Mary Lambert-directed, King-penned PET SEMATARY is a stunning, gruesome exploration of grief.
He Never Died. 2015. Directed & Written by Jason Krawczyk.
Starring Henry Rollins, Booboo Stewart, Kate Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey, David Richmond-Peck, James Cade, Steven Ogg, Elias Edraki, & Walter Alza. Alternate Ending Studios.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Immortality is an interesting concept. There have been so many books and films on the subject, many fictional characters we’ve come to know, love, hate. So when a fresh, unique take on a subject such as immortality comes around, it’s always at least a little fun.
He Never Died tackles the concept in a way you’ve likely not seen. Not to say the story or the writing reinvents the wheel. At the same time, there are so many different ideas explored through the lens of immortality in Jason Krawczyk’s film.
With plenty dark comedy, an odd family drama, plus a hefty dose of revisionist biblical history, He Never Died has a unique sense of horror that’s made even better with the inclusion of Henry Rollins in the lead role. You can find better written films, though, Krawczyk puts his heart into the darkness and the complications of this story, which ultimately make it exciting and filled with macabre oddities.
The unique aspect of the story is its human element. We consider immortality and many realize it’s a dreadful prospect. Yet do we ever consider the actual logistics? Think of possibly fostering a family, then having to deal with losing them as you keep living, and they keep dying. Jack is a man whose enjoyment in immortality ran out a long, long time ago. He now has to contend not only with justifying his existence to a daughter. Furthermore, being an immortal cannibal is even worse than all that. You’ve got to get whatever’s necessary to stave off the appetite. So to watch Jack go through the human drama of life mixed with the intensity of being immortal is really something. Putting him with a daughter like that is clever, fun writing. Part of it is tragic, too. As Jack struggles with his own life, introducing a daughter into the whole shambling, messy affair that is his lie does nothing except exacerbate his already tough world. He keeps himself at arm’s length from everyone, family or otherwise. Because falling in love, caring, it only means pain down the road when he can’t die and those around him eventually will, no matter what happens. It isn’t just trying not to eat people that proves difficult. Just having an everyday life is bad enough when you’re immortal. Everything gets old after awhile. The routine and the tics of Jack’s life are continually intriguing, as they’re not the typical depictions of an immortal character in fiction.
Now I’m starting to question whether some of the people at Bingo in the local hall are immortal beings, passing the time away in the easiest places to not find an interest in people.
Apart from the emotional qualities of the story, there’s a nice dose of horror here. The first time we actually see Jack eating some human meat it’s a pretty gruesome affair. Definitely a nasty, violent scene. The action pieces are excellent, which showcase Jack’s fighting ability, as well as his resilience being incapable of, y’ know – dying. This renders him virtually indestructible.
My only complaint is that, almost immediately, I knew that Jack’s character had to be some kind of angel, or a similar entity. Not only does the cover art reveal much of that, his heavy-handed scars are a tell-tale sign. This doesn’t ruin anything because there’s a constant mystery shrouding Jack overall, so it isn’t a negative. At the same time, perhaps more mystery would’ve done the plot better justice. As we watch the events unfold it’s interesting to try determining what or who Jack is truly. If his back wasn’t so vivid in a close-up early on, the idea that he’s some sort of angel (or whatever) might hold a hard punch. Instead it’s not so much a revelation, but a bit of fun. The writing is mostly good, definitely entertaining. Personally, I only wish there was more of thrill to this aspect, and that they left it a while later to reveal. Of course we don’t discover who he is until later, but that one early shot is a dead giveaway as to his origins. His need for blood is something that certainly held out awhile, something we don’t see and fully figure out until a nice way in. So there are parts of the story and plot that came together well. Other portions could’ve used more tightening. Despite the few narrative flaws, He Never Died has a quality screenplay from Krawczyk.
Absolutely a 4-star affair. While there are certainly places in the script Krawczyk needed to tighten and get more subtle early on, he still does a fine job executing the subtleties he does include. With Rollins giving an awesome, moody, cold (in the right way) performance as the main character Jack, there’s a lot of weight held up. Anybody else might not have been capable of making him into the right sort of immortal entity required. But Rollins plays the man fed up with eternal life almost to perfection. Alongside that we’ve got some blood, a bit of action, all that dark comedy and the familial drama and the other interesting not usually covered aspects of immortality. So there is a lot to enjoy. Give this little flick a watch and find out what’s so intriguing about Jack and his inability to just lay down and die.
House of 1000 Corpses. 2003. Directed & Written Rob Zombie.
Starring Sid Haig, William Bassett, Karen Black, Erin Daniels, Joe Dobbs III, Dennis Fimple, Gregg Gibbs, Walton Goggins, Chris Hardwick, Jennifer Jstyn, Irwin Keyes, Matthew McGrory, Jake McKinnon, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, Robert Allen Mukes, Walter Phelan, Tom Towles, Harrison Young, & Rainn Wilson. Spectacle Entertainment Group/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
I don’t post on message boards. Although, I do frequent them to see what people are saying about films. On IMDB particularly, so many people rag on Rob Zombie. But I love him. His music with White Zombie influenced some of my own music I used to write as a teenager. When I first heard he was making a movie it had me sold before it was finished. All the same, House of 1000 Corpses is not near perfect. There are definitely flaws. What Zombie’s debut feature does have is the power of nostalgia.
None of this is ripped right out of other movies, as some will have you believe. The love Zombie has for horror films out of the 1970s shows strong and proud. Equal parts Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, add in a bit of Beetlejuice and Tod Browning’s Freaks to boot. Not only is there plenty of horror, but Zombie gives us plenty of his trademark sense of humour, macabre and over-the-top alike.
The night before Halloween in 1977, a group of friends – Jerry (Chris Hardwick), Bill (Rainn Wilson), Mary (Jennifer Jostyn), & Denise (Erin Daniels) – head out on a roadtrip to find roadside attractions that are, let’s say… different. When they come across a gas station and proclaimed Museum of Monsters & Madmen, a rough-looking man in clown paint named Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) tells them all about the legend of a supposed Dr. Satan. He even draws them to a map where the doctor is said to have been hanged.
Along their way, a young woman hitchhiking in the rain gets into their car. Her name’s Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), and she invites the group to her place a short drive away. A tire blows, so Baby and Bill go on to the house.
Later, once the friends are all there, Baby introduces members of her family. First, Mother Firefly (Karen Black), then her brother Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley). We meet them all. Dirty ole Grandpa Hugo (Dennis Fimple). Even some deformed babies in a jar, as well as the deformed giant Tiny (Matthew McGrory).
From there, the legend of Dr. Satan begins to get all too real.
This movie was never going to be for everyone, not that any truly are. Yet Zombie’s style as a musician all but guaranteed his movies would follow similar suit. His style is pervasive, in that it never surprised me how his first horror feature turned out. A lot of the film has a very Tony Scott-MTV-ish sort of feel, which is not necessarily bad. Some people might find that too frantic or fast paced. There are times where it doesn’t work, as if we’re trapped in a music video instead of a proper film. And then other scenes I’m drawn into the way Zombie uses different choices of edits, between the lavish frames sometimes recalling the technicolor vibe of Mario Bava, and the handheld home movies of the Firefly clan. Some of the Otis digressions in the handheld style are truly terrifying. Both he and Baby are disturbing characters, so seeing them in those little videos is unnerving. I dig it especially because apparently Zombie sort of did that off on his own, just him and the actors. So there’s also an admiration I have for his way of indie filmmaking. The commentary on his DVDs is usually pretty great, and he gives insight to some of the ways to try and do things old school, practically, which in turn always helps on the production side of things; no studio or financier could be unhappy with a director who hands money back after wrap. Again, there are flaws, a good deal of them. But House of 1000 Corpses is charming enough to be forgiven. Using homage, Zombie crafts his own version of the creepy house with the even creepier family inside. It comes alive with interesting, weird characters and the use of practical effects to keep things feeling oh-so-70s.
A lot of people don’t find this scary. When I say something’s scary, it isn’t that I’m cowering behind the couch, or staying up at night all due to the terror. Here, I mean disturbing when I say that this is a scary film. Zombie takes his homage, particularly to TCM, to another level. He amps up the strangeness – more TCM2 than the original. But also, there’s the end of the film. Once Otis and the family take the remaining victims out to the fields for more madness, things become viciously unsettling. As they lower two of them down into a hole in the ground, Aleister Crowley (I believe) speaks the words “Bury me in a nameless grave” over and over on a recording. And it’s incredibly perfect for the moment. After that is when the movie gets totally creepy to the ultimate degree. I won’t spoil any further. There’s simply something so dark and sinister about it all. Especially once Dr. Satan arrives. Despite maybe being a bit campy, he actually terrified me. The design of the set for his lair, his physical look, all those mechanical contraptions around hi and the laboratory; so morbid, so impressive, too. Great work went into this aspect, I only kind of wish there were more of the nasty doctor. Maybe someday Zombie will revisit him, tell his story in another film. Please, Rob? Please? Terrify me more.
With an ending I actually expected when first seeing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre nearly two decades ago, Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses is a definite 4 out of 5 stars for me. Like I’ve said, the movie is not at all perfect. There are pieces which could’ve come off much better, as well as some of the acting wasn’t near what you’d hope. Yet the charm and the homage, the creepy eccentricities, all the things we now see as staples of Zombie and his directorial style, they make this a fun modern horror. The actors, particularly Bill Moseley, really do ham it up during some scenes with their darker than dark comedy, but knock you dead with horrific glory during intense moments. Don’t be overly critical. Zombie didn’t try to reinvent the horror wheel, it’s clear he wears his influences on his sleeves, bright and brash, garishly enjoyable. Have a bit of fun with Zombie’s house of ’70s horror.
Lucky McKee's MAY dives down a dark rabbit hole inspired by Mary Shelley in a modern world.
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)
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.
Moving 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)
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.
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!
My 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)
This 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)
For my full review of 2005’s Hostel – click 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.
I 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)
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)
My 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.
For 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)
For 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)
Moving 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.After 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.
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.
For 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)
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.
Beetlejuice. 1988. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Michael McDowell & Warren Skaaren.
Starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Annie McEnroe, Glenn Shadix, Patrice Martinez, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Dick Cavett, and Susan Kellermann. The Geffen Company. PG. 92 minutes.
Tim Burton doesn’t always appeal to everyone. His style, as far as I’m concerned, makes him an auteur. Even in his less cartoony, gothic-styled films, there is always an ever present sense of Burton and his unflinching vision of the stories he tells. Most of his movies I do enjoy, though, some I’m not huge on. Either way I can’t help deny my major love for a few of his movies.
One such title is the 1988 fantasy, quasi-horror, full-on comedy Beetlejuice, which later toned down into the 1989-1991 cartoon series of the same name. This is one strange piece of work, at the same time it’s amazingly near perfect in other ways. With a refreshingly innovative take on the afterlife, hauntings, the “life” of ghosts on the other side and tons of fun Burton-like imagery and makeup effects, this is one hell of a fun film. Beetlejuice has a bit of everything: death, suicide, laughs, calypso music and dancing, and Micheal Keaton.
After a tragic car accident, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin/Geena Davis) find themselves back at their house… only a little removed from reality. They find a book in their attic – The Handbook for the Recently Deceased – and then eventually discover a way into the waiting room of the afterlife, where a case worker named Juno (Sylvia Sidney) explains they’ve died and are contracted to remain in their old home for many, many years. Tasked with scaring out the new owners – Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones/Catherine O’Hara) along with their young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) – Adam and Barbara eventually come across an unethical ghost named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) who would much rather kill the new owners than just scare them out. And once Betelgeuse sets his sight on Lydia to be his wife, the newly deceased couple have to decide whether they’re ready to give up their home, or give up the life of an innocent young girl.
So much to enjoy about this slice of Burton work.
One of my favourite sequences of the film happens early on when Adam (Baldwin) and Barbara (Davis) try to scare the new owners, before they’re initiated into the world of being dead. First, Barbara hangs herself in the closet, then rips the skin off her skull when Otho (Shadix) and Delia Deetz (O’Hara) look inside, yet to no avail. Then, Barbara stands – knife in hand – with Adam’s bloody, decapitated head in the other, trying to look sinister. Nothing works! But the kicker is when Adam tries to run up and lock the attic door, with no head, and he’s banging into things, bumping every object nearby. Riot, love it. Awesome few scenes here, especially in terms of makeup effects and horror imagery; the skin off skull bit is nasty and cool.
The waiting room scene is another perfect bit. We see the various dead people sitting around until their name is called: one man is a hunter of sorts, his head shrunken to a prune; another merely charred remains of a man smoking a cigarette; a guy who choked to death, chicken bone still sticking through both sides of his neck; an attendant showing patients in whose body is hung on strings, flattened out from tire tracks; and a man hung by the neck, on the same track as the other attendant, passing files off to a secretary while he’s carted about the office building. What a great and also tragic sequence. This is also part of why I’m so in love with Beetlejuice; because of its unique charm in the face of death.
Lydia: “My whole life is a dark room; one… big… dark… room.”
What I dig most about Beetlejuice overall is its take on the afterlife. On one hand, you’ve got all the “regular” ghosts who are merely regular people moving onto another plane. On the other hand, there’s Beetlejuice himself. But it’s the little handbook, for the recently deceased, the waiting room, the giant sandworms, and so on, which intrigues me. Such a neatly cartoonish and macabre world for Burton to play around in. At the same time, I find the way it portrays ghosts pretty unique. So underneath all Beetlejuice’s gnarly exterior and vulgarity, beneath the story of a haunting, there’s a genuine attempt here to dissect what a true afterlife might be – instead of the idealized heaven or hell, Burton’s film taps into a more satirical approach to being dead and trying to move on. Plus, seeing things from the side of the deceased doesn’t hurt either. While we’re right alongside the Deetz family, even in the scarier moments after the Juice runs loose, much of our perspective comes from Adam and Barbara, as well as later a similar yet different perspective from the still-living Lydia. All in all, the way this movie presents death and the afterlife is both hilarious and fresh.
There’s plenty of creepy horror stuff going on, but the dark and sometimes raunchy comedy is very much happening here. For instance, even in the morbid scene where Lydia (Ryder) contemplates her suicide writing a note for her family to find later, there’s a downright funny, laugh out loud moment as she rearranges the words, choosing better ones to put in place to make the note sound more appealing. The whole character of Lydia is fun and funny at once. She’s simultaneously deep and gothic while also playfully satirizing the whole goth lifestyle.
When it comes to comedy, though, obviously Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice is the centrepiece of this entire thing. Clearly, right? Even more than you think. For those who don’t remember properly, Beetlejuice is a dirty dude, both physically and in his speech. In the original screenplay, the character was much darker and more violent; he wanted to rape Lydia, here it’s toned down slightly to a creepy crush. But the darkness all around, from his actions to his comedy, is still quite present. Keaton brings Beetlejuice to life from one moment to the next. He’s mostly hilarious, yet always with the chilling side directly under the surface, every now and then coming out into the open fully. Some of my favourite bits are when Beetlejuice is still stuck in the tiny model town, in its cemetery; Keaton did a nice bit of improvisation, if I’m not mistaken, which is awesome because he did a great job with the character.
Beetlejuice: “I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”
Even with the changes inflicted upon the original screenplay, the toning down, the film’s finale remains pretty dark. Regardless of the cartoon-ish, at times, quality Burton gives the story and its visuals, there are equal amounts of very macabre and eerie sequences. When Beetlejuice is called back into reality by Lydia the final time, in order to try and save Adam/Barbara, the movie turns into a dark carnival. This section starts out in a sort of lighthearted horror-comedy way. Then, slowly, it moves towards treacherous territory, as Beetlejuice attempts to take Lydia as his bride. I mean, it’s sketchy! Very creepy, unsettling stuff. Delia’s sculptures come alive to hold the witnesses in place for their impromptu ceremony, which are super weird and gothic through Burton’s eyes. Just cannot get enough of this effective finale. Also, the very last couple scenes are a whole ton of fun capping things off on a more lighthearted ghost story note.
Totally a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. Always loved this and truly feel it’s an effectively dark comedy using shades of horror in the best way. Plus, it’s a satirical look at the traditional ghost, which makes the comedy work that much better. Combining the eccentric talent of Tim Burton with a couple of great performances, namely Michael Keaton as the titular ghost with the most, Beetlejuice elevates itself from just another comedy to something near legendary.
I’m beyond excited there’s going to, hopefully, be a sequel with Burton, Keaton, and Ryder all supposedly onboard for the ride! With that team, as well as the spirit of the original at heart, I bet a sequel could be almost as spectacular this time around as it was the first. Watch this for Halloween; great to put on any time, but even better around the fall season as the 31st approaches on the calendar.
Wrong Turn. 2003. Directed by Rob Schmidt. Screenplay by Alan McElroy. Starring Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto, Kevin Zegers, Lindy Booth, Julian Richings, Gary Robbins, Ted Clark, Yvonne Gaudry, and Wayne Robson. Summit Entertainment. Rated R. 84 minutes. Horror.
★★★In my last review, for the 2009 Indonesian gorefest Macabre, I mentioned how there are a plethora of ‘cannibal family in the woods’ films, especially in the past decade since 2003’s Anchor Bay remake of Tobe Hooper’s classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. There have been so many movies that copied TCM, but like Macabre there are also a lot of solid efforts in the horror field which emulate and pay homage instead of trying to cover all the same ground.
Wrong Turn, released in the same year as the aforementioned remake of Hooper’s low budget masterpiece, is a film that certainly has its roots in TCM and no doubt there are bits that remind people of it. However, Rob Schmidt’s backwoods horror film does enough to separate it from the carbon copies with some decent acting, creepy characters, and several intense kills, and though it isn’t a great movie it is a head above so many lame, boring cannibal horror movies flooding the theatre these past dozen years.
Wrong Turn begins as Chris Flynn (Dexter‘s Desmond Harrington) travels through West Virginia. On a backroad, he accidentally slams into a vehicle. Chris discovers the vehicle belongs to a group of friends – Jessie (Eliza Dushku), Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Scott (Jeremy Sisto), Evan (Kevin Zegers), and Francine (Lindy Booth). After they make sure Chris is all right, the group discovers someone threw a trap into the road: a length of spiked metal and barbed wire designed to blow tires out. They wander around for awhile looking for some way to call for help, or anything that might give them a hand. The group comes across a sort of shanty-house out in the woods. Chris decides to head inside, followed by some of the others. Meanwhile, Evan and Francine are murdered as they wait back at the car. Soon enough the inbred cannibalistic murderers who live in the shanty, One-Eye (Ted Clark), Saw-Tooth (Garry Robbins), and Three Finger (Julian Richings) return, with the body of Francine in tow, and the rest of the group do their best to hide where they can in the house. The horror has only just begun.
Probably one of the best things Wrong Turn has going for it overall is the fact that Dushku, Harrington, and Sisto are three pretty solid actors. Not that the others aren’t – Emmanuelle Chriqui is probably the only good thing about Entourage – but those three are actors I’ve enjoyed in other things, and they help to carry the emotionality and tension needed in a horror film. So many horrors, especially ones similar to this involving good amounts of blood/guts and disturbing material (inbred cannibal murderers & no doubt they like to rape), suffer due to poor acting. Because a lot of low budget horror gets put out, maybe more so than any other genre, many of those films end up with unknown actors. And unknown actors are fine, as long as they can act. Many times in horror, I think low budget outings try and make up for the acting in other ways, but the fact is you need good actors to sell the emotions and complexity of a horror film. Even if it’s one about inbred cannibals in the woods of West Virginia.
Perhaps my favourite part of the film is when Scott (Jeremy Sisto) tries to calm his fiancee Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) after their first close encounter with the cannibals. He tells her: “We’re going home, we’re gonna get married, all right? And we are never going into the woods again.” In another movie, this might’ve come off too sentimental and cheesy, but Sisto really sells it the way it’s meant to go, and Chriqui does well acting off of him. This is just one instance of some actual decent acting, which often times gets left at the door in (too) many horror movies. The weak links are no doubt Kevin Zegers and Lindy Booth, but luckily there isn’t much screen time for them until they meet a grisly, bloody end.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is, and always will be, one of the scariest films I’ve personally ever seen with my two eyes. Something about it hit me right in the correct scary spots. What I like about Wrong Turn in comparison is how it doesn’t opt to have this family of cannibals act with any semblance of organization, outside of the fact they’ve got a house and they have not been discovered/caught. In TCM it isn’t as if Leatherface and the clan are criminal masterminds or anything, but Drayton Sawyer at least has a job, he appears as a member of the Texan community, and this is all a part of how the family does their business. With Wrong Turn, these nasty boys are just a bunch of savage monsters; they live in the hills and take whoever they can from off the roads to fill their pots of stew and their freezer. It works because the actors who are playing Three Finger, Saw-Tooth, and One-Eye sell their characters so well.
I think the scene where the group of friends has to hide in the old shanty while the boys arrive home is a great one. Very tense, lots of quiet suspense. The point where one of the cannibals tosses Francine’s body to the floor, wrapped in metal and barbed wire, dead, bloody, is rough – in the best way possible. That whole scene really set things up for the moment where Chris and the others flee the house, into the woods, and the cannibals wake up from their nap. Honestly, it reminded me of a twisted version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.
Not near a perfect horror, I can still honestly give Wrong Turn 3.5 out of 5 stars. You can do much worse than watch this movie if you’re looking for something with a decent bit of gore, quality acting, and a nice handful of thrills. Plus, the inbred cannibals are terrifying. The best way, for me personally, to enjoy these types of ‘survival horror’ movies or the ‘backwoods horror’ stuff is to try and put yourself in the shoes of the characters – how would you truly react? Me, I would run, and scream, and cry, and probably ruin my pants. I’d probably be the first to die, or close to first. That’s why Wrong Turn creeps me out so hard, though it has flaws, and another reason The Texas Chain Saw Massacre does a number on my head because I imagine myself in those scenarios, how bad it would be. The acting is good from the lead characters, the make-up effects and gore is a lot of fun, the cannibals scare the hell out of me – check this out if you haven’t. The entire series is not up to par, but there are definitely a couple decent ones in my opinion, at least better than so much of the other generic crap being funnelled into theatres and straight-to-video/VOD. Worth the time to enjoy some internal organs and terrifying, inbred murderers.