A decent little slasher flick, like an American Giallo, that could've been so much more.
A waste of a slasher. All the more frustrating for the potential it held.
FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 2, Episode 3: “Handidates”
Directed by Barbara Brown
Written by Ian Brennan
So with that poor young man, warts and all, burned to a crisp, Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) puts the ladies on notice: there’s another serial killer lurking about! Duh, Chanel. Although she goes on accusing #5 (Abigail Breslin), as well as suggesting she had a part in some of the first murders last season. Just being a proper bitch. But #3 (Billie Lourd) is the voice of reason. Somehow. Before they can figure out what to do, Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) herself shows up. You know she wants things covered up just as bad. She also lets slip that she may be dying, although the girls don’t fully catch on right away.
Out in the swamp, #1 and #5 get into a “comparative wetlands” argument, a good bit of typically hilarious dialogue. Just like back in 1986, a body gets dumped into the waters. Only somebody is watching in the woods.
Meanwhile, Randal (Kevin Bigley) seems to have gotten better. No more freaks out. Suddenly the Green Meanie arrives for a brutal, bloody slasher kill. Yowzahs!
The ladies are gone back to see Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele) in her Hannibal cell. “Sweating to the Oldies 2” is a bit of a psychological torture on her while she rots away in there apparently. Quid pro quo. “A room with a view” becomes A Room with a View, which does not help with Hester who pushes hard to get a transfer over to her hospital. Munsch ain’t playing that shit, though.
Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) has issues with a serial killer running loose in the hospital. He’s worried about Dr. Brock Holt (John Stamos) and his transplanted killer’s hand. Well, Chad and Holt get into a “sperm off,” or they almost do. Afterwards we see Holt’s hand get a bit wild, too. The whole scene is drop dead hilarious, even once Munsch disses Chad as possibly being the worst lay she’s ever had. I loved the first season. This season is already defying any expectations I might’ve had about this one not being as good. Almost better already.
Dr. Cassidy Cascade, Chanel #3, and Munsch talk with a woman named Sheila Baumgartner (Cheri Oteri). She has orgasms, constantly. Not in a good way. So Dr. Cascade does his best to start a course of treatment. Later, he and #3 are alone cleaning up in the morgue. He mentions to her that Chad was in there earlier chopping up bodies and swearing a ton. Great. More than that he tells #3 that he’s dead. Like a “Highlander” who must wander the Earth. Haha, jesus. I’ve never watched Lautner in anything before, to be totally honest. He cracks me up in this role so far.
Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) and the Chanels are hanging out together, as #1 rants and raves about her skin. All of a sudden, Zayday has an epiphany while paying Scrabble and playing the word nurse.
Again in the showers Chad confronts Dr. Holt. Naked. “Just airin‘ out my scrote, bro,” he tells Brock before also letting him in on the fact he’ll be doing the new hand transplant to get rid of that pesky serial killer organ.
Out on a hunt, the Chanels, Zayday, Munsch, and the ever hilarious Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash) go to where Hester suggested they start on their search for the truth behind the Green Meanie. Turns out they discover the guy behind Esrun skin cream was there the night the Green Meanie killed all those people. He was paid $5-million to keep his mouth shut, all from the hospital. He claims Nurse Thomas (Laura Bell Bundy) told him a story about the year prior, when a doctor and nurse threw a dead body in the swamp. So is the woman whose husband died, or the child she later had?
Idiot Chad is trying to prepare for the big hand surgery. However, Munsch shows up to reveal Chad is actually her “prime suspect.” Holt cannot be the killer, she says. Nobody’s out of suspicion fully. Not yet. There’s certainly a bit drama building between Dr. Holt and Chad. Something nasty will come of it.
Together, #3 and Dr. Cascade try figuring out Mrs. Baumgartner’s problem. #3 gets into the yoga pose she was in when the orgasm problem began. Things get slightly sexy, before the doctor recreates what happened to make Sheila slip into full-time orgasm mode. A-ha, they’ve cracked the case! Like a millenial slasher version of House.
Things aren’t going well for Chad. He’s trying his hardest to impress Chanel. He even goes ahead, asking her to marry him. Yet in the distance is Brock, watching strangely. An eerie moment.
#3 and Dr. Cascade get a bit freaky right after surgery. I mean RIGHT AFTER. Eventually they move back to a bed, at least. Music troubles make their sexy times a bit tough for the first few moments. Cassidy’s worried about his deadness. So he shows her a thermometer for proof.
Surprisingly enough, Chad tries asking Dr. Holt to be his best man. Truthfully he has cold feet about it, he wants help to go through with the marriage. Brock agrees, though I can’t help wondering: what’s his endgame?
Chanel #1 is beaming. She wants #3 to be a bridesmaid. Zayday, too. She only wants #5 as a ring bearer. Dressed like a dog. Hahah good lord. The wedding’s tomorrow because rich white people are crazy.
After Sheila Baumgartner’s recovered and heading home she says the media has been alerted of the great care at Munsch’s hospital. Nothing lasts long, as Sheila sees the Green Meanie down the hall, tossing a scythe at her long distance. Sheila has her head lopped off. Chamberlain Jackson (James Earl) gets a slasher across the belly. But Zayday? She only challenges the Meanie: “Let‘s go, bitch.” The killer runs off, leaving the question, why Zayday?
We get an awesome Hannibal mask on Hester when she’s brought over to the hospital. With the Esrun lead, Denise pulled some Quantico strings to get her transferred. Things are only getting creepier though, as Hester’s sure the Meanie has killed again already.
At the Chanel-Radwell wedding things are underway. Poor #5 is wearing her dog collar. A few witnesses, including Munsch, are waiting. And wait they do. You didn’t think Chad Radwell was getting married, did you? Nope.
Or is it more than that?
When Chad’s dead body falls from the ceiling of the church right next to Chanel, all bets are off.
Who is the Meanie? My early bet is on Dr. Brock Holt, or the mysterious Ingrid Hoffel (Kirstie Alley). There’s no proof yet, really. So let’s see what happens in “Halloween Blues” next week.
Oh, in case you want to rock out to the wedding song before Chad’s bloody entry, here’s “Baby Love” by Regina from 1989.
FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 2, Episode 1: “Scream Again”
Directed by Brad Falchuk
Written by Falchuk & Ian Brennan & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “The Final Girl(s)” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Warts and All” – click here
The bitches are back, bitches!
This season opens on October 31st, 1985 (just seven days after my birthday). In a hospital people are partying. But one woman’s husband is in trouble, and she can’t find anyone to take her seriously. Until they come across Dr. Mike (Jerry O’Connell), who – after a bit of prodding – takes care of the man. He and one of the nurses plan to dump a body out back in a swamp, let the animals and nature take care of him. She talks about the “Green Meanie” – an urban legend from when she was younger, a monster that stalked the swamps. Now, heading to the present, are we going to see someone taking revenge for this crime? You betcha.
It’s 2016. Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) is all over the place as the face of “new feminism.” Meanwhile, hands Doctors Cassidy Cascade (Taylor Lautner) and Brock Holt (John Stamos) are taking care of a Ms. Catherine Hobart (Cecily Strong); an unfortunate lady who’s had to deal with werewolf syndrome. So we come to find out it’s Dr. Cathy Munsch. She received the honorary doctorate they “stripped from Bill Cosby.” Mostly she’s a lot of talk. As usual. But she’s awesome, and she opened up the hospital. Via voice-over, Cathy takes us back through how she got to this point. A fun little romp with Jamie Lee Curtis; ever cool, ever hilarious in a dry, sly way.
And what about the Chanels? Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), #3 (Billie Lourd), and #5 (Abigail Breslin). We go back over their court case, the involvement of Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash) in her crack up testimony during trial. There’s a bit of Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele) on tape claiming “double jeopardy” while arguing with Denise: “It‘s single jeopardy!”
Then there’s Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer). She’s in med school, trying to get by like many students. Munsch is swooping in on her, offering to pay for her tuition, offering a position at the hospital. Too good to be true? Well, Zayday takes her up on it. Whether that’s a good thing will have to wait a while.
Starting her schooling, technically a direct entry residency, Zayday meets the obnoxious Dr. Cascade and the weird Dr. Holt. Particularly we get a story about how Holt actually lost a hand a few years back. Lost a ring in the sink, garbage disposal got turned on, and VOILA! These days he’s doing surgery like a magician. His speech is both tragic and hilarious – the way he keeps hitting things, scaring Cascade and Zayday made me laugh. Lots of eeriness, all the same. Cascade seems like an ass, as well as the fact he’s strikingly cold to the touch. Best is when Chamberlain Jackson (James Earl) shows up. His charm is undeniable, if not a bit in your face.
Zayday makes a big with Munsch to get more women around the hospital. You know what that means. Oh, yes.
Chanel and her “idiot hookers” are back. Everybody hates them now to the point they’re having shit thrown at them in the streets. They majored in Communications, they all got jobs. Not exactly what you’d think. Especially after ending up poor, tired, and knocked down a few social pegs. Once Munsch shows up, everything changes. Naturally the girls are sceptical of the former Dean’s extending her hand, asking them to enrol as students and work at the hospital. But really, what else will they do? Their arrival throws Zayday for a loop, too.
So the fashion clash begins when the Chanels realise they have to wear scrubs. Although things feel more palatable after seeing Dr. Holt taking a shower. Curious: #5 notices a tattoo, sort of like a coat-of-arms with an H in the shield. Hmm. Anyway, the girls each have their jobs. After a bit of brutally funny banter on the term ‘ghosting’ as per Munsch: “Isn‘t ghosting when you do a number two and you look down at the paper and there‘s nothing there? And so you stand up and you look in the toilet and there‘s nothing there either because the turd somehow got shot down the hole before you even flush?”
The Chanels don’t have much bedside manner. Neither do Dr. Cascade or Dr. Holt, the first rambling on a Nietzsche-like thought and the other texting. Poor Catherine, the werewolf lady, is trying to get a bit of sense out of the doctors. Only one providing that is Zayday. We also get introduced to Ingrid Marie Hoffel (Kirstie Alley), R.N., who doesn’t have time for Chanel or any of their bullshit. Speaking of which, Munsch puts the Chanels on academic probation because of their treatment of Catherine earlier. Everything quickly feels like it’s crumbling beneath the Chanels after discovering they also don’t get paid, only free room, board, so on. So they head back to their room and brainstorm about what to do next: find a cure for “werewolf girl” first.
Chanel goes to talk with Dr. Holt about Catherine’s case. We see a bit of his weird, transplanted hand. In the midst of everything, Holt and Chanel figure out there may be a testosterone problem in Catherine, which prevents any further hand madness. Thus starts the fierce competition between Zayday and the Chanels. After a bit of treatment, Catherine loses ALL her hair. Not just a little. Every last bit. They give her a bit of a makeover, so that patches things up for now. Making Munsch’s hospital look great and pissing Zayday off.
#5 is on graveyard shift while the other two have dates. While she helps Catherine with a bit of hydrotherapy, someone watches in the shadows. #5 opts to get in one, as well. Both of them locked in a tub. Smart move, dummy. Then, a green-masked intruder appears with a couple blades in hand. He puts on a bit of music for the occasion. Before lopping Catherine’s head off.
And we end on a last chop: is it to #5? Or to the head? Or maybe just a last scare? We’ll find out next week.
An exciting, weird, creepy first episode for the second season of Scream Queens! Really loved this one. Can’t wait to see “Warts and All” next. Lots of promise, new characters, new setting, and a fun mask for a new killer, too.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 5: “How to Stay Alive in the Woods”
Directed by Norman Buckley
Written by Erin Maher & Kay Reindl
* For a review of the previous episode, “Modern Love” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Dharma Bums” – click here
We open on a young Joel (grown up version played by Eli Goree) and his older brother. Of course Joel has the camera out, but his brother’s more concerned with looking fresh for the ladies, as one would. They’re quite different, though the older one looks out for his brother. Through their window a strange noise comes. Does he know more about Camp Stillwater than he lets on?
Well, out at camp in ’89, Joel and the others are together. Everybody’s wondering where he go to with camp supervisor Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell). For his part, Alex (Ronen Rubinstein) thinks they hooked up. Once they start talking about hookups, everyone realises nobody wants to talk any further.
So the counsellors are all out with the kids, hiking in the woods and getting ready to do some camping. Just so happens there’s a “blood moon” coming out tonight, too. Cricket (Amber Coney) leads the little campers, as Jessie (Paulina Singer), Amy (Elizabeth Lail), Drew (Zelda Williams), Blair (Mark Indelicato) and the rest follow along. Despite any of their faults the group seem pretty damn good with the kids. When little Francie (Lia Frankland) has her asthma act up, Jessie and Joel help her calm down.
Out of nowhere, The Tall Man (Tony Todd) appears. Amy’s face runs with blood, an open wound in her head. Joel tries to catch it on camera then realises there’s nothing there. Amy’s fine, no Tall Man. Ahhhh, damn.
Another flashback to Joel’s younger days, watching everybody get ready for prom. Only his older brother Michael isn’t ready yet, still upstairs. When Joel goes to find him he discovers his brother dead in the bathroom; a suicide. An awful, terrifying moment in this boy’s life. Further than that it is probably the most hardcore scene so far on Dead of Summer. Surely this event left a mark on young Joel, forever scarring him.
In ’89, Joel is helping “pitch Deb‘s tent” and the others are out doing their thing, hanging with the kids, so on. Meanwhile, Jessie is still bitching at Amy for supposedly digging Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza). Amy doesn’t remember kissing him, though Jessie seems to believe she saw it. A vision, or reality? This isn’t the only confusion going around. We come to wonder: is Joel imagining more than we’ve seen? Has he hallucinated having sex with Deb? When he semi brings it up, she doesn’t act like she remembers. So many strange things happening.
When flashing back to his own prom, Joel starts seeing The Tall Man, just like his brother did. I only hope the end to his story does not finish like that of Michael.
While out in the woods, Cricket saves Alex from stepping into a bear trap. She also has paranoid thoughts about everything going on at camp. She knows there are odd, possibly evil things going on around there. One thing I love is that she has a shirt that says DREAMER on it; coincidence, as she’s had creepy dreams about the camp. More worried about Joel, though. He sees The Tall Man frequently. And then the apparition tells him ominously: “Kill Amy tonight, or someone else will die.”
Blair feels bad for what happened in the previous episode between him and Drew. Although there’s no resolution quite yet. Then there’s the fact Joel is hearing The Tall Man constantly over his shoulder, commanding him to kill Amy. How long until it all breaks, or Joel breaks? Zipping back to Joel’s prom, we see that he essentially inherited the same madness which plagued his brother, leading him to suicide. Such a tragic plot. I never expected Joel’s backstory to turn out this way. Especially seeing as how he’s hallucinating much more than The Tall Man. He’s making up whole events in his mind, only serving to drive him farther into the darkness of his mind. When he checks the tapes he made, nothing he remembers is how it once seemed. Catching Deb in the window with her shirt off now shows her reacting like most would, shutting the blinds, and Joel has to question everything he’s seen up to now.
While everyone else is having fun, roasting marshmallows and relaxing around the fire, Joel keeps hearing The Tall Man in his head. Requiring a sacrifice. Strangely enough, as we flash back to Joel’s prom, we see a large blood moon-like prop behind the DJ playing the music. Just like the blood moon out during their night at camp.
Deputy Sykes ends up at the eerie old cabin, the one where we’d first seen The Tall Man in the premiere. Jessie winds up there, as well. He explains the story of the man, Holyoke, and how he was a spiritualist leader of some sort; a cult. Garett believes there are Holyoke followers still lurking around Stillwater. Oh, how right he is. In the cabin Jessie comes across a door in the floor containing an old doll, a cuff link belonging to Garrett’s own father, as well as a recording of Holyoke.
As Joel heads to try and help the little asthmatic girl, Sykes and Jessie listen to Holyoke’s recording; he urges his followers to take the “potion” and to relieve themselves of the world. Ah, good ole suicide cult. Plays more into Michael, what he did. But will it play into Joel’s next chapter? Back at prom, he beat a guy to a pulp thinking it was Holyoke when it was just another student. In the woods at camp, he finds himself alone in the woods with Amy despite trying to keep away. She sees the fabric of his reality slipping, as Holyoke, unseen, commands for Joel to kill her. Before the poor guy puts a knife to his wrists she helps stop his delusions.
Joel lets Drew, Amy, and Blair into his life. He tells them about his brother’s suicide, the apparitions, and admits to having the same “sickness” now. His worry is that he’ll turn out just like Michael: “I need help,” he asks, as they all support him. Everything starts coming together when Jessie comes back with a picture of Holyoke. There’s still scepticism on some parts. But Amy definitely knows there’s a dark presence there. When the little Russian boy tells the counsellors he’s also seen Holyoke, everybody finds their summer getting a lot scarier.
Amy: “This place, it feeds on our weaknesses.”
In the woods Alex waits for Cricket. Problem is, she gets thrown onto a bear trap in the dark by one of the masked cultists. Dead and gone. I loved her. So sad. And she was only heading out for a bit of young love.
What a good episode! Loved this one. Tragic, creepy. Even some veritable nastiness at the beginning. Can’t wait for the next episode – “The Dharma Bums” – another chapter moving us closer
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 3: “Mix Tape”
Directed by Mick Garris
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
* For a review of the previous episode, “Barney Rubble Eyes” – click hereclick here
* For a review of the next episode, “Modern Love” – click here
So the episode name’s been changed to “Mix Tape” and that’s fine because instead of sticking to song names, this one sort of encompasses the idea of being born in 1980s, or having lived through it. I was an ’80s baby, but obviously grew up in the era of mixtapes. I know the pain (and pleasure) of recording one tape to another, messing with the PLAY and RECORD buttons, all that. Nice slice of nostalgia we all love.
This episode opens on Carolina “Cricket” Diaz (Amber Coney) after stepping out of the camp showers. It’s a typical eerie slasher scene. Including flickering lights, darkened halls, a bit of piano music in the background. And of course Cricket heads out into the dark to get back to the cabins, putting her in harm’s way. Luckily for her she gets away with no incident. Only in the forest surrounding her lurk people in strange masks, almost occult-like or pagan masks. Something else lurks about Camp Stillwater.
Being set near the end of the ’80s, Satanic Panic is in full swing. We get a look at Cricket’s home life before camp, as her mother worries about the whole issue (or non-issue, as it turns out). The Diaz family are loving. While Cricket worries about her weight, her father Hector (Alex Fernandez) tells her that she’s “special” and it doesn’t matter that she isn’t exactly like women on television. At camp, Blair Ramos (Mark Indelicato) catches Cricket writing those nasty things about herself on the wall. What’s her endgame there?
Everyone else is doing their thing with camp in full swing. Alex Powell (Ronen Rubinstein) is dealing with the fallout of Blotter getting dosed – Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail) isn’t exactly convinced of Alex’s innocence. Of course Jessie Tyler (Paulina Singer) is being her usual asshole self while Drew Reeves (Zelda Williams) continues to glide under the radar, mostly.
We get a look at Cricket and Blair in high school, before camp. The title of the episode comes from Blair telling her she wants something more than sex, she wants something “mix tape” – romantic and all that. Now we know, Carolina only wants to get laid. Back at camp, she finds a note that neither she nor Blair wrote on the wall.
A great moment of editing and writing collide here. When Cricket wonders who else could’ve written on the wall, the scene switches to Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza) looking at a picture of The Tall Man (Tony Todd). Perfect.
When Cricket goes out to where the note suggested, she finds a fire blazing. Around it in the darkness stand those people in the pagan masks. A chase ensues. Then Cricket wakes up. Nice play! That next morning, Carolina is distracted and off in another world. She tells Amy and Jessie about the masks, the fire, all the strangeness of that dream. There’s a lot of paranoia already floating around. Excellent ingredient for any slasher horror, or horror mystery, however you want to categorise the show.
In high school, we see more of Cricket. A guy approaches her at a party and the slightest bit of attention leads her into the house with him.
Back to Stillwater. Deputy Sykes is out at the old cabin, the one where we initially saw The Tall Man at the series start, he looks at the piano. He finds a strange key that doesn’t make any noise, one marked with the same Satanic-like symbol as The Tall Man’s book in his picture. Hmm, interesting. All the while the pagan masked people watch Sykes.
Out to meet her admirer, Cricket comes across Damon (Andrew J. West) the drug dealer. Sykes interrupts this little moment, of course. But mostly Cricket seems disappointed to have not found Alex. Back to high school, Cricket sees the aftermath of having gone with that guy into the house, as he totally blows her off, laughing at her in the hallway. When we cut to camp, Blair is still trying to help his friend. Cricket is still plagued by having issues with her body, wanting to be a slut simply because that’s the high school marker of popularity.
In other news, Joel Goodson (Eli Goree) is trying hard to continue the burgeoning relationship with Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell), the camp’s head honcho. He even drops a Harold and Maude reference, talks about Five Easy Pieces. Some admirable references, I must say.
The danger is gradually coming towards Cricket. She thinks Alex is after her, but he’s more interested in Amy, who in turn is not interested in him. However, a lie concocted by Jessie and perpetuated by Cricket gets them all out on the town, in the bar, away from Amy. When Cricket realises things with Alex aren’t going anywhere, she gets into a bit of uncharted territory. She wants to make him jealous, but the way through being Damon doesn’t exactly make anything less dangerous.
Joel is busy splicing reels together for their big film night, as Amy hangs out and they chat about reality, Time Bandits, all kinds of things. We find out, more than we already knew, that Amy is “super zen” – how Joel puts it. She doesn’t care about meeting guys. She wants to make friends and enjoy herself at camp. Meanwhile, we zip back to high school where Cricket is still struggling, hard, with boys and body image. When she goes home after school Cricket finds her father having just hopped out of bed with a younger, more thin woman than her mother. Yeah, because that’s going to help her issues. Poor girl.
Cut back to camp – Damon takes Cricket for a ride. She figures out he wrote the note in the cabin and even punches him in the face. “Every camp has a whore,” Damon says in front of the whole group. Alex takes a swing at the guy, knocks him around pretty good. Fairly eventful.
At the same time as Alex and Cricket head back to the cabin together, Drew locks lips with Blair. Yowzahs. Everybody’s making out now with Alex and Cricket following suit. Bitter irony: as they fall on the floor, likely about to have sex, she finds Blotter’s mix tape that he made her. What a juxtaposition that is to see. Back in high school, Carolina tells her mother about seeing her father with another woman. Seems that mom knows. She doesn’t want to rock the boat and this really bothers her daughter. “Women like us, sometimes we have to settle,” her mother says in a sad, tragic moment. But at camp, this memory propels Cricket away from the mistake she’s about to make with Alex. She and Blair meet up later and now she’s finally realised he was right about wanting the mix tape-type love.
Simultaneously, Jessie and Sykes – Braces and Townie – are rekindling their old romance. However, Sykes stops short of embracing her. Is he now interested truly in Amy? Or just not interested in Jessie? We’ll see.
Around the woods still waits the pagan masked cult. They’ve even got Cricket’s shoes, the ones she thought were lost, the ones that were in the mud in her supposed dream. When the shoes get dumped in the lake, we also get a look at Blotter’s cut off hand still holding a baby bottle full of juice. Nasty, nasty business.
The next day Amy tries building a bridge between her and Jessie. She knows Jessie’s grandmother didn’t die, as the concocted story went earlier, but does so with a tongue firmly in cheek, trying to make Jessie feel bad as possible. In other news Sykes is tracking down more information relating to The Tall Man, Camp Stillwater, and whatever madness has been linked to their joint history. He finds a soldier’s journal from 1871 talking about Holyoke, some kind of occult leader, as well as all kinds of further craziness. We understand now that The Tall Man is known as Holyoke. Though his boss doesn’t believe any of it, Sykes is stuck. Will he uncover more truths long buried?
There’s still mystery circling around Ms. Mitchell, too. The box she keeps at her cabin is shrouded in dark, purposefully kept secret. She places it in a closet. Inside, there’s also a pagan mask. Much like the one worn by those people creeping around the camp grounds. Oh, Ms. Mitchell; what treasures you hold! Then we also see Damon slipping into one of those masks, a couple friends along with him. All the while things from that soldier’s diary repeat – the deer eviscerated, the cult. Things are getting incredibly dark.
With a bit of Jane’s Addiction playing in the background, Cricket puts on her nice bikini and hits the beach for a bit of volleyball. Her body almost knocks Alex flat. But the real good stuff is happening with Damon, those masked people, as they conduct a ritual. They even brought along The Tall Man’s skull – ahh, now we understand what he wanted with those bones. The skull, a deer’s heart, and the promise: “Her blood will bring yours.”
And when Amy goes into the lake to retrieve an errant volleyball, she witnesses the water boil with blood. A horrific image appears to her – a stag’s head. The sky above gets dark suddenly and everyone starts running inside. Amy gets struck by lightning and floats face first in the water. At the shore, Damon and his cult buddies realise it isn’t Cricket they needed; it’s Amy.
Very cool episode. Everything’s not perfect, but it is exciting, dark, and has a lot of interest going on with various characters. Some people and reviews claim the characters are thin and underdeveloped. I don’t know what show they’re watching.
Stick with me. “Modern Love” is up next. I can’t wait to see what more macabre delights this series has in store.
The Loved Ones. 2009. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton, Andrew S. Gilbert, Suzi Dougherty, Victoria Eagger, Anne Scott-Pendlebury, Fred Whitlock, & Leo Taylor. Screen Australia/Omnilab Media/Ambience Entertainment/Film Victoria.
Rated R. 84 minutes.
The number of films where women are kidnapped and subjected to the vile torture of misogynistic men is uncountable. How many, even worse, take on the rape-revenge angle whilst requiring a man to take revenge for the women, as if she were some helpless child? Well, for once, there’s a (g00d) film which subverts the expectations of the sub-genre: The Loved Ones. Within a typical framework, writer-director Sean Byrne crafts an emotional, darkly comic, gruesome horror-thriller out of eerie performances and outright nastiness. However, nothing in this is simply made to shock. The plot takes us on a twisty-turny journey, even if the outcome isn’t entirely unexpected. But that’s the mark of a great movie sometimes when it takes an archetypal setup, something we’ve all seen time and time again, and turns everything on its head. Perhaps what I love most is that the antagonist, the villain of this horror is a woman. She holds no quarter, either. Her brutality is equal to if not more than a man’s and she has no problem showing it off. Along the way we’re treated to other atypical bits of plot, as well as a wonderfully twisted sense of storytelling. And I’ll be damned if the visual style of the film isn’t groovy.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is learning to drive. His father is in the seat next to him, singing along to tunes on the radio. They laugh and joke, they poke fun at one another. But when Brent looks away for a moment to his father, a bloody young man with a large heart and two letters carved into his chest wanders across the road. Brent swerves and they hit a tree.
After his father’s death, Brent finds it hard to cope, both with his own terrible guilt, and the brutal emotions of his mother. Although, he does have a girlfriend named Holly (Victoria Thaine), and she provides a much needed refuge for him, plus there’s his good friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) who sticks by his side.
But one day while out smoking weed and off in his own world, Brent is abducted. He wakes up to Lola (Robin McLevy) and her father (John Brumpton). That day, he had to turn down Lola when she asked him to prom. Now it seems as if she and ‘Daddy’ have their own plans. Along with a rotating disco ball, paper crowns, fried chicken, knives, and even a power drill, Brent is about to have his own prom with Lola.
A night he’ll never forget. Especially when he finds out what they’re hiding in the basement.
We see our main character seemingly express a deathwish by hanging back from a cliff’s edge, as if daring himself to let go. But when he slips slightly, barely regaining traction to keep himself hanging on, it’s evident he doesn’t actually want to die. Just a nice little early touch I found enjoyable, which added to his character in a perfect way. You can see how caught between living life and feeling guilty he is, and it so obviously wracks him constantly with a pain of indecision; he can’t tell whether to be guilty, or to move on, which any of us obviously would after losing a parent in a car crash that was, sort of, your fault. Watching him struggle between the two ends of the spectrum is difficult, but only in the way we feel heavy emotions for his character from the start. More than that, he ends up in the worst fight of his life later on, so to see his self-imposed near (possible) death juxtaposed with the very real threat of death put upon him by Lola and Daddy, it’s an interesting contrast to say the least. Then you add the fact Brent feels the guilt of his father’s death, he probably did want to die. That all changes once he’s placed into the hands of others who will, no doubt, bring about that death. Without spoiling anything, the stakes get even higher, much larger once Brent discovers a few more things later on.
Xavier Samuel isnt someone I’ve seen much of. Though, the few times I have seen his performances I’ve always enjoyed them – for instance, Bait wasn’t even a good movie, highly average, and I still thought he played well in it. But here, as Brent, he brings out the range required. Impressive performance. His ability to play the depressed and devastated side of Brent is easily seen, almost immediately in the first frame after his father dies. Then, once things at Lola’s house get more and more serious, he brings out the anger and the tormented rage inside him that’s been boiling for so long, and it unleashes onto the screen.
Still, even with John Brumpton doing awesome work as her Daddy, the star of the show is Robin McLeavy’s Lola. The only other thing I’ve seen her in is the AMC series Hell on Wheels, and she does a fantastic job there, too. But Lola – what a piece of work! Imagine Jeffrey Dahmer, except as a teenage girl, and she’s got a strange psychosexual relationship happening with her father, and VOILA! C’est Lola! McLeavy is totally twisted. Her presence at the beginning, in that first scene asking Brent to prom, is wildly unassuming. Even with her on the cover of the film looking ominous, you still don’t get any of that from her initial appearance; she seems like an innocent, sweet little thing. Slowly, McLeavy brings out her manic side with all she’s got. Her danger is evident, crystal clear with each frame after the next, after the next. She becomes this unstoppable force, almost like a female Michael Myers, walking through the fields and stalking towards her next prey. So to see the savage finale it was a real treat. Never once does Byrne treat Lola as a woman, in the sense that he doesn’t act like he has to be delicate with this character simply due to her gender. He takes her all the way through to every deadly little conclusion instead of prancing around the details, whittling away at her character to try and make her sympathetic. She’s one of the most unsympathetic horror characters I’ve seen in ages, and each time I see this film I’m always amazed at how perfectly Lola is written, really giving us a subversion of the expected tropes in the genre. For once, a woman gets to be the true slasher-style villain. And does it ever kick fucking ass.
One of my favourite horror-thrillers in the past decade. A 4&1/2-star affair. It is never apologetic and always at its finest, most gruesome form. The Loved Ones takes the typical kidnapping-torture sub-genre and does something interesting with it, instead of trying to go over and over the same territory. It certainly hits familiar notes, it’s not the most revolutionary thriller to come out. But it has heart, as well as a touch of ingenuity. Plus, as I said, there are never any apologies, in the sense that Sean Byrne goes for broke, he treats his female killer the same way he would if the character were male. And these are the types of things I like to see in horror. When we can treat genders separately in terms of their stories yet equally in terms of their stature as weighty characters, horror (or any genre for that matter) only gets better. It’s a change, and change is good. Check out The Loved Ones – it’s a brutish romp through an old neighbourhood, with a different spin, lots of bloody goodness, and the candy coated visuals make this dark subject shine.
Hangman. 2015. Directed by Adam Mason. Screenplay by Simon Boyes & Adam Mason.
Starring Jeremy Sisto, Kate Ashfield, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins, Eric Michael Cole, Amy Smart, Ross Partridge, Ethan Harris-Riggs, Vincent Ventresca, Bruno Alexander, Erika Burke Rossa, and Jamie Lee. Produced by Hiding in the Attic.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Adam Mason’s filmography, to me, is not exactly amazing. All the same, his work as a director proves he is at the very least still an artist whose main goal in horror is to be daring.
The first film of his I saw was The Devil’s Chair and I actually enjoyed it a good deal. It’s not perfect, but swings for the fences on almost every occasion. Then I ended up seeing Blood River, which focused heavily on characters, their development, and of course a nice dose of terror. However, his earlier film Broken did not impress me, at all. It was brutish, not in any good horror sense, and just downright bad.
When I first heard of Hangman the initial draw was Mason, as I do think he has a proper horror mind. It just doesn’t always translate perfectly to his films and their stories. Then I noticed Jeremy Sisto and Kate Ashfield were cast, and those names brought me into interest a little more. Sisto in particular is someone I’ve always enjoyed as an actor, no matter if the movies he’s in are good or not he is an actor whose performances are often stellar. Once I actually saw Hangman I actually couldn’t believe how badly it was being received. Not that I expected another found footage film to be received with open arms, but really this is nowhere near the shit quality of many other similarly styled releases. With a low-key atmosphere, handheld camerawork, and a very creepy villain in Hangman, this is a decent ride through familiar territory – with a gritty and horrifying focus on a madman who terrorizes families… all in the name of love.
I won’t draw this review out with an explanation of the plot. It’s easy. You’ll pick up quickly.
One of the most disturbing parts of the entire film is when the Hangman watches the married couple have sex, all the while masturbating himself. But it’s afterwards when they’re finished, sleeping, and the Hangman cries alone, hunched over his own body, shaking with the tears; this is the truly disturbed moment. Obviously the man is a loner. We could’ve figured that out on our own. However, this brief moment is not in here to shock, or to gross us out, or simply to be crass. It’s in this scene where you can almost tell the deep seated issues in the Hangman are clearly family related; the lack of love is staggering. Maybe I’m drawing out too much on that one. But to me, it works. Further than that, awhile later he waits until the family heads out for a big day of fun, then sits on the couch while looking through family albums. He proceeds to scream into a pillow, punching himself, flailing his arms, and again it is even more clear at this point – he is either unable to have a family, to find someone to love; he came from a terribly broken and fractured family himself; or, nobody could ever love him because maybe he’s a monster in real life, too.
Aside from the creepy quality of the Hangman character, he is extremely violent. The stabbings we witness are savage, bloody. At the same time, they aren’t overly long. They come fast and vicious, just like a real life stabbing does (I’ve seen one, unfortunately). So even with the low budget style of the film we’re treated to a couple nasty bits of slasher-styled horror.
The music from Antoni Maiovvi here was something I enjoyed quite a bit. Because part of why the found footage format works here is due to Mason’s having the killer using lots of gear. So likely, he edits his footage. This provides Mason with a sort of way out, to escape the trappings of the sub-genre. Back to Maiovvi’s music – the killer often listens to songs, whether in the attic or in his car, wherever. And even if it weren’t the case, Mason uses the found footage style, along with his plot and killer to give us the possibility that this sickening creep of a man also adds in music to his little homemade terrors. There’s a fun 80’s feel to the music, but it has such a dark sound. Really fitting. In particular, I love the first scene where Hangman follows Marley (Ryan Simpkins) with her boyfriend, and when the boyfriend catches Hangman watching them, confronting him, the killer only turns up his music; takes on an even more ominous tone.
A moment many people will point out is when the killer stabs a character to death, then texts on said character’s cell, his glove ripped. He’s clearly putting his fingerprints all over the place. Can’t be a slip up, it’s too obvious. Perhaps he is falling apart. This is evidenced by the following scene, as an empty house is filled with the spooky wails of his sadness. Honestly, this part got to me. The intensity and depravity only spirals downward from there. A disgusting act of the Hangman comes back now and really starts to haunt the family he’s tormenting. This is the pay-off. The greater portion of the film is a quiet slow burn thriller, also including plenty psychological horror.
A lot of people aren’t going to find much to love about Hangman. The cinematography is non-existent because this film truly takes on the found footage aesthetic through low-fi video shot on handheld cameras, as well as security-type units, all handled by the Hangman. So there’s a few terribly shaky scenes. Some moments are awful angles, as the Hangman films himself doing various things. For me, there’s an terrifying emotional element to Hangman that gets under the skin, it seeps inside you throughout the quick 85-minute runtime, and once you get to the finale the movie really takes you for a harsh ride. I expected something similar to what happened, in terms of violence. But I didn’t expect the way in which it was executed. Above anything else, the visceral aspect of the entire movie is what will get you. Try and work past any problems you have with the low-fi feel because I found there were excellently horrific things inside the story.
Everyone else be damned: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
I’ve watched a ton of films; over 4,100 and counting, as of this writing. Not trying to say that gives me authority. It does not. But I’d like to hope I know a decent film when I see one. This is quite a slow burning thriller with horror elements, however, it isn’t so slow that there’s anything bad about it. If that’s not your thing, fine. Just don’t knock it because the pace is slow. Maybe the pay-off isn’t what you wanted. I found it an emotionally tense movie with a massively disturbing villain at its core. Give it a try. Blame me if you really feel 85 minutes is a waste of life; get over yourself while you’re at it. I’ve seen far worse found footage entries, this one had some teeth and didn’t flinch.
FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 4: “Haunted House”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by Brad Falchuk
The opening scene is excruciatingly funny and so acidic in terms of how it takes on popular “bitches” like Chanel #1 (Emma Roberts). Chanel-O-Ween sees her send presents to tons of girls who idolize her, supposedly the “losers” or whatever you want to substitute for a description.
Way too funny. Hard to describe, yet it’s just so good. Solid opener for the episode.
At Kappa House, Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) is being questioned by the police, but not really. She is great friends with the detective questioning her. Not only that, she does make sense – it would be awfully hard for her to get out, dress up as the Red Devil, climb down unnoticed outside, and then attack. Or is it? Wes Gardner (Oliver Hudson) is not convinced, neither is Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad) particularly. I am, though. Munsch is dirty, just not a killer, I don’t think. Then in bursts guard Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash) trying to tell everyone Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) is the real killer.
Mostly this part is an amazing showcase, once more but longer this time, of Niecy Nash kicking out the comedy jams. She is awesome and perfectly fits this character. We always hear how black women are “sassy” or something similar. I think Nash allows herself to be goofy, which is super fun. Not that she’s a weak character, but she doesn’t necessarily have to be strong, she just gets to be silly and it works proper.
In another confrontation between Denise and Zayday, we find out Denise was rejected from Kappa House at the same university she now guards. Great, quick flashback to her being tossed – once again showing off Nash’s hilarity.
Meanwhile, Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) and Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta) track down the woman who was once a sorority pledge at Kappa House – Mandy (Jennifer Aspen). She tells them about how her life is “split in two: before that night and after“.
Flashback to 1995 where Dean Munsch talks through the process of covering up the young girl’s death in that bathtub. Then, she makes the girls wear hoods on the ride out to bury the body, so they’ll never know where it is buried. Munsch locks them all down with a highly nasty little plan, all to cover her own ass – though, she claims it’s to protect them, to protect their families. Real chilling scene. More and more, we see how sinister Munsch is, but again: not a killer. I’m sure there’s someone, or a couple someones, out to get Munsch and anyone else linked to Kappa House, or the original women.
SHOCKER? The baby was/is a girl, confirmed by the woman who was there. Hmmm, the plot thickens.
Chanel #1 gets a big smack in the face when Zayday reveals her intentions to run for president of Kappa House. Ms. Oberlin makes a bit of a threat, then takes off somewhere to grieve. The other Chanels find her in the shoe closet, sharpening kitchen knives.
I think Emma Roberts is pretty great, too. Honestly, she pulls off the incredibly awful sorority girl role. Slightly similar to her role in American Horror Story‘s third season, but very different than the one she played in the fourth season. There’s more comedy here obviously and it’s a satirical, even farcical look at the sorority/fraternity mentality which is especially rampant in this day and age in America, particularly. So while some think it’s either over-the-top, or what not, I find it on the nose and Roberts does well with making us truly believe she is a stone cold bitch of a young lady.
A bit of nice horror in this episode. Mandy, in her little trailer out in the dark, out off the grid somewhere, finds herself at the mercy of someone outside causing mischief. She walks around brandishing a baseball bat. Then, in the mirror behind her, the Red Devil appears, knife in hand. As she screams out, the Devil stabs her to death. Nice little clip of Leprechaun plays in the background, cut in briefly; I’m pretty sure it’s one of those films, anyways.
Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) is out in the graveyard about to have a yank over a grave, when Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele) shows up with her new look going on. She proposes they’ll have sex in a “very scary location“, and that maybe he can head in the “back door“. Hilariously twisted scene.
Professor Gardner is showing more horror again in class. This time it’s Children of the Corn. He’s going on about children in horror movies attacking the adults, that we “can’t escape our inner child“. More of the film professor nonsense, or is it? You be the judge. I think it is, if you’re examining a film like this, others maybe not so silly.
Grace shows up then to question her father about her mother, who went to the same school, supposedly pledged Kappa. She point blank asks if her mother died in the bathtub, to which her father replies with surprise. She’s convinced something is going on with him, in some way. I am, too. All the same, the moment between them here feels genuine, like he’s telling the truth: “I saw you come out of your mother”
We’ll see where it all goes.
Grace then heads off to meet Pete at a local haunted house, or so Pete and Denise say – the house on Shady Lane. At times this sequence is spooky, others it’s fucking riotous with Pete and Denise telling the tale simultaneously, or in tandem more so, which comes off like a scary version of Abbott and Costello. They talk about a hag living in the house, shrieking and wailing coming from inside, et cetera, typical legend type stuff. A super creepy room full of weird little dolls is found to boot. Turns out the woman lived in the house around 1995, when the Kappa House tragedy happened, or just after – that’s where the screaming must have come from, I imagine.
There’s a PERFECT scene where the Chanels are about to eat cotton balls, dipping them in sauce, when Hester speaks up and changes Chanel #1’s mind. They decide to go for pizza. Then, the world of the sorority at Kappa changes. Great little feminist bits where Chanel #1 points out the hypocrisy of how men can look versus how women are expected to look. Then, a moment between the girls and a couple fratbro douchebags where they lay it out for the men: don’t whistle at me, don’t ask me to give you a smile, don’t belittle women under the guise of trying to talk to them, and so on. Love, love, loved this bit! Such an excellently written scene.
Right afterwards, Chad is being brought out to the house on Shady Lane, where Hester seems to be letting him “throw her a bone”. Then comes the HORROR – bodies everywhere! First, it’s Ms. Bean and Hester pokes a hole through her leg accidentally, believing it to be a wax replica of some sort. Then there’s Chanel #2, Denise’s partner Shondell, Coney a.k.a Aaron Cohen, and more. Even poor Mandy who was recently dispatched by the Red Devil.
Solid homage to John Carpenter’s Halloween with Ms. Bean’s headstone above the bed where she lays. Love all the homages and references in the episodes so far.
I thought this part was absolutely fitting. Using all the real dead corpses of those killed off previously in the series as supposed props in the haunted house, it’s genius!
Chad: “Don’t go to the haunted house on Shady Lane! There are dead bodies. Like real, live dead bodies.”
Zayday gets nabbed by the Red Devil in a great freeze frame with red filter. The aftermath sees just about every main character at Kappa House, the detective and other officers present to try and suss out what’s been going on around their campus. So much madness and mayhem and murder. Professor Wes wants answers, threatening to go to the media if nothing is done in regards to the safety of the students.
Pete and Grace decide they have to discover who the Hag of Shady Lane was, the woman in that house, that way they may break through to find out more about the murders and the original tragedy.
Perfect closing shot sees Gigi sitting in the Shady Lane house, in a chair with all those dolls, hooded in the Hag cloak, wailing away. Very, very spooky!
Can’t wait for the next episode titled “Pumpkin Patch”. Stay tuned for another review next week! Hope at least some of you are enjoying the show as much as I am. Been having a blast, full of comedy and equal parts horror. Cheers.
FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 3: “Chainsaw”
Directed by Ian Brennan
Written by Ian Brennan (also writer of Cooties)
* For a review of the previous episode, “Hell Week” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Haunted House” – click here
The beginning of this episode sees Grace (Skyler Samuels) and Zayday (Keke Palmer) going to a convenience store, talking about Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta). Zayday in particular says she thinks Pete is a bit strange due to his concern with what’s been happening at Kappa House, but Grace assures her he’s a good guy.
Then they confront the Red Devil himself, standing silently near one of the coolers in the store. He comes at Grace and she uses a taser on him, right in the balls.
Suffice to say, the murders are taking their toll on everyone.
Back at Kappa, Chanel #1 (Emma Roberts) and Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin) are face to face having issues. #5 has been getting laid recently, or Eiffel Towered as she puts it, so this has helped her popularity-wise. Therefore, #5 says goodbye to the original Chanel in spectacularly bitchy fashion.
But a little later, Chanel #1 concocts a plan in order to help get back in Chad’s favour after he breaks up with her. She decides to fix up the apparent trainwreck Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele), so then there’ll be less “losers” in Kappa; meaning, long story short, Chad will want her back when the place is more popular again.
At the same time there’s Grace and Zayday, who are looking for clues to what has been happening at both the sorority house and then at Chanel #2’s parents’ home, along with trust security guard Denis Hemphill (Niecy Nash). They eventually discover that none other than Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) was engaged in a sexual relationship with Chanel #2. UH OH!
Even better, Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) tells Sam (Jeanna Han) her father is – wait for it – Charles Manson. Her mother supposedly connected with Manson while in jail and got pregnant. Is it nonsense or what? I’d love to think it’s not because that would be AMAZING, but I don’t know… I guess that would be too far out. Either way, this scene was hilarious. Billie Lourd is a crack up in this show!
I’ve got to say: Niecy Nash is god damn hilarious! The part where she talks about the luminol and horseradish would be good enough on paper, yet Nash takes it right off the page and makes it a riot. Because I honestly wondered – why the hell does she have that? – then Brennan’s writing makes it clearer, on top of that she acts the character hilariously. There are some typical moments you might expect from this character, but I think Nash is funny enough that she’s able to transcend that a little.
Glen Powell plays the character Chad Radwell excellently. The character’s meant to be an idiot, he is the archetypal fratboy douchebag. But you can have those types played badly. Powell is almost near perfect. Because there’s no subtlety about the character and somehow that’s spot on. Every time he’s onscreen I know there’ll be at least one good laugh.
On a comedy note again, Jamie Lee Curtis as Dean Cathy Munsch is both sinister at times and flat out hilarious at others.
Chanel #3: “Are you hitting on me? ‘Cause I heard munching box is what killed Michael Douglas”
Again, the score of this series is incredible. One of the first real awesome bits of music out of “Chainsaw” comes when security guard Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash) enters the scene. Just a great example of the electro-sound these episodes have going on, amongst other popular songs on the soundtrack and other horror-styled compositions. There’s more of this throughout the episode. For instance, when Chad and the fratbros are talking about the supposed death of Boone (Nick Jonas), there’s a perfect little piece with a minimalistic sound that’s sort of creepy horror-like music and at the same time it has the EDM excitement about it in a subtle way.
Things get awkward for Grace when her father Wes (Oliver Hudson) shows up as her film professor. She storms out, naturally a bit weirded out. Then it gets AMAZING and also hilariously satirical of film professor bullshit, as Professor Gardner shows them his choice for the greatest film ever – Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He gives a silly little mini lecture about the final frames: “Vietnam, Watergate, the invention of the pill, the White Album…”
Loved this whole scene because it throws a little suspicion out onto Wes himself, as he really enjoys Hooper’s film a bit too much. Not only that, as I already mentioned, this scene takes on the film professors/TAs/even students who try to take certain films and elevate them to high art when really they’re not even intended as such. I’ve been to film school and let me tell you: so many students and professors are this way. Many are not, but too many definitely are snobby, nose-in-the-air types. Though, Wes Gardner comes off a little creepy, a bit dangerous here. Will this lead to anything more? Or simply another red (pardon that pun) herring? Time will tell.
While Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad) still tries to inch her way into Wes’ arms, Dean Munsch is determined to step in the middle; she’s got a real thing for the new professor. Inviting Gigi to golf, they have a bit of a stand-off over Wes, though it seems the Dean has laid down the law. Regardless, the two of them plan on moving into Kappa House with the sorority for a week to keep an eye on things. Is this for safety, or is Dean Munsch more concerned her part in the tragedy 20 years might eventually come to light?
Once they’re finally rooming together, Munsch puts the screws to Gigi with her white noise machine, her array of dressings at dinner (prompting Gigi to laugh hard when one of the bottles makes a fart sound), all over handsome Professor Wes.
Professor Wes Gardner: “Aren’t we all running from the chainsaws in our past?”
By far my favourite part of this episode is the mascot, Coney, a.k.a Aaron Cohen (David Simpson). There’s a real great montage of scenes happening while WHAM!’s “I’m Your Man” rages in the background, which culminates with the Red Devil infiltrating young Cohen’s room, attacking him with a chainsaw, and naturally, sawing his head off. Coincidence the chainsaw was used after Professor Gardner’s class? Hmm.
There are other things going on in “Chainsaw” aside from the horror and bits of violence thrown in the mix, such as more exposition from Grace and Pete; she thinks Chad may be the killer, or at least is an interesting suspect. Luckily Pete is a sneaky Pete – he’s been doing a bit of digging. He found the name of a girl from Kappa who dropped out, two credits shy of a degree, not too long after the mysterious death at the sorority.
Decent stuff happening. Even poor Zayday is being looked at as suspect with security guard Denise doing footwork on her background; not that she has much to be worried about, as far as I’m concerned. Denise has good intentions, good detective she is not. God damn funny, though.
But what I love is the scene set to “Backstreet’s Back” with the fratbros fighting the Red Devil; only there are TWO Red Devils. They come wielding chainsaws. Just as it looks like Chad Radwell is going to get the saw, one of the bros runs in to save him only to have both his arms lopped off, the effects like the wonderful “Tis but a scratch” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Just a gnarly awesome sequence all around.
The Red Devil – only one it seems this time – shows up back at Kappa House when Gigi opts to leave her and Dean Munsch’s room to sleep on the couch. Wes gets a chainsaw to the arm trying to defend Gigi (is he the other Red Devil? Key horror trope would be to have him injured, y’know… so it looks more convincing). Even more than that, Wes grabs the chainsaw, after the Red Devil disappears into thin air, and tells Dean Munsch: “You’re the killer”
Overcompensation? I don’t know. I have an itching suspicion Wes is not who he appears. Though, that can be said for a lot of these characters.
Next up is “Haunted House”, directed by Bradley Buecker (American Horror Story). Stay tuned fellow fans, we’ll see more blood and hilariousness together next time!
The Descent. 2005. Directed & Written by Neil Marshall.
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll, Craig Conway, and Leslie Simpson. Celador Films/Northmen Productions/Pathé.
Rated 18A. 99 minutes.
Personally I’ve enjoyed Neil Marshall from his debut, Dog Soldiers, and then he came on with this film and it all but cemented him as a solid horror filmmaker; hell, filmmaker in general. Since then he’s done two underrated movies – Doomsday and Centurion, neither of which are amazing, though, they are better than their reputations – a couple episodes of Black Sails, Game of Thrones, and one whopper of a Hannibal episode in the 3rd season “The Great Red Dragon“. He’s also got a segment titled “Bad Seed” in the upcoming Tales of Halloween I cannot wait to see!
What I enjoy about Marshall is that he’s not just a director with a neat way of looking at things, he’s also, what I think is, a pretty wonderful director in terms of form; he simply films things in an interesting way. There’s nothing boring about his films or the episodes of television series’ he has directed. The reason so many filmmakers, particularly in the horror genre I must say, fail to really get over with their work is because their style is either a) too bland in terms of story/character/et cetera, b) too flashy (with no substance), or c) it’s just not overly enjoyable to experience visually. With Marshall, and I’ll single The Descent out from his work as the best example, he doesn’t opt so much to jump scare you here in order to create that feeling of action, or horror (or whatever he happens to be going for at the moment). His visual style helps to keep you rooted and then everything else just builds on – the drama, the horror, the suspense and tension. In this film, there’s plenty of imagery, a good lot of horror, and the characters help make things fun (even in the grim sense). Marshall’s movie can easily be considered as one of my top 10 horror movies since 2000, I’ll say that without hesitation.
A trio of friends – Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Beth (Alex Reid), and Juno (Natalie Mendoza) go rafting on the river; their idea of vacationing. On the way home, Sarah sits in the passenger seat of a vehicle while her husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) drives, and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) sits in the backseat. All of sudden, though, they meet head-on with another vehicle – Sarah survives, but Paul and Jessica are horribly killed.
One year later, Sarah, Beth, and Juno, along with a bunch of other adventure seeking women, go on an expedition to a cave system in the Appalachians, somewhere in the U.S. Deep in the woods they eventually find their cave, making their way in. However, after a little while things start to get dicey. First, their climb starts to go wrong little by little. But then soon enough it’s apparent to the women they aren’t alone in the caves.
Deep underground, stuck beneath the vast and reaching Appalachians, the group of friends find themselves in a fight for their lives against terrifying, human eating monsters, adapted to their environments below the earth. They’ll have to fight hard in order to make it out alive; if that’s even possible.
So for me, and no doubt many others, what makes The Descent so incredibly effective is the sense of isolation and claustrophobia almost built into the setting. Furthermore, once the women get trapped after a tunnel caves in, this gets even worse as – plot point – Juno (Mendoza) has taken them all into an unknown cave, not in the correct system they’d all planned on, and so essentially even without any outside forces these women might have never made it out of the caves regardless. I think that’s one of the most interesting parts about this film is that you could easily have seen this as simply a dramatic thriller about a bunch of women heading into the caves, including the dynamics between Sarah (Macdonald) and Juno, in terms of what happened to the former and her family and how it connects with the latter.
Instead of being simple and dark, Neil Marshall has written a fantastic screenplay. Whereas a movie like The Cave (which I honestly enjoy as a popcorn flick even though it isn’t great) is lower common denominator for horror, more like a Michael Bay equivalent in the genre, The Descent opts to be more cerebral, and in turn when the visuals and the horror get thick things become pretty visceral, too. The characters here are complex, they aren’t one-dimensional type women. Which is another point, that Marshall has given us a bunch of excellent female characters and the man character, dare I say the heroine, she’s an ass-kicker. I like that it’s not the typical formulaic horror including women, such as the male dominated film with a “Final Girl”. Even though, yes, Sarah can be considered that “Final Girl”, it’s not the overused scenario, the same tired place where we’ve expected the plot to develop. Marshall brings all these women together, each different, and doesn’t need any men in order to instigate the horror, or any of the action. The faceless/featureless crawlers in the cave only bring further terror. Even while that whole KILLER V. VICTIM dynamic is playing out, as it usually does in one shape or another throughout the horror genre, I like that these female characters can inhabit a filmic space where these featureless monsters are the attackers, not some slasher, a deranged male who hates women; rather they’re simply the horror beneath, the unknown below.
More than that, these creatures also represent a symbolic sort of theme. Clearly the buried secrets between Juno and Sarah, concerning the former’s relationship with the deceased Paul (Milburn), are being unearthed; it’s possible without their predicament, the descent into the cave and into madness, this might never have come out. So in a way, these crawlers down in the cave are the literal, material embodiment of the ideas surrounding those buried secrets. They say secrets can eat you alive, right? Well in The Descent, this sentiment comes alive, in a brutally literal sense with secrets making their way out of the realm of ideas and into reality.
There are a few wonderful bits of imagery in this film, both in terms of symbolic/dreamy images and straight up horror visuals.
Right after the opening sequence, where Sarah’s husband/daughter die, there’s the beginning of a dreamy moment which crops up over and over, though not to overkill. Sarah has these short visions of a birthday cake with her daughter’s name on it, the candles lit up – I love the way these shots come to us, brief, really dark with what looks like natural lighting, and it has this eerie quality to it. What I enjoy is that these dreamy bits don’t feel particularly happy, more like the morbid remembrance of a dead child instead of anything happy. So there’s this really melancholy feeling I find struck in the character of Sarah without even much effort from Macdonald as an actor, although she’s great in spite of that making the role better for it. This is a striking visual Marshall uses a few times throughout the film, and while I say it’s melancholy there’s still part of it which sort of drives Sarah at the same time. Great, great stuff.
When it comes to the horror of Marshall’s film, several scenes and moments stick out ahead of the pack. I love how Marshall includes the first very close-up view of a crawler through the perspective of a camera in night vision. Why do I love it? He doesn’t use the camera as a gimmick other than, really, two or three times in the entire movie. It comes into play organically, with purpose, instead of simply being a way for Marshall to creep us out without doing the legwork. In opposition, the choice uses of the night vision camera shots make things creepy, knocking us off balance and in the case of the first time it’s used the effect amps the film’s pace up to a roar. The next couple times, again it’s not forced into the plot and works well. If the night vision was being used more frequently, as is the case in many found footage efforts trying to capture The Blair Witch Project magic in a bottle, there’d be a case for saying it was gimmicky, that it served no purpose and got jammed in for lack of ideas. Instead, Marshall uses this technique to his advantage and creates tension with how the handheld camera captures the monsters in the dark and the creepy environment of the cave. Plus, this is a director who doesn’t need any kind of trickery, he does well enough with his own sensibilities in terms of shot composition and overall visuals without having to settle for cheap scares.
Once the crawlers are out in the open, being seen full-on by both characters and viewers alike, there are some almost trippy visuals happening. There’s one incredibly tense scene where two of the women are hiding together, a crawler moving along by them, and their watch eventually goes off – all the while Juno is wandering alone, calling out to the others – and there’s this green filter over the two women/crawler (not really a filter; they’re using a huge glow stick), then for a few seconds we cut to Juno whose shot is bathed in a red light. There’s something about this which raises the tension. Not only that, the angles at which Marshall has things framed specifically while the two women hide from the crawler, it’s an unsettling, unstable sort of feeling it draws out; literally, the frame is askew, we’re off-kilter, not balanced, and the crawler coming at them sort of feels like he’s coming right at the viewer.
Furthermore, I have to say the effects – blood and gore, the monsters, et cetera – were at times really subtle, and other times (think: pool of blood scene) totally gnarly and in-your-face. My favourite honestly is the scene where Sarah finds herself in the blood pool, fighting off the crawler and stabbing it in the eye. Not only is it just wildly savage and bloody, the low lighting and the blood casts everything again in that red glow, so you’ve got two types of imagery – very visual in the sense of colour and visual in the way of actual physical nastiness, the blood and kills.
Overall, though, it’s the way Marshall manages to use the darkness to his advantage and he doesn’t make it dizzying. While some horror, mostly found footage these days, has your head swirling with the darkness too often being used to cover up a project’s low budget (or lack thereof), unless used correctly, Marshall manages to make things claustrophobic but doesn’t annoy us with how he accomplishes this feeling. It’s because, even when shots are frantic and full of chaos, he’s not making it seem so by having the camera itself being shaky, only the characters, their lights in the dark create the effect. He keeps in tight to the characters, putting us with them and in their perspective as much as possible without, for instance, putting us right in their video camera’s view while they run from the crawlers. Again this comes back to Marshall using that video camera perspective sparsely, when a lesser director may have exploited it too much to try and immerse the viewer. The way this film plays out in the dark and uses it appropriately is a big part of its effectiveness as a tensely frightening modern horror movie.
With truck loads of horror, both blood/gore and emotional terror, an impressive visual style, a solid script with real and well-written female characters, Neil Marshall’s The Descent is pound for pound a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There’s very little to say, in my mind, against this movie. There are so many other horror movies out there in the post-2000 landscape of film which go for bargain basement plots, silly characters with even sillier and less thought out dialogue, cheap jump scares and pointless (as well as badly done) gore. Marshall doesn’t do anything typically here, he crafts a genuinely scary, emotionally testing and at various points traumatizing horror. There’s a feeling in me each time I watch this, for a little while afterwards, as if I’ve been through an ordeal. It’s one of the closest experiences I’ve personally had to the one I have when viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is still my pick for scariest horror movie ever made, and pretty much my top favourite.
So if you’ve not yet seen The Descent, do yourself a favour and search it out soon because it’s worth your while to experience its dread and tension, its inescapable horror and wild plot. I also thought the sequel was an all right movie, though, it’s not near as amazing as this one.
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