A woman receives a visit from a cult member, there to help her transcend her problems.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 10: “She Talks to Angels”
Directed by Steve Miner
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
* For a review of the previous episode, “Home Sweet Home” – click here
The finale is directed by none other than Friday the 13th Parts II and III alumni, Steve Miner! Very exciting, as we finish off Dead of Summer‘s wildly fun and unpredictable first season.
Amy (Elizabeth Lail) has been fully taken over by Malphas, as the rest of the crew are left without much clue. Jessie (Paulina Singer), Deputy Garrett (Alberto Frezza), and Alex (Ronen Rubinstein) only have the camera with all of Joel’s (Eli Goree) taped material. At least they have some kind of proof. For now, if Malphas doesn’t decide to eradicate that, or them, too.
They shove off from Camp Stillwater, each unsuspecting of the evil still lurking in Amy. When the cop car Garrett drives goes dead, the battery suddenly shutting off, things get spooky. The demon in Amy reveals itself, saying that Holyoke (Tony Todd) left the “last piece of his soul” inside Jessie. Worst is when Amy brings out the dead t0 help her – Joel, Cricket (Amber Coney) – and now everything is scarier than ever before.
Garrett sees his father Jack (Dan Payne) out on the dock at Camp Stillwater. He disappears into thin air. Then he wakes up. It’s the day before all the counsellors show up for summer in 1989. He tells Sheriff Boyd Heelan (Charles Mesure), a.k.a the teacher. But no real help there, clearly. I guess hanging out with a weirdo you don’t yet know is a weirdo would be much better than where they are now, running from Malphas and his legion of undead.
“How do we stop a demon?” asks Alex. Right before they discover a bunch of murdered corpses in the cabin. Afterwards, Malphas drops in to cause a bit of mischief. Meanwhile, bussing all the kids away from camp Drew (Zelda Williams) and Blair (Mark Indelicato) get an eerie, urgent warning from the little boy who used to see Holyoke. He tells them to go back; their friends need help.
And they do. Garrett’s hurt, although he makes sure Jessie and Alex know: “This is bigger than us.” They’re forced to leave him behind. Such is the case when you’re in a supernatural horror mystery for real, I guess.
A flashback takes us to Blair before camp. Cricket comes to see him with a new mix tape. He’s busy washing HOMO off his car; so sad. She tries to assure him things will change now that they’re finished high school. He’s a romantic, though, and wanted to meet a guy. Sadly they take about it being “me and you forever” and things we know can’t come true because of her untimely death. In their present situation, Blair and Drew try calling the cops. I don’t know if that’ll do any good. Kudos to the writers: not often in horror does anybody actually try the police.
Lots of creepy shit is happening now in the woods. Alex and Jessie come across Blotter’s severed head on a tether-ball pole. At the same time, Malphas-Amy is calling out to anybody left at camp to play a game of capture the flag. Except the flag “is Jessie,” the demon cackles through the speakers. That scene honestly felt like it came right out of Stephen King. Dig it.
When the cops arrive at Stillwater they’re greeted by Amy – similar to how she looked as child, informing the firefighter her family is dead: “They‘re dead. They‘re all dead.” Only problem being that she now has the place totally under control. Over the speakers, Malphas-Amy talks in the policeman’s voice; the one she’s dispatched. Because the demon needs more blood to fill the lake.
Alex tries going head-on with the demon. He gets an axe to the chest, savage and bloody. Yikes. A quick and nasty death for the poor Russian immigrant, just looking for a better life. Now, Jessie is on her own out in the forest with the demon hunting her down. Soon enough she finds Garrett, Drew, and Blair.
Either way, Jessie lures Malphas-Amy into a cabin where they circle her inside purified water along the floor. In the other cabin Garrett plays the music from Holyoke’s recording, but there’s nothing on it anymore. Remember when Amy stroked the wax before they discovered she was still possessed? I knew it. God damn you, Malphas!
Well the shit hits the fan. Undead Joel, Cricket, Deb, they all show up.
Ah – Garrett remembers the tape. It has the music on it. So he broadcasts it through the walkie into the cabin, causing Malphas-Amy and the undead great pain, repelling them.
And when Malphas is weakest, Jessie plants an axe right into Amy’s head. The blood runs out of her, the demon returning to Lake Stillwater and disappearing below the surface, hopefully never to return again.
They’ve survived, those who are left – Garrett, Jessie, Blair, and Drew. Out in the water, the dead wade back down to the depths. A fitting goodbye to them all, as the friends watch them all go.
Plus, Townie and Braces are once again together. Or are they? He’s just a ghost. I knew it, again! He died out on that bench in the woods. Love allowed him to linger on as a spirit; the light from Holyoke gifted him the extra time to help. That’s better than what I predicted before – him becoming another undead during the last big fight.
The three remaining souls walk themselves out of Camp Stillwater, for the final time. Ghostly Garrett heads into the water of the lake, to his friends, and his father. A place for everything and every thing in its place. Life moves on with Jessie going to college, Blair and Drew road tripping to Seattle for a Bowie concert (and totally in love with each other). All is well once more.
I honestly loved this show’s first season. Hoping there’ll be a Season 2. While it wasn’t perfect, it both played up to the horror genre tropes and also subverted expectations in that regards, as well. It didn’t have to be perfect. The nostalgia, without going too overboard, along with decent writing and interesting characters made for lots of fun.
And now Stillwater’s up for rent. What could happen there? Oooooooooh.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 9: “Home Sweet Home”
Directed by Alrick Riley
Written by Ian B. Goldberg
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Devil Inside” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “She Talks to Angels” – click here
Heading into our penultimate Season 1 episode, Joel (Eli Goree) is dead, and the others have now discovered that Holyoke (Tony Todd) isn’t the madman they thought he was, nor is anything as it seems.
A young woman hitches a ride to Camp Stillwater, saying she’s worried about a friend. Hmm.
Amy (Elizabeth Lail) is possessed. Everyone is prepared to do what they can to turn her back into who she was once upon a time. At Holyoke’s cabin, Garrett (Alberto Frezza), Jessie (Paulina Singer), and Alex (Ronen Rubinstein) prepare to do a “purification” on Amy, to try and get the demon out of her. Holyoke explains what must be done, as well as the fact it’s not going to be easy. At all.
While the counsellors are trying to get rid of the demon, Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell) busses the campers off, as Blair (Mark Indelicato) and Drew (Zelda Williams) make preparations of their own.
Everybody’s waiting to face off with the big bad demon. Soon enough.
Back to 1980 – a young Amy doesn’t get much love from her family, mostly just annoyance and misplaced aggression. Her brother is the worst, telling his younger sister their parents don’t want her anymore. She winds up killing her brother’s pet rat, by accident. And we can see that Amy has always been a little different, a little innocent. Meanwhile, in ’89, Holyoke is explaining things about the demon to the young people now helping him. “We must call to the spirits of light,” Holyoke tells them. It all starts with a few hymns on the piano. From the lake something rises. Then Holyoke himself is evaporated into thin air, blood and bone and all.
Nobody is safe.
Once again in ’80, Amy’s brother plays a trick on her. He locks the little girl in their garage and she’s there until morning. A firefighter comes in to find her laying on the floor. This act of childishness by her brother wound up saving her life: Amy’s entire family die of carbon monoxide poisoning after the flue in the fireplace closed. Wow. That’s god damn heavy.
In ’89, the young counsellors and deputy try figuring out what went wrong. Garrett wants to go the original recordings of the hymn Holyoke played. But Jessie wants to “be the spirits of light” on their own. She thinks by using the knowledge they have, the books and notes, so on, they can do the ritual themselves. In order to save Amy’s soul. Reluctantly, Garrett and Alex go along. Not as if they’re wrong to do so. Jessie has her heart in the right place, and also – who the hell knows how anything works in a world filled with ghosts, demons, Satanist cults, and more? Either way, Jessie, Alex, and Garrett do their best to call Amy back to herself, away from the demon. That demon Malphas doesn’t make anything too easy for them, though.
Blair, Drew, and Deb bus the kids through the woods. Yet the further they go, the thicker a mist appears in front of them. Like a wall. Until blood starts raining down over the bus, covering the windows, frightening all the children. The bus driver heads out to make sure they didn’t smash something onto the road. Big, big mistake, as he gets dragged off into the misty horizon. Something outside scrawls LET ME OUT on the bloody windows.
At the cabin, Malphas uses Amy to toy with each of the counsellors – talking to Garrett in his father’s voice, coming on to Alex with seductive Russian. Not a good time. Jessie and the boys press on with the ritual, and it isn’t any easier on Amy than it is on them. All the pain of her life flows outward. She later bites into Garrett’s neck. Malphas fights to stay in his vessel and they fight against him. Things get real wild once Malphas takes full control, tossing people around the cabin and manipulating everyone/everything in his path. He has Amy prepare Garrett for a hanging, unless Jessie opens the cabin door to let him free.
But I can’t help worry for Deb, out in the woods alone, as Drew and Blair try getting the bus to move. She finds the bus driver, dead and bloody, and something growling in the nearby woods. “If you want someone, take me,” she says in the darkness. Keith (Dylan Neal) comes out of nowhere. To comfort? No, to kill. He strangles Deb telling her all the young people will die, because of her: “You brought her here – the perfect vessel.”
And in the cabin, Jessie allows Malphas to take her as the vessel.
In he goes. So what next?
Alex puts Jessie in the lake water, closing her in. Keith disappears into the lake, the blood clears from the bus and it starts again. All is right once more. Well, not everything. At least Amy’s alive, Garrett is safe, so is Alex. Except Jessie gave herself over to defeat Malphas, which isn’t something Amy feels good about. So she pulls her friend out and tries doing CPR. After a properly dramatic wait, Jessie spits out the water, breathing hard. And defying the prophecy of Holyoke that nobody could survive the process; Jessie is one pure lady!
When all is said and done Amy takes a moment alone. To say goodbye to the place.
We go back to a month before Camp Stillwater opened. Amy meets Deb at the edge of the lake. She finds that there’s no space for another counsellor – unless a counsellor doesn’t show up, or drops out, the like. So we go to that night when Amy and her friend Margot went to the party; that fateful night. Now, the events are shown in a much different light. All to get to Camp Stillwater, Amy lets her friend go. “Unfortunately there is only room for me,” she chillingly tells Margot before letting her grasp slip. That girl from the opening scene of the episode – it’s a friend who witnessed the aftermath at the party. That’s intriguing. Even more so once she shows up, only to get murdered with an axe by Amy.
Yikes. Poor Deb has really been through the ringer. She has to deal with an axe-wielding Amy, confessing to killing her own family and all the evil she’s been up to, even before Malphas came along. She was an evil little seed, anyway. The demon only made things more epic in nature. Oh, yes – Deb gets the axe, too.
A nice little montage takes us through the deaths at Camp Stillwater, each perpetrated by Amy herself under one of those eerie cult masks made out of wicker. She was there, lurking everywhere. Behind Garrett when he shot the Teacher. When Blotter got his head cut off. Every single death.
And for the time being, Malphas has everyone convinced he’s long gone.
Wow – this is my favourite episode so far! I loved it. Death, blood, wild revelations, some backstory. All sorts of madness. The finale is titled “She Talks to Angels” and I’m so excited to find out what Dead of Summer has in store for us.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 8: “The Devil Inside”
Directed by Mick Garris
Written by Steven Canals & Richard Naing
* For a review of the previous episode, “Townie” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Home Sweet Home” – click here
Chicago, 1988. Jessie (Paulina Singer) arrives back at her place to find her mother partying, the place filled with smoke. Seems like she’s living in a place not built for what she wants to do, which is study, try to get into a good college and likely get up out of that neighbourhood. Her mom convinces her to let loose and have a bit of fun. Cut to ’89, she talks to her mom on the phone. They’re in a much different place than they were last year. What happened that night?
Well, right now there’s stranger things afoot. Camp Stillwater is rocked by the “terrible things” that have recently gone on. Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell) says everything’s over. She is shutting the place down, to the chagrin of Amy (Elizabeth Lail), Joel (Eli Goree), Blair (Mark Indelicato), Alex (Ronen Rubinstein), Drew (Zelda Williams), and Jessie. Nobody’s pleased. Although they’re setting out to make their last couple days at camp memorable.
I’m sure Holyoke (Tony Todd) is looking to do the same. And when a solar eclipse begins to darken the sky, Jessie’s mind begins to darken. She sees a dead Cricket (Amber Coney), who warns about the dangers at camp: “It‘s not over. It‘s awakening.” She says Jessie has to take Holyoke’s bones to the lake. But it doesn’t feel like she’s there as a helping hand. Maybe this is more Satanic madness. No telling yet.
The counsellors go out to play Blind Man’s Bluff. Of course, Jessie is first. As she spins, voices encroach on her sanity, she hears strange noises and whispers. Amy notices. Jessie tells her about what she saw, what Cricket prophesied. But Amy believes it’s Holyoke trying to manipulate further events. “The only people we can trust are each other,” she assures Jessie.
Back to ’88. Jessie is straight laced, she’s going into work and also preparing for her North Western interview. Something has clearly caused a huge change in her within that one year from where she is now at Stillwater, to where she was then.
In ’89, Jessie talks with Garrett (Alberto Frezza). He worries because the teacher, his supposed old family buddy, says he didn’t kill the counsellors. Who did it? For the time being Garrett believes the ritual awakened the demon. He goes on the journal of his father. He worries about the eclipse, as it’s a sign the demon has been conjured. Only the journal says they have to “kill the vessel” – and the vessel = Amy. Jessie tells him about what dead Cricket advised her to do. They have to throw Holyoke’s bones in the lake.
Joel feels compelled to end things because of his brother Michael’s torture at the hands of Holyoke. He wants to burn down that old cabin, to somehow cleanse the place of that evil presence.
Meanwhile, Jessie is sneaking out to the morgue just as Joel finds his way into the creepy cabin. This is an excellently edited scene, cutting as back and forth. Jessie finds the bones and gathers them up. However, the dead bodies of the cult members come to life, Damon (Andrew J. West) speaking in the voice of her mother. The place turns into a horrorshow. Simultaneously, Joel discovers a book full of Satanic writings. He rushes to find Jessie – Holyoke is indeed trying to trick her. The demon needs those bones to go in the lake. Jessie and Garrett believe otherwise; that Amy, the vessel, has already been possessed by the demon. Drastic measures ahead.
Garrett and Jessie go to Amy, they ask her about Malphas and whether anybody said the word in that cave. They’re testing her. That golden cross Jessie wore is given over to Amy, as protection. There’s no real reaction, though. Soon, Alex bursts in and lets Amy in on what’s happening. Uh oh. Trouble in the ranks. Maybe this is what Holyoke wants, dissent between the friends. A little while later dead Cricket comes to Jessie again, revealing a vision of the demon headed for them if the bones do not go into the lake.
We switchback quickly to ’88. Even though Jessie almost missed her interview, due to her mother messing up and not being there to bring her on time, everything went well. There’s still something coming here, something that will change the mother-daughter relationship.
Drew and Jessie have connected. They have trust in one another. Drew tries to make Jessie believe in herself and trust her own thoughts, follow her own path. Not so easy, I guess. Considering whatever happened in Jessie’s past.
Well, the bones get tossed in the lake. Then the sky goes completely dark, all light disappears. It’s as if Joel and Jessie are now in a different time. They see Holyoke (Tony Todd) leading people into the lake, followed by Satanic cult members who start murdering everybody. Seems Holyoke was framed for being a crazy cult leader bringing people to suicide. When all along the eerie cult has been responsible. Joel and Jessie are led back to the cabin. “What you think you know, you do not,” Holyoke explains to them. He says the demon still resides in Amy. He wants to save the girl: “Let no harm come to her. That will only empower the demon.” Oh, Holyoke! You’ve turned into someone completely different than we imagined back at the beginning. So exciting.
We get one more glimpse into ’88. Jessie fights with her drunk mother. Mom is a selfish woman who believes she’s being left behind by her daughter, a.k.a Jessie’s going to college to better herself. So they get in the car, drunk mom driving. Then a car smashes into them. We can see this coming a mile away: Jessie takes the shit for her mother. This dashes her chances at a great college. So, so tragically sad.
The gang are all mostly on the same track. They even let Deb in on it. Problem is the fifth point on that map Garrett found is where Amy and Alex are with the camp kids. Once they find Amy, she puts a knife right to Alex’s throat. Joel manages to stop. Before she sinks the knife into his throat instead. “Fooled you,” she taunts while holding up a palm branded with a cross.
And rather than do what Holyoke intended, Garrett tries blasting Amy away. Doesn’t work that easy. Not when a demon’s involved. Holyoke then appears to haul Amy and the demon inside her away. Whoa! What a turn of events. Plus, another camp counsellor down as Joel bleeds out from his neck wound.
Out at the cabin, Holyoke sets out to try exorcising the evil spirit within Amy.
I’m so pumped! This Mick Garris-directed episode was great. Unexpected, too.
Next is the penultimate Season 1 episode titled “Home Sweet Home” – I can only imagine what sort of things will come out. Very, very excited.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 7: “Townie”
Directed by Mairzee Almas
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Dharma Bums” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Devil Inside” – click here
In 1982, a pair of little dudes ride bikes and then head to their principals house to “redecorate his car” a.k.a smash the shit out of it. One is more reluctant while little Garrett is the more angry of the two. Then Jack Sykes (Dan Payne) shows up with his partner. He takes his son for dinner, to try and explain to his young boy he needs to calm down. He’s trying too hard to buck back against his dad’s rules, his profession. “You‘re fourteen now, it‘s time to decide what kind of man you want to be,” Jack tells his boy.
In ’89, grownup Garrett (Alberto Frezza) is laying out what he knows so far about the creepy cabin up near Camp Stillwater for Sheriff Boyd Heelan (Charles Mesure). He talks about the ritual the Satanist cult members are trying to finish. Next up is “sacrificing an innocent” – or, murder like Garrett makes painfully clear. But does Heelan know more than he lets on? I believe so.
And remember that little kid with Garrett? That’s one of the Satanists, Damon (Andrew J. West). Whoa.
Boyd and Garrett have a plan. They bring it to Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell), although she’s not at all pleased with having all the campers, the counsellors in harm’s way. Sykes wants to use Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail) as bait, seeing as how she’s the cult’s main target, so it seems. Well, at least Heelan doesn’t seem too greasy. Yet.
Everybody’s in either way after Amy says she’s willing to do what is necessary. Drew (Zelda Williams), Alex (Ronen Rubinstein), Joel (Eli Goree), Blair (Mark Indelicato), they’re all prepared to help however they can.
At the same time, Damon and his cult are getting ready, too. They have a sacrifice: a nice tongue. A bit of blood never goes astray in serious Satanic worship.
Before anything else, we skip back to ’82 after young Garrett is forced to go to camp. He meets a younger Jessie (Paulina Singer). They begin a bond that will last a long, long time, as he takes part in a team with her for tug-of-war. Mostly he proves how volatile of a temper he has after somebody makes a nasty joke about his mother. We also get the first utterance of their little nicknames – Braces and Townie, though they’re said in anger.
So now in ’89, Sykes and Heelan initiate their plan. Amy sets up for camp games pretending to be unsuspecting, as Heelan hovers waiting in the trees. Then he sees one of the eerie wicker masks drawing him away.
When Garrett goes to check on Amy and talk with the Sheriff, he finds neither of them nearby. Only their radios are found. Further out, Amy wanders as if in a trance until meeting Damon and his cult members, blowing a bloody horn to call her. Now that’s some creepy madness.
’82 again. Garrett’s dad shows up, but not for him. Someone is having visions of a cave, needs to be checked into a psychiatric wing. Hmm. Is that Michael (Lovell Adams-Gray), Joel’s older brother?
Quickly, we’re back to ’89. Garrett frantically looks for Amy, calling back to Deb who further asks everybody to come back in. Blair and Drew are on lookout, not wanting to go back, and he ends up twisting an ankle. Uh oh, that definitely means mayhem coming up; when a character in a horror trips and falls, hurting themselves, you just know there’s a death or a near miss soon. And we get an answer on Michael – when Joel, Jessie, and Alex bring Garrett a picture the young boy Anton (who sees Holyoke) drew earlier: the same cave Joel’s older brother once drew. Daaaamn. That was the summer that really messed up Michael’s head. All these elements add up to make Garrett incredibly suspicious of what’s about to come next.
At the Satanist ritual, Amy hangs by her torso from a rope, as Damon tells her the “teacher” will arrive shortly. They’re all geared up to finish, to summon up the demon for which they hope to dearly. “We‘re just gonna need some of your blood,” says Damon.
Amongst everything evil going down, Drew and Blair get a little closer, talking about their respective experiences. I love this little plot between them because they were semi-romantic, and yet they still are, despite any biological gender Drew might inhabit. I’d love to see them come together further because regardless of any orientation, there’s an obvious connection happening.
Another brief flash back to ’82 makes me wonder exactly what Boyd Heelan is holding onto. I can’t tell if he’s complicit in anything, or if he’s a decent local cop who’s unaware of the depth of all the events surrounding Camp Stillwater.
In the cave with the Satanists, Amy is graced with the presence of their teacher finally come to claim his prize.
Drew: “Far as ways to go, death by Satanists is pretty punk rock.”
During ’82, Garrett is drawn into a trap while playing Capture the Flag. Instead of them getting the upper hand Garrett distracts them long enough for Jessie to sneak the blue flag away and back to win the game. “You did it, Braces – you won,” Garrett cheers her on.
This time, in ’89, Garrett has a team behind him again. Except he’s by himself when he comes upon the cave. Within it he finds the horrifying ritual underway, a now conscious Amy screaming for help. Damon and Garrett, those old buddies, they’re confronting one another for the first time in so long. Damon tries to sell his one time friend a good load of bullshit about being “powerless” and so on. He’s deluded by the cult.
Then one of the craziest things yet occurs – the cult members all slit their own throats, mixing their blood with that of Amy’s. Speaking of her, she slips from the rope and falls into the pools of blood and water below, disappearing in its depths. Garrett dives down to save her. Until something deep down comes up to grab her; a scaly, creepy hand. It lets go after Jessie turns up in the cave to pull the rope for Garrett. Yay Team Stillwater! Poor Amy, though. She’s left scarred emotionally and physically. Safe for the time being.
As is the Sheriff – could he be the teacher? I’m really beginning to wonder.
Back at camp, other things are happening. We FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY get a kiss between Drew and Blair. Yes! Lots of good things. Plus, Jessie, Garrett, Alex, Joel, each of them are on the same page together. They all know about Holyoke, the cult, the eeriness of the cave. Yet Garrett is now convinced it’s all just people, no demons or ghosts or anything. Joel especially, he believes otherwise. Also, Garrett’s lying to them and himself about seeing anything unexplained (that fucking hand!).
Ah, the slip up. Boyd mentions Damon taking his own life. He didn’t know that officially. He’s revealed himself as the teacher. Luckily, the younger of the officers is able to draw his gun. Then he discovers what he told Boyd, back in ’82, is why his father was killed; he got too close to Michael’s visions. Boyd claims none of the dead bodies lately were his doing. So, we can be sure Holyoke is about, doing. If you didn’t already know. Heelan wants Garrett to join the cult. When he underestimates Sykes, he takes a few shots to the chest.
In the distance, a wicker-masked cultist lurks, watching. But who’s left? Deb? Who could it be?
Excited for “The Devil Inside” because I feel the show gains steam as the episode wear on. Loving some of what’s happening, digging most. Stay with me, fellow fans.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 6: “The Dharma Bums”
Directed by Michael Schultz
Written by Richard Hatem
* For a review of the previous episode, “How to Stay Alive in the Woods” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Townie” – click here
At Camp Stillwater in 1970, a young Deb and a young man named Keith obsessed with Jack Kerouac are out in the woods burying a book by the author, so that if they ever need to remember they can just dig up their greatest summer. The episode’s title comes from the Kerouac book, The Dharma Bums.
Back to their present – 1989. Cricket (Amber Coney) is dead, her things are being cleared out. A grown up Deb (Elizabeth Mitchell) counsels everybody, allowing them to call anybody they need to, whatever’s necessary. Poor Cricket’s family is left devastated. As are Amy (Elizabeth Lail), Joel (Eli Goree), Blair (Mark Indelicato), Alex (Ronen Rubinstein), Jessie (Paulina Singer), and Drew (Zelda Williams). But Deb blames herself, for not leaving “the past in the past” and trying to recapture her own glory days.
Then in her cabin, Deb finds Keith (Dylan Neal). He’s turned up after all these years? Something is definitely afoot at Camp Stillwater.
Joel still thinks Holyoke is the culprit responsible for Cricket’s death. The others sceptical, though anything is possible. Blair and Alex look throughan old cellar until they come across an old Ouija board. There’s talk of Santería, Blair’s abuelita was into the whole thing. They all agree to meet back there later to try talking to Cricket beyond the grave.
With Deb, she’s not particularly interested in having Keith around. Although it’s what drove her back to Stillwater that part of her life is over. At least that’s what she feels in the moment.
We flash back to Deb at a Children’s Defence League table outside a building. She reads poetry by Keith, asked by a friend about him. Deb gets a little sass from a lawyer, before being hit on. We see that she’s very passionate, in many ways. Another flashback later, Deb is in a big office, and the lawyer that sassed her is now her man. She went from hippy to big shot lawyer, married to another lawyer.
Finally we’re back to Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza). He’s asking his mother (Janet Kidder) about what his father may have been investigating out at the cabin in the woods. In the cuff link Garrett found, there’s a tiny piece of paper with a file number on it. Something that likely got him killed. After Garrett starts looking he comes across the file. It’s filled with creepy drawings, and an ominous note left by his father to warn anybody that might be following “the trail” like he once did.
Blair gets a bunch of things together – like ginger, chicken blood. Y’know. Santería-type shit. When Deb shows up, he gets a bit pissed. He throws everything in her face, figuratively, and runs off. So we get another look at the old Deb, or the new Deb that came after the old one. She and Keith run into one another. He’s having a rough time financially. Being a poet isn’t proving much for the wallet. Keith wants them to run off and dig up their time capsule. Or really, he just wants to sleep with her. The conflict is clear in her. Perhaps why seeing him again at the camp in ’89 is more thrilling. Yet she’s still conflicted: “I don‘t deserve to be this happy,” she tells him while they dance next to the fire together.
In their cabin, Blair starts the Santería ceremony – he sets out three candles, brings out a white rose, then begins a recitation involving the chicken blood. “Don‘t do this,” Joel begs him quietly. But the boy is determined to contact his friend Cricket in the afterlife.
When nobody feels it’s working, the Ouija board rocks, the fire lights up. And something makes its way inside Amy, possessing her, nearly cracking her back in half. Through Amy, the voice of Cricket speaks to them. Blair weeps for answers. All they get is a cryptic message, someone coming for her. Then it’s Holyoke, possessing Amy to try and kill some more. Blair manages to quell the magic. However, Jessie gets a bit possessed, too. Her hand unwillingly scribbles an eerie Satanic drawing before the pen whips from her fingers, pinning it to the wall. Awesomely creepy stuff. A little while later they all try to figure out what to do next. Joel is optimistic that at least they’ve got a better idea of what’s going on, but there’s still plenty they don’t know.
Deb’s busy getting down in the woods with Keith. They’ve had quite a good reunion. Of course he’s ready to up and take off, which doesn’t feel too good after their romantic night. He basically disappears into the woods.
Simultaneously, Jessie goes to Sykes. He reveals what he’s found so far, about Holyoke, Satanic rituals, all that nasty stuff. He thinks he’s an idiot, that none of it is really happening. Once she hands over the drawing from their seance, this only helps compound all those weird things Garrett’s uncovered so far. When he puts the drawing over the map, there’s a suggestion of where the cult may be operating.
Worse is our flashback to Deb, going up to meet Keith. That’s where she finds him on the floor, drugs in his arm. Next to him a map of where they buried their capsule, the Kerouac book.
It’s now we finally understand that Keith is a ghost, an apparition. He’s there to remind her: “You have to stay here for them.” She wants to go with him, into the darkness of death. The ghost of her old lover reminds her that he’s always there for her. Although he warns of “dark things” on their way, coloured with a slight optimism that she may be able to help the kids under her care now. Another flashback shows us that Keith’s ashes were poured on the grounds of Camp Stillwater. So are there more ghosts to come? And what about Cricket, Blotter, will they turn up somewhere eventually?
In ’89, Deb has decided to take initiative. She admits her own faults, as well as the fact that talking to ghosts isn’t the best way; something she and Blair now fully understand. Deb uses the idea of the time capsule to preserve their memories of Cricket, everybody placing an object in the old box where once Deb and Keith kept their own memories. It’s a beautiful, highly emotional scene. One that also sees Blair and Drew get a bit closer in a sweet way. But everyone gets a chance to try moving on.
Elsewhere in the woods, Sykes and Jessie find a box with an unmentionable item inside. Furthermore, Garrett notices the points of the pentagram with the skull in it from Jessie’s drawing have numbers on it, each corresponding to where Cricket was found, Dave, et cetera. This leads them to the next number where they find a hole seeping blood.
Funny enough, the weird biker Satanists are watching, and even they don’t know who moved their bloody little treats. In another hole, a masked cult member buries what looks like Blotter’s head, or could be any head. The madness is getting madder.
Plus, there’s the next number on the pentagram. Who will meet death next?
A pretty intense, fun episode. I like the Deb storyline, as it sorts of amps up the ghostly aspects of Camp Stillwater more. Excited for the next episode titled “Townie” because I bet, by the name, we’ll get more on Sykes, and hopefully on his father’s connection to the investigation into Holyoke and the Satanist cult.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 5: “How to Stay Alive in the Woods”
Directed by Norman Buckley
Written by Erin Maher & Kay Reindl
* For a review of the previous episode, “Modern Love” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Dharma Bums” – click here
We open on a young Joel (grown up version played by Eli Goree) and his older brother. Of course Joel has the camera out, but his brother’s more concerned with looking fresh for the ladies, as one would. They’re quite different, though the older one looks out for his brother. Through their window a strange noise comes. Does he know more about Camp Stillwater than he lets on?
Well, out at camp in ’89, Joel and the others are together. Everybody’s wondering where he go to with camp supervisor Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell). For his part, Alex (Ronen Rubinstein) thinks they hooked up. Once they start talking about hookups, everyone realises nobody wants to talk any further.
So the counsellors are all out with the kids, hiking in the woods and getting ready to do some camping. Just so happens there’s a “blood moon” coming out tonight, too. Cricket (Amber Coney) leads the little campers, as Jessie (Paulina Singer), Amy (Elizabeth Lail), Drew (Zelda Williams), Blair (Mark Indelicato) and the rest follow along. Despite any of their faults the group seem pretty damn good with the kids. When little Francie (Lia Frankland) has her asthma act up, Jessie and Joel help her calm down.
Out of nowhere, The Tall Man (Tony Todd) appears. Amy’s face runs with blood, an open wound in her head. Joel tries to catch it on camera then realises there’s nothing there. Amy’s fine, no Tall Man. Ahhhh, damn.
Another flashback to Joel’s younger days, watching everybody get ready for prom. Only his older brother Michael isn’t ready yet, still upstairs. When Joel goes to find him he discovers his brother dead in the bathroom; a suicide. An awful, terrifying moment in this boy’s life. Further than that it is probably the most hardcore scene so far on Dead of Summer. Surely this event left a mark on young Joel, forever scarring him.
In ’89, Joel is helping “pitch Deb‘s tent” and the others are out doing their thing, hanging with the kids, so on. Meanwhile, Jessie is still bitching at Amy for supposedly digging Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza). Amy doesn’t remember kissing him, though Jessie seems to believe she saw it. A vision, or reality? This isn’t the only confusion going around. We come to wonder: is Joel imagining more than we’ve seen? Has he hallucinated having sex with Deb? When he semi brings it up, she doesn’t act like she remembers. So many strange things happening.
When flashing back to his own prom, Joel starts seeing The Tall Man, just like his brother did. I only hope the end to his story does not finish like that of Michael.
While out in the woods, Cricket saves Alex from stepping into a bear trap. She also has paranoid thoughts about everything going on at camp. She knows there are odd, possibly evil things going on around there. One thing I love is that she has a shirt that says DREAMER on it; coincidence, as she’s had creepy dreams about the camp. More worried about Joel, though. He sees The Tall Man frequently. And then the apparition tells him ominously: “Kill Amy tonight, or someone else will die.”
Blair feels bad for what happened in the previous episode between him and Drew. Although there’s no resolution quite yet. Then there’s the fact Joel is hearing The Tall Man constantly over his shoulder, commanding him to kill Amy. How long until it all breaks, or Joel breaks? Zipping back to Joel’s prom, we see that he essentially inherited the same madness which plagued his brother, leading him to suicide. Such a tragic plot. I never expected Joel’s backstory to turn out this way. Especially seeing as how he’s hallucinating much more than The Tall Man. He’s making up whole events in his mind, only serving to drive him farther into the darkness of his mind. When he checks the tapes he made, nothing he remembers is how it once seemed. Catching Deb in the window with her shirt off now shows her reacting like most would, shutting the blinds, and Joel has to question everything he’s seen up to now.
While everyone else is having fun, roasting marshmallows and relaxing around the fire, Joel keeps hearing The Tall Man in his head. Requiring a sacrifice. Strangely enough, as we flash back to Joel’s prom, we see a large blood moon-like prop behind the DJ playing the music. Just like the blood moon out during their night at camp.
Deputy Sykes ends up at the eerie old cabin, the one where we’d first seen The Tall Man in the premiere. Jessie winds up there, as well. He explains the story of the man, Holyoke, and how he was a spiritualist leader of some sort; a cult. Garett believes there are Holyoke followers still lurking around Stillwater. Oh, how right he is. In the cabin Jessie comes across a door in the floor containing an old doll, a cuff link belonging to Garrett’s own father, as well as a recording of Holyoke.
As Joel heads to try and help the little asthmatic girl, Sykes and Jessie listen to Holyoke’s recording; he urges his followers to take the “potion” and to relieve themselves of the world. Ah, good ole suicide cult. Plays more into Michael, what he did. But will it play into Joel’s next chapter? Back at prom, he beat a guy to a pulp thinking it was Holyoke when it was just another student. In the woods at camp, he finds himself alone in the woods with Amy despite trying to keep away. She sees the fabric of his reality slipping, as Holyoke, unseen, commands for Joel to kill her. Before the poor guy puts a knife to his wrists she helps stop his delusions.
Joel lets Drew, Amy, and Blair into his life. He tells them about his brother’s suicide, the apparitions, and admits to having the same “sickness” now. His worry is that he’ll turn out just like Michael: “I need help,” he asks, as they all support him. Everything starts coming together when Jessie comes back with a picture of Holyoke. There’s still scepticism on some parts. But Amy definitely knows there’s a dark presence there. When the little Russian boy tells the counsellors he’s also seen Holyoke, everybody finds their summer getting a lot scarier.
Amy: “This place, it feeds on our weaknesses.”
In the woods Alex waits for Cricket. Problem is, she gets thrown onto a bear trap in the dark by one of the masked cultists. Dead and gone. I loved her. So sad. And she was only heading out for a bit of young love.
What a good episode! Loved this one. Tragic, creepy. Even some veritable nastiness at the beginning. Can’t wait for the next episode – “The Dharma Bums” – another chapter moving us closer
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 4: “Modern Love”
Directed by Tara Nicole Weyr
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
* For a review of the previous episode, “Mix Tape” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “How to Stave Alive in the Woods” – click here
After the terrifying events of the previous episode, we open on Chicago in 1978. A little girl named Andrea draws a picture of herself. As a boy. When her mother reinforces the gender obvious to her, Andrea replies: “I am a boy.” This is most certainly Drew Reeves (Zelda Williams) as a young girl. Before Andrea became Andrew. “You can‘t hide what you are,” her mother tells her. In Summer of ’89, Drew does his best to conceal the gender given to him at birth.
Jessie (Paulina Singer) acts like a bitch, as usual, questioning Drew why he doesn’t shower where everyone else does. But quickly that gives way to normal, everyday stuff. Alex (Ronen Rubinstein) acts like a dick, too. Cricket (Amber Coney) brings the mail around, Joel (Eli Goree) reels of movie references (Friday the 13th Part VI this time), and so on. Everyone is concerned about Amy (Elizabeth Lail) seeing as how she was hit by lightning. Just like Jason Voorhees. Then up shows Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell) to assure everyone the girl is fine.
At the diner, Deputy Garret Sykes (Alberto Frezza) tries his best to take care of the post-lightning strike Amy, bringing her chocolate shakes and trying to make sense of everything. She talks about seeing a face in the water, in the redness, that looks just like the stag’s skull on the map Sykes is carrying around obsessing over. He, of course, doesn’t reveal that he is much more interested in all the occult stuff floating around than he lets on. Probably just to try keeping Amy from freaking out.
Drew sees a creepy vision of a little girl holding a red balloon. He slips into the water, soaked to the bone. He gets a towel from Jessie, who knows Drew is Andrea. Though he has a secret on her, as well. But there’s a rivalry now. One that’s definitely going to get worse. There’s plenty other madness happening. Cricket starts to worry more about her supposed dreams of the masked people; she finds out from Joel that Camp Stillwater has a bit of history with those types of things, the fact Deb has one in her closet. Everybody’s got something darker plaguing them. Mostly, poor Drew finds himself flashing back to being forced to be a girl by his mother, not wanting to try on dresses and lamenting the boys allowed to be themselves. In a dressing room Andrea, still young, receives her first period. “This isn‘t supposed to happen to me, I‘m a boy,” she pleads with her terribly reluctant mother. In ’89, Drew can’t stop seeing the girl and the red balloon. Everywhere.
The whole crew is beginning to question their collective sanity. Amy talks a bit about the history of the land, though she gets shut up quickly. Until a kid runs out with Cricket’s boots from the lake. More to make Cricket wonder.
Flashbacks let us in on Drew going to therapy with his mother. She continually tells her “My name is Drew” and only wants her acceptance. “As long as you‘re in my house you will be Andrea,” her mother replies. A divide that may never, ever close, a wound that likely won’t ever heal.
Alex decides to use Joel’s camera to figure out more about Deb. They find the videos he takes of her. They also notice the box she seems to hold so tight. After Joel comes back he isn’t happy. However, when they let him on her suspicious behaviour he only becomes more divided from the group. As usual, a typical slasher-style trope has the group dividing. Meanwhile, Drew and Blair (Mark Indelicato) talk together. He gives Drew a tape of David Bowie, as well as talks about meeting a friend at camp who just immediately got him, his sexuality, his choices – Cricket. The Bowie tape helped him come out and gave him confidence. Now he tries to give that Drew, too. I love Blair. He’s an awesome dude. I hope that the devil worshipping cult doesn’t kill him.
Furthermore, Jessie is blackmailing Drew by taking video of him showering. Nasty.
We flashback once more to Andrea, forced into wearing the clothes she’s mean to, as designated by her gender. Alone in his room Drew wears the clothes in which he feels comfortable, then sneaks out of the house to live a little. Heading for a Sonic Youth show it seems.
Cricket and Alex are going to Deb’s cabin. They find the closet and the box, but speak of the devil, Deb comes back and interrupts things. Then Joel arrives, as the other two hide. He’s there to see the box, after which he and Deb leave. Damn. The mystery is thick.
Leaving camp, Drew finds Jessie coming to catch him. She reveals there was never any tape. Likewise, Drew says he was never going to tell anyone about Jessie and her court dates. They actually have a human conversation. About being scared, about “trusting the wrong people” and other things. Jessie does the right thing and tries talking Drew into coming back. A nice moment that makes Jessie a lot less shitty than she seems initially. The typically pretty, stuck up girl who acts like she hates everyone just to hide how she feels about herself.
The possibility of a demon being awakened is real. This is Deputy Sykes’ thought. Although he’s more concerned with tracking down the crazies making the attempts to do so. And we can’t forget there’s at least a bit of craziness in Deb. She brings Joel to the forest and takes a book from the box she keeps. You can tell there’s a sinister element lurking beneath the surface. For the time being they embrace in the night, out in their secret little place.
At the masquerade dance, Drew kisses Blair. They share a passionate moment, as Drew takes charge for once in his life. Then we get another flashback to Drew dealing with his mother. She’s willing to accept everything. “I saw you, Drew,” her mother agrees in an emotional moment of acceptance. So emotional it almost cripples Drew at the start. Wow. That absolutely killed me. Such a great moment to cut back and forth with the kiss at the masquerade. And so while they share their passion, as do Joel and Deb privately share themselves. Love is in the air. Or steamy sex, I don’t know.
Amy’s not getting any loving tonight. She and Sykes are both on their own in the forest respectively. He’s got the most trouble, as he sees Amy wander out to the lake where she holds the hand of a horrible monster from under the water. Now, she gets herself a bit of loving, too. Some presence came over her. She doesn’t even remember the past few moments. Eerie.
When Drew takes a moment, not wanting to reveal himself quite yet to Blair, he finds a ton of red balloons piling up in the bathroom. This is also cut with a flashback to Drew finding out his mom isn’t so accepting after all. She’s left a picture of the daughter of long ago, Andrea, and her red balloon. With a note saying see you later. Mom can accept, but can’t accept. And this continues to torture Drew. He goes to Blair revealing he – Andrea – was the one to give him the tape years ago. Yet even Blair doesn’t quite accept it all. That’s a fucking heart breaker right there. By the fire Jessie consoles her new friend Drew and they find solace, if only for a moment.
This was a nice episode. Held back on the horror to provide us more with character development. There was a bit of psychological horror, as well. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s It. Next episode’s title is “How to Stay Alive in the Woods” and I’m looking forward to a dose of blood. We need it. Still, a great episode that worked wonders for me. The character of Drew is beyond fascinating. Zelda Williams does so well with the role. Give me more!
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 3: “Mix Tape”
Directed by Mick Garris
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
* For a review of the previous episode, “Barney Rubble Eyes” – click hereclick here
* For a review of the next episode, “Modern Love” – click here
So the episode name’s been changed to “Mix Tape” and that’s fine because instead of sticking to song names, this one sort of encompasses the idea of being born in 1980s, or having lived through it. I was an ’80s baby, but obviously grew up in the era of mixtapes. I know the pain (and pleasure) of recording one tape to another, messing with the PLAY and RECORD buttons, all that. Nice slice of nostalgia we all love.
This episode opens on Carolina “Cricket” Diaz (Amber Coney) after stepping out of the camp showers. It’s a typical eerie slasher scene. Including flickering lights, darkened halls, a bit of piano music in the background. And of course Cricket heads out into the dark to get back to the cabins, putting her in harm’s way. Luckily for her she gets away with no incident. Only in the forest surrounding her lurk people in strange masks, almost occult-like or pagan masks. Something else lurks about Camp Stillwater.
Being set near the end of the ’80s, Satanic Panic is in full swing. We get a look at Cricket’s home life before camp, as her mother worries about the whole issue (or non-issue, as it turns out). The Diaz family are loving. While Cricket worries about her weight, her father Hector (Alex Fernandez) tells her that she’s “special” and it doesn’t matter that she isn’t exactly like women on television. At camp, Blair Ramos (Mark Indelicato) catches Cricket writing those nasty things about herself on the wall. What’s her endgame there?
Everyone else is doing their thing with camp in full swing. Alex Powell (Ronen Rubinstein) is dealing with the fallout of Blotter getting dosed – Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail) isn’t exactly convinced of Alex’s innocence. Of course Jessie Tyler (Paulina Singer) is being her usual asshole self while Drew Reeves (Zelda Williams) continues to glide under the radar, mostly.
We get a look at Cricket and Blair in high school, before camp. The title of the episode comes from Blair telling her she wants something more than sex, she wants something “mix tape” – romantic and all that. Now we know, Carolina only wants to get laid. Back at camp, she finds a note that neither she nor Blair wrote on the wall.
A great moment of editing and writing collide here. When Cricket wonders who else could’ve written on the wall, the scene switches to Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza) looking at a picture of The Tall Man (Tony Todd). Perfect.
When Cricket goes out to where the note suggested, she finds a fire blazing. Around it in the darkness stand those people in the pagan masks. A chase ensues. Then Cricket wakes up. Nice play! That next morning, Carolina is distracted and off in another world. She tells Amy and Jessie about the masks, the fire, all the strangeness of that dream. There’s a lot of paranoia already floating around. Excellent ingredient for any slasher horror, or horror mystery, however you want to categorise the show.
In high school, we see more of Cricket. A guy approaches her at a party and the slightest bit of attention leads her into the house with him.
Back to Stillwater. Deputy Sykes is out at the old cabin, the one where we initially saw The Tall Man at the series start, he looks at the piano. He finds a strange key that doesn’t make any noise, one marked with the same Satanic-like symbol as The Tall Man’s book in his picture. Hmm, interesting. All the while the pagan masked people watch Sykes.
Out to meet her admirer, Cricket comes across Damon (Andrew J. West) the drug dealer. Sykes interrupts this little moment, of course. But mostly Cricket seems disappointed to have not found Alex. Back to high school, Cricket sees the aftermath of having gone with that guy into the house, as he totally blows her off, laughing at her in the hallway. When we cut to camp, Blair is still trying to help his friend. Cricket is still plagued by having issues with her body, wanting to be a slut simply because that’s the high school marker of popularity.
In other news, Joel Goodson (Eli Goree) is trying hard to continue the burgeoning relationship with Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell), the camp’s head honcho. He even drops a Harold and Maude reference, talks about Five Easy Pieces. Some admirable references, I must say.
The danger is gradually coming towards Cricket. She thinks Alex is after her, but he’s more interested in Amy, who in turn is not interested in him. However, a lie concocted by Jessie and perpetuated by Cricket gets them all out on the town, in the bar, away from Amy. When Cricket realises things with Alex aren’t going anywhere, she gets into a bit of uncharted territory. She wants to make him jealous, but the way through being Damon doesn’t exactly make anything less dangerous.
Joel is busy splicing reels together for their big film night, as Amy hangs out and they chat about reality, Time Bandits, all kinds of things. We find out, more than we already knew, that Amy is “super zen” – how Joel puts it. She doesn’t care about meeting guys. She wants to make friends and enjoy herself at camp. Meanwhile, we zip back to high school where Cricket is still struggling, hard, with boys and body image. When she goes home after school Cricket finds her father having just hopped out of bed with a younger, more thin woman than her mother. Yeah, because that’s going to help her issues. Poor girl.
Cut back to camp – Damon takes Cricket for a ride. She figures out he wrote the note in the cabin and even punches him in the face. “Every camp has a whore,” Damon says in front of the whole group. Alex takes a swing at the guy, knocks him around pretty good. Fairly eventful.
At the same time as Alex and Cricket head back to the cabin together, Drew locks lips with Blair. Yowzahs. Everybody’s making out now with Alex and Cricket following suit. Bitter irony: as they fall on the floor, likely about to have sex, she finds Blotter’s mix tape that he made her. What a juxtaposition that is to see. Back in high school, Carolina tells her mother about seeing her father with another woman. Seems that mom knows. She doesn’t want to rock the boat and this really bothers her daughter. “Women like us, sometimes we have to settle,” her mother says in a sad, tragic moment. But at camp, this memory propels Cricket away from the mistake she’s about to make with Alex. She and Blair meet up later and now she’s finally realised he was right about wanting the mix tape-type love.
Simultaneously, Jessie and Sykes – Braces and Townie – are rekindling their old romance. However, Sykes stops short of embracing her. Is he now interested truly in Amy? Or just not interested in Jessie? We’ll see.
Around the woods still waits the pagan masked cult. They’ve even got Cricket’s shoes, the ones she thought were lost, the ones that were in the mud in her supposed dream. When the shoes get dumped in the lake, we also get a look at Blotter’s cut off hand still holding a baby bottle full of juice. Nasty, nasty business.
The next day Amy tries building a bridge between her and Jessie. She knows Jessie’s grandmother didn’t die, as the concocted story went earlier, but does so with a tongue firmly in cheek, trying to make Jessie feel bad as possible. In other news Sykes is tracking down more information relating to The Tall Man, Camp Stillwater, and whatever madness has been linked to their joint history. He finds a soldier’s journal from 1871 talking about Holyoke, some kind of occult leader, as well as all kinds of further craziness. We understand now that The Tall Man is known as Holyoke. Though his boss doesn’t believe any of it, Sykes is stuck. Will he uncover more truths long buried?
There’s still mystery circling around Ms. Mitchell, too. The box she keeps at her cabin is shrouded in dark, purposefully kept secret. She places it in a closet. Inside, there’s also a pagan mask. Much like the one worn by those people creeping around the camp grounds. Oh, Ms. Mitchell; what treasures you hold! Then we also see Damon slipping into one of those masks, a couple friends along with him. All the while things from that soldier’s diary repeat – the deer eviscerated, the cult. Things are getting incredibly dark.
With a bit of Jane’s Addiction playing in the background, Cricket puts on her nice bikini and hits the beach for a bit of volleyball. Her body almost knocks Alex flat. But the real good stuff is happening with Damon, those masked people, as they conduct a ritual. They even brought along The Tall Man’s skull – ahh, now we understand what he wanted with those bones. The skull, a deer’s heart, and the promise: “Her blood will bring yours.”
And when Amy goes into the lake to retrieve an errant volleyball, she witnesses the water boil with blood. A horrific image appears to her – a stag’s head. The sky above gets dark suddenly and everyone starts running inside. Amy gets struck by lightning and floats face first in the water. At the shore, Damon and his cult buddies realise it isn’t Cricket they needed; it’s Amy.
Very cool episode. Everything’s not perfect, but it is exciting, dark, and has a lot of interest going on with various characters. Some people and reviews claim the characters are thin and underdeveloped. I don’t know what show they’re watching.
Stick with me. “Modern Love” is up next. I can’t wait to see what more macabre delights this series has in store.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 1: “Patience”
Directed by Adam Horowitz
Written by Ian B. Goldberg, Adam Horowitz & Edward Kitsis
* For a review of the next episode, “Barney Rubble Eyes” – click here
I’ve anticipated this one. Good or bad, I’m rolling with the reviews for this season.
Our first episode opens in Stillwater, Wisconsin during 1871. The Tall Man (Tony Todd) plays a piano in candlelight, as a bunch of men come for him. They tie him. At the same time, there are flashes, visions of dead bodies floating in the water.
With that we’re transported to the summer of 1989, three days before Camp Stillwater opens up. There’s a camp reunion of people going back, though Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail) is a newcomer. The rest of the gang seem to know one another, from camcorder-wielding Joel Goodson (Eli Goree) to Blair Ramos (Mark Indelicato) and more. They’re all fairly welcoming. Although we can already see the archetypal slasher horror characters set up. That’s not a bad thing considering the writers are going for that type of atmosphere. I dig it. Later when everybody gathers with the head honcho at camp, Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell), another straggler appears – Drew Reeves (Zelda Williams). There’s a nice ’80s feel to everything so far, as well, and best part is that I don’t feel it’s forced. They don’t overdo it.
We know the place closed down in ’84. That’s our first clue to something having happened there. I wonder what the eerie secret is?
Well we’ve got the new girl in town, Amy, so that’s a nice setup. She has to navigate high school and being new around the place, which is of course not always easy. At camp, she has a bit more of a safer place to be herself, as Deb preaches to them. Maybe she’ll be able to open up and have some fun instead of being judged constantly. Around the campfire they all start to immediately talk about creepy stories, so much so it gets a bit too real. We get the obligatory jump scare from one of the crew sneaking around in the dark. Further than that we get more of Amy. In the woods, she comes across Dave (Darren Moore) the gardener, who prophetically tells her that she needs to leave: “You don‘t know what this place is,” he bellows.
The next morning things get going, from camp activities to recounting giving handjobs at the age of thirteen; ahhhh, camp! A semi-sexual moment happens when Joel is filming with his camera and catches Deb in her window, only a bra on – she doesn’t close the window, smiling slightly, as Joel wonders what the hell’s going on. Yowzahs. This summer is definitely going to get wild.
When a couple of the girls find a gutted deer in the nearby woods everybody’s a little disturbed. Amy tells Deb about Dave’s scary warning the previous night. We’re cooking with gas now. Already the paranoid suspicions typical of the sub-genre have begun.
Flash to Amy back at school when first arriving. We get more of her personality. She isn’t the type to get roped into anything bad. But there’s always something sinister lurking, at high school or at camp. Back at Stillwater, they’re all doing some nighttime swimming. There’s a brief moment where we see a bit of Carolina Diaz (Amber Coney), how she doesn’t want to take her shirt off and go in a bra; will that lead to some character development? Either way, when Amy finally goes in her luck ends up with a discovery of a dead body: Dave.
Cops arrive at the camp. Deb doesn’t seem too put off, though is clearly concerned with the camp counsellors. Nobody’s overly beat up about Dave’s death. That night when Amy goes to get some water she runs into an off-duty Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza) who wants to have a better look at things in Dave’s old cabin. He walks Amy back to camp. He endears himself to her, talking about his “first everything” and so on. Could this guy have sinister intentions? You’ll never be sure. For now, he seems perfectly on the level. Yet even the very earth and the trees itself seem to drip with evil.
Amy and Garrett go into the gardener’s cabin – stupidly, a police officer brings someone in there, in the dark at that. Nevertheless, these are tropes of the sub-genre. And they do find some goodies – fermenting appendages, a skull, strange old photos including one of the Tall Man from a little over a century ago. Either Dave was up to some strange shit or somebody’s planted it to look like he was a Satanist, or something eerie. Then a fire breaks out, nearly trapping the pair. Amy gets out, managing to chop out some boards from the side of the cabin to get Garrett out. A-ha. There’s definitely SOMEONE pulling greasy tricks behind the scenes. The supposed claim is that the fire was electrical. Garrett knows better than that. Even better he managed to slip an old map out; it points to the centre of a beast-like shape where the camp is located. Back at the other cabins, everybody speculates as to what happened with Dave. And more creepy little moments happen – Drew sees a little girl with a red balloon outside, before she then disappears quickly. Inside, the crew talk about movies from Rosemary’s Baby to the original The Wicker Man. At least before some cattiness goes on, Jessie Tyler (Paulina Singer) leading the way, as usual. Poor Amy, yet again, is tasked with going out into the dark, always on the losing end of the teenage call of NOT IT. Well, she and Alex Powell (Ronen Rubinstein) kiss, anyway. Not sure if that’s a good or bad call. What I enjoy is the cutting between past and present, that helps expand Amy’s character. Right after that we’re shocked when she sees a ghostly presence behind her and Alex. Then she gets sucked into a closet where dead hands grab at her everywhere. A terrifying vision.
The morning after, Amy sits by the lake. She flashes back to her and Margot (Morgan Taylor Campbell), preparing for a party, prior to the latter’s mother freaking out; one of those uptight mothers wanting their child to go to a certain school. They’re sneaking out for a party: “Sometimes you have to do things that scare you,” being their mantra. Back to the lake and Amy is confronted by a faceless, dark shape in the night. It stalks her before she runs into Garrett. Only she can see what’s coming for her, and this automatically puts her at odds with reality. Unfortunate for her. Back to when she and Margot go to the party, Amy drinks, she dances, as her friend feeds her shots. This is a great instance of writing and editing put together, which goes from the party to the lake and back again. On a wharf she finds hands grabbing her; hands that aren’t there. At the party, police officers arrive at the house and Margot panics trying to get out, which results in her tumbling out the window and hitting the ground – the only thing left after Amy tries holding on is the charm bracelet she still wears at camp. This is what drives her psychosis in the present timeline. Garrett helps calm her then they talk a bit more about the Dave case, albeit cryptically. Then more nighttime swimming. Camp goes on, right? Jessie isn’t happy when she sees Amy close to Garrett. And then Guns N’ Roses plays, the titular “Patience” of this episode. Everyone swims, has fun.
Up in her cabin, Deb pulls out a little box from under her bed. She also finds Joel taping her again, except this time she shuts the blinds. Mysterious. We start getting a look behind the mask of all these characters, each and every one of them with their own secrets, their own pasts and mysteries. This begins filling things out for us, even within the first episode, so that hopefully the writing will build off this good stuff. Finally we get a look at Drew, who is actually a woman if anyone wasn’t able to tell. More of a look at Jessie, too, as she reveals herself to be the Braces to Garrett’s Townie. Ah, so that’s why she looked so bitchy.
The end of the episode reveals, through the camcorder, an entity standing in the background while everybody swam earlier – is that The Tall Man? Or someone else equally as ominous?
Let’s find out together. Next episode is titled “Barney Rubble Eyes” and you can expect a recap/review very soon. Digging this first episode. There are silly moments, but I’m almost assuming those are meant to feel typical to the slasher sub-genre. Still, I’m willing to keep giving this a shot. I liked their first episode. Here’s to hoping the writers and directors can keep up the pace, the excitement, all tinged with some blood and horror. Who knows what’ll happen.
Candyman. 1992. Directed & Written by Bernard Rose; based on the story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker.
Starring Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, DeJuan Guy, Marianna Elliott, Ted Raimi, Ria Pavia, Mark Daniels, Lisa Ann Poggi, Adam Philipson, Eric Edwards, Carolyn Lowery, & Barbara Alston. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment/Propaganda Films.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
The idea of a hook hand often has its roots for people in the area of urban legends. So already the infamous, titular Candyman plays on fears. Add to that an excellent basis in the short story “The Forbidden” from Cliver Barker’s Books of Blood. As well as the fact Bernard Rose – proven by his 1988 feature Paperhouse – has a proven ability to give people the creeps.
This 1992 horror film is an amalgamation of different ideas. You can see it as a straight-up slasher horror. Then again, can you? It’s part slasher, part ghost story sub-genre. So there’s a definite crossover of genres here. Some of my favourite movies weave from one genre to the next. Rose expertly crafts a spooky urban legend into a living, breathing work of horror that reaches out of its roots in the past and grabs hold of us. On top of it all, Candyman can be taken as an allegory for urban horror and the white guilt people feel standing on the outside looking in, encountering worse horrors after invading places where they just don’t belong. Or maybe it’s anti-colonialist, set in the sprawl of the urban jungle of the Cabrini-Green housing development of Chicago’s North Side. Either way, Rose takes us to the heart of darkness. He touches on everything from the ghosts of slavery to very real, visceral horror. This is one of my favourites out of the 1990s in terms of horror. I still remember first seeing it, and now when I watch it still scares me. A great ride through fantasy-horror territory, along with a solid dose of human drama to give the terror some actual weight.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and her friend Bernie Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) are students that decide on writing their thesis concerning local urban legends and myths. At the Cabrini-Green housing complex, they investigate the legend of the supposed Candyman (Tony Todd). He is a one-armed man that appears from nowhere if you repeat his name five times at the mirror. What Helen and Bernie decide, not believing in such legends, is to do their thesis on how those legends are actually based around real events, which create these sorts of entities that then dominate a culture.
Only, this legend? May just be true after all. And when Helen finds herself framed for a murder committed by that very same Candyman which she could not bring herself to believe in, the horror of its reality becomes brutally clear to her.
One thing I love about this one is that, at the beginning of the 90s, this movie came out with some real mature horror. The rest of the decade included Scream (though I love it) and other stuff like Urban Legends, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and other similar slashers, which are all filled with pretty young teens. And I’m not saying Virginia Madsen isn’t a beauty. But the fact this story is all centered around adults is something special. Sure, it isn’t innovative for that, it’s not like there aren’t tons of other movies out there in the horror genre involving adults. There’s simply a perfectly timed aspect to Candyman, jammed between the late 90s and those aforementioned titles, and those which came before it in the 80s where slasher movies were often populated with teens being sexualized and promptly murdered after their various debauchery. This is one horror villain whose range exceeds the typical slasher. Not only is he a ghost, an entity of the wretched past, he doesn’t need a stable of teenagers for victims. So it isn’t some schoolyard ghost story, or an urban legend told in the dark around campfires or in the bedrooms of teenage boys and girls during sleepovers. The legend of Candyman moves beyond the realm of childish scares and enters the adult world of nightmares.
While Clive Barker’s original story “The Forbidden” is based in England, the adapted screenplay from Rose moves things to America, specifically to Chicago and the Cabrini-Green housing development. I dig the story, Barker has a knack for all things macabre. However, I also dig the way Rose has transposed the story into an American setting. Because so much of this screenplay deals with the white guilt of Americans over their racist past. In a sense, Madsen’s character Helen embodies the ultimate experience of white guilt. She wants to investigate the supposed Candyman murders, she goes to Cabrini-Green, a place completely out of her element, and she superimposes her perspective over that of the black residents. She wants to shape their story for them, just like all those other white folk that come in wanting a story, wanting something. So through a metaphysical ghost story Helen becomes a real part of the legend, framed for murders committed by this entity, Candyman. Her white guilt has taken her from an outsider’s perspective, to one of a woman whose guilt is palpable and all too real. So now she no longer tells the story, she lives the story. She is the story.
Most of all, Helen’s experience with the Candyman is symbolic of America’s constant, consistent struggle with its racial history. All the horrors of slavery, everything that came out of that period. The story of Candyman’s becoming and the men who terrorized him is a vicious tale, befitting of the post-Civil War era where those memories of slavery still linger, haunting the people, descendants of those who endured amazingly savage experiences fueled by the irrational hate of racism. And it can never be escaped. In the end when Helen tries to do the right thing, or at least the best thing she could at that point, she must purge herself in the fire outside Cabrini-Green. Because it is not her place from the start to interject herself into the black struggle. So she becomes the opposite of what she’d hoped, a woman who kills black people, steals a black baby, all setup by the Candyman. Her white guilt and need to be the white saviour is shockingly derailed, which allows Rose to also give us some wonderful, vividly nasty horror, too.
The gorgeous, dreadful vision of Bernard Rose and Clive Barker collide in 1992’s Candyman, still one of the movies that scares me most. There will always be unsettling aspects to Tony Todd’s villainous persona. But everything down to the writing and execution of the effects, all of it, works as a complete package. Horror and sociology come together to make this ghostly slasher something bigger than the sum of its parts. It isn’t a by-the-numbers sub-genre horror that simply goes through the motions. At times Candyman plays perectly into those expectations, others it subverts the norm we’d usually expect. Regardless, it is a terrifying modern horror that plays on white guilt and repressed racial history. It haunts my nightmares to this day. You can’t ask any more of a scary movie.
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!