Father Gore's 2nd Make a Case looks at the squandered potential in Wes Craven's 1989 SHOCKER.
A list of TV episodes to quench the deadly thirst of Halloween season— BEWARE!!!
Lou tries to get over what Brady did to her. Bill investigates Sadie.
HELL HOUSE LLC brings the audience to the inside of a Halloween haunt, as the group putting it off find more than they anticipated in an old hotel.
Be careful who you decide to unfriend on Facebook. Could be the last mistake you ever make.
Needful Things. 1993. Directed by Fraser C. Heston. Screenplay by W.D. Richter; based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.
Starring Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh, Ray McKinnon, Duncan Fraser, Valri Bromfield, Shane Meier, William Morgan Sheppard, Don S. Davis, Campbell Lane, Eric Schneider, Frank C. Turner, & Gillian Barber. New Line Cinema/Castle Rock Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 120 minutes.
As an avid reader of Stephen King I’m always happy when I can tout one of the film adaptations as worthy of his writing. With any book the movie never seems to match up in quality, though on rare occasions this happens. What an adaptation for the screen can hope for is that it preserves the spirit of the source material. Not all adaptations of King novels work out appropriately, as I’ve mentioned in my other reviews recently. At least with a good couple hours directors and writers are capable of turning a large-sized novel into something worthwhile of the author’s efforts.
Needful Things makes use of every minute out of the two hour runtime. Screenwriter W.D. Richter manages to turn a large cast of characters into interesting people within that time frame, not jamming anything down our throats. Rather the screenplay allows for so much in 120 minutes because it’s structured well, it focuses on the right elements. Doesn’t hurt that the cast is spectacular, right down to the smaller roles. Then you’ve got Ed Harris, Max Von Sydow, Bonnie Bedelia leading the ensemble with strong performances. In particular, Sydow presents us with a version of the cinematic devil that stands out amongst so many other similar depictions of that mythic character. I can’t help loving this King film when so many never hit the mark, nor are they given the proper level of production in order to achieve what potential they have inherently. There’s a little bit of cheese here or there. Maybe you dig it, maybe not. Either way, Needful Things is a devilishly fun and mysterious mix of the supernatural and personal stories of drama, crime, and all sorts of small town issues. The novel is treated well here in this uneven yet awesome fantasy that takes place in that little town of Castle Rock, Maine.
First and foremost, Max Von Sydow is great. A perpetually fantastic actor whom I always find interesting to watch. He’s well suited to play a man such as this, one whom we know little of but glean that he’s, essentially, the devil. Literally. Even the name works, Leland Gaunt. But Sydow is what gives this screen character such fearful depth. His voice, his way of dressing, how he laughs and sweetly ingratiates himself to the men and women alike in Castle Rock; only part of that is the writing. Sydow’s abilities as an actor come out quite nicely with such a classic character as the literary Satan in disguise. He makes the devil so flawlessly friendly to those around him. Really one of the best devils out of any movie, regardless of how you may feel about the rest of the film.
Part of the performance is also his look in terms of makeup and costume. For most of the film we get that elegant, suit wearing look that suits Sydow so well. In brief moments the makeup renders him into a nearly goblin-like creature, his long nails protruding, yellow and thick, his nasty teeth shining in the light of certain head movements. Plus, much more. This isn’t always outwardly visible, only in those brief shots is it clear and that makes it more unsettling.
Everyone else is mostly great, even if Sydow is the centrepiece. Harris and Bedelia are both excellent, just as their chemistry makes their characters relationship sweet and loveable. Even young Meier does well as Brian Rusk, a tough and complex role for an actor of any age. Most of all I love Amanda Plummer – the character is good enough, but she automatically makes ANY character that much better. She turns up and I’m usually ready to keep glued to the screen. She does not disappoint, and her final showdown, warring with neighbour Wilma (Valri Bromfield) is so satisfying in a morbid way that you’ll have trouble not cheering a little. Don’t worry, I did. So we’re both sick fucks. If the acting weren’t so good then it wouldn’t be this hard to resist.
Visual callback to The Exorcist, as Polly (Bedelia) walks down a set of stairs and witnesses Alan (Harris) shaking hands with Danforth (J.T. Walsh). I’d never noticed that until this last time watching. Funny how that escaped me. Right now, it stood out so evident. Not in a hokey sense, but a stellar homage to William Friedkin’s supernatural, religious horror masterpiece. The movie isn’t built on homage. Not in the slightest. Everything else is pretty well shot. It doesn’t stop at the cinematography from Tony Westman. The entire flow of the film in its writing to the directing choices and the editing is a huge reason why everything works. Alone the way most scenes are edited together is good filmmaking, but better yet are certain scenes. For instance, when Brian (Shane Meier) is tossing the baseballs, then there are the flashback moments certain residents have as they make their dirty deal with Gaunt, among others.
Also have to mention the inclusion of classical pieces. I’m a huge fan of classical music, so it’s even better that the soundtrack here is used to such advantage. Beautiful, soul-filled pieces play over moments of wild destruction and violence. Always an interesting, effective juxtaposition.
Furthermore, in terms of writing, I find Richter does impressive work. A lot of movies insist that linear storytelling means you can’t move back and forth between moments in time. In a sense, yes. Many others prove that you can tell a linear story and also include plenty of non-linear aspects. What the screenplay here accomplishes is a linear plot that gives us 99% of the current story, then peppers in the whole cast of characters within that whole structure with their own histories. The overall story never gets bogged down because of how well the writing is adapted. Again, this is how Richter manages to fit all these characters into one two hour span without making a mess of things. The writing, the editing, the direction on Fraser C. Heston’s part, all comes together to make Needful Things a horrific bit of fantasy inside a story of intense human drama.
Another solid King adaptation. Lots of negative reviews out there. Although I’m totally in the other camp, this is a fantastic little movie. Not perfect by any means and a couple of the actors leave some to be desired. I can’t fault anybody in particular for not making the movie better. Needful Things is a good deal of fun. The story is one that could easily go epic in scope, instead King’s original novel takes that type of plot about the devil making deals with ordinary people for their souls and crafts that into a tale of corrupted innocence in a coastal town in Maine, bringing the scale down to a personal, emotional level. Sydow looms large as the Satan figure, Leland Gaunt, and everyone from Harris to Bedelia to Meier and Plummer all play their respective characters well.
I know not everyone will always feel the same. A typical story is done differently and done well with this film version. In a world of terrible movies made from Stephen King stories, let’s appreciate the ones that genuinely work. We get all the character, all the setting and the terror and the familiar macabre qualities of King, including some blood and psychosis along the way. If that can’t please you, nothing will.
This comes as one of the better adaptations of a King story, bringing along with it some fun, frightening terror, as one man's memories become a haunted house in a creepy hotel room.
The Darkness. 2016. Directed by Greg McLean. Screenplay by Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, & McLean.
Starring Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, David Mazouz, Lucy Fry, Jennifer Morrison, Ming-Na Wen, Matt Walsh, Tara Lynne Barr, Paul Reiser, Ilza Rosario, Parker Mack, Krista Marie Yu, Trian Long Smith, & Judith McConnell. Blumhouse Productions/Chapter One Films.
Rated PG-13. 92 minutes.
I’ve been a fan of Greg McLean ever since first seeing Wolf Creek. His whole anthology of work concerning that film, its sequel, the recent series, is enjoyable. Better than just its slasher horror sub-genre skin suggests, that catalogue of tales (a third film is on the way) concerning deranged Australian madman Mick Taylor is both exciting and frightening. His 2007 killer crocodile flick Rogue, also starring Radha Mitchell, is a decent bit of fun. So naturally, I’m always intrigued to see what he chooses next. With a couple other pictures just about in the bag, if not completely so, McLean dips into The Darkness, which is as far from those more reality driven horror movies as you can get.
Starring Mitchell and Kevin Bacon, The Darkness is a supernatural horror-thriller about a family that comes home from a vacation at the Grand Canyon toting something other than family members and luggage. This one got savaged by critics, so it seems. I understand there’s a certain amount of cheesiness at times. I have to say, though, there’s a palpable air of dread and fear that builds up a long time. All the parts never add up to anything more than a lump sum. I don’t personally find this a terrible horror. Certainly won’t say it’s anything more than okay, but likewise I can’t turn around and say it’s complete trash. The last 40 minutes aren’t near as good as they ought to have turned out, so the initial strong first half hour of the film builds things up and then never make it to higher ground, never capitalizing on all the effort. Sadly, McLean did all he can as director. Most of the problems lie in the script itself, as the actors generally carry the material to the best of their abilities.
I love the entire opening sequence out in the Grand Canyon, then following the family on their way home from the vacation. That’s a strong way to start out, as there’s a whole lot of things happening. First of all you’ve got the young Michael (David Mazouz), an autistic boy, falling into a sort of hidden cave, finding strange stones, likely Native American oriented with markings on them. Then his mother Bronny (Radha Mitchell) is an alcoholic, we get a slight sense of that, as well as the fact she suspects her husband Peter (Kevin Bacon) of being unfaithful, which is only further exacerbated in the upcoming few scenes after their arrival home. But that beginning 10 minutes is impressive, setting the tone for everything that follows. Later on, daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) reveals to us her bulimia and this makes the entire pile of family issues more intense. In between all that is the supernatural force that won’t let go since their vacation in the desert, since Michael disturbed that cave and its relics.
To my mind I’m not sure exactly what’s the biggest problem people have with The Darkness. Not saying this movie reinvents the wheel on supernatural horror. Doesn’t need to be revolutionary to be eerie good fun. One big element to the screenplay I enjoy is the family dynamic. The spirit clinging to the family exploits all their worst issues, their biggest personal problems. Michael’s autism makes the spirit and its influence early on feel real and lulling the family into complacency, misdirecting them towards his mental condition. Unfortunately, there’s never any pay off. The film builds, it has all the interesting and heavy emotional weight available to play with, however, there’s nothing that makes it lift above mediocrity.
A large part of why The Darkness doesn’t work is because there’s nothing innovative at all about the ghostly, spirit element to the horror. Supernatural films are always a test for me, honestly. As a horror fanatic, the one sub-genre of which I’m always wary is the supernatural arena. There are some great classics – Poltergeist (by which this one is heavily influenced), The Exorcist, among others. Although these are the best examples, clearly. Through it all, McLean doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before, nor does it spin in a refreshing way to scare us. I found certain elements creepy, particularly early on. As the plot wears on there isn’t anything much other than hand prints, shadows and the like to hover in the background, over the sheets, blood on the walls. Nothing excitingly scary happens even when the finale rolls around.
The actors try their best. For the most part they do a nice job. Once the whole plot descends into the final twenty minutes their acting only falls along with the entire movie. The whole conclusion is cheesy, anti-climactic, and all around does nothing to make everything which came before it worth the ride. It’s really too bad. Even the young boy playing Michael does a decent job. Then there’s Lucy Fry, whom I enjoyed thoroughly in McLean’s Wolf Creek mini-series. Bacon and Mitchell are both decent, as well. They’re just all incapable of transcending the boring material of the script.
There was potential in the ending for this movie to defy its own expectations, and that of the audience, too. Instead the script opts for a cheese-filled, maple syrup sappy end, and squanders the last of its potential. I don’t hate The Darkness. There were elements that work, early on I found myself enjoying the dreadful atmosphere and the tone of what was to come. In a tragic twist of poor writing, the movie drops off quickly, and then all but kills itself. If McLean and the writers could have managed to keep up what was happening in the first big sequence at the canyon, a little after when they went the family was headed home and things started to feel a bit chilling, this whole thing had a chance. Rather than that keep that up the screenplay falls into tired territory, offering nothing new and borrowing liberally from other sources, right up to the shoddy finish. Even how the last scene is cut, then the eerie music of the credits lead into a shot of the stones we saw from the cave, as if somehow imaging a world where this movie could drum up a sequel. I have to say, I don’t hate the movie, but I’m more than unimpressed with McLean having directed this outing. Not worth his talent, and he wasted a bunch of it here with middle of the road horror that can’t sustain itself. I’ll be busy waiting for the third Wolf Creek and his other projects, doubt I’ll ever watch this one again.
Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers. 1989. Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard. Screenplay by Shem Bitterman/Dominique Othenin-Girard/Michael Jacobs.
Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr, Jeffrey Landman, Tamara Glynn, Donald L. Shanks, Jonathan Chapin, Matthew Walker, Wendy Foxworth, Betty Carvalho, Troy Evans and Frankie Como. Magnum Pictures Inc./The Return of Myers/Trancas International Films. Rated R. 96 minutes.
The Halloween series gets worse after the 4th installment, even lots of people might say that was a bust. Me, I enjoyed it. Starting with this film, Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers, the brutal psychopath reality of Myers himself began to be diluted. Though I love the connection between Michael and his niece Jamie, the writers tried to go too far into the supernatural aspect of Myers – he always had a sort of inhuman, or superhuman quality about him, but it was best left a mystery like in the original; he was pure evil.
With this sequel, the series starts on a long descent into obscurity. Though, I did love the remake and partly enjoyed its sequel from Rob Zombie, even if many hated it and loathe him for even touching Halloween. But as far as the original series itself goes, after this one it gets pretty bad, embarrassing almost. This movie doesn’t have full coherence at its side. That being said, I do love the suspense and tension still present in Michael’s character, his lurking and his casual sneak behind the scenes unnoticed. And it’s always nice to see Dr. Loomis, no matter how cranky a bastard he may be after all these years hunting evil.
One year following the events of Halloween IV, Michael Myers (Donald L. Shanks) has survived the shootings of the previous year’s Halloween night. Little Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) has gone mute after attacking her own stepmother. She’s confined to a children’s hospital, treated for her psychological trauma. It becomes apparent to Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) that Jamie is exhibiting a type of connection, a mental link with her uncle Michael. As the psychotic slasher kills his way back to try and finally kill his niece, Loomis and the other Haddonfield residents try to band together in order to safeguard the lives of those who matter most from walking evil.
But as he’s so often proved before, nothing seems a match for Michael Myers. He is the living, breathing, walking presence of death. He will have what he wants.
Michael Myers is a feral, savage beast. He coldly kills the man who looked after him once collapsing after coming out of the river. Not that I expected any less, but still – cold blooded. Starting with the previous film, Halloween IV, Michael already started to exhibit pretty harsh, violent strength. From the beginning with Carpenter he was always an unnaturally strong slasher, but in the last movie the savagery of his kills began amping up. There was already the thumb through a guy’s forehead. Here, it isn’t only the intensity of the kills themselves, there’s an even worse sense of Michael’s vicious nature coming out. He’s becoming a worse evil than ever imagined, if that’s entirely possible. So, one of the positive things I can say about this sequel is the fact Michael sort of changes, at least in a slight sense, as a horror movie slasher. Okay – it’s not huge literary character development. Could be worse, though.
Then there are some excellent little sequences full of fear. For instance, when Jamie (Harris) is running through the hospital, thinking uncle Michael is right on her tail and trying to kill her, there’s a good deal of suspense and the heart gets pumping. Of course she’s only imagining it, and the big jump comes as you almost expect Michael to be there. Instead it’s a maintenance man, a nurse behind him, each looking for Jamie. I thought that was a solid scene, subverted expectations.
Another scene I liked is when Tina (Wendy Foxworth) goes out to the car, expecting her boyfriend Mikey (Jonathan Chapin), only unbeknownst to her it’s actually Mikey Myers in the mask she bought – it was super tense, I honestly didn’t know how the scene was going to go and I constantly feared for Tina’s life, every step of the way. Really effective few moments, even tied up with Jamie and her strange psychic connection with Michael, because there are moments cutting to and from Jamie/Tina which make it all the more nervous for the audience.
On top of that, I do like the Thorn Cult people prowling around. Adds something extra. While I’m not a fan of the supernatural-ish angle happening, their presence is definitely creepy. Seeing one of them walk out after Loomis heads downstairs in the old Myers house, another passes out onto the street in another shot between the Jamie/Tina ordeal – I find it dark and foreboding. I guess the positive aspect of this, what I’m trying to get at is, that if Myers and his story has to be continued with these sequels, it’s at least interesting the writers tried to conjure up a backstory with more depth than originally intended. Not saying it’s better than just the faceless slasher, the mysterious psychopath. But if it’s got to be kept going, at least make it interesting and a little fresh.
An important aspect of this movie is the fact Danielle Harris was a great actress at such a young age. Even with the silliness of the psychic link between her character and Michael, she did a wonderful job. The fact Jamie was mute for the first half of the film made for some interesting acting, which I enjoy to the fullest. She brings across the struggling, traumatized little girl in Jamie so well. I still find Harris to be a quality actress, even a good director now, even if the films she acts in aren’t always the best. At an early age, Harris was able to prove herself and add something interesting to Halloween V in a slightly bland sequel.
Aside from Harris’ performance and the handful of creepy scenes, there’s not a whole lot else going on. The kills are decent here and that gives the movie something else to rely on. Most of the acting holds up, but it’s really Harris and Donald Pleasence – of course – who hold up that end of the bargain. If the writers hadn’t leaned into the psychic connection it may have been better: the whole cult thing was cool, it just should’ve been turned into something different other than what it later became in further sequels; I always imagined it cool if a cult began to worship Michael instead of what started to happen after this movie. I love all the Jamie-Michael stuff, but it wasn’t best served being turned into a supernatural thriller style plot device.
I can’t rate this Halloween installment any lower than 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is nowhere near any of the best this series has to offer. Still, though, I think there are some good moments of suspense, lots of tense scenes. Instead of jump scares this film relies on a nice performance from Danielle Harris, the return of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis, as well as a slow pace. If the story were better I could’ve definitely given this a half star (or more) extra. However, the plot in this movie begins to make the series get silly and bad as the sequels push on. Either way I don’t feel this movie deserves the hate it gets, nor is it a masterpiece. It’s just a fun sequel despite its flaws.
The House by the Cemetery. 1981. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Lucio Fulci/Giorgio Mariuzzo/Dardano Sacchetti, from a story by Elisa Livia Briganti.
Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Anioa Pieroni, Giovannia Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Dora, Gianpaolo Saccarola and Carlo De Mejo. Fulvia Film. Rated R. 87 minutes.
I came to Lucio Fulci about ten years ago, after seeing City of the Living Dead. His classic look, the effects, an insanely nasty sense of style – how could I not enjoy his films? After that one, I found The Beyond, which is tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as my favourite of his work. So I made my way through everything by him I could find. Though his movies aren’t perfect, I find them perfect for me, for horror. They’re not full of grand metaphor, they aren’t even particularly complex in plot. What Fulci offers is a visually pleasing aesthetic, crossed with the brutal qualities of his own personal horror movie madness.
The House by the Cemetery isn’t his best, though, it’s nowhere near his worst. While many might have you believe it’s overrated, or that it’s “typical Fulci”, I say that’s nonsense. Especially those who think it’s “typical” of him – what’s wrong with typical Fulci? He’s a classic horror filmmaker, his style is all his own. Added to that, there are always solid gore effects, you can count on that. This film has all the earmarks of Fulci with a bit of inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and other sources.
Essentially, this is Fulci’s version of the haunted house horror.
Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco/Catriona MacColl), along with their young boy Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move into a home belonging to a colleague of Norman’s who committed suicide; he plans on researching the house itself, as well as the other previous owners. Soon enough, Bob sees a young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina), but only he can see her. She tries to warn him of the danger in the house. No one will believe him, certainly not his mother. Eventually a woman comes to take the position of babysitter for Bob – Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up out of nowhere for the job.
Things slowly get scarier in the old house, as Norma and Lucy discover a Dr. Freudstein once lived in their new home, around the turn of the century. He was a Victorian era doctor who performed illegal surgeries and experiments. This leads to more gruesome discoveries around the property, as the past comes alive and tears its way into the present.
When the movie’s filmed in English, yet still dubbed in post-production for some odd reason, you can’t expect it to be an outright masterpiece. Can you? No. So, when you watch The House by the Cemetery I’m not saying you’ll be blown away by all the technical aspects. Nor am I saying the story makes perfect and complete sense. Not in the slightest. What I am saying is that Fulci manages to do excitingly eerie things with atmosphere, as well as the fact he does his best to include some proper gore to wet the whistle of all those gore hounds out there.
My favourite part of this film is that atmosphere. The overall tone is grim. There’s something common to Fulci, I think. Every movie feels hopeless, not an ounce of actual happiness and figurative light manages to make its way into these stories he tells. Which is perfect for horror, and why I’m always inclined to enjoy so many of his films. The House by the Cemetery has the pretense of having those happier moments in the beginning, but the immediacy in Fulci’s presentation of the horror going on inside the house sets the tone quickly. It reminds me of how George Romero starts Day of the Dead with that neat, brief little dream sequence; sets us on edge from the start, almost like a visual manifesto. From there, Fulci works on us with his imagery alongside an unusual and exciting score from Walter Rizzati. The aesthetic of the film is, again, very Fulci.
I mean, even the scene where Norman (Paolo Malco) gets attacked by a bat becomes something intensely horrific. It latches onto his hand for what seems like ages. Finally, after a tough wrestle with it as everyone watches in horror, Norman stabs the things, blood pumping everywhere. The mark it leaves is savage. Such a normal event like finding a bat in the basement – something which happens plenty to people around the world – transforms into the stuff of nightmares. Such is the power of Fulci. He doesn’t have to be doing anything extraordinary in terms of plot or story in order to make things interesting, or in this case pretty nasty.
I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the story, like the plot is completely nonsensical. Not sure why so many complaints. There’s not much going on here to really need to comprehend. It’s a haunted house style horror movie, there are reanimated corpses in the house – chaos and supernatural terror ensue. What’s so tough to get? Not saying that everything is tied up into neat little packages and the screenplay rounds off every edge it fashions. But seriously – I don’t get the labels of incoherent other reviews have put out there. Does not make sense. There’s a surreal nature to this creepy house of Fulci’s, I feel The House by the Cemetery is like a fever dream full of haunting images. As I said earlier, this is like the past meets the present. The visceral entities of the house’s past come alive to keep taking lives, to keep Dr. Freudstein in business and corpses for experimentation, surely. Is that not the whole point? Just can’t get my head around why people feel the need to criticize Fulci here when the movie isn’t trying to be anything more than it is: a creepfest with nasty kills and a grim tone.
Despite all my love for this Lucio Fulci film, I do find a lot of the acting – aside from Catriona MacColl who is always fabulous – pretty damn bothersome, and tiring most of the time. Regardless, I still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. It’s got a nice dose of gore, the typically awesome and gnarly horror expected of Fulci. Not only that, the story is creepy enough to keep things going; no matter what people say about its supposed incoherence. Mainly, it’s just not an overly complex plot or anything. It has the goods to satisfy a haunted house movie craving, on top of that the blood and vicious bits will keep the hounds at bay. Not Fulci’s top horror, but like I said it’s light years away from being the worst. This is a good flick for Halloween and it’s a generally good one to take in if you’re getting into Fulci, or if you’re into him and have yet to see it because of Negative Nancies and Davie Downers saying this is overrated, or yadda yadda whatever else they say. Judge for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear other perspectives, as long as you’re civil – then this Dude abides.
Hellions. 2015. Directed by Bruce McDonald. Screenplay by Pascal Trottier.
Starring Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossi Sutherland, Rachel Wilson, Luke Bilyk, Peter DaCunha, Emir Hira Mokhtarieh, Nicholas Craig, Sydney Cross, Stephanie Fonceca, Joe Silvaggio, and Karlo William. Storyteller Pictures/Whizbang Films.
Rated 14A. 80 minutes.
Bruce McDonald has always had my stamp of approval for Highway 61 and more importantly Hard Core Logo, a film which personally shaped me as a young teenage Canadian punk rocker (or wannabe anyways). Not only that, it set me off for years on the idea that a mockumentary didn’t have to be mocking anything; it could do plenty serious business while also having a comedic edge. Either way, McDonald has done some real good films, even Dance Me Outside a forgotten gem of Canadian film. 2008’s Pontypool was a refreshing swing (and a hit) at the zombie sub-genre of horror and another reason why I’m glad to see McDonald again veer into horror with this film.
Hellions is, to me, a surprising and in ways a refreshing horror movie. It’s not like other horror movies. I don’t mean it completely subverts the genre, or that it comes with an entirely new and innovative story, however – the way McDonald comes at his themes and the plot is both fun andinteresting. A solid dose of horror, disturbing and also straight up, as well as a refreshingly visual style and creepy atmosphere makes Hellions one of my favourite horror movies of the last 5 years at least.
I could care less what other people say in their reviews. This is mine and I’ll cry if I want to. Shit, that’s not right, is it? Well this is my review and I think I’ve at least got a couple things to say about McDonald’s film, in terms of its horror and often exciting visual experimentation.
17-year old Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose) has a pretty standard teenage life. Her mother Kate (Rachel Wilson) tries to keep life going steadily for them all, which includes little brother Remi (Peter DaCunha).
Unfortunately, Dora misses class one day visiting the doctor and discovers she’s pregnant. As Halloween has rolled around, she finds herself home alone with the news all to herself. Even more unfortunate, far worse for Dora, some trick-or-treaters come knocking while her mother takes Remi out to stockpile candy.
And these are no ordinary little kids in costumes. First it’s a little kid with a creepy bag over his head. Then comes a similar little child with a bucket over theirs instead of a bag. One of them reaches out with a demon-like hand, touching Dora’s belly and says “Mama“…
This begins the hellish Halloween of Dora Vogel.
One thing I loved about Hellions, when it kicks into full Hell Night mode, is how McDonald used the infrared camera. There’s this almost Alice In Wonderland feel, or Wizard of Oz maybe (Dora – Dorothy?), after you can see the infrared begin – a pink hue sets in over almost everything in the frame. This brings a strange quality to a lot of the visuals which McDonald goes for over the course of the film. While I can’t speak for others obviously, it was an intriguing effect to me. It’s not something I’d want to see a bunch of movies use, however, with Hellions I think there’s supernatural horror happening big time and we get this heightened sense of atmosphere with the infrared camera making the whites and the greens so vibrant, as everything stays washed in the pink tones. Great, great stuff. Particularly I couldn’t get enough of how the trees look; the rich greens against the sort of faded pink over everything and the bright white colours throughout, it really is beautiful to look at.
Along with the look this film boasts an awesome, haunting score from Todor Kobakov and Ian LeFeuvre. There are times it has an undeniably 1980s style synth sound. At other moments the film’s score has this throbbing ambient darkness about it, which sort of lays underneath particular scenes and holds the tension tight, as well as snaps it hard to make that tension pay off. Also, there are some great strings thrown in and a terrifying choir singing/child chants alongside to make one dreamy scene beyond unnerving, on top of everything else actually happening in the scene itself. Honestly there are horrors which are made or broken by scores; I personally think this one does Hellions more than enough justice.
Both Chloe Rose and Robert Patrick do a great job with their characters. It’s easy for actors to get lost, their performances I mean, when the visual aspect of a film is so evident and in your face (though I mean that not in a bad way at all obviously). Contrary to that, these two are able to lift their characters above that in order to make them noticeable. The kids are memorable mostly because of the creepiness, the horrific acts they perpetrate and the weirdness involved; these two are memorable without masks, solely based on performance.
Of course Patrick isn’t around as much as Rose, but still, he’s a fun character actor to see in a horror film. Particularly near the end Patrick makes his character really pop out and leaves his mark.
Rose does fantastic work here. She’s got a tough, complex role. On one hand, Dora Vogel is a young, seventeen-year old girl worried about being pregnant. On the other hand, she’s also got to deal with the onslaught of monstrous, demonic children at her door, trick or treating. There’s a lot going on and I think many young actresses might not do so well with the character. She gives us a good deal of range from start to finish. A real solid performance.
Let’s talk horror.
First, we’ve got little kids in some of the creepiest masks I’ve ever witnessed. They’re starting at the door, eventually working their way inside. They make strange noises. They’re actually… demons? Who knows for sure. They’re awful either way, in the best possible sense. Horrific little creatures of the Halloween night.
Secondly come the dream sequences, the trippy little bits. One moment sees Dora trapped in a small shed where blood pours from between her legs, quickly filling up the room around her, as she almost drowns in the reddish waves. Amazingly creepy! This was a brief yet nasty scene, effective definitely. There are bunches of wild imagery going on, what with the infrared camera being used as a real technique in McDonald’s vision, but this was one that stuck with me because I thought it was a knockout.
Also, when Dora sees herself eating a little fetus on the end of a fork – just like she’d earlier done with a pickle – and throwing a bit of salt on top, crunching its little head, I was like “WOW”. That is some gnarly stuff. What a ballsy thing to throw into the movie. Are some people really bent on thinking this movie is pro-life? I would say it’s more pro-choice than anything, especially with imagery like that; this isn’t an informercial about the supposed terror of abortion, which is fucking bullshit anyways, THIS IS A HORROR. McDonald knew what he was doing with this nasty image and it’s not throwing himself into the pro-life camp.
I totally understand why some people might not, and do not/will not, dig this film. That’s fine. Me, I think this could be considered a masterpiece of modern horror. When the final 20 minutes arrive, Hellions plays out like one of the most nightmarish things I’ve ever seen; a fever dream of insanity, dark visions, and body horror. Absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star horror film. For me, anyways. I get it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Though I’ve got to say, I can’t get over the visuals, the score, and the terror Bruce McDonald brought forward from Pascal Trottier’s screenplay.
Give this is a chance when you’re able to see it; out now on iTunes, if I’m not mistaken. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Can’t wait until this is out on Blu ray because I’ll be combing through it more and more, over and over. There’s plenty of symbolism and imagery throughout the entirety of the film. Maybe it isn’t as concrete and “normal” as some might have wanted it to be. At the very least you’ve got to give it to McDonald; this is one innovative, weird little horror flick.
The Pact II. 2014. Directed/Written by Dallas Richard Hallam & Patrick Horvath.
Starring Caity Lotz, Camilla Luddington, Scott Michael Foster, PAtrick Fischler, Amy Pietz, Haley Hudson, Market Steger, Nick Micheaux, Brad Gunberg, and Suziey Block. Campfire.
Unrated. 96 minutes.
The Pact came out of nowhere for me, and despite what others have said about the film I thought it was a creepy, effective little horror. There’s a great hybrid of supernatural and serial killer horror that makes for an interesting effect. Not every single bit of it worked, but it was still a good horror movie.
Then, there was a decision to move forward with a sequel. When I first saw this announced, even as a fan of the first, I didn’t exactly jump for joy at the chance to see filmmakers try and extend the success of the original. My biggest problem is that the idea was complex, but it also remained a small, contained type of story that played out well on that scale.
With The Pact II, I feel like they tried to widen the story too far, encompass too much, and instead of sticking with what worked there’s just too little well written in the script to make up for its downfalls. I actually think that, had it been treated better, there could have been something useful made out of this sequel; there were several good, interesting ideas in the script, but I don’t feel as if they were appropriately played out. What might have been, in another universe, a decent flick ends up as a whole lot of junk, and The Pact II is relegated to the land of abysmal horror sequels.
After the events of The Pact, we catch up with June Abbott (Camilla Luddington). She is a cleaner who takes care of crime scenes after police and investigation units have finished. Soon, June begins to have visions of the now deceased Judas Killer, Charles Barlow (Mark Steger). She tries hiding it from her police officer boyfriend Daniel (Scott Michael Foster). However, copycat murders mimicking the Judas Killer’s M.O begin. June’s visions become worse and worse, she sees herself committing the murders, as if she were the murderer herself, right in his shoes.
Eventually, June sees fit to track down Annie Barlow (Caity Lotz) to try and figure out what’s happening to her. They also try reaching out to Stevie (Haley Hudson), the medium, but she cannot seem to offer much help.
Through twists and turns, June comes to figure out who the copycat killer truly is, and experiences firsthand the revival of the Judas Killer’s murders.
For the most part what I thought didn’t work about this film is not that the script is poorly written, it’s the fact that this feels like too much an attempt to extend the first movie for no reason. I mean, the logic just doesn’t seem to be there. The script is well-written in the sense that the dialogue is not bad, nor are the characters; I actually thought June Abbott (Camilla Luddington) worked as a character, and she had history, a personality, flaws. So it isn’t the characters and the dialogue. What does not seem to work, at all, is how The Pact very much had a purpose for the supernatural/serial killer mash-up: Annie’s mother was so distraught over the pact she’d made with her brother Charles, the things he’d done, that her soul and spirit could not leave the house until Charles was dealt with, killed, whatever. So I thought that was spot on.
In opposition, The Pact II seems to want to extend the supernatural elements beyond what they were reaching for in the first place. I just don’t see the point in bringing out a copycat when there’s no great, only tenuous, links to the first film’s plot; this is just an excuse to try and cash in on a good indie horror picture.
Of course, it isn’t the first sequel to try and stretch out a premise from the film which it followed, but I just find that this one did not work in the slightest. There were creepy parts, no doubt. I found the first half hour of the movie half decent. But once everything sets in, then certainly after the tension ratchets up and the climax hits – you just realize how misguided the whole film is, truly.
SPOILER ALERT – TURN BACK OR FOREVER SHALL YOU BE SPOILED!
The Pact II is also guilty of using terrible tropes. I mean, how many times have we seen the whole ‘the cop is the killer’. I’m not saying that someone out there can’t reinvent that whole trope and turn it around, maybe freshen it up somehow. But this movie uses it and there is nothing fresh about it. They even go for the ole bait-and-switch, using two different law enforcement officers, a cop and an FBI agent (how original), to try and throw us off the trail. Tricky, tricky.
What makes me sad about this is that the screenwriters/directors of this movie, Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath, did an awesome little indie called Entrance, which I could not get enough of! Still can’t, I watch it frequently. A lot of people couldn’t stand it because it’s the slowburn to end all slowburn horrors. Honestly, even as a fan, I can admit that so much of the first half of Entrance is extremely snail-paced, and there’s not much going on. Yet underneath it all, the terror lurks. I’ll have to review it myself because it’s worth the watch. Stephen King also raved about it; I totally agreed with his review.
But anyways, it just saddens me to see Hallam and Horvath, who I thought were going to be somewhat different than most writer/directors in the horror genre, came out with a truly poor idea. The writing itself is not bad, it’s just the whole premise of what they wanted to do, it really does not work. For all the decent dialogue (though not all is good – some is certainly bad), the few scares, a dash or two of creepy atmosphere, Hallam and Horvath cannot break away from the dull stupidity of The Pact II‘s original premise. They should have left well enough alone and not done a sequel, honestly, but I suppose the original made enough of a splash producers wanted to milk this one. Too bad they brought in Hallam and Horvath, hope those two move on to something much better.
For all its crappy qualities, there are at least a couple decent performances in this movie.
Camilla Luddington does a good job with the character of June Abbott. I did actually like her as a character, even within the bad plot. Particularly, I thought it was neat how they had her cleaning up crime scenes; this sort of played into her personality, as well as the later story. I’ve never seen Luddington before, but I enjoyed her performance. Just came across the fact she does the motion capture and voice for the newest incarnation of Tomb Raider, which is pretty awesome.
Surprisingly, Caity Lotz returned as Annie. She isn’t in the entire film, but seeing her here was actually nice. The movie has beyond just a few faults, however, having Annie’s character back sort of rooted things a little more than I expected. Either way, Lotz is a good actor. She is subtle and not one of the Scream Queen types, which I personally dig. Too bad the plot of this movie is garbage, otherwise having Lotz return would’ve worked even better had they been able to come up with something more interesting and sensible.
Ultimately, I can’t give The Pact II any more than 2 stars without kicking myself. It just isn’t worth a higher rating.
There are a couple creepy moments. One that really creeped me out involves the picture above; Charles Barlow, now a ghost himself (dumb dumb dumb), walks up slowly behind June and caresses her as she learns the truth about what has really been going on. That’s definitely a memorable scene, and it came off real weird/unsettling.
Other than that, there isn’t much else. A few decent scenes, plus the anchor performance of Camilla Luddington + the brief time we get Annie (Caity Lotz) back, but otherwise this is a complete dud. It’s too bad, I really loved the first one, this just does it no justice. I honestly hope that Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath come out with something much better and more interesting than this on their next effort.