The Empty Man (2020

Wait a minute; something weird is going on here. I’m very much familiar with renting a movie hoping it will be great only for it to be clearly NOT great but it’s very rare that I rent a movie hoping it will be dopey and it ends up being pretty damn awesome. Turns out, THE EMPTY MAN is far from the empty-headed, millionth, teens vs. creepy pasta demon its (should-have-been-changed) title suggests. This movie is a chilling and intelligent mind-screw with too many layers to count in one sitting and a delightfully maddening aftertaste. It shouldn’t be clumped in with the BYE BYE and SLENDER men of the world; it’s more in line with brain-twisters like JACOB’s LADDER and neo-noir journeys to hell like ANGEL HEART (BLADE RUNNER, PRINCE OF DARKNESS and A CURE FOR WELLNESS also popped into my head). Mostly though, this is epic cosmic horror that can’t be easily explained or contained. It’s crazy good or at least, totally my bag. Thank God I had rented every other movie at Redbox and finally gave it a chance.

After an extended unsettling prologue that eradicates any question of the film’s quality, we meet grieving former detective James Lasombra (a convincingly pestered James Badge Dale) who has been asked by a friend to find her missing daughter. What briefly starts out as a possible supernatural investigation reminiscent of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (that’s a compliment) miraculously and consistently expands to involve cults, conspiracies, occult rituals, Tulpa theories, nightmarish hallucinations and an incredibly impressive amount of mythology and world building. I’m going to say I won’t say more so as to not ruin things but the truth of the matter is that I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I don’t feel bad though, THE EMPTY MAN is built in such a way as to almost demand multiple viewings and interpretations. There’s so much going on its like watching five movies at once.

THE EMPTY MAN is based on a graphic novel by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey that I’m not familiar with so I can’t say how loyal this adaption is but I’m curious to find out (note to self: put it on hold from library). I can tell you though that director, writer, editor David Prior astounds with his attention to detail and he’s rather a maestro at creating lingering visuals and a sense of paranoid dread (his resume is packed with work directing DVD extras for David Fincher films and that puzzle piece fits snugly). As implied above, I’m definitely going to have to revisit this monster of a movie to decipher its possibly infinite assertions but suffice to say this is satisfying cinema that makes you feel as if you’ve just finished a great meal or book. As much as I enjoyed it, I can’t shake the feeling I’m only viewing the tip of the vexing, hypnotic, colossal iceberg.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Yikes, I feel like I haven’t written in a long time and am getting very close to the “and he never did again” zone so here I am forcing myself. Let’s talk about THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW because I love that movie and that should take the edge off. I mean, this flick offers two of my favorite things (wolves and snow) right in the title! How often does that happen? And it delivers so much more; it’s genuinely funny, legit scary, surprisingly soulful and it’s finely crafted all around (the cinematography and score are exquisite). It’s perfectly cast with memorable characters and it just happens to be the last film to feature the great Robert Forster (to whom it is dedicated). It can stand on its hind legs right up there with the best werewolf films of all time.

Jim Cummings stars as John Marshall, a small town cop dealing with multiple savage (and old school gory) murders while also juggling AA meetings, a snippy daughter and a father who may be more ill than he is letting on. The guy is literally splitting at the seams under the pressure and it’s both highly comical and painfully relatable. Cummings is fantastic in the role and he has the type of intense, manic energy that reminded me of horror legend Jeffrey Combs. Here’s the thing that blew my mind though- that I didn’t figure out until the closing credits: Jim Cummings not only stars in TWOSH, he also wrote and directed it (!!!) This blows my mind because I can’t think of many talents that could do all three and the ones I can think of don’t do werewolves and can’t crack me up heartily multiple times throughout a film. Color me impressed.

SNOW HOLLOW miraculously has got me putting it in the same camp as my lifelong faves AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON & THE HOWLING (not an easy accomplishment by any stretch). The effects are top notch and as humorous as it is, it also has a haunting quality as it takes the time to humanize its multiple victims. Actually, there’s an abundance of humanity on display here; the way Cummings juxtaposes lycanthropy with the pitfalls of alcoholism is brilliant. Riki Lindhome (who was also great in the LAST HOUSE remake) brings much quiet power to her patient detective sidekick role and Jimmy Tatro delivers a crazy amount of depth with a handful of scenes. Robert Forester is Robert Forster and he rules. It’s fantastic, well-earned kismet that he should close out his career with such a respectable role in a genre film. Talking about this movie just makes me want to see it again and I’m looking forward to many revisits in the future. Track down THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW as fast as you can; don’t let it get away.

Five Favorite Things:: The Boogey Man (1980) By Unk

It’s legit creepy. I suppose there’s plenty to pick apart when it comes to THE BOOGEY MAN, director Ulli Lommel’s somewhat brazen, knee-jerk reaction to John Carpenter’s mega-successful HALLOWEEN but I don’t think anyone can pretend it doesn’t maintain a consistently creepy vibe. Its opening scene is tailor-made to echo its inspiration’s haunting prelude while doubling down (and then some) on all things sleazy and distasteful. Yep, it’s pure kindertrauma as young brother and sister Lacey and Willy are subjected to their mother’s kinky drunken liaison with a horrifying dude in a stocking mask and it all ends up tied (literally) to nightmarish abuse and ultimately murder. The ugly incidents are presented in fluorescent hues and witnessed by fluffy toy animals and a queasy tone is set that is never quite shaken off for the rest of the film’s runtime.

A familial bond. Real-life siblings Suzanna and Nicholas Love portray Lacey and Willy as damaged adults years later and although their performances are not exactly award-worthy, the two are naturally likable and charismatic and their emotional link feels effortlessly authentic. These are characters you can’t help feeling sympathy for even at moments in which Willy himself seems poised to be the film’s monster. Suzanna and director Lommel were married at the time of filming and it’s clear she was somewhat of a muse for him and his affection comes across on screen. It’s pretty cool she had a hand in writing the screenplay too.

Covertly innovative. THE BOOGEY MAN is often rightfully called out for its crystal clear debt to HALLOWEEN, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and THE EXCORCIST but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have several of its own creative cards up its sleeve. Several of its murders have an “inescapable curse” quality that could be said to pave the way for the FINAL DESTINATION series and its invisible stalker with a shredding fetish foreshadows child-murdering dream demon Freddy Krueger. The concept of a mirror capturing a murderous spirit and then each piece of said mirror becoming a conduit for evil once it’s shattered sounds pretty original to me. The movie’s ending is a perfect set-up for a series that could have gone in many a creative direction- unfortunately, the sequels dropped the ball as hard as they could (to put it lightly).

That eighties-era synth score. Sure, Tim Krog’s repetitive blippy score is obviously influenced heavily by Carpenter’s legendary HALLOWEEN theme but let’s face it, audiences were heavily craving exactly such a facsimile at the time. And really, it wisely guesstimates the electronic direction Carpenter was bound to lean towards years later with HALLOWEEN II. In any case, it perfectly captures an early synth- eighties vibe and puts the viewer in the proper apprehensive mood immediately.

That poster! I’ve been bewitched by THE BOOGEY MAN poster since I first stumbled across it in my youth. It does an outstanding job of delivering on pure atmosphere. It’s almost as if the viewer is the boogey man himself gazing upon an unsuspecting victim cautiously looking out a window on a dark windy night. I feel like I can almost see the shadows and curtains quietly twist and shift. Plus it pulsates with a kind of electricity thanks to its brilliant juxtaposition of purple and yellow hues. How do I not own this poster and why is it not hanging on my wall? This lovely piece of advertising art succinctly relays the idea that what will be delivered is some kind of spiritual sequel to HALLOWEEN and although audiences would grow exhausted by such a proposition a few years down the road, in 1980 it was an offer no horror fan could refuse. “The most terrifying nightmare of childhood is about to return” — sign me up.

Eventually Director Ulli Lommel would be responsible for some of the most hilariously half-hearted genre endeavors ever to take up space in in a video store but I’ll always have a soft spot for his interesting early work. I can’t help it, I still believe in THE BOOGEY MAN.