Dolores reaches the Forge. Bernard has more memories. And everyone meets in the Valley Beyond.
Bernard meets a familiar face. The story of James Delos unfolds further, from past to present.
But, is this now?
We see how Dolores knows so much - of the park, of William, and of the valley beyond.
Season 1, Episode 8: “nước chảy đá mòn”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller
* For a review of the penultimate episode, “Carnival of Souls” – click here
From what I can tell, the English translation of the Vietnamese title for this episode means “flowing water wears away stone” roughly. An interesting thing to think about in terms of all the water imagery, Mac Conway’s (Logan Marshall-Green) love of swimming, and so on.
We start ten months before the current season’s timeline. The choppers fly overhead of the Vietnamese jungle. Troops are at base camp, relaxed for the moment. Mac and Arthur (Jamie Hector) get a few orders from their platoon captain. Mac watches the river carefully as a boat floats by; always suspicious, never off his guard.
But in his present predicament Mac’s definitely off guard. Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) has him dead to rights, hoping to get more out of ole Quarry about Cliff’s death. That’s not long for this world; neither the conversation, nor Tommy. He gets his face shot off horrifically, as the carnival grounds around them come alive and bullets ring into the night. It’s Credence Mason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), of course. He gets his, too. Then Buddy (Damon Herriman) and Mac are left in a gunfight with some of Mason’s Dixie crew. They’re a pretty handy pair, though.
They make it back in one piece, appeasing The Broker (Peter Mullan), as well as leaving Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) with a new game of Pong to play. Things are looking pretty good for The Broker now, poised to take over the local scene. Only problem is that now Mac has walked himself into something far bigger than just killing bad dudes for money. Again, that’s the call of the wild animal in him, unleashed by the United States Army overseas.
Mac’s dad Lloyd (Skip Sudduth) has him and Joni (Jodi Balfour) over to his place. Seems Lloyd got a cash offer for the house. A small family wants to buy the place, especially excited over the pool. Out of the blue, Joni doesn’t want to sell. Not after her husband put the pool in himself, they made a home for themselves. Things don’t get any better when Lloyd’s wife drops two dirty words on Mac: “war criminal.” She thinks Mac and Joni only want money from them. A truly insulting moment. Moreover, people always assume they know exactly what happened, all because of how the media tells them and frames it for the people back home. They don’t consider how it really was for soldiers, they don’t take in all the factors. In a dirty war like Vietnam that was particularly true.
At least now Mac has the money, paid off by his stepmother to never come back, and he can pay The Broker off. Or is it that simple now? Oh, I don’t know about that. In the meantime, we flashback to Vietnam those ten months ago. Mac, Arthur, and the rest of their platoon wade through water to a spot further inland. They’re headed for Quan Thang, which we already understand is where the massacre went down, the one in which Mac and Arthur were heavily implicated to have done terrible things. Supposedly.
Poor Mac, he’s trying to find himself a job that doesn’t involve killing anybody, or guns in any way. He applies for a job selling pools. Luckily, the guy interviewing him doesn’t really pay attention to the news. I wonder how long it’ll last before discovering who Mac is, or at least who the media implies. He’s got the job, but I can’t help feeling there’s a gut punch coming down the line.
Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) has Moses (Mustafa Shakir) over for dinner. Although she still doesn’t know that’s his name. And she also doesn’t realise why he’s there in the first place. He starts sniffing around after Marcus has been fixing the TV, buying things, suspicious little clues that Moses definitely suspects has to do with Arthur’s missing cash.
When Joni and Mac go out to celebrate the new job, the former soldier has a PTSD episode where he sees that Asian mask standing in the background, staring at him. He interrupts a band playing, terrifying everybody a bit. Outside he falls to the ground nearly weeping: “I‘m sorry,” he repeats, over and over.
So we go back those ten months again. In an abandoned building the soldiers come across that Asian mask hung on a wall, sitting in the dark. Mac stares at it for a while, fixated on the face. Something that’s obviously stuck with him, buried in the recesses of his mind and bubbling to the front in the worst of times.
Finally we see Moses confront Marcus. He asks plainly – “Don‘t fuckin‘ lie to me, son” – where the money’s stashed. He takes the cash, and makes sure to tell the kid he better keep his mouth shut. Moses threatens his family with death. That’s a bad dude.
Later on we see Mac at the voting booth, choosing between either Nixon or McGovern. At the same time Joni’s trying to find a doctor to talk with about Mac and his PTSD. Of course back then it wasn’t known as that, or at least not treated with the appropriate respect and gravity deserved. A guy at the VA hospital hands her a pamphlet, as if that’s meant to help. He also implies that seeing as how Mac has “both his arms” and “both his legs” then there’s nothing actually wrong with him. Sickening display of what we’re seeing now as the result of all that neglect. Tons of mental illness, death by murder or suicide or whatever else, too many problems.
Buddy’s having a tough time. Sitting with his mother Naomi (Ann Dowd), he talks about survival, from the time of dinosaurs right to the Black Plague spreading across Europe. He feels like he’s done nothing with his life: “What am I doin‘ with it, mama?”
In ‘Nam, we see Mac and the platoon heading further to their destination. Once there they take all precautions, although Arthur notes there’s a Catholic cross at the front of their village. Either way, the platoon’s captain sends them in making clear to “fire then you ask questions.” Inside the village all hell breaks loose. Civilians are killed. Napalm lights the forest on fire and burns villagers alive. Gunfire gets exchanged between the Americans and some Viet Cong. At one point Mac throws a grenade in a hidden tunnel, where women and children scream. He sees the bloody bits of a child next to him, still moving slightly. This all but melts his brain and his psyche. We can easily see, from this POV, that Mac and Arthur, most of those guys, did not realise what they were doing, led astray by orders followed blindly. Still, they then had to go on living with what they’d done.
At home, Mac goes to meet The Broker. Instead he runs into an old face from the army, someone he isn’t so happy to see – his old captain, Thurston (Matt Nable). They catch up on things, rather contentiously. We get the impression that Thurston hasn’t repented whatsoever, in any shape, for what they did in Vietnam. He seems to want to go back, not able to adjust at all to civilian life anymore. In Thurston, Mac sees everything he hates; about himself. He reminds Mac of what they did in that fishing village. On top of it all we get another flashback to Thurston commanding his officers to execute remaining villagers, under threat of death if they won’t comply. Close by, Mac looks into the distance with heavy sorrow. Well, in the series’ current moments Mac attacks Thurston outside of the bar. They tangle a bit before he takes off after the former captain into the woods.
Do you recognise this scene?
It’s the very first one, from the beginning of the season. This is where it all started. We witness Thurston beating Mac, holding him below the water. After he thinks Mac is dead Thurston walks off. Only to take a bullet. And here, we see Mac pump more lead into the man making sure he’s good and dead. He pushes Thurston’s corpse out into the water to float out and far away from him.
In other news, Buddy goes out cruising but ends up getting attacked by a couple men. They viciously beat him, taking his money and leaving him unconscious, or worse.
When Mac finally goes to meet The Broker he’s beaten and fucked up. That whole meeting with Thurston was, naturally, the old fella’s doing. More than that The Broker tries to keep Quarry on for another job. However, our soldier doesn’t want anything to do with him after all they’ve been through together. “Who‘s a fella like you vote for?” Mac asks The Broker. He also says he “wrote someone in” on the ballot: Otis Redding. We discover The Broker hasn’t voted “since Truman.” Kind of fitting. Likewise, we discover Mac misses war. Not hard to tell.
Flashback to the war. Thurston receives a visit from none other than The Broker. He’s walked through Quan Thang. This is where Conway’s name first comes up for the old gentleman. The Broker takes a stroll in through the trees, to where a field is full of the ripe, beautiful plants needed for processing heroin. Ah, and it all comes together. Very interesting political twist on the Quan Thang.
Buddy – or Sebastian, as we find out – makes it home to his mother, beaten into bloody pulp. Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) has one last look at Cliff Williams’ book of lyrics. President Nixon is announced to have won on live television. And Ruth, she finds that Moses is no longer waiting for her at the diner, but sitting home with the found money, contemplating his next move.
On the shoreline Mac sits with his next kit – gun, money, name. He got himself out, yet allows himself to be sucked back in. The carnage of war has crept into his veins, important as the blood flowing through them. Meanwhile, The Broker plays him like a fiddle.
Then we see Mac strip down for a swim out into the river, perhaps doing the only thing he can to not think about everything other dark thing swirling around his entire existence.
What a beautiful, gritty, importantly relevant series! Man, this first season was a blast. With the finale episode and its flashbacks, the revelations, Quarry cements itself as one of the greats, up there with any of the best HBO has had to offer over the past 20 years. Truly amazing writing, lots of fine acting, as well as solid directing.
Cinemax: do what’s right. Give this show a second, third, fourth season. C’mon. Do not pass this up. There’s a lot of other important stories to tell in the world of Mac Conway.
Season 1, Episode 7: “Carnival of Souls”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy
* For a review of the previous episode, “His Deeds Were Scattered” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “nước chảy đá mòn” – click here
Nixon and McGovern are going head to head in the news. Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) hears about Eugene Linwood on the news, too. Then Joni (Jodi Balfour) brings up talking to his father Lloyd (Skip Sudduth) about selling the house. It’s listed now, so too late to have a real discussion. He’s not overly thrilled. Not at all. On top of PTSD and being seen as a war criminal after coming home from Vietnam, Mac’s home is slipping away. But Joni only wants to help. She doesn’t want him drowning under the weight of what The Broker (Peter Mullan) has him do for money. Mostly Mac hates that Joni takes the responsibility on as her own. That’s how it works, though. When two people are together, for better or worse, they both take on each other’s pain.
So where does business take ole Quarry next?
Well, Karl (Edoardo Ballerini), he’s keeping an eye on the fat man, Credence Mason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), a veritable maniac of a Southern
gentleman. And The Broker, he waits out by the pool for Mac at the Conway place. At least Mac’s down to $12K now. Whittling away at the debt. The next job is indeed Mr. Mason.
Down at the station, Detectives Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) and Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) are mulling some of the former’s obsession over the Cliff Williams murder. Verne doesn’t think there’s anything worth looking at, but Tommy can’t let go of believing Mac is up to something nasty. And we know he’s right. Tommy talks about Quan Thang, believing Mac brought all that horror back home to Memphis with him. “Unless you‘ve been to war you can‘t judge a man who has,” Ratliff explains. That is a very good point, even when we’re talking about murder for hire.
On the topic of murders, Karl is a bit of a nasty bastard himself. He’s killing like a champion marksman, picking up errant packages of heroin to take home for The Broker and Oldcastle (Tom Noonan). A proper happy family. And The Broker’s making moves in the Memphis scene. Perhaps a bit of hubris? Karl doesn’t think it’s exactly a smart idea, which falls on deaf ears.
In his bathroom, Marcus finds a bag full of money: the cash his dad stashed away. Oh, shit. He puts it away for the time being and says nothing to his mother Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird).
More Buddy (Damon Herriman) and his mother Naomi (Ann Dowd). She helps him trying on clothes for a big day. They argue over the word “twat.” He shows up over at the dealership to talk with The Broker about their gun racket. Buddy wants to take their enterprise to the next level, he doesn’t want to be the middle man anymore. But his boss doesn’t like the sound of that plan, much to Buddy’s dismay. More than that The Broker sort of digs in with a remark about his “artwork” that explains his cutting out of pictures, et cetera, last episode. Now Buddy and Mac are on the road together, no matter if Buddy just had his dreams crushed.
They’ve got to go look after Mason. He’s a big deal in Dixie. So getting at him requires going through a few others. While they wait and watch, Buddy winds up asking Mac about his service, a little direct. Essentially, he levels about committing murder. He used to “keep count” on the number. “Until one dad I didn‘t,” he explains. They get lost in talk to the point Mason creeps up on them. They use the excuse of being gay, looking for a spot to be together alone, so as not to blow their cover. Except Mason ain’t dumb. He knows there’s trouble. The boys done fucked up, what will they do now?
The Broker shows up like a greasy bastard at the Conway house, while Mac is gone. He pretends to be from down the road, looking at the place. Curious as a cat. Then he gets the story of Mac supposedly having a “new job” and that they’re relocating. God damn, this isn’t good.
In the world of Mr. Mason there’s heroin missing, naturally. Him and his boys try to figure out what happened, if somebody’s trying to make moves on them. Credence proves himself a smart man, he understands already what’s gone on right under his nose. He laments it more than gets angry.
It’s nice to see Ruth connecting with Moses a.k.a Felix (Mustafa Shakir). Although she’s busy working and later that night it’s Halloween, so that means she’s too busy to go with Felix for dinner. Rain check for next week, though. I hope the business side of Moses doesn’t encroach too hard on this burgeoning relationship. Ruth deserves better.
And then there’s Tommy, fucking up his relationship with Sandy (Kaley Ronayne) because he used her brother’s death to get into her bed. Now the whole thing is gone sour. She wants to let go of things, he wants to hang on, and that adds up to nothing easy for them.
One of Mason’s boys sits back watching Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls on Halloween night. He gives out candy at his door to trick or treating kids. One of the next knocks happens to be Buddy and Mac, and things get tricky, indeed. Toes get blown off, a foot gets put in the hot oven. Only the guy passes out from Buddy being too “results oriented” for his own good. Poor ole Mac, he sees that Asian mask lurking outside the door with trick or treaters, as Buddy covers his face and gives out more candy. Fittin that Harvey’s film is on television – a movie about a woman seeing dead people all around her, much like Mac. He’s riding in his own personal carnival of souls. After Buddy gets the information needed, he kills their man, then he and Mac can head out.
But there’s problems at home. Joni calls and he rushes back. Nothing’s happening, just a little freak out on her part. Despite it all, Mac is a good man. He comforts his wife when she needs it, he does whatever he can. What’s the latest problem? Tommy is following him. Right back to meet Buddy, and on to the next stop. Shit. Straight to Dixieville.
Mason’s gang are loading a pinball machine up with drugs to ship out. Outside, Buddy and Mac prepare to drop the hammer; the former popping a bunch of pills and downing some booze beforehand. ‘Cause that helps, right?! A point of contention between the pair. When they go in there are surprises, more men showing up. Nothing ever goes as planned.
Just like when Dt. Olsen pulls his gun, standing behind Mac as our anti-hero mutters: “What the fuck?”
Great cap to another fine tuned episode! I love this god damn series. I need several seasons, more and more. Please, give it to me now Cinemax. We’re already at the Season 1 finale next episode. Wow. Renewal is imminent, if not the network is certifiably nuts.
Season 1, Episode 6: “His Deeds Were Scattered”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Max Allan Collins
* For a review of the previous episode, “Coffee Blues” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Carnival of Souls” – click here
Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) is naked with a shotgun protecting the house, sending Joni (Jodi Balfour) into a craze. He’s out into the streets, hunkered down behind a parked car. Is it a real threat, or is it PTSD? Hard to tell with his life.
Eugene Linwood (Christopher James Baker) is locked up because of what he did on the bus last episode. Trusty ole Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) listens to him talking to his racist buddies on the outside. Sounds like deals are being made. Linwood and Credence Mason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) are making greasy moves behind the scene.
Oh and we get back to Buddy (Damon Herriman), one of my favourite characters! He’s got personal troubles though, and he nearly gets into a big mess at a gay bar. He definitely has an addiction, to a few things. His mother Naomi (Ann Dowd) tries her best to help him even if he doesn’t take it.
At home Mac is trying to smooth things over after his crazy episode. He can’t even remember any of it. That’s rough. I feel bad for both of them because a) he can’t help doing something he does not remember, and b) a shotgun could’ve killed her. So, yeah, it’s a double-edged sword that war veteran trauma. In other news, Mac does what he can to look after Marcus (Joshua J. Williams) in light of all the racial violence lately. They actually bond a bit. The kid brings up “Quan Thang” wondering whether it was a mission. He roundabout wonders if his dad was a hero, or something else. He doesn’t yet understand being a hero and being something else aren’t inherently separate; sometimes heroes are stained.
Another character I couldn’t wait to see again: Oldcastle (Tom Noonan). He fields some calls in his backroom plastered with various photographs. He’s got himself work. Looks like Eugene Linwood is marked as a target by The Broker (Peter Mullan) because Oldcastle’s got a little kit ready, gloves, gun, map of the Greater Memphis Area. Y’know, tools of the trade.
At the police station, Detectives Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) and Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) get a little information on Suggs, the man with one leg, like an old Western plot. Although Verne’s more excited about it than Tommy.
Moses (Mustafa Shakir), as it turns out, is a bassist, jamming in the studio with a band. Laying down a nice groove, horns, piano, the whole bit. Only it’s a bit of a misunderstanding, he gets tossed for some white guy. Just another example of guys like him who try to do honest work and get kicked in the ass for it.
Lots of music now, as Mac flicks through vinyls in a record store. He picks up a Spirit of Memphis album. At the same time The Broker calls. That’s kind of creepy, and impressive. Job time. They meet at Tom Lee Memorial Park. The Broker goes on a bit about his story, but they’re meeting for business. The kit Oldcastle put together goes to Mac: Linwood needs to die. Certainly when Joni finds out she isn’t happy. And who would be? The ball’s rolling with The Broker, so it can’t stop now all of a sudden. Still it can’t be easy for her to sit by and let him get in deeper.
Dt. Olsen is drinking and chatting it up with Sandy Williams (Kaley Ronayne), which gets closer and closer to becoming more than just a friendship. Until they fall into each others arms. And so what does that serve? Well, I feel like Tommy only gets more determined to try and figure out what really happened to her brother Cliff.
Other people getting closer includes Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Felix, a.k.a Moses. Even if it’s under false pretence. This gets a little tricky, too. Particularly when Linwood’s been released and racial violence threatens the streets. A curfew’s enacted. Meaning Moses can’t go home and has to stay over at Ruth’s place. He does prove himself worthy by helping Marcus out when the police come around talking a lot of “boy” shit. Excellent, if not very tense scene. Great acting. Also a really nice lesson on racial politics, as Marcus wonders why things are the way they are, and Moses relates that it’s something, unfortunately, they have to get used to; sad how things haven’t changed, barely a bit outside certain laws. That doesn’t stop the same type of sentiments from thriving.
Oh, Mac. He’s off to do the latest bidding of The Broker, picking himself up a vehicle from Oldcastle’s car lot. This time a pickup truck. And then off he goes. Simultaneously, Lloyd (Skipp Sudduth) is looking over Mac and Joni’s place, checking things out to see how it might sell, what needs to be done, so on. This leads to Joni realising Mac actually went to Lloyd, to try and get out of debt without having to kill again. So she knows he’s at least trying in that sense. And Mac doesn’t know Joni is trying to sell the house.
Back to Buddy, yay! Naomi and Buddy are like their own show, love it. She goes on and on about Linwood, saying what we all feel. Instead of playing Bingo with his mother, Buddy cuts out a “proposal” that looks like a ransom note.
Listening in on Linwood we find Karl hears him say he’s going to Cesar’s, a redneck bar. Mac follows him in waiting for the right time. He follows Linwood away from the bar. He shadows the man’s ever move. Soon enough he finds Eugene doing some sneaky things at the school bus terminal. Mac gets the drop on him as he plants a bomb under one of the seats. He beats the life out of Linwood, leaving him on the bus, then shoots the bomb triggering a huge explosion. Massive. It throws Mac to the ground, luckily not killing him. He manages to get out, watched at a distance by another of The Broker’s insurance agents, Mary (Aoibhinn McGinnity).
Another job done. The Broker’s informed and another stack of cash taken off ole Quarry for his debts. Closer to the finish line, and further than neck deep in shit. Again quoting President Calvin Coolidge from the monument to Tom Lee: “His good deeds were scattered everywhere that day and into eternity.” A fitting testament to the actions of Mac Conway in this episode. And all episodes.
Yes, he’s killing. But sometimes, can the killing be good?
Another beautiful chapter. This one written by original novelist of the series upon which the show is based, Max Allan Collins. Next episode is titled “Carnival of Souls” and I love that they named it after one of my favourite films of all time, the Herk Harvey classic.
Season 1, Episode 5: “Coffee Blues”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Jennifer Schuur
* For a review of the previous episode, “Seldom Realized” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “His Deeds Were Scattered” – click here
Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) and Joni (Jodi Balfour) are back home after all the madness. They’re a little better for it, too. They’re strong again together. Such a traumatic experience may have, in a roundabout way, done them some good. Horrible to experience, but I’m glad they’re connecting once more after everything they’ve been through to now. Joni admits she wasn’t sure if he’d stick around. He assures his love for her. Aside from all that they have money troubles. She wants him to go to his father. At least that way there’s “one less person” on the list for The Broker (Peter Mullan).
We see things aren’t going very well for Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her family. Her son and daughter have to eat their cereal with water instead of milk. If that weren’t bad enough, her boy Marcus (Joshua J. Williams) then goes to school and his bus is attacked by white supremacists. A bunch of ordinary white dudes. Scary bastards, frightening helpless kids and a terrified bus driver. One man, Eugene Linwood (Christopher James Baker), makes his way inside the vehicle. He knocks out the driver before spewing a bunch of n-word hate. When a kid speaks up Eugene hauls him outside and beats him with a crowbar in front of everybody. Even some of the men outside protest, those bunch of fucks.
Mac goes to see his father Lloyd (Skipp Sudduth) at one of his house viewings. “Hat in hand,” he asks his father for help. Four grand. Lloyd assumes it’s gambling, drugs, something shady. After a bit of arguing though, he agrees to try and do what he can to help.
Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) stops by Cliff’s place to try rustling up a bit more information with the sister, Sandy (Kaley Ronayne). He tries to figure out if there’s more of a connection between Cliff and Joni. Not much comes out, however, it’s clear he’s not stopping the investigation.
At home, Mac and Joni see a car outside sitting mysteriously quiet. It’s The Broker, certainly. He’s come round to see what Quarry’s been up to, and it looks like they’ve got places to go. Mysterious shit, and that worries Joni. Like it would anyone sensible.
On the road again – Mac and The Broker are on the road again.
Yet ole Quarry’s got no clue where they’re going, other than by the moment directions from his boss. “Death is just a switch that gets turned off,” The Broker repeats the words of Mac, the night he murdered Cliff. He questions Mac, whether he believes that statement. Is there nothing? Or is there “something else“? Intense conversation for a dude who has people killed for cold, hard cash. When they get where they’re going, it’s a real backwater-type spot with drinks and music and cigars and FUN! So, are they hanging out? I’d bet it’s more than just that.
Joni goes to help Ruth, getting accosted by a few men on the way in; racial tension running high. She understands, only wanting to do what she can for Ruth. Poor Marcus is shaken, depressed. Again, understandable.
In a small backwater casino Mac gets the chance to play a bit of money, work off a bit of debt, and if not Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) takes the hit. Hilarious. They move from roulette to a poker table, where The Broker talks casual smack and plays hard. Everything gets a bit wild after he starts a fight over Mac’s service in Vietnam, prompting Quarry to smash a glass into a dude’s face. I feel like The Broker is a predator. And with Mac left needing somebody to command him, requiring orders after being brainwashed by the army, he’s overly susceptible to getting preyed upon.
At work, Ruth chats with Moses (Mustafa Shakir) about the racist attack on the bus. It’s clear that Moses is keeping an eye on her, trying to find things out. But he’s also a strong, proud, black man. He knows the horror of being black in America, which sort of brings him and Ruth together. Maybe a sympathy that leads to romance? A conflict for Moses and The Broker?
Out in the dark, The Broker and Mac talk. Seems like Mac has the guy figured out, despite my own thoughts. He knows that it was all a way of bonding “over a common enemy.” I still think the slithering serpent in The Broker’s going to work its way into Mac’s brain. Just the calm before the storm. The wolf playing sheep.
Marcus is absolutely pissed with his mother. He’s pissed with the world. Then on the news we see that Eugene Linwood was arrested. Although “street violence” in the black community looks expected. Why wouldn’t it? Fucking racists beating kids in the street.
Mac and The Broker play some more cards. Except out of nowhere the old bastard disappears. So out wanders Mac, walking aimlessly. He finds his way to a big, old house, looking for a telephone. The place is all wrapped in plastic, nothing working. In another room, Mac hears Asian voices. The Broker is sitting with somebody, listening. An Asian mask appears in the door frame, frightening Mac. Flashbacks. He sees another couple masks, people standing in dark hallways. Quickly he rushes outdoors and away from the place. The Broker finds him when the sun comes up and the head off to get Mac back to his wife.
The Broker starts asking about Joni, what she believes happened at the motel. Mac explains things, as well as he can to keep the man off their back. Even worse, The Broker puts butter in his coffee. Gross. He’s clearly got problems. A murderous, butter coffee drinking motherfucker.
At the backwater camp, Karl is lurking. The stuff Mac thought was bullshit, the story The Broker told him about the fat man that needed killing – all true. And you can bet that the reptilian side of him is also very real. He’s lying in the grass, hooking Mac, deeper and deeper.
When Mac gets home there’s $100 from Lloyd. Far shot from $4,000.
Joni’s glad to see her man back obviously. When he pours up a coffee, he drops a sliver of butter in: “Tryin‘ somethin‘,” he tells Joni. A lighthearted ending, but underneath there’s a sinister meaning. That butter in the coffee is just the beginning. Mac’s becoming a bit too accustomed to the world of The Broker. A bit too blind to its unhealthy aspects, just like that butter in the coffee (I don’t care who says it’s healthy that is bullshit). He’s falling into a bad, bad world.
I love this series. Absolutely brilliant! The writing is spectacular and I cannot get enough. Next episode is titled “His Deeds Were Scattered” and I cannot wait to see what’s coming.
Season 1, Episode 1: “You Don’t Miss Your Water”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy
* For a review of the next episode, “Figure Four” – click here
A man lies face down in the water at the edge of the shore. This is Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green). He’s seen better days. At least he’s alive. Stubmling down the shore further Mac sees a man and shoots him from behind, putting another bullet in him after he’s down. Then into the river he goes.
But time hasn’t gotten there yet. This is Mac’s future.
In ’72, Mac’s returning from Vietnam with his buddy Arthur (Jamie Hector). At the airport they’re greeted by Arthur’s wife Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird). Coming home is a surprise for Mac’s wife. That’s pretty nice. What’s not so nice is that Mac and Arthur were “implicated” in a massacre that happened in Vietnam. They were cleared, but obviously the sentiments back home feel differently. I dig the story within the first ten minutes because it’s a side of American military history we don’t often get to see, other than a few choice movies. Quarry sets up a unique look into the lives of men who were in the army during a dirty, especially underhanded (at times) military conflict.
So Mac gets back to his place. Inside he finds “Tupelo Honey” playing, his wife Joni (Jodi Balfour) cleaning the pool. A better reception than at the airport.
Outside, a familiar face from the airport, Buddy (Damon Herriman), is lurking strangely and taking pictures of the house. He’s also got an arsenal of weapons in his trunk. All the while the happy couple relax inside with a joint, swim in the pool. Except Mac has strange visions after diving below the water, nearly choking before pushing above the surface. Of course he pretends it’s nothing. Yet the strange image of an Asian-looking mask in the pool lingers in my mind.
Later that night Mac gets a hang-up call. This almost immediately creates paranoia. You can tell just by the look in his eyes.
Back in his neighbourhood, Arthur plays some ball with his boy Marcus (Joshua J. Williams), as Ruth is busy making a nice breakfast. They’re a sweet little family, glad to have papa home once more. Arthur’s busy heading out to try and find work; another struggle for many of the men coming home from Vietnam, sadly. A problem that still persists to this day, too. He has an interview where the white man who sees him in won’t even shake his hand. From there it doesn’t look so hot. No management position like Arthur imagined. He fought for his country, now they’ll have him doing whatever grunt work they can find.
A welcome home party sees Mac and his father Lloyd (Skipp Sudduth) sit together awhile. Every relationship has changed, except for Joni it seems. The wives are the most understanding of everybody. Lloyd lets his son know he’s not welcome around the house, his wife doesn’t approve of all that stuff Mac got involved with over in Vietnam. I assume they’re talking about something similar to what we now know as the Mỹ Lai Massacre. Only wonder exactly how involved both Mac and Arthur were.
Looks as if Buddy is working for the Broker (god amongst men Peter Mullan), keeping an eye on Mac for some reason. Perhaps they’re preying on newly returned veterans.
Out looking for work, Mac finds further resistance to him being home. Nobody seems to want to have anything to do with him. It becomes more clear by the minute Mac will have to figure something else out. “Two tours, one hundred and fifty–six dollars, sixty–eight cents. Your thank you for your service card must‘ve got lost in the mail,” he laments looking at a cheque from the government. Terrible to see how veterans were being treated, and in some cases still are; Mac’s situation is a microcosm. Judging by the episode opener, he’s been left with no other choices. Nobody wants to help him, employ him.
Until the Broker shows up on the deck of Mac’s pool. He has a bit of an offer. Including if Mac makes any trouble, a man named Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) inside with a gun. The “opportunity” is refused. The Broker has a line on how desperate Mac is beginning to get, how badly he needs income. “All you gotta do is pull the trigger,” he explains to Mac. They chat a bit about why Mac went back to Vietnam. Things end abruptly before Joni gets home. Not before Mac straps a shotgun underneath the bed.
At a garage, Mac finds the mechanic there as greasy as any criminal, doing anything he can to fleece customers. So what’s the difference, really? Meanwhile, poor Arthur’s breaking his back in a mill for shit pay, wondering exactly why there’s nothing better for him either. The two of them discover they’ve been approached by the Broker. Arthur is totally fine with doing contract killings, although Mac is understandably reserved. After Vietnam a man’s morals have been degraded. “If you do this, you are who they say you are, man,” Mac pleads with his friend. To which he replies: “We already are what they say we are, where you been?”
The damage to Mac’s psyche is clear. He almost wants to kill a man who tries to assuage his guilt about the Quan Thang Massacre. Instead, he hugs the man. Tightly.
It isn’t long before Mac has changed his mind. He and Arthur have a look at the job they’re up for currently. The Broker gives them guns, plus a file full of information on the target. Arthur and Mac scope the guy out, start doing some recon. When the time is right Arthur sneaks into the man’s apartment. Problem is he’s shot by someone waiting in the dark. Across the way Mac watches through binoculars, horrified by the turn of events. He heads in blasting on his own. The two men wrestle with him awhile, but Mac gets the upper hand on one, as the other runs. So sad to see Mac and Arthur survive Vietnam, only for the latter to die on the floor of some dirty apartment. Then having to see his friend be buried, feeling alone in the midst of all those people with the knowledge of what happened; this is excellently visualised showing Mac literally alone, the people around him disappearing momentarily.
The Broker calls Mac up to let him know he’s now officially on the hook for $30K. They’re also meeting up at the quarry to discuss everything further. Oh, I can see the sinister way all this is headed. Things are already deteriorating between Joni and Mac, a little. They start arguing over a misplaced Otis Redding record; not exactly fair on his part. But the divide is beginning. I only hope he doesn’t manage to push her away because she’s about the single person on Earth who seems to understand him on any kind of level.
Out at the quarry, Mac meets the Broker. Certainly the veteran has himself covered, shotgun and all. The Broker’s smart, though, and has a sniper on a nearby ridge covering them, as well. Quarry becomes Mac’s new nickname. Also, the veteran will have to do a few things for the Broker. Surely to make life more complicated than any easier.
Over in that lonely room, Mac goes to see Buddy about what’s next; another file. At the same time, Buddy makes himself a spiked bat while they talk. Next target is Cliff Williams (Daniel Brunnemer Hall). A lot of great dialogue from Buddy in particular here. Love this scene. His bit about the “unexamined life” is a perfect work-in of philosophical thought into an unexpected scene.
When Mac follows Cliff he arrives at his own house. So, he heads up along the side, crying, hearing his wife inside with that man. They get naked together, Mac trying not to reveal himself just yet. An awful situation to experience. All a setup by the Broker to show him what’s happening in his own life. Afterwards, Mac goes to see Cliff in his garage; that’s where his Otis record went. Yikes. Fucking harsh, Joni. Death comes harsh for Cliff, too. The transformation of Mac into Quarry is happening fast, the descent into nothingness egged on by this brutal betrayal. And job done for the Broker.
Back at his house, Mac puts on Otis, so that Joni can hear. He swims laps in the pool. Without words they understand one another. Just no telling where they go from here.
This is one of the BEST opening episodes of a series I’ve seen in awhile. Great story, great characters. Plenty of intrigue. And it’s timeless, the subject matter, the themes. Can’t wait to see the follow-up episode titled “Figure Four” – guaranteed it’ll be another intriguing chapter. The acting is phenomenal from Logan Marshall-Green. I’m beyond pumped for more.
Tyrannosaur. 2011. Directed & Written by Paddy Considine.
Starring Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, Samuel Bottomley, Sian Breckin, Ned Dennehy, Sally Carman, Julia Mallam and Natalia Carta.
Warp X/Inflammable Films/Film4/UK Film Council/Screen Yorkshire/EM Media/Optimum Releasing.
Not Rated. 92 minutes.
Paddy Considine is a great artist, in terms of writing and directing. He proves it here, fully. I already enjoyed his talents as an actor. However, the promise he shows in the dual role of writer-director with Tyrannosaur is astounding. Because it’s a grounded, raw and real piece of work. There’s no doubt. Every inch of this film speaks to the core of the lower middle class, hell, anyone who isn’t on the bourgeoisie scale. This movie is about the common man, its heart is in the common people. Considine writes as if he knows each of these characters, from Peter Mullan’s agonisingly truthful/equally painful Joseph to Hannah and her heartbreaking faith in the face of all hardship played perfectly by Olivia Colman. While there is truly a ton to love about Considine’s debut feature (his first work as director was the short film which turned into this: Dog Altogether), the best of everything is the fact that, among an industry almost obsessed with keeping to fads and follow along with trends, this movie touches on real issues and struggles, shockingly true to life situations and all the horrifically honest bits of life people often don’t want to acknowledge exist. At times this is a film you may want to look away from, even if its little speckles of violence aren’t explicit and graphically shown. But trust me, it’s worth the effort to get through because Tyrannosaur has a message beneath it all.
A career alcoholic and a man with constant burning rage in his heart, Joseph (Peter Mullan) has only acquaintances. His one friend, his dog, gets beaten to death one night. By his own hand. After this event, Joseph goes down the bottle even further. Between fighting people at his favourite hole in the wall bar to arguing with an idiot neighbour, something always seems to be following Joseph, to be eating him alive. After taking refuge in a store, he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) and they form a nice yet tenuous bond. She has her own problems. At home, Hannah’s husband James (Eddie Marsan), a fairly bad drunk himself , abuses her; he urinates on her after she won’t wake up when he’s home from the pub, he later beats her up. When the lives of Hannah and Joseph intersect more intensely, things begin to change for both of them. Although, for one of the two it may not turn out as perfectly as they had imagined. And soon an act transpires which can’t be changed.
On top of the raw, gritty realism of Considine’s writing, his directorial style plays just as well to the story and its themes. There is nothing fancy about the way he presents his subject. In fact, that’s what works. I find there’s a tendency for films with tough subject to often lean into trying too hard for an aesthetic which matches it, in terms of it becoming fabricated. Whereas there are films like this one and something like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy which use a very simple look, and it suits the raw feeling of the plot and story. Mostly, Considine puts us directly with both Joseph and Hannah. He finds a way to simply let the viewer watch these characters, as well as sit right in on their situation alongside them. We get great looks at the landscape around these characters, such as the lower class housing where Joseph lives and the little pubs and all that. At the same time, we’re closed in with good tight frames on the faces of Joseph and Hannah respectively. We’re as close to in their heads as possible, sort of floating along in their life. Not to say Considine doesn’t do anything interesting. He does. But it’s the way he does it so simply which makes it work flawless, it is understated film making; less is more, in a wonderfully bleak way.
Adding to the realism of the way in which Considine writes and presents his subject/themes, the two big central performances of Tyrannosaur are towering as the beast from which it takes its name.
Peter Mullan is an actor I’ve always loved. The first time I actually took notice of him personally was Trainspotting and then Session 9, but after that I went back and found all sorts of amazing performances. Here, he spreads his wings and flies. It’s utterly amazing. And crazy enough, from the first moments we see the character Joseph when he kicks his beloved dog to death, there’s somehow part of us wanting to connect. Even after seeing such a devastating and senseless, heartless act, there was something in Joseph I couldn’t shake. It’s a repulsive act to begin a film, but that’s part of the redemptive process. Mullan takes us through all the motions with Joseph, working from a despicable moment in time to the finale where surprisingly he makes it through, somehow. Part of why Joseph is able to hold onto us, or me anyways as a viewer, is because of the way Mullan plays him. There are sensitive scenes where Joseph actually appears naked and raw to us with his inner self, a man who wants to be someone else other than what he’s become. Those scenes are juxtaposed with the raging animal inside him, clawing to get out; and sometimes, it does. Mullan was and is the only man to play Joseph. Can’t see him as anyone else. The intensity of this character comes off perfect with Mullan in the role, as does the inner struggle without Considine having to write in a ton of expository back story.
No way can Olivia Colman be left out of the acting conversation. The role of Hannah is not an easy one, nor is it an uncommon life; sadly too many women suffer in disgusting relationships such as the one she and her husband have together. Colman brings a humanity to the role. Many female characters who are abuse/rape victims, such as Hannah, seem to get written wildly one-dimensional. With Hannah, Considine gives us a woman who is religious and at the same time is confronting all these things – alcoholism, physical and mental abuse, rape, et cetera – which directly contradict the heart of true religion. Colman shows us the core of a woman whose faith is holding on so hard to her heart and her mind, yet at the same time she is a woman who can only take so much. At times, I teared up, all due to Colman and her performance. It’s an excellent pairing with the powerhouse abilities of Mullan on display.
Tyrannosaur is a 5-star film. All the way. I love every last second of it, even if it is a grim watch at most points. Paddy Considine proves his worth as a writer-director. He knows how to present the grittiness of real life in a welcomed perspective. While there is an over abundance of the mental and physical violence inherent in many lives around the world, Considine also brings us into a space where redemption is possible. On one hand, the character of Joseph begins driving towards oblivion head-on and even Hannah gets caught up in this whirlwind of rage. On the other hand, both of these characters show us that, no matter what, in the end redemption can be possible. Even someone like Joseph, whose first scenes would have most people believing it would never happen. Maybe it never does, fully. But the faith in humanity, not that of religion, is what triumphs. Underneath the rough exterior, Tyrannosaur has a clear and true heart filled with the dreams of possibility.
In an effort to try and diversify, I’ve done my best to not include anything I included on last year’s Halloween List. Not to worry: plenty of horror for you here.
Wade on in to find yourself something creepy; one title for every day of the month in no particular order but merely numbered for order.
I’ve tried not to do anything too obscure. Most of these titles you should be able to track down somewhere. But regardless, I wanted to try and name at least a few movies other lists don’t suggest this time of year. Huge fan of John Carpenter’s Halloween (my review here) and even the rest of the series honestly, except for the last couple entries. They’re the ones you always hear about! I’d rather try to go for some titles you either might not know or wouldn’t think to watch.
Now… Let’s get spooked! October is upon you. I watch horror just about every single day of the year. Though I always get excited to share that passion with everyone else leading up that creepy day we all know and love.
1) Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
An obviously low budget movie, this 1971 underrated gem takes us to the depths of the line between sanity and madness.
To say much of anything would ruin this for you, but the movie follows a young, emotionally and psychologically unstable girl who goes out to a little farmhouse with her husband and their friend, only to experience a living nightmare of sorts after meeting another young redheaded woman who is at the house, drifting and living there.
Some people say this is a vampire film, though, I think it’s mostly because there’s a legend of vampire activity in the story itself. Me? I’d say this is psychological horror at its finest with emotional problems and local legends at its root, driving everything that may (or may not) be happening in the plot. Check this one out! It’s been called one of the scariest films ever, as well as the fact Stephen King has often talked about it in various interviews and I’m always keen to see the movies he thinks are scary. But regardless, I find this is a creeper. I watch it, then there’s always a hesitation to watch it again the next time because it’s that damn unsettling.
2) A Horrible Way to Die (2010)
* My full review is here
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have teamed up since this one to make an excellent slasher infused with dark comedy (You’re Next) and one of the best action-thrillers of the past few years with a throwback aesthetic (The Guest).
But honestly, it’s this film of theirs which really gets me in the gut, punches me hard and sucks the wind out of me. Some complaints I’ve seen are directed at Wingard’s directing, believing the handheld and more chaotic style of the film to be either distracting or simply not enjoyable.
For me, I think the handheld vibe helps A Horrible Way to Die because out of it comes a very intimate feeling. In every scene, whether it’s the serial killer (played by fabulous actor A.J. Bowen) or his sweet and emotionally devastated wife (played by an equally fabulous actor Amy Seimetz), no matter if it’s just them or they are onscreen with another character(s), there’s an incredibly intimacy from the style Wingard chooses to go with that really nails home the visceral feeling of this movie.
Not only that, Barrett’s screenplay is pretty great. It’s sparse and it doesn’t particularly telegraph a whole lot where the plot is headed. Then once the finale kicks in, again, it’s like a gut punch. It hits you hard, not once but twice before finally you can’t help but be in awe of how everything plays out. At least I didn’t see it all coming. I thought things were headed in a much different direction. This is one chilling movie; not really a date horror movie, not necessarily something you’ll want to watch with a group of friends, but rather a film you might consider taking in alone, a bit of a personal and riveting experience for a creepy fall evening.
3) Alone in the Dark (1982)
First off, this is clearly not the Uwe Boll shitfest of a video game adaptation.
1982’s Alone in the Dark is possibly one of my favourite ensemble horror cast movies, at least it’s near the very top. Featuring not only Donald Pleasence, we are treated to some horror with two other powerhouses: Jack Palance and Martin Landau.
I mean, isn’t that just the strangest combination for a slasher horror you could ever imagine?
Simple premise: when a massive power outage happens, a bunch of psychopathic patients from a mental ward break out, searching for the new doctor whom they falsely believe to have killed their old doctor. Honestly, it’s a top notch ’80s era slasher. Not to mention the fact, again, that the three top actors are amazing. For me, a lover of the first Batman from Tim Burton and many of his other works, it’s awesome to see Palance as a crazy, nasty maniac here. There’s one scene in particular where they’re driving around in this truck, or some sort of vehicle, and they’re just tormenting people like the mailman, et cetera; it’s classic dark comedy/horror. Great one to get your murder spree fix, especially if there’s a crew wanting to watch a fun and at times horrific slasher.
4) Carnival of Souls (1962)
This is one of the best, creepiest, most unnerving low budget horror movies I’ve ever seen.
Basically, a woman experiences a car crash, flying into the water off a bridge, and after she survives begins to experience strange happenings: she sees people, a man in particular, pale faced, walking after her, stalking her, appearing almost everywhere she goes. She’s also being drawn to a rundown pavilion, an old carnival, where it seems the strange man and other ghostly people are living.
I have no problem with low budget look, as long as the story and the atmosphere of the film can still be achieved. Carnival of Souls does have a highly independent look, but it doesn’t deter from anything. It’s all black and white, which only adds to the creepiness. Director Herk Harvey uses his imagery in a great way, plus the story itself and the plot maintains its effectiveness. Pop this on for an irregular ghost-like story with some shots that will – I guarantee – haunt your dreams, if you let them.
5) Zombi 2 a.k.a Zombie a.k.a Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)
* My full Blu ray review is here
Despite the often confusing titles of the film, this is not a sequel, but merely a victim of silly, opportunistic marketing.
Lucio Fulci’s 1979 Zombie is one of the most incredible flesh eating films you’ll ever see! Fulci is classic. He was one of those horror filmmakers who went for broke and sought to bring as much bone/eyeball crunching, blood spurting, neck biting, flesh peeling action as he possibly could in an hour and a half or so.
This movie is no more elaborate than any other in the sub-genre – people are being turned into zombies on an island, the disease itself making its way towards New York City on the boat of a scientist. Horrific madness ensues.
If you’re a zombie enthusiast, or a horror fanatic in general, and you have not seen this: you need to, it is mandatory. You’ve not seen zombies until you see this!
6) The Beyond (1981)
Another Fulci classic – it’s hard for me to decide, though, if pressed The Beyond would be my top pick for his masterpiece (tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin).
Beginning with a woman inheriting an aging hotel in Louisiana, soon it becomes clear the Gates to Hell – The Beyond – sit just below its foundation. When she and a doctor try to escape, they discover The Beyond and earth are becoming one, as the gates have opened and the dead are walking the earth.
This is more of Fulci’s savage and visceral horror mixed with an awesome dose of the supernatural, and yes – zombies! Or at least undead, whatever you want to call them. Others may not agree, but I do honestly think this is Fulci’s best. It’s my favourite, anyways, and I’m always keen to tell people this is a great film for Halloween!
7) In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
John Carpenter is truly one of the masters of horror, up there with the greatest. He’s also got an excellent, darkly comic tone in many of his films. Plus, he does wonders with thrillers; he knows suspense and tension more than anyone else in the horror genre.
In the Mouth of Madness is often described as Lovecraftian, as it plunges into familiar territory to the amazingly creepy H.P. Lovecraft. Sam Neill plays an insurance man sucked into looking for a famous horror fiction author, eventually coming face to face with the author’s own creations all crammed into a tiny, supposedly fictional town. It is one amazingly terrifying movie, at times downright chilling, at others there’s that dark comedy Carpenter does so well. The whole time, though, you’ll find yourself beginning to question – like the main character – what exactly is reality and what is imagination. For a weird and involving bit of horror, take this one out on a scary night.
8) Session 9 (2001)
For a full review, click here.
For me, this is one of the scariest movies of all time. Yes, there are a couple rough moments (re: acting), but you can pin that badge right on David Caruso; I actually don’t dislike him, though, I can’t defend him here. Most of the time he’s good, it’s just a few real stinkers sneak out here and there.
Peter Mullan is who you want to pay attention to. Even while Josh Lucas (before he got big) and Brendan Sexton III give two extremely solid performances, Mullan holds this all together.
Directed by Brad Anderson, written by him and Stephen Gevedon (who also plays a nice role in the film), Session 9 is a slow burn horror, which will gradually push itself under your skin like a splinter. By the time you’re near the end, after the climax has really rocked you and the finale begins, there’s this quiet sense of trauma you might feel. That’s a good thing; means this movie does its job.
Scene of note: when Jeff (Sexton) is running through an underground tunnel while the lights are going out behind him, one by one, his screams drifting out of the darkness, I honestly feel my heart race. Terrifying film, but this scene gets me something fierce.
9) The Sentinel (1977)
For a full review, click here.
Haunted house horror movies are a dime a dozen. There are plenty I love, and even more I don’t like at all. However, The Sentinel is one of the most perfect haunted house stories, to me, on film yet.
When a fashion model moves into a Brooklyn apartment, an old building, terrifying appearances begin to emerge, people who are no longer living seem to be still inhabiting their apartments, among other things.
There’s something about this movie which will always draw me in. I only saw it for the first time about 4 years ago and it floored me. It’s a mix of supernatural horror, religious superstition, and psychological trauma/character study. Amazingly creepy at points, plus there are a handful of amazing actors here from a young Christopher Walken to Chris Sarandon to Ava Gardner and John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, and the delightful Eli Wallach. Oh and a mysteriously dubbed over Jeff Goldblum, which is kind of hilarious, and Jerry Orbach. Perfect haunted house film for when you’ve got a stormy night outside – this will draw you in and creep through your bones!
10) Prince of Darkness (1987)
Already we’re back to Carpenter. But with good reason. Plus you may as well get used to it because there’s at least one more on here; not the one you’d expect, either.
1987’s underrated, overlooked, and only cult appreciated Prince of Darkness has a little bit of everything: religion, zombie-like people, Alice Cooper, Donald Pleasence, ’80s babes with hair to match, and of course – Satan!
When a green ooze is discovered in a canister (no you’re still on the right page this is not a review for the second live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film) below a church, a priest assembles a team of mathematicians and scientists in order to study the contents. Turns out, the ooze is as old as time itself: it is the devil, evil in pure material, sensory form. When the ooze begins to make its way out gradually, people are taken over by its terrifying power, from the homeless people wandering around outside the church to the mathematic-scientific team working inside. What begins is a struggle between good and ultimate evil.
This is just a downright awesome movie. Carpenter, as I said, knows how to really build up the suspense and execute his tension in the appropriate way. There are incredible effects (on the Blu ray Carpenter explains them in typically excellent Carpenter fashion; one involved the mercury from a crane, I believe, or something similar they were doing highly unsafely), the acting is good, and Carpenter’s writing is also spot on here – he merges the superstitions of religion, the idea of a pure evil, and brings it into the scientific, intelligible world. Interesting stuff and it’s a creepshow of a movie with more of Carpenter and his dark wit. Good for when you want a movie about good/evil/the devil without all the typical stuff.
11) Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
Another movie it took me years to see, one of William Castle’s best, Mr. Sardonicus tells the tale of a man who digs up his father to find a winning lottery ticket with which he was buried, only to also discover his face has become distorted into a permanent and grotesque smile. When he makes a doctor treat him, the results might be worse than the smile itself.
There are certain classic horror movies you always hear about – anything with Vincent Price or Boris Karloff particularly, and so. Yet there’s never enough buzz about this brilliant Castle flick. I also love his gimmicks, he truly knew what audiences wanted. Screw all the same old 3D movies we see nowadays – Mr. Sardonicus let the audience use the ‘Punishment Poll’, letting them determine what Baron Sardonicus received ultimately as his punishment!
But this isn’t just gimmick. The movie is a gothic romp through the eyes of greed and jealousy and heinousness. Fitting for any wild Halloween night. Definitely a good one for a crowd or pair!
12) The Fog (1980)
For a full review, click here.
We’re back to Carpenter. Yet again! Of course we are.
This is another of my favourite Carpenter films, especially in terms of his pure horror. A great script, great actors, on top of the truly creepy zombies. Or whatever you want to call them – zombies, undead, ghosts, I don’t know.
The story is simple yet very scary – a coastal town’s long buried history literally unearths itself when the members of a disrespected and murdered leper colony return from the dead to come, in the fog, to kill anyone and everyone in their path.
Carpenter creates a wonderful sense of dread with all his tension and then the terror comes on hard once people start to die, once the fog knocks at each door and surrounds every little thing in sight. Pop this on for another spooky, stormy October night. Definitely will get you in a Halloween-y mood.
13) A Clockwork Orange (1971)
For a full review, click here.
I’ve got a sneaking suspicion most of you by now have seen Stanley Kubrick’s shattering dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange. I won’t bore with a recap of the plot. What I will say is this: Kubrick makes this story into a carnival of horrors. Perfect for any October evening, as the masks and lights and colours, the mayhem, the carnage of this film truly speak to Devil’s Night in many ways. Throw this on and get your fix of madness.
14) Livid (2011)
I know not everyone is into subtitled films, but when it comes to horror you’re seriously missing out if you only watch English language movies. So I opted to only include one foreign title on this year’s list.
Livid is a French film about a young woman who begins training as a live-in caregiver to an old woman in a virtually eternal coma; discovering she has some kind of fortune kept hidden in her massive estate, the young woman and her two friends try searching for it. But when they make it inside during the night, things start to get extremely strange for the intruders. They discover it is not mere money, nor jewels, which is the actual treasure in the old lady’s home, but rather something far more sinister.
This is one savagely macabre film at times. There are great elements of a thriller, as well as lots of gothic style stuff happening. I can’t think of a creepier flick to add on to the haunted house viewings already on the list; it may not reinvent the wheel, though, it spins one hell of a tale. Lots of scary stuff lurking in this one, fit for any Halloween celebration when you want something aside from the regular tired recommendations on other lists. Even on mine, this one stands out.
15) Feed (2005)
This is perhaps the weirdest of all the films on this list. Absolutely no way to truly describe it without a full-on description and I don’t want to ruin ANYTHING. So go in without a trailer, but I’ll try and give you a bit of a… taste.
Cross a gritty cop thriller with strange and deadly fetishism, you’ve got Feed: a law enforcement agent falling off the deep end, after too long exploring the savage and rampant sickness floating around the internet, and comes up against one of the most depraved serial killers he has ever known.
Have you ever maybe heard of ‘feeders’ or a similar term? These are men who enjoy feeding women; they like to see them gain weight, they love to watch them consume food and drink, it turns them on. Not sure about the psychology, but it is certainly something different. Well, take that fetish to a truly deadly length.
Put this in only if you’re ready to be tested. While there’s very little blood, barely any at all to speak of, this is still a damn nasty horror. Though, there’s lots of interesting stuff happening. Plus you get a weird and wild performance from Alex O’Loughlin.
16) Angel Heart (1987)
I always hear people talk talk talk about both Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke, yet there’s rarely ever a reference to the fabulous 1987 Alan Parker directed Angel Heart. Recently it went up on Netflix Canada, so I suppose more minds will end up falling into this one. There needs to be more recognition for this one. It’s almost not really a true horror, rather a twisty supernatural thriller more than anything. Above all, I find the performance of De Niro absolutely fascinating – one role out of his vast filmography I believe is different than the rest and also like the film itself doesn’t receive the credit which it deserves – and Mickey Rourke gives us a level-headed effort which gives his character, aptly named Harry Angel, a very real, very sensible place in an otherwise unreal filmic space.
If you’re craving something dark, macabre, dripping of the filth and sleaze of a New Orleans underbelly packed to the brim with voodoo, murder, and double crossing criminal types, this is the film for you. There are some wonderful themes in here which I find fit the Halloween season perfectly.
17) When a Stranger Calls (1979)
* For my full review of this movie’s terror – click here
There have been films before this (think: original & fantastic Black Christmas) and after which use the ‘killer calling from inside the house’ trope. Almost none better than 1979’s When a Stranger Calls.
Babysitting one night, young Jill Johnson is terrorized by a psychopath who kills the children she is meant to be looking after. Traumatized by the experience somehow she manages to go on and live her life normally. Then seven years later, the same madman comes back to haunt Jill again; now older, a little wiser, she must somehow survive her second brush with insanity.
The best part about this movie, for me, is the fact it replaces the masked or hidden killer and early on in the film we see the killer – we know who he is, in fact we’re treated to a good portion of the plot where the focus is him, his mind, his life or at least his attempt at trying to have one. So instead of seeing a maniac without any real reason behind him, the killer here – played by Tony Beckley in fine fashion – is not so much sympathetic, as much as he is utterly, scarily, and wildly human. That’s the scariness here: without a mask, we’re forced to watch this killer be himself, we’re forced to see who he is and deal with everything it implies. Instead of forcing our feelings of fear off on a masked slasher, our fear is right in our faces.
When you need a slasher but want something actually terrifying without the need for jump scares and all the modern bells/whistles, When a Stranger Calls is calling you: view this one and you’ll no doubt find yourself checking the empty, dark bedrooms before heading to bed on Halloween.
18) Hellions (2015)
* My full review is here
Only recently did this become available on iTunes, but what timing! This is a perfect viewing for Halloween; in fact, wait until the actual night, not just during October. This one is set on Halloween, it pushes the fears of masked unknowns roaming neighbourhoods on Halloween, and there is so much going on.
After discovering she’s pregnant, a young teenage girl finds herself home alone on Halloween, when a group of masked children lay siege to her house. Initially undecided about the child inside her, Devil’s Night will shape her decisions to come after coming face to face with pure evil in pint-size costume and form.
This is a unique movie and will not be for everyone. Director Bruce McDonald – a homegrown Canadian talent – used infrared cameras during the filming, which gives several extended sequences and a good bulk of the movie a pink-ish hue, with the whites, greens, and other colours becoming extremely vibrant. There’s an unbelievable Halloween feel through this technique, apparently it was meant to mirror the effect of the Blood Moon (the script set Halloween on such a lunar event). Not only that, the horror and the terror are all there, in spades, from the creepy creeps to insane moments of blood/gore.
You need a nice savage fix for Halloween? You’ve found the one. Support this one, support Canadian/independent film. Hopefully this will bring the fear, too.
19) Spring (2014)
* My full review is here
This is one of the best horrors I’ve seen in a few years, honestly. Up there with some other great titles. Even further than that, you don’t get too many horror-romance hybrids, other than the awful excuse for whatever you want to call it in Twilight. This film from indie pairing Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead is a true mix between Lovecraftian style horror and a dramatic romance movie set abroad.
When Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) flees to Italy from his home in the U.S, precipitated by the death of his ill mother, he is not prepared for anything that’s about to happen. First, it’s more of an exciting, exotic adventure to a new place on a whim. But then he meets a mysterious woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker) and his life heads into a spiral; down into love, down into something deeper, more dark than just love. Louise is not who Evan thinks she is and soon he’ll figure it all out.
Part of Spring is Lovecraftian as I’ve mentioned – you’ll figure out how on your own. There’s good horror with an eerie atmosphere of dread hanging over every last scene, even in the more beautiful bits. Part of Spring is also a touching character piece of a man sort of running away from himself, running away from even being human – having to live and love and let people go – when he meets a woman who changes everything. There’s a lot to enjoy here. You’ll get something romantic, in a strange sense, as well as a good dose of creature feature-like horror. Looking for an interesting twist on the horror genre? Definitely find this one and give it a go (decent price on iTunes), it’s a unique piece of film from two interesting filmmakers.
20) The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Ever see I Am Legend and just think to yourself: this would be way better if it was Vincent Price?
The Last Man on Earth is an all around better film than that mediocre bit of post-apocalyptica. Taken from the same source material – Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend – this 1960s era horror/science fiction classic sees Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, the titular last man alive. Or is he?
What I like about this is the subtlety. I mean, the Will Smith-starrer was in a post-apocalyptic landscape, yet still there’s this huge blockbuster style as if Michael Bay were sitting behind the wheel. Honestly, it’s just not right. Yet in The Last Man on Earth, we get a real quiet, desolate feeling from start to finish. Even better, I love the way the vampire-humans look and act in this, as opposed to a bunch of CGI’d zombie-like infected humanoids. To each their own, but this is a far spookier vision of Matheson’s original novel than its more recent incarnation. And who can’t love Vincent Price? Here he’s a little less hammy than usual, which I love anyways, though don’t kid yourself – there’s always ham with Vincent. Part of his charm. Most of all this is a seriously creepy picture of a decimated world roamed by a single man and hordes of vampiric humans. Want to get creeped out, put this on alone and let yourself be drawn into the world of this terrifying post-apocalyptic vision out of a 1954 novel from one of the great science fiction writers of the 20th century.
21) Candyman (1992)/ Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)
So what’s Halloween season without a couple double features? This is the first of three you’ll find in the last heap of this list.
Candyman is one of the first horror movies I remember seeing as a teenager which actually scared me bad enough to give me a nightmare. There’s something about Tony Todd’s performance, his voice and his demeanour all together that creeps the hell out of me. And the story itself, adapted into screenplay by director-writer Bernard Rose, is from Clive Barker originally titled “The Forbidden” out of Volume V from his Books of Blood. That in itself makes things interesting, but this is adapted well and the original story is just solid, so you can’t lose.
Basically this is an urban legend brought to life by the supernatural, as two women research a legend at Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, it actually comes into existence. The Candyman, long ago persecuted, begins to kill people and drive one of the women completely mad. The second film, subtitled Farewell to the Flesh, sees a family torn apart by the Candyman and a young woman become a target of his horrific longing.
I love Candyman, and I even love the sequel. Though, the first is still best. Part of it is Tony Todd, hands down. But apart from that, Bernard Rose does amazing stuff and creates a whole scary aesthetic, from the terror of the visuals to the creeping sound design and score. A scary, dark night is the right one for these two films. You should honestly watch them one after another in a double feature, they’re stellar and will chill you to the bone.
22) Black Death (2010)
Oh man, what a work of horror this is – set in medieval times, as the black plague is spreading, an English monk is tasked with heading to a remote village, alongside a knight and his crew of nasty outsiders, in order to figure out where the witchcraft originating the disease is hiding.
There’s sorcery and witchcraft, action involving medieval misfit bounty hunters; there’s Sean Bean being a bad ass; there are medieval zombie corpses; and much, much more.
What I love in this is the story, the plot, as well as the solid acting from Bean and Eddie Redmayne, along with others you’ll surely enjoy. Medieval times are ripe for horror and do not get used enough, at least not correctly. This film in particular, directed by Christopher Smith (Triangle, Severance, Creep), gets just about everything right for this savage period piece. Plenty of weird darkness happening, lots of bloody horror, and you’ll love the finale: it’s a god damn barn burner!
23) The Wicker Man (1973)
For a full review, click here.
Ever see a movie you’ll never forget? One that leaves a mark on you forever?
The Wicker Man is one of those for me. About 15 years ago, I saw this one very late at night and during the climax of the film was absolutely jarred. Stuck to the screen, what happened in the final moments really leapt out at me and latched on, never letting go. Every time I watch this, I can’t get it out of my mind for a good while afterwards.
I won’t say too much, just in case you’ve yet to see it, trust me – it is a really unique experience. With Christopher Lee playing an absolutely delightfully demented local leader, a sort of enigmatic and lord-like cult figure, you’re sure to find this unsettling. Give it some time. At first, and for a little bit, the movie might seem to be something quite unlike any horror you imagined. But once things start moving, the horror is evident underneath it all. Put this on for a real fall-style horror night. Maybe in the early evening, as the changed leaves are hanging in shadow, and the October weather outside seems delightful… this horror thriller, set in the Scottish countryside, will change all that.
24) Starry Eyes (2014)
* My full review is here
Never has the quest for fame ever been displayed so intensely and terrifying as it is in Starry Eyes. Following a young woman trying her best to break into Hollywood, or at least the outer fringes, the story takes us on an aspiring actress’ journey in the film world, which becomes more like a descent into the lower bowels of Hell.
This indie film was on my radar for a year or more before it came out, simply because the poster art was glorious and the synopsis looked to be pretty intriguing. Was I surprised, though! Most of all, amongst the horror and the insane body-horror coming out during the finale, Alex Essoe – who plays main character Sarah – cranks up the bar for indie film acting with her performance. There’s nothing else I can say without giving up too much. Go in without watching a trailer even and you’re going to see something unexpected. This will rock you. A good one for a group of friends, a pair, or solo; just let it grab you and the horror will blow you away.
25) Don’t Go in the House (1979)
For a full review, click here.
A lot of people will probably say this is a horrible attempt at the slasher sub-genre. Somewhere, though, I remember reading one of the best analyses of Don’t Go in the House, and it accurately described how this movie was almost the film metaphor of the death of the 1970s. I won’t go on too much more, just consider that while watching.
Simple pitch? This movie sees a young man, whose tortured childhood under a ruthless and sick mother who burned him (literally and figuratively), stalk women, bring them to his home, then trap them in a steel room downstairs where he’ll burn them alive.
Nasty enough for you? There’s lots of silliness here, no doubt whatsoever. But there is more to it, there is some kind of really palpable atmosphere here amongst everything else. With disco music and burning humans, there is certainly a bit of Halloween-y goodness happening in a good portion of scenes. Naturally, there is ’80s cheese, too.
An amazing flick to choose if you’re going to have a few people over to watch some movies. Have a laugh with this, but remember – keep in mind there may be more to it, no matter how low budget or whatever else you deem it the movie may be. Despite any of that, there’s lots of nasty horror here in slasher movie form to please your needs and wants this Halloween season.
26) Asylum Blackout a.k.a The Incident (2011)
* For a full review – click here
This one came out of nowhere for me. Usually I like to pride myself on keeping an ear to the ground for all sorts of horror; even the most diligent of us fanatics fall short some times, right?
Well Asylum Blackout, while deemed amateurish by others, is an awesomely creepy piece of horror.
After a power outage knocks the communications and electricity out at an asylum, the guards and staff members must band together in order to try and survive through the night, or at the least until some sort of help and hope arrives in the form of police. But the inmates overcome the main guard and some of the others, leaving only the staff, the young stoner musicians in the kitchen to face off against the violent and mentally unstable patients running amok in the corridors.
There’s lots of style in this one, but also some nice bits of substance. We get more character than you’d expect, though it isn’t exactly sprawling – still, it’s nice to get any when it comes to modern horror, so many movies opting only for scares and style without anything beneath as its foundation. With this movie, I found myself really falling into feeling for the guys in the kitchen, they weren’t all the smartest or all hugely stand-up guys, yet they were sympathetic characters and I was putting myself right in their shoes. The very last shot is a bit foolish and I wish the filmmakers opted for a different close. Other than this moment, I loved everything else.
Close to Halloween, when the mood is right, put on a copy of this one (available through Google Play at a great price to rent or buy). A group watch is definitely recommended; you’ll be talking to the characters, laughing at times, gasping at others. Hopefully this one will terrify you because it certainly pulled a number on me.
27) Murder Party (2007)
Admittedly I’m not huge on horror comedy. I love dark comedy in horror, and I do love comedies (obviously a horror hound). There’s just something about horror-comedy I’m not always game for, but time and time again there are movies which prove as exceptions – big time – to this self-imposed rule of mine.
One such film that many people I know haven’t yet seen, or even heard of, is Murder Party. This is a fantastic little indie horror-comedy from director-writer Jeremy Saulnier; you may have heard of his impressive indie revenge-thriller Blue Ruin, or perhaps the film I’m DYING TO SEE, his new Neo-Nazi versus punk band concoction Green Room.
Beginning with a nice, quiet guy who finds an invitation to a Murder Party on the street, this movie is full of hilariously hipsterized characters (who you’ll be aching to see perish), nasty horror effects done practically and wonderfully, and then there’s the main character’s journey which will make you laugh and cringe at times.
If you want a good movie for Halloween day/night, this is perfect! A great comedy with equal amounts of fun horror, this is not one you’ll regret spending time to watch. Lots of fun for the 31st here! Maybe even one to put on whilst the little trick or treaters make their way to and from your door.
28) Maniac (1980)/ Maniac (2012)
Another double feature, this time a horrific, savage opus – the 1980 William Lustig-directed, Joe Spinell-starring Maniac versus the Alexandre Aja-produced, Franck Khalfoun-directed 2012 remake. Honestly, I’m a huge fan of both, for different reasons.
The original is a character study in absolute depravity, focusing in on Spinell’s version of a real, raw, genuine maniac whose issues with women have turned into something absolutely awful. There’s something painful about this character, which Spinell brings across in such a clear way it almost hurts you to see him resorting to the murders he commits out in the night, stalking the city streets.
Then in the 2012 remake, there’s not just Elijah Wood doing a great job with a partly sympathetic but mostly vile and horrible character, Khalfoun further makes things interesting by employing the use of 1st-person P.O.V throughout the entire film. There’s something really creepy about finding ourselves directly behind the eyes of the killer, only stepping outside his immediate perspective in a few brief shots.
Each of these movies has its merits, but for me I’m a bigger fan of the 2012 version. Seriously. I bet I’ll piss off tons of so-called horror movie purists. Whatever. I haven’t the time or effort to pretend I care. I love Wood as the character, even more than Spinell whose creepiness is astounding – and he’s a good actor generally – there’s something in this new one that just gets to me further. I think Spinell lent himself to the role because of his natural appearance and also his acting talents, but Wood’s boy-nextdoor appearance countered with the maniac in him becomes something wild over the film’s runtime.
Want gore and depraved characters, plus really incredible practical makeup effects? You’ve come to the right place. Double feature these two and you’ll be set for a Halloween season night when full-on, balls out horror is knocking at your door.
* My full review of the 2012 remake is here
29) Shivers (1975)/ Rabid (1977)
This last double feature is from a favourite director of mine, a fellow Canadian – David Cronenberg. The master of body horror, a true auteur.
His 1975 film Shivers takes psychosexual horror to another plateau, as an apartment complex becomes overridden with zombie-like humans – not dead, these are humans with pulses. However, these living, breathing people are sex crazed, and they’re passing on a terrible virus, multiplying, over and over.
If there were ever a pre-It Follows classic concerning sexually transmitted disease – hell if there were ever a precursor to some of the epidemic films we see today – Shivers is one of the most significant out there. Word has it Dan O’Bannon saw this film and loved it, inspiring in part his ideas for Ridley Scott’s Alien four years later. You want to get terrified of sex and the human body? Shivers will get you and it will work its way under your skin, under your nails; it will get inside you.
Two years after Shivers, Cronenberg came back at it again with Rabid starring Marilyn Chambers – the story of a young woman whose experimental plastic surgery after an accident turns her into a unsatisfiable zombie-like creature, rabid, seeking out blood, and this soon becomes a city-wide infection, reaching far and wide.
Another foray into the epidemic sub-genre of horror, Cronenberg’s Rabid is a low budget, fierce piece of work that is very much a visceral experience. As is usual, this movie is all-out body horror right from the start and Cronenberg is right at home in this area.
I think if you’re looking for zombies this October/Halloween, forego all the typical stuff one night and opt for the David Cronenberg epidemic duo of Shivers and Rabid; a healthy meal of zombie-styled horror in a devilish, excellent Canadian wrapper.
My full review of Shivers is here.
30) May (2002)
For a full review, click here.
Lucky McKee attracted me immediately to his work with this modern reinterpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
May follows the young alienated titular woman whose only friend is a doll she’s had nearly her entire life; it helped her get through all the tough life moments, especially difficult for May with her lazy eye problem and distant nature. She has an obsession with hands and meets an interesting young guy whose love of all things weird draws her close. But after his rejection, May is determined that each person is horrible except for ONE SINGLE PART; or in this man’s case, two small parts. From there, her journey to find and create the perfect companion, the perfect friend and lover begins, and there is no telling how far May will go in order to secure a happy and fruitful relationship.
What I love about this? Everything. The acting, the plot, the writing, plus it has a great soundtrack to boot. Including a few costumes on Halloween, this is a perfect movie to spook you out, as well as make you laugh inappropriately a ton and feel awkward a little. What good horror doesn’t do those things? Okay, well not all make you laugh, but a real horror movie is absolutely going to make you feel uncomfortable at least once or twice. Dive in – this one is unique and a nice spin on an old story.
31) The Others (2001)
From the director of another fabulously chilling work of horror, Tesis, this is a stellar story of despair, ghosts, and haunted places. While you could say this is a haunted house style film, I think it’s more strictly about ghosts than an overall haunting. I say that for a particular reason, which I’m sure you’ll understand after watching.
The Others gives us a story of a reclusive family and their new caretakers, all of whom end up dealing with spooky presences all about the large estate on which they live. While the husband is off with the war presumably, the mother of the family looks after her children, doting on them, protecting at all costs. Once ghosts begin to all but leak from the very walls around them, the mother tries to discover exactly what is going on.
The performance from Nicole Kidman is solid, the music and atmosphere are all perfectly sinister and beyond scary with lots of suspense and tension. There’s nothing I can complain about here and it makes for some fine ghost story telling. The ending still surprises me now, even though I know it, simply because I find myself gripped by the plot and the aesthetic of the film overall just really works its magic. Perfect ghost film for an October night, certainly for Halloween when the night is dark and people are roaming the streets, sounds filtering through the windows in bits and pieces. This really has a fitting atmosphere for that type of evening.
I hope everyone found something worth watching off the list. If you’ve got any suggestions, I’m likely to have seen them but still want to hear what everyone else likes to watch for October and the Halloween season of fright.
Drop a comment if you want and I’d love to hear what you’re watching, as well as if you’ve been digging the movies here.
Happy Halloween to all, my friends!