Father Gore's 2nd Make a Case looks at the squandered potential in Wes Craven's 1989 SHOCKER.
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW proves Wes Craven was as political as any of his contemporaries while remaining totally horrific
Before Wes Craven passed away, he gave us one last SCREAM. With Kevin Williamson along as screenwriter again, these two leave Ghostface's legacy full of terror.
SCREAM 3 doesn't match up with the other films in the series. Don't count it out, though. Craven still brings the horror, with a dash of depravity & a stellar Neve Campbell performance.
One of the better horror sequels, SCREAM 2 takes aim at the sensationalisation of true crime, media exploitation, and yes, even the horror genre and sequels themselves.
This Deodato flick is not as filled with brutality as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but it doesn't skimp on the vicious murder and desecration of the flesh.
Craven's influential, innovative slasher took horror to a new level in the '90s.
The Girl in the Photographs. 2015. Directed by Nick Simon. Screenplay by Robert Morast, Osgood Perkins, & Simon.
Starring Christy Carlson Romano, Katharine Isabelle, Claudia Lee, Kal Penn, Mitch Pileggi, Kenny Wormald, Eva Bourne, Toby Hemingway, Miranda Rae Mayo, Toby Levins, Autumn Kendrick, Luke Baines, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Oliver Seitz, & Corey Schmitt. Alghanim Entertainment.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
This movie is being touted as something special, simply because it was the last film Wes Craven produced before his passing. But outside of that there isn’t a whole lot to talk about. Even though The Girl in the Photographs has a dark, sleek look with some nice cinematography from the legendary Dean Cundey, along with exceptional music from Nima Fakhrara, ultimately there isn’t anything except style here. The writing is very dull, from a story by director Nick Simon, written by Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony) and first time writer Robert Morast. I enjoy the premise, however, outside of that the screenplay’s really a boring rehash of typical genre fare, which eventually leads us to a disappointing finish.
All the grim beauty in the world can’t save this one. Too bad, as it would’ve been nice to have a final film produced by Craven worth talking about. Instead, his name is attached to this less than mediocre attempt at making something different within the slasher sub-genre of horror. The ending is a nice touch. Just too little too late.
When Colleen (Claudia Lee) starts to receive pictures of savage murder scenes, young women brutally killed. Are they real? Are they elaborately staged scenes?
Either way hipster photographer Peter Hemmings (Kal Penn) is interested. He wants to start staging photographs, much like this fellow artist or possible serial killer. Except by doing so he might just have put himself, and everyone around them, right in the way of the one taking those pictures.
And there’s nothing stopping the murders from slowing down.
So immediately, the fact Dean Cundey is the cinematographer on this movie really attracted me. Because you’ve got a guy who’s done everything from classics such as John Carpenter’s Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, and then there’s his work on lesser, underrated pictures like The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Without Warning, Halloween II & Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Psycho II, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, plus a ton of others like Jurassic Park and Apollo 13, and more. So naturally, if you know his work, you’ll know Cundey has a lot of talent. His eye for horror particularly is incredible. There are some beautiful bits of Steadicam in here, tracking shots that make scenes stand out from the rest of the film. One of the biggest reasons I liked anything about The Girl in the Photographs is due to Cundey and the look he brings to the picture. Everything is beautifully captured, yet even the enormous talent of a cinematographer such as Cundey cannot fully carry a movie into worthy territory.
In addition to the film’s look, its overall atmosphere is definitely aided by an eerie score from Nima Fakhrara. There were scenes where it actually surprised me, catching me completely off guard, and it weighs down the scene with a real ominous, foreboding air. There was a typical feeling at times that takes you back to the usual style of horror score, but still Fakhrara subverts the horror movie score and gives us an enjoyable bunch of music to go along with Cundey’s slick look.
Kal Penn is great as Kumar, fairly shit in all other regards, though. He tries, but there’s something about his acting that falls flat. Especially here. The writing isn’t that great to begin with, and then there’s his dialogue. Which, coming from someone else, maybe could’ve been a little better. Penn is meant to be a pretentious-type, a douchebag. Although what comes out is just a dreary and forced performance from him that reeks of trying too hard, giving too little. Outside of him there wasn’t much else in the way of acting that’s bad. Not much good, either.
The screenplay kills everything simply because even the visuals aren’t enough to float the boat. Cundey is awesome, he’s not that awesome. Without anything new or innovative, the visuals are merely nice to look at. So on top of that there’s nothing interesting in the screenplay to lift things any further. What begins as an interesting premise, and ends in a fairly intriguing manner, falls apart in the middle like something only cooked around the edges and not inside. There’s nothing exciting at all about the dialogue, the characters are all flat, one-dimensional people we’re only waiting to watch die. So in many respects it’s the completely typical slasher horror, except it’s nowhere near as good as any of the classics, nor is it anywhere near the other horror movies Cundey’s touched in his career.
I can give this a 2-star rating with a clean conscience. There are a couple eerie scenes, and the masks worn were unsettling. So it’s enough to watch this once, just to say you’ve honoured Craven’s dear memory. After that you’ll likely never put this on again, unless you’re masochistic and want to endure it another time over. It’s not worth it, though. Again, I do dig the ending, and the photograph in the finale is almost otherworldly, it’s scary. But a decent premise and a fun ending does not a solid horror movie make.
Season 1, Episode 3: “Like as fire eateth and burneth wood”
Directed by Craig David Wallace
Written by Aaron Martin
* For a review of the previous episode, “Digging Your Grave With Your Teeth” – click here
* For a review of the following episode, “As Water is Corrupted Unless It Moves” – click here
Moving on into the first Chiller series Slasher, this new episode promises revelation, and more mystery.
This chapter commences on Prom Night, 1968. Some hilarious dialogue concerning music starts us off. On a bridge ahead of a car filled with teenagers, a woman stands by herself; just as in the previous episode’s finale. There’s talk of a girl who doesn’t know “when to close her legs” and one of the teenagers, Ada, seems guilty over being out on prom. Then the girl on the bridge drops the cinder block. It smashes Ava’s face, as the others weep, screaming in terror.
Cut to Brenda Merrit (Wendy Crewson) next to an older Ada, hooked up to machines: “I‘d switch spots with you in a second, Ada.” Plenty more layers to Slasher and its band of characters.Meanwhile, Sarah Bennett (Katie McGrath) worries about her own involvement in the killings, that since she returned to her hometown these murders have started. Husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren) tries hard to reassure her that’s nonsense. At least Sgt. Cam Henry (Steve Byers) is cautious enough to place a police guard outside their house for the time being. The police claims Heather Peterson (Erin Karpluk) killed both Verna McBride and Justin Faysal. Apparently a vendetta against them. Though the media questions things slightly, only Sarah wonders if this isn’t the case.
Over with Ada, we see Brenda bitchily greeted by mutual friend Sonja Edwards (Victoria Snow). They argue over loyalty to their best friend. Sonja claims Brenda’s only look “absolution“, to which the latter replies: “Too bad that hunk of cement didn‘t fall a little more to the left,” as she storms out.
At the gallery, Sarah receives a customer that seems to know her. He’s an eerie fellow. When he spies a portrait of The Executioner she’s been doing things get tense. However, he buys six paintings and this only makes her paranoid, of herself.
Robin Turner (Christopher Jacot) isn’t having a good day. After Justin’s death, there is a bit of trouble on the money end. Trent McBride (Jefferson Brown) has a huge cheque, in the millions, which bounced, and it was written by Justin. The woes begin now, as if they hadn’t already.
So grandma Brenda meets Sonja’s husband in a bar then ends up in just about banging him. Then she says fuck that, lays into him with a couple excellent insults, and leaves him literally with his pants around his ankles.
Worse trouble than blue balls are happening, though. The cop outside Sarah’s is taken by the killer, dragged from his squad car. Not killed, but unconscious. Inside, she gets calls with no one on the other end; over and over. A terrifyingly creepy voice calls her “brave, stupid Sarah” once she threatens to get the officer outside. As if the voice knows. This sets up a very Scream-like encounter, which I dig. There’s more than just this Wes Craven reference. We get a Halloween moment, sort of, inside the closet, as well. Out of nowhere the voice of Cam. It calls to mind Craven again, almost like Billy Loomis. There’s a brief shot of Cam that suggests he has some residual feelings, something going on for Sarah. And could he possibly be the killer? Is that too obvious, considering his father Alan (Rob Stewart) is a priest, Seven Deadly Sins and all? Something to think on.
Both Sarah and Robin bond over their mutual vulnerability in the killings. Even more, Robin reveals what happened on the land where Justin built their home. A family was driven out of their small “shack” and ended up squatting in an apartment somewhere, which led to their deaths after a propane heating malfunction.Sarah’s ready to take off, as is grandma Brenda. But Dylan agrees to stay on with the newspaper. He chooses his career over her, lying that she could sue, that he needs to give two weeks notice. This is not a good thing for them, not very smart on his part. Career or no career, a serial killer is loose and driving his wife out of Waterbury. Worse than anything, Brenda tries to put doubt in Sarah’s head over her husband, suggesting Cam loves her and they’d be a good bet.
Someone puts grandma and granddaughter off the road. But Brenda retaliates wit a piece hidden in her purse. What a bad ass Brenda is, I love that they’ve given this character so much time. No matter her flaws. She’s allowed to be a real, raw character, and it’s not the typical older woman we see in such stories. Brenda also reveals things about Ada, what happened to her. It has to do with Ronnie, from the bar, and how they’d fallen in love. It was Brenda on the bridge that night, the one who tossed the cinder block. Needless to say, Sarah is not impressed with her grandmother, and wishes she’d turn herself in.
Poor Robin. Things get worse for him after Justin’s death, getting stuck with almost $3-million in debt. At the same time, there is a ton of properties for him to sell and make maybe enough money to clear that. Still, as if a husband dying isn’t bad enough, the hit just keep on coming. More than anything Robin wants to know if his husband did anything “underhanded” concerning that old plot of land, belonging to the now dead family. But apparently it was “just business“, as he solemnly phrases it.
Eventually, Sarah and Brenda find themselves separated. And grandma’s found by the killer. She wakes near the water in a boat house. Her ankle bound to a cinder block. Oh, the karmic brutality of slasher horror. The new Executioner arrives, and we’re just waiting to see if Brenda can somehow survive his nasty vengeance. For her part, Brenda taunts him, with the Bible no less: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. You skip over that section?” Then he tosses it in, beginning her slow descent to the bottom of the lake. Her eyes are the only thing left above water, as she drowns to death.
Sarah soon finds her grandma, dead, bobbing slightly out of the water. She’s more and more becoming a Sydney Prescott-type figure, losing everyone around her. Then there’s Cam who consoles her, as his wife June (Jessica Sipos), a paramedic, stands by watching. So many smalltown relationships that expand upon a situation such as Craven had going in Scream. I like how even the Prescott family past has an influence of Aaron Martin’s writing here. Again, not at all robbing Craven of anything. Mostly it is influential through indirect homage, helping to shape this series’ DNA.In a shack with plenty of dead animals, Robin finds Trent. More slasher sub-genre tropes, the creepy hillbilly sort who seems good enough to pin as the killer. But this is merely another red herring, throwing us off along the way. And giving Robin a bit more trouble to deal with throughout his already sad tragedy.
Then there’s Heather Peterson. She gets released by Captain Vaughn (Dean McDermott) and Sgt. Henry, giving off some creepy vibes. There is plenty more to Heather, too. I’m looking forward to more of her character and backstory coming out. There has to be something else to her, other than being “batshit crazy“, as Vaughn describes her.
With the revelations of Brenda, granddaughter Sarah goes to see Sonja. She tells her about what her grandmother said about Ada. She further reveals details of Sonja’s husband being intimate with Brenda, that he could possibly be her “grandfather” – which Sonja vehemently denies. At the same time, Sarah says she’s headed to the police with what her grandmother has said.
Finally, we’re back to Sarah seeing Tom Winston (Patrick Garrow). She wants him to help “catch this bastard” and as usual, oddly, Winston seems to want to help in return. Sarah tells him about the events her grandmother had a part in. He quotes back some Bible and also adds: “Once we let go of our secrets their power over us disappears.” So at least Brenda died clear of conscience, I guess. His concern for Sarah is terribly strange. Why does he care so much? Could he be somehow further connected to her, in some twisty way? He wants to do what he can, always, and doesn’t want to see her hurt, certainly not dead. Why is that? He talks about the Seven Deadly Sins as a sort of opposite of a rainbow, one that forms “darkness“, but that The Executioner is “lost in zealotry.” We cut to Trent in his shack again, as if suggesting him as a suspect. I doubt it’s him, seeing as how Verna was his blood. But who knows? We’ll see. Soon.
Next episode is titled “As Water is Corrupted Unless It Moves” and I loved this one, so I’m looking forward to more intrigue and revelations of the dark, dirty past in Waterbury.
A Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Johnny Depp, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Robert Englund, Joe Unger, & Lin Shaye. New Line Cinema/Media Home Entertainment/Smart Egg Pictures/The Elm Street Venture.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
All those who love horror, truly, are bound to miss Wes Craven. He’s firmly planted amongst the masters of the modern horror genre. His film The Last House on the Left completely rocked and shocked viewers, though, even behind that brutal picture are bigger things than merely a rape-revenge horror. Some people pass over a later effort of his, The People Under the Stairs, yet that attacks everything from racism to Regan.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a different story. Craven completely hit the mark in every way imaginable, both on a subtle level and the more obvious ones. Freddy Krueger became synonymous with nightmares, the bad dreams which shake you from your sleep. Little kids weren’t afraid of a faceless boogeyman anymore after 1984 – from then on, it was Freddy. Because he was different than the other popular slashers, being a totally mind-based killer; he comes for you through dreams, and that means rules change. The unconscious is our most vulnerable place. He gets there, invading the private spaces of our inner mind. It’s a delicate subject when you boil this slasher-horror down to its basic parts. Craven does his best job crafting a masterpiece of horrific dreams on the back of Freddy, along with the appropriately impressive and inventive effects to boot. This is a classic of horror if there ever were one.
We all know the plot. Let’s skip that part this time around.
Part of my love for this movie is the innovation of Craven and his team. Everything from the blood bed to the simplest practical effects. Such care goes into the movie to make it look so excellent.
Love the effect of Freddy pushing through the wall, then Nancy wakes up with the cross knocked off on her, and the wall’s back to normal. Always thought it was creepy, subtle. Then not long afterwards Freddy comes down the alley with those long arms, so surreal and dreamlike. Everything is warped and weird. And it is terrifying. Plus, once we finally get the few looks at his face, all scarred and burned up, it’s hideous.
Freddy’s the pure mercury liquid of nightmares. At first he doesn’t even respond to Nancy when she asks “who are you?”, but simply cuts his chest open to reveal ooze and maggots.
And that’s the most terrifying part about Freddy. He’s a dream, a nightmare figure. He gets you if you fall asleep, which time and time again tests the characters of the film. There’s an unfathomable aspect to Krueger and his entrance through the unconscious mind. Almost as if your fears will literally eat you alive when he’s around. Plus, there’s also the angle of the buried secrets in a tight-knit community. Once the truth of Krueger, who he was and what happened to him comes out, then we start to see what the past does to the present. It invades and infects the next generation. You could make a case that Craven is talking about generational trauma, in a sense. Either way, the fact Freddy worms his way into the minds of the young people on Elm Street is a creepy sort folktale, a modern era Pied Piper leading the kids to their deaths. Sort of the death of youth, bringing adolescence to an end in horrific ways. Freddy is ultra creepy, as he’s already a child murderer, but the injustice portion of things comes into play; questions of morality, and what exactly is justice, so on. You can dive deep into Craven, I’ve been saying that for ages.
Apart from being the big screen debut of Johnny Depp, there are a couple good performances. Heather Langenkamp as Nancy is a perfect choice. She’s likeable, as well as sweet. Yet she’s strong and independent, she wants to track Freddy down, no matter how she has to go about it; whether by force, or by dream. As opposed to the typical “Final Girl”, Nancy is much more than just that. She’s an antagonistic protagonist, if I can mix and match. I say that because she’s able to turn the tables on Freddy and get the upperhand by going at him on his own turf. So, Nancy comes off as a decently strong, resilient female character in a genre with a dearth of those types of characters.
Of course we can’t talk about this Craven masterpiece without mentioning the talent of Robert Englund. Nobody else can ever fill his shoes. Sure, you can remake it. And Jackie Earle Haley is actually a great actor. But certain roles are not meant to be played over and over like in the theatre. In stage acting, nobody is recording you (or at least they never were before these days), and so the performances are not cemented; many people can grace the role. Someone like Freddy Krueger can never be anyone else but Englund. He put the stamp on that role, giving it the performance of a lifetime. His character remains ever creepy, both slightly perverted and terrifyingly mad. The makeup effects involved with him, just his appearance alone, are insane. They remain with you, after years and years. You could be on a desert island for a decade and still remember who Freddy was if they showed you a picture. It’s an iconic piece of horror, of cinematic history itself.
Craven’s Nightmare is a 5-star horror. It defined what a supernatural horror could be without the need for the same old ghosts and spooky things in the dark. Freddy branded himself onto the brain of genre fans forever. Not only that, he marked the world. He’s a phenomenon, still is really. Even kids knew who he was back in the ’80s when they couldn’t see the movies. They just knew. I knew who Freddy was before I’d actually seen the movie myself. So Craven not only gave people a good scare, he contributed to pop culture in a hugely significant way during the ’80s, and then later in the ’90s with Scream. This one always creeps me out, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Never a boring watch, always good for that solid, enjoyable scare I crave.
There are tons and tons of disturbing horror movies out there. I’ve seen plenty of them, but the titles on this list are some of my favourites. Not saying these are the most extreme, the most hardcore, I’m not touting these as the most disturbing horror movies you can watch. Simply, I think these are a good dose of movies running the gamut from thematically disturbing to graphically disturbing, to downright weird.
Without further rambling, here are my picks for a bit of wild horror to throw on this Halloween season, if October really has you feeling like you need to test your limits on film.
For my full review and discussion, click here.
The title says it all.
This is probably the strangest erotic horror-thriller you could ever imagine. Even saying erotic horror seems strange, but god damn if this is not full of both horrific and at times erotic imagery.
You could say this is a character study of two people in a relationship and what the ideas of possession mean for both involved.
To say any more would be to truly give things away. Honestly, go in knowing only a very basic plot – a couple falls apart as the wife seems to be having an extra marital affair, which proves to be something far stranger. Just know that when the horror hits you it is going to smash your face into bits, it may even rock you sexually in the worst kind of way imaginable.
Inside (2007)/ Trouble Every Day (2001)
You can be guaranteed that if Beatrice Dalle is in it, I’ll watch it! So here is an excellent Dalle double feature which you can indulge on Halloween to scare the wits out of you.
First up is the 2007 home invasion horror-thriller Inside, directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo who also directed 2011’s Livid which was on another list I did for this October. This movie is just all out horror and highly female-centric: on Christmas Eve, a pregnant woman alone at home is attacked by a mysterious woman intent on getting inside the house, as well as inside that belly. If you’re pregnant, you may want to avoid this movie honestly, or if you’re super sensitive. Because this horror escalates, from a mild creep to a roaring scare. Be prepared. Also, this whole movie’s drenched in blood and gory bits. Excellently disturbing stuff!
Second comes auteur director Claire Denis’ version of the cannibal film, Trouble Every Day. Starring Vincent Gallo and Beatrice Dalle, this is the story of sexual cannibalism in humans, as opposed to insects; starting with a husband and wife travelling to Paris for their honeymoon, the husband investigating a strange clinic, and ending with bloody horror. Hard to explain any of the ins and outs, I’d rather not ruin it any more than I already have with this explanation. Either way, Denis is a master filmmaker, someone of whom I’m a huge, huge fan, and this is a really gripping, unsettling movie out of her works. You won’t be sorry. This is disturbing, but it does have a great script held up by a couple solid actors like Gallo and Dalle in particular on whose shoulders the movie ultimately rests.
This is a solid double feature, which really shows off Beatrice Dalle’s talents. Also, it touches on two pretty touchy elements of human nature: pregnancy and sexuality.
The Devils (1971)
For a full review, click here.
Maybe this might not be totally considered horror. Honestly, though, if you don’t find Ken Russell’s The Devils horrific I’m not sure how your brain operates.
Both Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave give terrific, agonizing performances in their own right; Redgrave particularly gives a transcendent performance full of religious fervour and Satanic mania.
If you’re going to see this, you need to be able to see it uncut, in its entirety, as even while the most attainable version out there is pretty wild, the uncut version of this Russell masterpiece is unbridled psychosexual horror in its finest.
Just to give you a taste: there’s a scene known as “The Rape of the Christ”. Craziest part is that this whole film, the story and its plot, is partly based on a real story. Need a nice dose of disturbing religious horror? You found it in Russell.
Three… Extremes (2004)
With three short films in one, this entire anthology only runs around 118 minutes, so you’ve got a great triple feature for the price of one!
Starting off with Dumplings, from Fruit Chan, the Asian horror gets churning with the story of an ageless woman who makes her signature dumplings for other women attempting to capture the elusive fountain of youth and its secrets. Hint: there’s something in the dumplings that ought not be there.
Cut by director Chan-wook Park is the tale of, funny enough, a film director and someone with a grudge. With a trap-like setup surpassing the interest factor of anything Saw ever had to offer, this short is sadistic and incredibly intriguing.
Finally, the short titled Box comes via notorious (and awesome) Japanese director Takashi Miike. I’d like to say a little, but would rather not spoil anything. Let’s just say it involves two sisters who were contortionists, they belonged to a carnival of sorts doing a trick involving a box, and then something bad happened at the carnival. No more, or you’ll know too much! Go in knowing only this: Miike is disturbing, if you’ve not seen his other work you should maybe get ready for a tense ride. Though, each of these shorts has their own test, I find something unsettling about Miike’s approach to stories, like he knows something the rest of us don’t.
Great watch if you don’t mind subtitles. It’s a really disturbing film all over, but Dumplings and Box particularly have always stuck in my mind.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)/ Tony (2009)
For my full review of Tony, click here.
For a full review of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, click here.
You’ll always hear about John McNaughton’s 1986 shocker when realistic horror is being discussed – raw and savage, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of the most unflinching portrayals of serial killers on film. With a central performance rivalling some of the best in horror, Michael Rooker embodies the loose, fictionalization of real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas; also included is the recently deceased and wonderful Tom Towles as another loose fictional version of Lucas’ actual partner for a time, Ottis Toole. The very brutal and simplistic style McNaughton uses only serves to unsettle the viewer with such an up close and personal view of the inside of a serial killer’s mind and world.
23 years down the road, after the release of the McNaughton cult classic, filmmaker Gerard Johnson gives us Tony – another film loosely based on a real killer (this time it’s British murderer Dennis Nilsen the Kindly Killer), this 2009 dramatic horror follows the titular character, Tony: on the spectrum, he is quiet, shy, lonely, disaffected and disassociated. However, at home, Tony cuts up the bodies of those he kills, draining their blood down the drains and the toilet, putting body parts and organs into plastic bags which he later casually dumps into the Thames. The reason Tony is so chilling, and why it’s a great double feature with McNaughton’s film, is because the movie takes us right behind the eyes of the central character – the at times sympathetic yet horrible killer – and never once do we make our way out of his perspective. At certain moments, the film is a slow burning character study; at others there’s an ominous sense of terror. Either way, you’ll be surprised as the film goes on just how depraved this quiet man in his council flat is deep down underneath his unassuming exterior.
Put these two films on – one American, one British – you’ll get an interesting look at the two sides of one coin. Dive into the darkness of the murderous mind!
The Last House on the Left (1972)
For a full review, click here.
With the lofty goal of making a horror-thriller version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, itself based on a medieval Swedish ballad, Wes Craven (R.I.P) – at the time a self-professed young and angry man – brought a new style of horror to the screen. There were certainly disturbing movies before 1972, however, Craven effectively brought the ‘rape-revenge film’ to the spotlight with The Last House on the Left.
The first time you see it, something will happen. Regardless whether or not you think Craven’s movie is excellent, mediocre, or not worth the time of day, you cannot deny there is most certainly a lasting impact. After you finish this one, there is a part of you that won’t ever feel the same. I can guarantee you that. Even as, what I’d like to think is, a hardened horror veteran, having seen literally 1,000+ horror movies, there is still consistently something truly disturbing about this one; I own it on Blu ray, though, it doesn’t get played much. Only when I’m looking for a true shock do I throw this on. You may never want to watch it again, but give it one go this Halloween. You may just lock your doors and forget all about the trick or treaters.
For my full review, click here.
You may notice the prevalence of movies based on true stories over the course of this list. And here’s another: based on The Snowtown Murders in Southern Australia, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown focuses mostly on the budding relationship between serial killer John Bunting and one of the sons of a woman he dated at the time of the killings.
A lot of reviews and comments on the internet have stated they find the movie boring, either it’s too slow all around or they feel as if nothing much spectacular happens over the entire course of the film. I just don’t get that. This is a deep character study, once more akin to the earlier Tony/Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and we not only step inside the perspective of a serial killer, we’re bound to the perspective of Jamie – the son of Bunting’s quasi-girlfriend at the time – who did commit horrific acts alongside Bunting in real life. Here, the character of Jamie is mostly seen as sympathetic, both being abused by his half-brother and manipulated by Bunting, and through him the audience is able to both understand and be horrified at Jamie’s new life. Bunting is played amazingly by Daniel Henshall in what is – as far as I know – his first film role specifically; the performance is subtle and extremely unnerving. The whole movie is very involving, if you can forgive it’s at times slow pace. In the end, you’ll be thankful if looking for a disturbing horror, because this is one that really left its mark on me. I’ve forced myself to watch it a couple times and there are scenes in Snowtown burned into my brain; things I don’t necessarily want to see or think about, yet I’m drawn to, as the dark side of reality truly comes out in Kurzel’s film.
Anyone know AnnaLynne McCord? I didn’t, until this wonderfully macabre and disturbing bit of cinema. When I found out who she was, what she normally looks like, I was immediately impressed with her performance in this film – not only does she do a great job in her role, McCord physically transforms into another person. To say anything much would ruin the surprise, the sick, disgusting joy you’ll eventually take out of seeing all the nasty visuals of Excision come alive before your eyes.
Basically, this is the story of a young girl’s becoming – she is turning into a woman, mentally, physically. Yet the bloody beginnings of womanhood translate into something entirely different for this high school girl. She fantasizes about crimson waves, organs, tortured and mutilated male bodies, and so much more.
I’d never seen this movie, yet picked up the Blu ray because I found the description of the film, as well as its cover art, extremely intriguing. There’s not only disturbing horror here, the screenplay is full of sass, wit, and oodles of black comedy. Plus, John Waters, Ray Wise, and Malcolm McDowell all show up, so how is that not awesome? Choose this if you want to shake up your expectations, just make sure your stomach isn’t weak because a few moments in this movie really pushed my limit and that rarely, if ever, happens. Still, I love it and could actually throw this nasty little shocker on any time.
Grimm Love a.k.a Rohtenburg (2006)
For my full review, click here.
Back once more are we to the reality of killers, the depraved and sick, twisted individuals lurking out in the material world, not simply characters banished to the abstract realm of film and television. 2006’s Rohtenburg (English title: Grimm Love) examines, not using the real names, the case of Armin Meiwes who was arrested in 2002 after police discovered he found a man on the internet, a willing participant, to eat; together, they attempted first to eat his penis together, after which Meiwes killed his companion, quartered him up, ate pieces and stored the rest in his deep freeze.
There’s a romantic aspect to the main characters of the film, mirroring the real life pair – even within all the sickness, the cannibalism, each of them and their intensely depressed states, these two men connected on a level most of humanity will never know. Still, no matter their intentions, no matter their feelings after meeting one another, these two men were fatally damaged, eternally flawed. While there aren’t too many graphic bits here, it’s the emotionality and intensity of the plot which makes things disturbing, very real. If you’re able to handle such a wild ride into some of the more twisted aspects of the damaged human psyche, then I suggest Grimm Love as an interesting way to spend an October evening.
Audition (1999)/ Contracted (2013)
I want to preface this double feature by saying evil comes in all shapes and sizes, all forms, all ways.
The first of two evils is Takashi Miike’s Audition; not surprisingly, Miike shows up twice on this list, first in Three… Extremes. This 1999 psychological-horror starts off with a recent widow looking to start dating again, so with the help of a friend in casting he arranges to interview (or ‘audition’) women to become his new partner. However, after meeting the supposed new woman of his dreams, the man comes to discover she is not whom she appears to be at first. Beginning with a vague romance, this Miike film typically devolves into pure madness, controlled, but madness nonetheless. With some of the most unbearable torture in film history, this is not simply “torture porn” (hate that label; read other reviews to find out why). Rather, Miike brings psychological fear to life – from the fear of meeting someone new, to the thought of losing someone you love and having to start life over again – as well as touches the deepest, most visceral nerve possible in each of us.
From the story of a female torturer, we move to Contracted, starting its vicious and horrific descent into psychological/body horror with a cold and ruthless act committed by – this time – a man. People criticized the marketing of this film because it says “one night stand”, when clearly the young female lead is actually date raped at the start. However, unless I’ve not heard all there is in terms of press, I don’t think it’s intended this is meant as a LITERAL one night stand; merely, the tagline says “Not your average one night stand” in a dark, acidic way. Because once you get into this movie, you’ll realize England is trying to make you uncomfortable. Not simply for uncomfortableness sake: there is legitimate horror here. There are bits of David Cronenberg in here, with all the attention paid to the lead character’s body deteriorating after obviously having contracted a virus from the man who date raped her. Even more than that, I think England makes a few highly poignant points about the male mind, in terms of both the man who raped the film’s lead and the man who pines for the lead’s attention. I won’t spoil anything else.
This double feature is bound to leave you shocked, in awe, and maybe not in any kind of good way. Miike’s Audition came before the golden age of online dating, so I imagine it might touch more nerves today than even when it came out 16 years ago. Moreover, Contracted is the Eric England rape metaphor film we never knew horror could produce (the sequel leaves much to be desired) and while it has things to say the most of its power comes from the cripplingly nauseating visuals. If you want a downright unsettling double feature for Halloween or leading up to the special night, this one may be your Holy Grail.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
By now, most anyone who is into slasher horror movies, even in the slightest, has definitely heard of the 1983 classic Sleepaway Camp. Not just that, they’ve definitely heard of, or have seen, the outrageous and terrifying twist finale. I will not spoil anything in the way of its big gem.
What I will say is that this movie is one of those genuine ’80s-era slashers which is deserving of its cult following and infamy. It isn’t perfect, nowhere near that, however, I’m a firm believer this is one of those top notch slashers simply because I NEVER ONCE SAW THIS TWIST COMING! I mean, fuck M. Night even on his best twist endings, this one is the RULER OF ALL TWIST ENDINGS. Sorry, I love Memento, I love The Machinist, The Sixth Sense was a whopper in its day, and there are plenty others… but SleepawayfuckingCamp just rocks all of them out of the water. Say no more. Want a good dose of by-the-lake horror and a finale that will haunt your dreams? You’re welcome.
For my full review, click here.
Lars Von Trier is a name you can say in a room and find a hundred different opinions about from just a couple people: some think he’s trash, others (mostly those who’ve only seen his recent two-part Nymphomaniac) say he’s a pornographer, then there are those of us who think he’s full of unbridled, unadulterated genius. Sure, he doesn’t always hit the mark, but what filmmaker ever has? Not a single one in history has made a full catalogue of perfect movies. But Trier, each and every time at bat, steps up and delivers something, at the very least, worthy of endless hours of conversation.
His 2009 film Antichrist is the study of many things: misogyny + misogyny’s affects on womankind, relationship dynamics, parenthood, as well as so much more thematic material. Containing two of the bravest performances I’ve seen in the past 10 years, both Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are captivating. Most of this movie touches on subject matter and themes many will find, in moments, almost reprehensible – from genital mutilation on the part of men and women, to the death of a child while his parents have sex. It isn’t all provocation and in your face, nasty horror, Von Trier touches at the heart of issues in all his films, whether people wish to recognize it or not. No matter what, Antichrist will pull you in, chew you up, then spit you out. Then lap you up and chew some more until all the grizzle of your brain is digested. You may never ever forget these 108 minutes, no matter how hard you scrub that grey matter.
If you weren’t sufficiently disturbed and left sleepless by Lars Von Trier, I present to you the final offering of my list: Fabrice Du Welz’s 2004 psychological horror-thriller, Calvaire.
The movie follows a struggling entertainer, a singer named Marc, whose latest and slightly sad tour takes him out into the backwoods of Belgium. When he breaks down, Marc comes across an inn through the woods, owned and operated by a Mr. Bartel, the seemingly friendly and welcoming host. After the first night, though, Marc discovers Bartel is not as friendly as once it seemed – the man first stalls on fixing Marc’s vehicle like he promised, then when he tears the battery out and other parts, it’s very clear Bartel is up to something more sinister. Trapped at the inn, Marc’s journey falls quickly into a darkness he could never have anticipated, not in a million years, and the stay at Bartel’s inn transforms into a fight for survival.
This is another one I purchased blind on DVD, not knowing anything more than the description and reading a couple reviews online, as well as based on the neat cover art. When I first saw this, I was completely floored and still, even when I’m in the right mood, Calvaire is full of uneasy moments. There’s a slow burn quality to this one and things don’t jump right out, often the pace is snail-like, yet if you can make it through and continue to watch up to the end of the finale. you’ll be well rewarded in terms of disturbed emotions. And after all, that’s why you came to this list, right? Welz’s shocking psycho-horror is full of chills, thrills, and unwanted uncomfortableness. Watch, but only if you dare.
Here ends another list for the Halloween season! I hope those of you who’ve come to find something fittingly full of shocks and super nasty will walk away satisfied. I’m sure many horror hounds have at least heard of all these, most likely they’ve also seen them, too. If you’ve got any of your own suggestions, at 4,100 films watched it may have been something I’ve already seen – regardless, I want to know what everyone else finds disturbing and what you’re watching to get the creepy October-Halloween vibe happening. Let me know in the comments what you think of the list, or if you have suggestions for other nasties I should include in my own viewing list this season.
The Hills Have Eyes II. 2007. Directed by Martin Weisz. Written by Jonathan Craven & Wes Craven.
Starring Cécile Breccia, Michael Bailey Smith, Archie Kao, Jay Acovone, Jeff Kober, Philip Pavel, David Reynolds, Tyrell Kemlo, Lee Thompson Young, Danielle Alonso, Eric Edelstein, Jessica Stroup, Joseph Beddelem, Jacob Vargas, Ben Crowley, Michael McMillian, Reshad Strik, and Derek Mears. Dune Entertainment.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Funny, as much as I find myself a Wes Craven fan, I didn’t realize until watching this again while reviewing it that he wrote the screenplay with his son Jonathan Craven. I think it’s a slight touch better than Papa Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes Part II from 1985, which despite being a guilty pleasure of mine is still a horrid film; not in the right way, either. However, this version of The Hills Have Eyes II is still nothing great or special in any way, shape, or form. There’s little to enjoy.
I say that with a little sadness. Honestly, the original The Hills Have Eyes is a favourite horror classic of mine, as well as the fact I loved Alexandre Aja’s remake a tiny bit more even. So I expected, or more so I hoped, that maybe Aja would be involved. At least Craven was, though, his script is not very good.
When Martin Weisz was announced to direct, I’d actually anticipated something halfway decent. Personally, I am a big fan of his previous movie based on the real life case of Armin Meiwes – Rohtenburg a.k.a Grimm Love. That was a different and also horrific piece of horror mixed with drama. The real case is wild enough, but the presentation of a script written by T.S. Faull by Weisz makes things even more intense.
Unfortunately I don’t feel as if Weisz brought much, if anything, from the style he cultivated in Rohtenburg to add to this film. There are a few decently creepy moments, most of which come very early in, but there’s not enough of this or any solid script to make this into a decent movie. Rather, The Hills Have Eyes II is one of the worst scripts Wes Craven has had his hands on, and I’m left hoping Martin Weisz will recapture some of what he did with his previous film later on down the road.
Starting off we come to see how the mutants in the hills from the first film are holding a woman captive. Once she has birthed a child for them, she is killed. Afterwards, some scientists and members of the U.S Army are murdered by more mutants.
Cut to a group of National Guardsmen in training with their sergeant. They’re out on a mission resupplying scientists working in a camp in the desert, there from the U.S DOD doing surveillance; those same scientists from the beginning scenes. When a group of them head up into the hills after finding the camp abandoned, Napoleon (Michael McMillian) and Amber (Jessica Stroup) are left with the communications in punishment. In the hills, the soldiers find the mutilated bodies of the people they’re there to help. Back down near camp, Amber is attacked by one of the mutants who quickly runs off when Mickey (Reshad Strik) is returning to camp with a sprained ankle. But when Mickey gets hauled through a crack in the rocks, virtually eviscerated in one brutal pull, Amber and Napoleon realize there is something sinister at work.
Up on the mountain, everyone else is cut off from contact, and this gives the mutants plenty of things to do. What began as a routine re-up mission devolves into a fight for survival, as only a handful of the soldiers wind up alive and in good enough to shape to try and make it out of the hills alive.
Was there ANY need of such a disgustingly graphic opening sequence? I mean, I’m not saying the story is a bad idea. There’s no reason not to believe the hill mutant clan wouldn’t be kidnapping women in order to make babies. First of all, they’re mutants; they probably have no control over their impulses, whether to kill or to rape or whatever. Doesn’t surprise me. Second, they’re mostly concerned with survival. They kill to eat, so as primitive, basic humans – though mutated – they’re probably hardwired to try and procreate. They’re essentially cavemen.
But all that said, why show us right off the bat such an explicit birthing scene? Personally, I think there’s a way to be effective , then there’s this: hitting us over the head with gory nastiness immediately. It’s not even so much that it disgusted me – I’ve seen more than my fair share of gore and savage horror – I feel like it’s heavy handed. Even in the opening scene of the 2006 remake, there’s still brutality and a scary beginning. This one is a load of tripe.
I think had the Cravens decided to just go with the opening being the whole sequence where the National Guardsmen and the scientists from the U.S Department of Defense get attacked by the mutants, this movie would’ve opened much better. The way things start out here makes me think “Ew”, but not in the sense of being good for horror. It’s all shock without any substance.
Again later on in the film, there’s more mutant sex. This is something I’m really bothered by because there’s no need of it. At all. I am totally fine, as I said previously, with the plot having partly to do with the mutants in the hills carrying on their family, breeding, kidnapping women to do the deed. It’s nasty, but as a plot it’s understandable. But there’s no condoning having to show actual shots of a mutant raping a woman. Certainly there was no point to showing a GRAPHIC mutant baby birth at the very start, so it doesn’t surprise me that there was more useless shock horror down the line.
There’s a potentially creepy film in The Hills Have Eyes II. One of the big problems I had with Craven’s original 1985 sequel to his film was the fact there seemed to be a tenuous link to why everything was happening; from the dirtbike team to Ruby becoming Rachel, and so on. I like the idea of this movie as a premise – the whole National Guard angle and the DOD scientists in doing surveillance is good. Plus, I usually enjoy horror films that mix in a military storyline/action. However, with too much of the mutant sex being a focus and a much less defined atmosphere in comparison to Aja’s remake, both the Cravens and director Weisz fumble a solid opportunity to make a terrifying sequel.
There are a couple aspects I do like, honestly. To start, I did find a couple of the mutants and their makeup effects pretty awesome, as well as the fact they were unsettling. Derek Mears plays a mutant named Chameleon, whose ability to blend into his surroundings are obviously a perk for him. While it was different to see a mutant who has an ability, as opposed to merely a deformity or hideous appearance, I enjoyed it all the same. There’s an added bit of danger, obviously, when a cannibal killer can blend into rocks and walls.
Moreover, I found one of the mutants – the blind one – was a creeper. Very weird and scary! His look/face eminded me of one of the Cenobites from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and that’s always a good thing. The way he sniffed around everywhere in the darkness was terrible, in the best way possible.
So I have to say that while most of this movie is hugely disappointing, the mutants themselves and the makeup effects, their overall design, it was all pretty well executed. Doesn’t hurt that Greg Nicotero (who appeared as Cyst in Aja’s remake) and Howard Berger, along with a bunch of others from K.N.B EFX, were responsible for the makeup department, from the special effects to the hair to on-set makeup and design. These guys are classic. Even in shit films, I’m always pleased to see Berger/Nicotero & Co. in the credits because their work is usually pretty phenomenal. It’s no wonder they’ve become a staple in the horror movie business.
In the end, what hurts The Hills Have Eyes II most is that Jonathan/Wes Craven did not write a good script. I’d love to say this father-son team knocked one out of the park, because that’d be cool. Sadly, I cannot state anything so cool. The dialogue at times wasn’t too bad, yet most of the time I felt as if I was listening to a walking bunch of cliched U.S Army soldiers; the character of Crank especially made me want to punch holes in my eardrums. Even more damning is the fact that the characters themselves are pretty stupid. They make pitiful decisions. Now, I’m not one to criticize for little mistakes, or even the things people do when they’re scared – I’ve said more than once I put myself in the shoes of characters to try and feel their fear – but there’s no excuse for some of the behaviour these characters exhibit throughout the film.
What I did enjoy about the script was that Wes used little bits from his original sequel to throw in. Such as the whole hills location itself – in his first 1985 sequel, Craven had the mine shafts and all that happening. So here, there’s a much more elaborate version of that going on. Not sure if that was intentional or if the plot they wound up using simply lent itself to using the shafts, et cetera, but either way it’s one thing I liked about the film. There’s great atmosphere once down in the darkness there, as opposed to not much of anything going on before then.
Fun note – the shaft system was done by the same crew who worked on the excellent British horror The Descent, so no wonder the atmosphere and tone amped up once the film shifts to being mostly set down in the mine.
When it comes down to the nitty gritty, all the set pieces and makeup effects and interesting premises in the world do not an effective horror movie make. Although, I have to give The Hills Have Eyes II a 2 out of 5 star rating. I can’t deny there is some creepiness, from the suspenseful moments in the mine to the K.N.B makeup effects which made a couple new mutants look scary as hell.
But this Wes Craven script, written with his son Jonathan who has never written anything good honestly, is one if his worst. In fact, I’d almost say it is definitively his worst. I’d honestly put My Soul to Take, a near equally bad film, above this one; and that’s saying something! Mostly it saddens me because I hoped that with an absence of Alexandre Aja for the sequel to his remake Craven as screenwriter would make up for that. It did not, in any way.
My suggestion? Watch the original, or the remake, but this doesn’t have much to offer outside of some nicely executed effects and an eerie setting in the last half hour.