80s and some of the real life yet fake claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse from decades ago, crafting a unique indie horror experience. Great and classic sensibilities show in the way West handles his directorial duties, as well as his writing. I can’t say anything else except for: watch it. Maybe you won’t dig it. But those who are into a slow burn, atmospheric type of horror, it’s full of that and it’s only a little over an hour.
Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments below, as long as you can be civil and have a proper talk!