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...:::General Horror:::...

Annabelle Comes Home

July 3rd, 2019 · 2 Comments

ANNABELLE COMES HOME is some healing, good-natured horror comfort food. It delivers in the spooky scares department and harbors a potent enough current of demonic chaos yet still plays as mellow as a seventies-era pop song. You wouldn’t think a movie about a cursed doll that acts as a magnet for evil entities would be the feel-good, positive energy spouting flick of the summer but for me it is. Heck, even the simple act of offering a portal into a time when cell phones didn’t exist, grocery store prices were reasonable, board games were abundant and shag carpets covered every inch of the floor was chicken soup for my horror soul. I guess it’s overall rather tame (why in the world is it rated R? It should be mandatory slumber party viewing) but I can have my nerves challenged elsewhere; it’s kind of a nice summer respite just seeing decent people doing decent things every once in a while. This movie is old school fun. It’s sort of like THE GATE (teens battle the supernatural while parents are away CAT IN THE HAT-style), 13 GHOSTS (a menagerie of baddies crash the party) and maybe a little bit of FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES (please respect the cursed objects!). It’s also so much about dealing with grief and loss and residual guilt and it’s all handled sharply.

I also dug this movie because it gave me the opportunity to vicariously experience the wonder of having VERA FARMIGA and PATRICK WILSON as parents. We’re back in THE CONJURING universe and the aforementioned are of course (super generously) portraying paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (the film is actually dedicated to Lorraine who recently passed away). The two are leaving their young daughter alone for the night with a babysitter and what could go wrong as long as nobody goes into the room filled with the cursed objects from hell? Daughter Judy (I just heard the theme song to the THE JETSONS in my head) is played by McKENNA GRACE who is the heir apparent to the child star throne recently vacated by DAKOTA FANNING and previously occupied by JODIE FOSTER (If you’ve seen MIKE FLANAGAN’s HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE you know how talented she is). MADISON ISEMAN is the refreshingly humble and likable blonde babysitter Mary Ellen and KATIE SARIFE is her troublemaking best bud Daniela who surprisingly shifts gears to become the heart of the film. I won’t reveal all of the SCOOBY DOO-like supernatural no-good nicks who materialize but I will say I want to know more about the wind-up monkey with the cymbals.

All in all, this is a well-done side mission in JAMES WAN’s CONJURING world. It brings a flavor all of its own by adding more humor and letting things become more surreal and dream-like and less grounded in reality. In that way, it also brought to my mind STUART GORDON’s DOLLS with its use of a limited setting and its taking place in one evening “the longest night in the world”. Although mostly beautifully handled, I will say that some of the cinematography comes across a little too dark and murky but it’s kind of a nice contrast when the spell has been lifted and everything begins to glow with the brightness of a brand new demon-free day. I found the ending rather moving as the characters have all grown to trust each other and Judy who has been ostracized by her peers (for her parents dabbling in the occult) is ultimately embraced and celebrated. It’s all very corny but that’s what I needed (a tender moment of guidance between Lorraine and repentant Daniela really got to me too).


If you like haunted house flicks, writer GARY (IT, THE NUN, the two previous ANNABELLE flicks) DAUBERMAN’s directorial debut is a fun stand-alone, low investment, cozy as hell, nostalgic spook dispenser that’s perfect for the heart of summer. As with the doll’s sophomore outing ANABELLE: CREATION, I ultimately found the bizarre looking toy to be the least interesting thing inside the much more enthralling canvas that surrounds it but I guess that’s how the little dickens operates. The titular character may not amount to too much but she sure keeps great company. This is certainly not the most satisfying flick in the CONJURING canon but it may be the best suited for many a casual re-watch at home (especially when babysitting).

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Tags: General Horror

Child’s Play (2019)

June 26th, 2019 · 3 Comments

I’ve got a bunch of conflicting feelings about the new reimagining of CHILD’S PLAY. I loved the beginning of the movie, hated the middle and then somehow regained my original affection for the film’s gleefully bonkers ending. My most positive endorsements would be for BEAR McCREARY’s absolutely phenomenal score  (he’s batting a thousand after wowing recently with GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS) and MARK HAMILL’s wonderfully acute voiceover work as the killer doll. When these two combine their talents for a theme song, which plays over the closing credits, it’s truly sublime (I find myself longing for the soundtrack no matter my overall mixed feelings). In general the movie looks great too and the crisp, colorful cinematography does a persuasive job of harkening back to many a fright flick from the late eighties. I found myself sitting so securely on this summer coaster throughout its first half but damn, I really did fall out of the cart during a too long bubble of time at the midpoint and really had to scramble to climb back on board.

What most differentiates this take from the original mold is that Chucky the killer doll is no longer nuts due to a voodoo possession and is now a robot who was purposely programmed to cause havoc thanks to a disgruntled (and suicidal) factory worker.  This allows the story to stoke fears of technology out of control and taking over our daily lives but it also strangely adds a level of sympathy for the faulty doll. I haven’t felt so bad for a robot since HALEY JOEL OSMENT was abandoned in the forest by his mother in A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELIGENCE (2001). I really loved getting to know this new childlike version of Chucky and found myself relating to him when his glitchy brain would confuse a roll of toilet paper for a science book. The poor guy is like a malfunctioning Casper the friendly ghost and I cared more about that than any of the film’s BLACK MIRROR-esque future fretting. I kept thinking about how Chucky was like an animal taken in and loved by new owners who can’t stop misbehaving due to no fault of its own (sort of like KRISTY McNICHOL’s wrenching dilemma in WHITE DOG). I also have to say Chucky’s eerie uncanny valley visual overhaul worked well with drumming up my sympathies.

Where the movie fails for me is on the script level in the human character department. GABRIEL BATEMAN is fine as Andy and has got an Elliot in E.T. thing going for him but I found all his friends annoying and AUBREY PLAZA (who rules in INGRID GOES WEST) comes off more like a sarcastic babysitter than a believable maternal figure (Maybe I’m just showing my age here though and that I should get used to adults acting like snarky teens). There’s a bit where Andy must hide a grisly trophy that Chucky has gifted him that zapped me out of the entire move. It’s played like a THREE’s COMPANY mix-up and it still irks my head to think about it because it could have been so much better simplified. The entire segment feels forced, and first draft clunky. I’ve also found out that for some reason I’m highly bothered by the juxtaposition of Christmas lights and watermelons (who knew?). After much thought, though I have to admit that my sudden distaste for the movie occurred directly after Chucky kills a cat so maybe on a subconscious level I was kicking back at that peeve for a spell and you might want to take my disdain with a grain of salt.

.Even though I’m also not a huge fan of drones being shoe-horned into modern remakes (see also POLTERGEIST), I did end up coming around to enjoy the gleeful mayhem in the film’s chaotic climax. I’m going to thank a fuzzy bear-like version of the killer doll who shows up for talking me down off the ledge with his mere presence. I really wish that I was able to have as much fun with this movie as others seem to be experiencing but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for me. It does seem to be the type of thing I’ll give another chance in the future when I’m not so sensitive (truly, I recently watched INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and the constant cat peril within made it more nerve-rattling than SILENCE OF THE LAMBS for me). Full disclosure, I may have also been swayed by a pang of free-floating guilt for disloyally crossing original creator DON MANCINI’s invisible picket line even though I justified the act by using my REGAL ticket earnings to see it for free (I didn’t give them a cent, DON! I swear!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t listen to me because I have too many issues to count so maybe go and decide for yourself. On some level I almost believe that it’s worth it for the score alone; just don’t tell my cats (or DON MANCINI) I said that.

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Tags: General Horror

Ma (2019)

June 20th, 2019 · No Comments

The latest Blumhouse offering MA is a bit of an emotional pinball machine. It delivers some smart suspense, some genuine creeps and still finds time to be regularly hilarious (if you have a dark sense of humor) and strangely sad. I’m a big fan of horror character studies, revenge flicks and “person from hell” movies (FATAL ATTRACTION, THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE) and MA fits the bill on all accounts. It’s kind of like a multi-generational version of LUCKY McKEE’s MAY albeit more grounded and less stylized. By the end of the movie not every puzzle piece fits into place as tightly as I wanted them to but it’s a thoroughly entertaining ride nonetheless. I found it hard not to empathize with the title character even as she was wreaking havoc upon innocent people. There’s just something so cathartic about watching a person go full blown psycho about past grievances and both dreading and sadistically looking forward to the results (De PALMA’s CARRIE still stands as the greatest example of this). As much of this cinematic mousetrap is traceable and familiar, I’m happy to say MA brings a fair share of fresh themes and a uniquely uncomfortable tone to the table as well.

OCTAVIA SPENCER excels as Sue Ann/Ma, a role that seems tailor made for her. She’s subtle, straightforward and never over the top as a mature woman who is coaxed by an amiable group of underage teens to buy them alcohol. When Sue Ann recognizes one of the young folk as the child of her unrequited/abusive high school crush she offers up her basement as a safe place to party and casually integrates into an integral part of the gang’s clandestine activities. On the surface, her character’s increasingly demented behavior appears spurred by a cruel prank from her youth but on another level I think it’s much bigger than that. I almost get the sense that Sue Ann is raging against youth itself or at least the youth that she had lost to being an awkward outsider that never fit in. Witnessing a group of people getting along and having fun reminds her of the carefree life she was denied whether it was because of her gawkiness or because she was the lone black student in her school.

Basically no one is spared her wrath, not the man from her past that betrayed her, not the kids that symbolize all she missed out on and certainly not the boss that constantly berates her. We even come to find that she’s spitefully determined to make sure that her offspring is hammered into an equally unsatisfying existence. Ma is FOMO personified and brandishing very sharp teeth.

What saves Ma from being yet another obsessed stalker Lifetime movie is SCOTTY LANDES witty, aware script, TATE TAYLOR’s confident direction (he’s also great as the local cop) and most importantly, the cast. SPENCER, as mentioned, is gold in the title role but I can’t think of anyone in the cast who doesn’t deliver the goods and then some. JULIETTE LEWIS gets a surprisingly meaty part as a concerned mother and rather than being merely a scolding obstacle like in most teen movies, she’s the many shaded, grounding anchor of normalcy for the entire picture. ALLISON JANNEY and MISSI PYLE both play aggressively nightmarish people who practically beg to have horrible things happen to them and they both excel at their atrociousness. LUKE EVANS is impressive as well as the untrustworthy object of affection for Ma. Surprisingly I liked all the youngins too and each of them is given a chance to shine and have identifiable personalities of their own. I know folks usually don’t go to see horror movies for the acting but in this case it’s actually not a bad idea.

Although MA plays it mostly straight and its dark humor leans toward the situational, there’s an inescapable camp quality to it but I think you could say that about all of the loner revenge films mentioned previously as well. The film operates on several levels at once and can be taken in as seriously as the viewer desires. That said, the best way to view something like this is with a vocal audience in a movie theater or with intoxicated like-minded folks at home (don’t be surprised if you hear references to Ma’s line “Don’t make me drink alone” for the rest of your life).  Sure, I was left with a few questions and I desired one last twist that never came to fruition (and I could have used way more flashbacks to the eighties) but overall, I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in all the social disasters on display. As someone who’s roughly the same age as Ma it wasn’t hard to sympathize with her plight but I found it just as easy to feel akin to the group of teens looking for a safe place to congregate. Ultimately my favorite aspect of MA is that although it’s short lived, when things are going well, before the other shoe drops, it delivers the simple vicarious fun of partying and letting loose- at any age. MA has got her problems but who cares when she also knows the perfect time to break out “the robot” dance.

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Tags: General Horror

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

June 6th, 2019 · 4 Comments

Count me in as someone who loved GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. I’m so glad I went to see it on the big screen so I could fully get lost inside its whirlpool of mayhem.  There are images in this movie that are so beautiful as if they were religious paintings come to life, and there are moments of true awe that hit like (literal) lightning strikes. My peepers really got a workout and I left the theater feeling like I just experienced a heartwarming reunion with childhood friends. Man, I love them monsters! Godzilla is like a big misunderstood doggy, Ghidora is a devilish badass, Rodan is a mischievous opportunist and Mothra is the sweetest angel who ever lived. It’s as if the quirky denizens of Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood became quarrelsome giants who spit fire and topple buildings. The movie is over two hours long but I kind of wanted to stay forever (even if just to bask in BEAR McCREARY’s incredible score that weaves in past themes (especially good old Mothra’s signature tune) in a gorgeous way).

Of course you do have to suffer through a dozen or so human characters making plans and pointing at computer screens but I’m happy to say I found the normies reasonably compelling and sometimes moving too. I’d probably jump in front of a flying bullet for VERA FARMIGA at this point (she’s nearly up there in the JAMIE LEE CURTIS/SIGOURNEY WEAVER zone now). FARMIGA plays Dr. Emma Russell whose family is dealing with the loss of a child and while ex-hubby Mark (KYLE CHANDLER) and daughter, Madison (STRANGER THING’s MILLIE BOBBY BROWN in her big screen Kristy McNichol-esque debut) are grieving in constructive ways, Dr. Russell has taken the route of toxic self-destruction to a new, global level. There’s a scene of her speeding a vehicle forward with a snarling three-headed Ghidorah snipping at her heals that blew me away as an illustration of a wounded person desperately trying to outrace their inner demons. Her motives are completely insane and I so totally understood them.

It’s crazy that a summer blockbuster stuffed to the gills with disaster and mass destruction could also shine with unabashed adoring love but thanks to director MICHAEL DOUGHERTY (he of the instant classics TRICK ‘R TREAT and KRAMPUS) here we are. There’s so much in this film about how humans interact with nature and creatures that we aren’t capable of fully understanding that really resonated with me. There are several moments when we get to finally feel for Godzilla in a way that I think has always eluded filmmakers before. In one instance returning character, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (KEN WATANABE) gets to look Godzilla straight in the eye and thank him for what he has meant to him and geez, it’s so lovely.

I’m a little stunned that GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS is getting mixed reviews as it offers more than a few sights, sounds and experiences that can not be experienced anywhere else. I’ve enjoyed the previous films in this current franchise (GODZILLA 2014, KONG: SKULL ISLAND) a great deal too but this is the first one that really hit me down deep in the heart. My only complaint is that after seeing the film the title smacks a little of moth erasure. Behind every good lizard is a great moth! Man, I’m so in love with Mothra that the next time I find a hole in my sweater I’m just going to shrug my shoulders and let it go.

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Tags: General Horror

Scared Stiff (1987)

May 30th, 2019 · 2 Comments

If you’re looking for a haunting, quiet, and subtle ghost story, 1987’s SCARED STIFF sure ain’t it because damn, this movie is bonkers. It’s tacky, garish, politically incorrect on multiple levels and somehow, against all odds, entertaining as hell. It’s hard to take seriously, with it’s over the top acting and scrambled script but there’s such a go for broke, throw anything at the wall and see what sticks enthusiasm that it’s hard (at least for me) not to enjoy its sloppy lunacy. As much as it borrows heavily from literally countless films that came before it, I can’t claim that it’s not unique as it’s the only movie I know of that involves a child who adores a pet appliance (an electric lamp with a racist American Indian face upon it) that inexplicably grows to a grotesque size and chases someone down a hallway. This movie is truly crazy.

Psychiatrist and electric shock enthusiast David Young (the always intense ANDREW STEVENS) moves his lover and ex-patient (!) Kate Christopher (MARY PAGE KELLER of the early FOX sitcom DUET) and her son Jason (JOSH SEGAL) into a mansion with a long history of slavery, murder and voodoo. Kate just happens to be a famous pop star (SHEENA EASTON wisely declined the role) which wonderfully allows for several scenes of her filming windy MTV-style videos while lip-syncing to original eighties-era soft pop tunes(!). It’s not long before the house is besieged with ominous pigeons, Kate is having sex with ghosts and David gets caught up in the kind of possession that makes his eyes glow and gives him the urge to kill those closest to him. Before anyone gets the idea to head for the hills, a handyman hangs himself, corpses are found in the attic, toys come to life and a home computer spits out a worrisome digital 3-D death mask. The film’s finale is remarkably even more nuts utilizing hallucinatory surrealism no doubt inspired by the then super popular ELM STREET series.

Believe it or not, SCARED STIFF is a based on an original script by MARK FROST of TWIN PEAKS fame. It’s safe to assume additional writers DANIEL F. BACANER and director RICHARD FRIEDMAN (who is responsible for the equally bizarre DOOM ASYLUM) crammed in all the added derangement. This isn’t a good film by any stretch my friends but it is wacky and nonsensical enough to always be interesting. STEVENS and KELLER make highly watchable leads even when trapped with daffy dialogue and you really get your money’s worth in the practical effects department (plus, I’m all kinds of partial to movies with multiple mental hospital scenes stocked with zealous background performers pretending to be crazy). I’m surprised SCARED STIFF (also known as THE MASTERSON CURSE) isn’t a bit more notorious as a cult flick but it sadly skipped a DVD release before finally winding up on Blu-ray and that probably explains its low profile. If you’re the type that would be interested in a low grade haunted house flick that apes better flicks like BURNT OFFERINGS and the HOUSE series, this could be right up your alley. If you’re not a bad movie lover then make like SHEENA EASTON and take the morning train far, far away!

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Tags: General Horror

Kindertrauma Toy Chest

May 22nd, 2019 · 4 Comments


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Tags: General Horror · General Insanity · Traum-mercial Break

Pet Sematary (2019)

April 17th, 2019 · 6 Comments

I was walking home the other night and saw a cat in an alley that reminded me so much of my dear departed Figgy. It was so dark that I had to use the flashlight on my phone which allowed me to barely make out her form playfully rolling about on the cement in a come-hither way. I called to her but she wouldn’t budge and I couldn’t reach her myself because of a locked gate. I knew the gate on the other side of the block was open so I ran home, got some food and crept through the labyrinth of South Philly back yards to reach the cat only to find that she had disappeared. Then, as if cued by my disappointment, it started to rain. Of course, this cat wasn’t Figgy but why did she look and act so much like her and wait a minute, it was so dark, I’m not one hundred percent sure I didn’t hallucinate the whole thing. I’ve gone back to look for her several times and I’m leaving cat food in the back yard by the gate and yet I also know that what I’m really looking for I’ll never find again. Figgy still seems just slightly out of my view at all times. I’ve mistaken a boot on the floor for her for a fraction of a second and for a flash I saw her running down the street but nope, it was a black bag blowing in the wind. I feel haunted.

In my state, I should have been ripe for the picking as far as the retelling of STEPHEN KING’S PET SEMATARY goes. Alas, I wish could say I connected with it better than I ultimately did. It spoke to me for sure, and it easily made me weepy but something about it ended up feeling detached from the deep well of guilt and grief ingrained in KING’s tale. Jason Clarke is impeccable as Louis Creed so I’m certainly not blaming him. I pretty much hung on his every word and when he explains how death is a natural part of life to his dubious daughter Ellie (JETE LAURENCE), I was all ears wanting a fatherly figure to put my worries to rest as well. The most potent parts of KING’s take on THE MONKEY’S PAW are nearly impossible to muddle because they are in the very bones of the story itself and this movie does right by those themes for the most part. There are more than a few alterations here and there, all of which I found at least interesting. The direction and editing are clever too, I wouldn’t say the filmmakers (Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Wydmyer, the folks behind 2014’s impressive STARRY EYES) have anything to be embarrassed by here; it’s all reasonably sufficient and respectfully done. Yet it always feels like a product rather than a soulful exploration. It’s missing madness and mojo. It’s too restrained and in my opinion, not weird enough.

Frankly, I don’t get how you drop a ball like Zelda. I can understand the desire to streamline the story a bit (although discarding the suicidal neighbor and the disapproving in-laws evaporates a great deal of the depressive tone) but declawing Zelda and almost refusing to look at her makes no sense to me. Anyone who has seen MARY LAMBERT’s artful take on the material will remember Zelda (if they don’t have her image burned into the inside of their retinas forever). Rachel Creed’s sickly sister embodies the torturous guilt that frequently accompanies grief perhaps better than any other horror character I can think of.  She’s still very much present in this new telling, but she’s sidelined and out of focus and avoided in a way that’s almost cowardly. It’s as if her unseemliness was considered too gauche for this production and so she’s grounded and gifted a poorly executed dumbwaiter scare and let go. Maybe I just love Zelda too much. This is possible. I have a hard time letting things go.

I truly thought I was in the exact right mind space to appreciate every iota of PET SEMATARY but maybe the exact opposite was true. I will say I have no complaints about the cat(s) who portrayed Church and really how many horror films do you get that feature a feline character front and center? I just wish that they took it all a bit further, even the cemetery itself is lackluster and missing the shabby-chic, found object wonder of the previous telling (one positive thing this movie did do for me is that it made me appreciate LAMBERT’s trippy IVAN ALBRIGHT-esque colorfully cruddy visuals even more). I get the feeling that all involved believed that the new version was a more serious, grounded take and that to improve things they only needed to eliminate the broader, gaudier elements but in doing so, they also stripped out all of the effervescence.

Fittingly, PET SEMATARY may be back from the dead but this time it comes across like a lesser, blank-eyed facsimile. Maybe I was asking too much, maybe I was expecting this movie to replace the irreplaceable (not unlike that poor unreachable stray in the alley). To me, due to its subject matter, any version of KING”s PET SEMATARY is going to be fundamentally more interesting than the average studio movie coming down the pike but I’m pretty sure that the next time I want to revisit this painful tale, I’ll be seeking out the still vibrant earlier incarnation. Well-groomed as it is, this new take lacks bite.

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Tags: General Horror

Dead & Buried (1981)

April 4th, 2019 · 10 Comments

The other night I was struggling with the age-old question of what to watch when I suddenly realized I was in the exact perfect mood for Gary Sherman’s 1981 shocker DEAD & BURIED. This must have been the very first R-rated movie I had ever seen because once upon a time, nobody asked about your age when you were in the back seat of a crowded car at the drive-in. You’d think that over the decades I’d come to find this movie less frightening than the first time I saw it and you’d be partially correct but the truth is, it still leaves me thoroughly creeped out. Here are some of the reasons I still find this underrated and relentlessly bleak, paranoid classic uniquely disturbing.

THE OPENING SCENE. D&B opens with a photographer taking photos on a beach. He meets a beautiful young woman (Lisa Blount) who slyly seduces him and just when he’s about to seal the deal, he is instead beaten by random townspeople, tied to a poll with a fishing net and then set on fire while the mob encircling him smiles and take photos. No matter how many times I see this movie, this startling introduction never fails to alarm me. Perhaps even more unsettling than the brutal violence is the way the fish netting twists, distorts and mutates the victim’s face. I can’t think of a more distressing visage, it’s as if it foretells the burn scars he’s about to acquire. Somehow the poor dude lives and is taken to a hospital but his recovery is short lived. Completely vulnerable and covered head to toe in bandages, he is visited by the same treacherous young lady who instigated his assault. Dressed in nurses’ garb she presents the worst remedy ever conceived- a hypodermic needle administered straight through the eye! Imagine surviving so much only to endure a crueler fate when you’re in the most vulnerable state imaginable- it all still upsets me. 

THE LOST FAMILY. Right smack in the middle of the film we are unceremoniously introduced to a couple and their young son who are lost in the remarkably foggy town. To avoid hitting a man that darts in front of their car, they crash into a telephone pole. Although we’ll find out shortly the car is quite operable, the beyond befuddled couple decides to venture into an abandoned dilapidated house to search for ice for their child’s head (yes, these people are insane). Making matters all the more surreal, the original sound of this scene must have been lost because this entire portion of the film is abysmally dubbed, resulting in tons of superfluous dialogue and general awkwardness.

It seems every move and decision the trio makes is frustratingly ill-advised. At one point the mother even surmises that the owners of the (clearly abandoned) abode must be in the basement fixing the fuse box and suggests that her husband go down to verify her demented fantasy. It’s truly crazy-making watching this family stumble about while the shadows of maniacs wielding weapons loom just out of their view. Nonsensical and partially infuriating as this entire segment is, it’s also beautifully shot and genuinely unnerving to me. Eventually, crazy townsfolk are jumping out of every closed door and crevice like demented jack-in-the-box clowns engulfing the terrified trio. As the family somehow makes it back to their vehicle, the way the ravenous mob is presented as a mass of menacing silhouettes following them is stunningly nightmarish (and brings to my mind the finale of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST). It’s hard not to feel bad for the hapless child, who is dragged about like a suitcase throughout and has no say in the blundering decisions of his ineffectual guardians.

THE FOUND FOOTAGE. The entirety of D&B is filmed in a gloriously gauzy and grainy way that rather resembles peering through dusty cheesecloth. Remarkably the murky-visual-ante is upped even further when Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) develops a mysterious roll of film for his wife (Melody Anderson) and decides to check out its horrific contents. I won’t give away the devastating plot point he discovers but I will say it is presented in a POV semi-snuff looking way that leaves you with the unclean feeling of having witnessed something vile and atrocious. Years before THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, D&B presented this grittier than a Philly mascot slice of visual miasma and it still feels as disorienting and downright icky as ever. I don’t know if it’s the leering oldsters, the decrepit surroundings or Joe (CHILD’S PLAY) Renzetti’s persuasive score but combined with the clips sleazy revelation it really gets under my skin. I can almost smell the moldy dank air as I write this and I also get a poisonously putrid Lovecraftian vibe. 

Not everything in D&B makes sense but I believe that is part of the reason I find it so disturbing. Some folks are able to “fall out” of a movie when it presents something that is unlikely to occur but I sometimes find such lapses in logic remind me of the relentless way an inescapable nightmare works. I get the feeling that the writers didn’t fully lock down exactly what is going down in Potter’s Bluff, there are mentions of voodoo, witchcraft, and pseudo-science but when a definite explanation is teased by the central culprit it is soon nipped at the bud with, “I’ll take my secrets to the grave.” I’m fine with that. I find the horror in DEAD & BURIED especially potent because it is so darn amorphous and impossible to fully pin down. You get the sense that Potter’s Bluff is a town abandoned by light and rationality long ago and now it’s kind of stuck in an endless death spasm. I wish I could chalk up the way DEAD & BURIED hits me in my psychological Achilles’ heal to mere nostalgia. The truth is the inescapable mortality that engulfs the town like an impenetrable fog may be even more unnerving to me today than it was when I witnessed it in my youth.

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Tags: General Horror · Traumafessions · Uncategorized

Unk’s Year End Roundup! 2018!

January 1st, 2019 · 10 Comments

2018 was a damn great year for horror films. I don’t have the mental capacity to make a ranking list, so here are some of my favorite horror movie/TV memories of the past 365 days…

PYEWACKET

I can’t resist this simple, straightforward telling of the dire consequences of negative wish fulfillment. It plays out like the world’s darkest AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL. NICOLE MUNOZ stars as Leah, a broody goth-lite teen with some serious anger management issues. Both she and her mother (LAURIE HOLDEN) are struggling through the aftermath of the recent death of Leah’s father and neither is very adept at channeling their darker emotions regarding the loss. Mom’s solution is to move into an isolated house in the woods, which only makes Leah feel estranged from her friends and even less in control of her life. The two have an epic fight and an enraged Leah ends up performing a black magic ritual that promises to snuff out her mother’s existence. Shortly after, the two make amends but the conjured evil spirit (Pyewacket) happens to have an impeccable work ethic and is insistent on finishing the job. PYEWACKET won’t likely blow your mind and it has no interest in reinventing the wheel but what it lacks in innovation, it more than makes up for with sincerity and basic competence. It’s a classic story, as sturdy as a tree trunk, and the central characters are relatable enough to make it genuinely suspenseful.

CAM

This flick about an online sex worker battling wits with a malicious doppelganger left me itching for a more definitive conclusion. I’m giving it high props anyway for keeping me thoroughly entertained. I can’t pretend to understand exactly what transpires but the exploration of the loss of identity in the social media age is fascinating anyway. My absolute favorite element of this slightly aggravating head-scratcher is its phenomenal central performance by MADELINE BREWER who delivers a memorably effervescent star turn. I hope to see her in many more films in the future.

OVERLORD

I would not have minded if OVERLORD went a little more nuts in the monster department. This movie about a rag-tag team of American soldiers discovering a sinister Nazi plot didn’t quite have the gooey grand finale I was anticipating but it’s still tons of old-school fun. KURT RUSSELL’s son WYATT excels at just the type of rough-around-the-edges, reluctant hero character his father perfected back in the day. Something tells me this one is going to play better at home than in the theater and has a long life of cult fandom waiting ahead for it. There are more than a few highly impressive set pieces and I’m of the feeling that multiple viewings will only enhance them.

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

I’m not the biggest fan of the original THE STRANGERS (although I flip for its “Because you were home” scorpion tail sting) so I was surprised how much I dug this low investment, side-dish sequel. The novel trailer park as funhouse setting really worked for me and try as I might, I could not help loving its MTV-era reliance on ‘80s pop music. If you’re going to be murdered, it may as well be to the synth-stained vocal stylings of KIM WILDE.

THE MEG

I do wish Meg ate more people but this movie starred JASON STATHAM and therefore it rocks.

TERRIFIER

The plot is nothing to write home about but boy is Art the clown scary as hell. DAVID HOWARD THORTON has such an expressive mug and he delivers one of the best make-up heavy horror performances since ROBERT ENGLUND portrayed you know who. Ultimately the movie itself didn’t quite grab me but its nightmarish centerpiece miscreant certainly did.

THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW

Writer/director ANDY MITTON (YELLOWBRICKROAD, WE GO ON) has tacitly become a tremendously reliable horror auteur. His light poetic touch gives his modern horror tales an uncanny vibe that makes them feel like classic psychological ghost stories. As superbly crafted as the supernatural element of this tale is, it also earnestly relays a rocky yet moving relationship between a father and his son. If you are a fan of haunted house movies, this is a must.

SATAN’S SLAVES

I have not seen the original 1980 Indonesian Horror film of the same name that this film is a loose prequel/sequel to but if it’s anywhere near as creepy as this flick, I certainly want to. Writer/director JOKO ANWAR does an incredible job juggling a multitude of characters in this family haunting tale, each of which is as vital as the other. There’s a strong autobiographical element that brings a sense of natural realism and it makes the horror scenes that much more credible and terrifying.

A QUIET PLACE

I can’t think of any other movie going experience in which the premise of the film (sound =death) took such hold of an audience; so many glaring eyes at anyone who dared rustle in their seats or chew popcorn! I’m a sucker for a movie with a big heart (the father/daughter reconciliation left me misty-eyed) that can also scare your socks off. PG-13 or not, this monster thriller had moments of squirm-inducing anxiety that brought me back to my first viewing of ALIEN.

BIRD BOX

Speaking of confronting the downfall of society with more than one hand tied behind your back, BIRD BOX (based on a book written before A QUIET PLACE) is another compelling take on an apocalypse (I grew up entranced by THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? so Hollywood, feel free to make more). This Netflix nugget dropped instantly inspiring a million memes and an inevitable backlash but I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t keep me perpetually captivated. I so relate to any material that focuses on the terror of being responsible for another life because I have nightmares about my cats getting lost every night. Plus nobody can get me to say a bad word about SANDY B.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

I was more than a little miffed when I learned writer/director MIKE FLANAGAN had the audacity to perform a major renovation on SHIRLEY JACKSON’s exquisite tale. I decided to hate-watch it anyway and sure as hell, my hate turned to love at record speed. Lo and behold FLANAGAN, against all odds, delivered a JOHN IRVING goes to hell masterpiece of family dysfunction. The neat as a bow ending felt like a bit of a betrayal but I’ll never curse a hearty four-course horror meal over a too sweet dessert.

THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA

This here is my jam. I’m never more happy then when I can escape into a horror series that clicks in all the right places with charming characters and an excellently decorated home base. I miss BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER so much in these dark times and the wonderfully dark SABRINA eased my longing and then some. I could have used a little more of Salem the cat but cousin Ambrose (CHANCE PERDOMO) provides a reasonable stopgap and MICHELLE GOMEZ as Mrs. Wardwell is the best mischievous frenemy since Dr. Smith rattled the Robinsons in LOST IN SPACE.

CASTLE ROCK “The Queen”

Oh boy. I dug this entire (sometimes uneven) series but the seventh episode appropriately titled “The Queen” rocked my heart into oblivion. Horror royalty SISSY SPACEK delivers a performance for the ages as Ruth, a woman crashing through eventful periods of her life under the spell of dementia. It’s an hour of soul-shattering television and just when I thought it couldn’t get more pitch-perfect they went and played the most appropriate song in the universe, NANCY SINATRA’s “Time”. Bravo.

MANDY

Aw, when NICOLAS CAGE gets the right material he can bring something that exactly no other man can. I haven’t enjoyed him this much since he went full on bonkers in VAMPIRE’S KISS. Speaking of material, someone please buy a fruit basket for costume designer ALICE EYASSARTIER for me. All I want is a baseball jersey with either a number 44 on it or a roaring tiger face. Wow, 2018 sure was the year for the mind-f*ck movie, eh?

ANNIHILATION

My eyes really couldn’t get enough of this movie. It’s like watching a heady sci-fi epic while flipping through an artsy coffee table book at the same time. ALEX GARLAND finds this incredible middle ground where the beautiful and the grotesque collide and many times it’s hard to decipher whether you should “aw!” or “ew!” (many times, both at the same time is appropriate). The final act flew a couple hundred miles over my head but I adore the mystery of it anyway. I know it is impossible but there’s also a creature attack scene in this movie that has me fantasizing about GARLAND remaking 1979’s PROPHECY about twenty-four hours a day. My dreams are too big for this world.

THE RITUAL

It’s a rare and beautiful thing when a film adaptation lives up to its source material and this flick does just that with remarkable craftiness and gusto. I’m a big fan of ADAM NEVILL’s novel of the same name and I’m so impressed with how this film prunes out elements that might not have worked on screen and more impressively, added layers that miraculously deepen the tale. The premise is familiar survival horror territory but in a genius stroke, the main character is tasked with battling guilt and grief just as much as he must lock horns with an unimaginable backwoods monster. This movie towers in my head because I first watched it with my Mother and brother after my father had died and it somehow struck me as an anthem saluting perseverance when facing the unfixable.

HEREDITARY

Ugh. I know this movie is difficult. I think it goes about a mile too far into the WTF?-zone in the last lap too- but it unnerved me soooo good in places that I felt near crazy at times. I was honestly so discombobulated by the nefarious sound design that at one point, I thought that a wounded stray dog had come into the theater and was barking for help. I found myself in a semi-dream state where I wouldn’t be surprised if I started to hallucinate. Whatever its faults, it brought a tangible waking-nightmare feeling that I have to give mad props to. Much has been said (deservingly so) about TONI COLLETTE’s performance but I also have to throw mad laurels at ALEX WOLFF (who is also great in MY FRIEND DAHMER) who played the son. He killed me. After THE MOST HORRIFYING OCCURRENCE, his reaction is to go to bed! The dude goes to sleep! Finally, I feel like I’ve been represented on screen!

SUSPIRIA

I can’t believe I was warned NOT to see this movie by a “friend”! Are you kidding me? Some people say this movie is “too long” to which I say, “Boo-hoo, pack a lunch and settle in.” Yes, I loved every minute of it. It’s the female peacock version of ARGENTO’s masterpiece, generally the same worthy bird, just with a more subdued color palette. TILDA SWINTON has never been more TILDA (even when she’s not TILDA) and DAKOTA JOHNSON brings it in ways I never would have guessed she was capable of. I also dug the lovely cameo from OG witch-bait JESSICA HARPER and the trifling stand out presence of RENEE SOUTENDIJK (EVE OF DESTRUCTION). Director LUCA GUADAGNINO impeccably nests the supernatural crisis in real-world events to ground them and then swings the pendulum into surreal otherworldliness just when you’ve gotten your sea legs. Haunting, brutal and trippy as all get out, I didn’t want to leave this witch school, I was begging for tenure.

HALLOWEEN

My list is not in any order but I’ve saved my personal favorite for last anyway. This blessed return to Haddonfield, Illinois may not be the most original or artistic of the year but it filled my heart with the most horror-infused joy anyway. I’m just so damn grateful to spend quality time with my favorite horror character again- and I’m talking about Laurie not Mike. I am truly in worship of this incarnation of my hero. It may have been more comforting to see Laurie as the fully functioning yet hyper-neurotic, Type A personality in 1998’s H2O but in this alternate timeline, JAMIE LEE CURTIS brings back Laurie’s square peg outsider quality which I think is crucial. (even if it’s not as snugly satisfying). It’s a subtle, fascinating performance that I only wanted to see more of. The movie is best when it’s keeping itself as sharp, clean and streamlined as a butcher knife and only stumbles when it needlessly complicates things (or neglects to kill off deserving characters). Sure, I would much rather have learned the fates of Tommy and Lindsey (or even Ben Tramer) over Lonnie but there’s so much obvious Easter egg love for the fans that it feels gluttonous to complain (Laurie still has her ENDSOR portrait!). And then there’s that score! Just the luxury of getting wrapped up in that JOHN CARPENTER synth-quilt again feels like a glorious windfall.

All in all, it’s a modern slasher masterpiece in my book; the characters are strong, the atmosphere is intoxicating and the kills feel consequential. This is the one movie that I’ve seen this year that I’m sure to return to again and again. The original HALLOWEEN is THE ground zero for my unabashed horror fandom and (although I highly value ROB ZOMBIE’s personal interpretations as well) this truly felt like going home again.

That’s it! I didn’t like everything, I swear. I just decided to leave the movies that I was less enthused by out in the cold where they belong. I also sure as hell didn’t see everything so if there are any titles I forgot to mention that you enjoyed, let us all know in the comments! Happy New Year!

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Tags: General Horror

Blu- Ray Review: Nightwing (1979) and Shadow of the Hawk (1976)

December 13th, 2018 · 1 Comment

I’ve got to send out some fresh positive psychic vibes to MILL CREEK who just released a favorite flick from my adolescence on Blu-ray. I’m talking about ARTHUR HILLER’s 1979 bonkers bat bonanza NIGHTWING! To make it even more irresistible it comes joined at the hip with the thematically similar SHADOW OF THE HAWK (1976). Both flicks are guilty of casting non-Native Americans as Native American leads but I’ll give them a pass because such were the times and at least both characters are portrayed as honorable heroes. I’ll vouch for these two flicks because they have their hearts in the right place and a healthy concern for the preservation of the environment and its animal inhabitants. Sure, NIGHTWING very wrongly asserts at times that bats are dangerous, even “Evil” (wha?) but the bigger message is about how mankind’s greed is destroying the planet (which is still true today). Sure, I may have to do some mental gymnastics to defend NIGHTWING but the thing is, even though it is questionable PR for the misunderstood creatures, it still ignited my ongoing love for them. Bats are beautiful even when they are starring in a horror movie. I can’t help it, the unintentionally adorable close-ups of the flapping critters in this movie still fill my heart with glee and affection. I even Googled “bats as pets” –turns out it’s not a great idea.

I’ve swooned over NIGHTWING before when it appeared in MILL CREEK’s earlier ANIMAL APOCALYPSE collection HERE. I was thrilled to view the movie in widescreen for the first time in a long while and take in its gorgeous cinematography. Of course, it’s even more impressive in rich and sharp HD. I know not everyone enjoys this movie as much as I do but in my head, it co-exists alongside two other post-JAWS flicks: THE ISLAND (1980) and PROPHECY (1979) as memorably epic early film-going experiences for me personally. The trio represents a specific period when my whole family was finally of the age to experience a horror flick together. These flicks stand in a little bubble of time before slasher movies completely took over my mind. Maybe I’m being slightly coerced by nostalgia but having watched the film again, I have to say I don’t get the shrug off it sometimes inspires in others. The movie is stunning to look at, I’m totally enthralled by the two main leads (NICK MANCUSO and THE SENDER’s KATHRYN HARROLD), the score by HENRY MANCINI is lovely and there are at least two highly thrilling bat attack set pieces. The campfire scene! Allow me to quote myself from an earlier review

“Right smack in the middle of the film, surrounded by all that ponderous dialogue is NIGHTWING‘s crown jewel, a campfire attack to end all campfire attacks. The special effects may be a tad crappy by today’s standards, but the set-up and surprisingly sadistic tone more than make up for it. Watching co-eds meet the business end of gardening equipment may be fun, but you have not lived until you have observed stuffy, prissy middle-agers running about pell-mell with bats chomping on them from head to foot. What’s remarkably hilarious is just how cowardly the male campers are (keep an eye peeled for CHARLES HALLAHAN whose head will later sprout spider legs in J.C’s THE THING), they leave one woman to fall into the actual fire pit and catch aflame, and the other one is refused access to the safety of a nearby van. When the poor woman seeks refuge under the vehicle, her husband nonchalantly drives over her head!”

Oddly, the review I snatched that paragraph from is a lot more critical then one I would write today. Ten years ago I was complaining that NIGHTWING was “fatally dry and about three times more talky then it needs to be.” Meanwhile, during my recent watch, I found its talkative nature a relief compared to overly busy modern fare. Either I’ve become less critical in my old age or I’ve learned to savor good old-fashioned quiet build-ups before a cinematic storm. That fondness for the less brash seventies came in handy while checking out the second feature on this disc, SHADOW OF THE HAWK. This movie sports a misleading mellow vibe that progressively turns downright eerie. A young JAN MICHAEL VINCENT stars as the grandson of a powerful shaman (CHIEF DAN GEORGE) who sees him as the heir to his mystical skills and enlists him to aid him in the destruction of evil forces. We’re again in the PG-rated zone but don’t worry, there’s something genuinely creepy going on here especially whenever a seriously alarming white-masked ghost demon materializes.

Like NIGHTWING, CURSE showcases incredibly alluring location photography. Take my word or it, cinematographer JOHN HOLBROOK (GHOSTKEEPER) takes full advantage of the majestic mountains and forests of British Columbia. This is mostly a laid-back affair but the characters are truly likable and it’s hard to not enjoy a movie that features a phantom black car, a man wrestling a bear and an exploding owl apparition. I only wish I had caught it on on TV back in the day, having no idea of just how deep into the trippy supernatural it ultimately ends up going. Having missed out on that, I can happily say it’s a great fit with good old NIGHTWING. Both of these movies deserve a lot more appreciation than they’ve received in the past and hopefully by joining forces on a double feature disc they will receive it. If NIGHTWING has taught me anything, it’s that there’s strength in numbers.

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Tags: General Horror