WITCHING AND BITCHING (2013)
Once upon a time a decade ago, I was visiting my parents in Texas for Christmas. Whilst there, I rented a VHS tape (English dubbed!!) of ALEX DE LA IGLESIA’s THE DAY OF THE BEAST at BLOCKBUSTER of all places. I wasn’t expecting much but I wasn’t about to pass up a movie set on Christmas Eve involving the birth of the antichrist. I was blown away by the film and happily stunned by IGLESIA’s fearlessness. Over the years I’ve tried to keep up with his work as best I could and although he never knocked my socks off in quite the same way again, I could always rely on the director to be interesting. His latest flick is currently on Netflix under the title WITCHING AND BITCHING, which is a terrible name for a movie especially when all you’d have to do is translate the original Spanish title “Las brujas de Zugarramurdi” to end up with the superior calling card “THE WITCHES OF ZUGARRAMURDI.” I realize that ZURGARRAMURDI is a mouthful but no pain no gain. Oh well, what’s in a title anyway? The important thing is that WITCHING turned out to be my favorite movie of IGLESIA’S since DAY OF THE BEAST. This is the director I fell in love with. I appreciate that as an artist he got the itch to explore various genres and styles and but THIS is the movie I’ve been waiting for all these years.
I’ll lighten my writing load by saying W&B is like FROM DUSK TO DAWN making a pit stop at THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW before crashing through THE WITCHES and then slamming into THE TEMPLE OF DOOM crossed with DRAGNET while texting PETER JACKSON’s DEAD ALIVE (1993). I know I’m doing the film a disservice by listing random associations but I can’t help how my brain works…or doesn’t. Point is, this runaway train of a movie is darkly hilarious and giddily imaginative and takes great joy in lampooning grizzled gender conflicts and spanking sacred cows. The cast is a non-stop treasure trove of both legendary and burgeoning talent and it’s always a red letter day for me when Spain’s answer to BARBARA STEELE, MACARENA (DAGON, 6 FILMS TO KEEP YOU AWAKE’s TO LET) GOMEZ graces the screen with her lovely presence. All in all, the infectious vibrant audacity that bubbles from this brew makes the mundane mainstream horror we’re usually subjected to taste like gruel in comparison. Bold and drunk with rampancy, W&B is lovably nuts and more fun than a barrel of flying monkeys.
PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS (2013)
When the remake of CARRIE appeared on Netflix the dumb side of my brain was like “Yay, I wanna see this!” and then the other slightly brighter side of my brain was like “Err, you already did. You rented it from Redbox and it stunk!” See, there’s something worse than being a bad remake and that’s being a movie so vapid and joyless it fails to even register. I view PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS as the universe’s attempt to apologize to me for allowing that pale counterfeit CARRIE to roam the land. Because telekinetic horror doesn’t grow on trees, I’ll gladly accept this offering. Director MARK HARTLEY’s tribute might not be any great shakes but at least it exhibits a genuine affection for the source material instead of simply sighing and covering the bases like an exasperated drone. It’s got a snazzy gothic look and it’s smart enough to periodically step aside and simply allow PINO’S DINOGGIO’s persuasive score to do the convincing.
I admit it gets rather silly, especially considering the short lived classy tone it musters out of the starting gate, but even at its most ridiculous (coma bound Patrick’s telekinesis has a soft spot for blink and it’s dated technology), it’s genuinely affable in a desperate late ‘80s kind of way. And how am I supposed to resist the snide drollness of CHARLES DANCE as a sadist doctor? He’s so good in this that he made me sad all over again that he was chomped on like a hot dog by a Xenomorph in ALIEN 3. And then there’s my longtime frenemy RACHEL GRIFFITHS who I’m guessing has been patiently waiting her entire career to take on an icy Nurse Ratched role. Hey, this remake is actually superior to the original and that’s more than enough to aspire to (and a feet the CARRIE retread didn’t have the luxury to even fantasize about.) Yep, I’m all for PATRICK and I’m awarding extra points for shoving a lighthouse and an improbable twisty road on a cliff into the mix.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL (2012) & AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (2014)
Don’t make the mistake I did and watch these two flicks back to back or you’ll end up with a dueling demon doppelganger double feature that feels like an extended miniseries. I’m going to have to give the edge to the earthier Spanish language stab HERE COMES THE DEVIL. It’s about a family taking a car trip, loosing their kids and then sensing something’s radically off with the tykes once they are recovered. It’s got a strange, lasting vibe thanks to its appropriating of groovy psychedelic seventies zooms and flash edits which manage to camouflage its weaker moments or at least render them more forgivable. Plus it’s like a fun size, Whopper Jr. version of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK with less sun umbrellas and zero petticoats.
AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR is a bit of a disappointment. It’s from NICHOLAS McCARTHY the writer/director of THE PACT, which I’m a big fan of but it suffers from lousy conclusion disease. It acts like your new best friend, sharing fine acting and a compelling, mysterious plot and then it kicks you the shins and makes off with your shoes. I’m still trying to rationalize its infuriating close, which should have been dialed up or dialed down or presented any which way than how it is. As it stands, it sort of retroactively makes everything that came before it suddenly feel like a meandering prologue. Maybe if I had watched it first I’d feel less had but I didn’t, so here I am. I’ll give McCARTHY a praise cookie for his talent with a tone of tangible dread but it’s a stale cookie in honor of his use of red hoodie imagery.
THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN (2014)
This phony documentary’s smudging of the line between dementia and demon-entia works so well you’ll wonder why nobody has ever exploited the similarities before. Honestly, this one almost lost me early on with a questionable scene depicting progressively creepy DEBORAH materializing BEWITCHED-style on a counter top. Almost anything I can think of would be more effective. Personally, I’d be more taken aback if she was secretly taped eating out of the trash, at least that wouldn’t defy the laws of time and space. Maybe I just perceived the scene incorrectly? In any case, it was almost enough of a misstep for me to throw in the towel but I’m glad I didn’t because I would have missed, what eventually becomes, a memorable descent into darkness and proof that there may be some unturned rocks on the found footage trail after all. Ultimately what makes this modest foray work and raises it above the typical trek are its two impressive central performances. Both JILL LARSON as Deborah and ANNE RAMSAY as her concerned daughter are sensational separately and even more so when they’re playing off each other. Their believable relationship and convincing familiarity adds an extra level of authenticity that allows the scares to hit closer to home.
ODD THOMAS (2013)
I love this ODD THOMAS movie. It is based on a novel by DEAN KOOTZ (which kicked off a popular series) and it’s about a young man (ANTON YELCHIN) who can see the dead and is committed to helping them out when he can. There’s a nifty nostalgic ‘80s-era small town, almost Dante-esque (meaning GREMLINS rather than THE DIVINE COMEDY) atmosphere and the characters are immensely likable and it’s even sweetly romantic and surprisingly moving when it’s not shoving CGI ghouls down your throat. I’d say it’s probably director STEPHEN (DEEP RISING, THE MUMMY) SOMMERS best work so it’s a real shame it didn’t get the proper attention and the clout to warrant its deserved sequels. Just talking about it makes me want to watch it again and I won’t be surprised if it quickly gathers a devoted cult following. If nothing else it stands as a nail in the coffin to the idea that a limited theatrical release signifies a lesser film.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 (1994)
PART 3 is mostly useless and the 2009 remake is a soul-killing travesty but those harsh facts fail to dilute my enduring affection for the original NIGHT OF THE DEMONS or its plucky 1994 sequel. If you haven’t seen this one in a while, Netflix is a great place to get reacquainted with it as it looks all sharp, sparkly and colorful in HD. NOTD2 introduces us to Melissa, the younger sister of the first film’s evil Angela who attends a religious school with a bunch of aggressive classmates who insist on calling her “Mouse.” As part of an ill-advised Halloween prank, Mouse’s adversaries trick her into visiting Hull House, the location of the original demonic massacre, and naturally all hell breaks loose anew.
The jewels in this flicks crown are the great JENNIFER RHODES, as a nun presented as an uptight shrew who later reveals herself to be a kick-ass ally, TV mainstay ROD McCAREY as a doubtful priest, a cameo by THE WALTON’s RACHEL LONGAKER as an unlucky, door-to-door Bible thumper and I’m just going to admit it, CHRISTINE TAYLOR as a jerky blonde. Seriously, between this, THE CRAFT and CAMPFIRE TALES, I think TAYLOR is an undervalued ‘90s horror presence (she did strike near Chris Hargensen levels of bitchery in THE CRAFT after all). And please note how one character snarkily and prophetically refers to TAYLOR’s character as “Marcia” a year before she played her in THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE.
All in all, I can’t resist the surreal, female Freddy vibe going on throughout NOTD2 and even though it trades some scares for more outrageous winking humor (just as Freddy did), it’s perhaps only one BAUHAUS song shy of being as stupendous as its predecessor.
Who dares to endure a killer clown movie? It almost has to be bad, right? Everybody and their brother feels they can pull off such a thing and they’re always wrong. Evil clowns make swell DVD covers but the films within are usually uninspired dreck and no laughing matter. But wait! I loved STITCHES! STITCHES is the exception to the rule! It’s genuinely funny, admirably dark, has memorable characters, freaks you out if you want it to and most importantly, showcases some delightfully squishy kills. Why, I may have even winced at one point and it made me miss the days when I winced more often. Oh, and it’s nice to see a movie about teenagers with actual teenagers in it even if sometimes I had to prick up my ears on account of the Irish accents. This movie is just all kinds of fun and belongs on the shelf next to not to be taken too seriously films like RUMPELSTILSKIN, ICE CREAM MAN and JACK FROST. Ouch, that sounded like an insult, I just meant that STITCHES is an exceptional horror party movie best watched with friends be they real or imaginary.
This one was pretty good. I’d prefer a more traditional ghost story, one less gimmicky and repetitive but it’s entertaining enough. I think it would make a fine companion movie to DONNIE DARKO but maybe I’m just saying that because it takes place in the eighties. Yes, it features a Rubik’s Cube because back then Rubik’s Cubes were as ubiquitous as cell phones are today. You tripped over them wherever you went, people had drawers full of them and if a day went by in which you didn’t hold one in your hand, you felt so very empty and alone. Hey, HAUNTER’s got STEPHEN McHATTIE in it and I like that even though that makes me worry that LANCE HENRICKSON has one less job. All right, I’m probably a little too old for this movie. It does a really good job of capturing the chasm that grows between parents and teens and I think I would have appreciated that much better if I was younger. Aunt John dug this movie more than me, which is a rarity. Not because he’s younger but because he liked that the movie is trapped in a world where SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES still reign supreme. If you like ghosts or the eighties, you should give this flick a shot- just be warned that it tries a little too hard to be puzzling.
LIZZIE BORDON TOOK AN AXE (2014)
Speaking of McHATTIE, Lifetime network’s LIZZIE BORDEN TOOK AN AXE is available to stream on Netflix currently as well. If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy it will undoubtedly make your brain explode but McHATTIE, CLEA DUVALL and especially CHRISTINA RICCI are immensely watchable and I was entranced by the gritty/glossy crime scene as fashion spread visuals. Lots of folks made a stink about the use of modern music in the soundtrack but it didn’t bug me at all. I mean, the music in a movie is not meant to be taken as actually happening in the movie is it? I’ve always regarded it as an emotion enhancing overlay of sorts and so I don’t get why it should be locked into the time period of the events depicted. Then again, I may be blinded by my RICCI-bias, it knows no bounds.
DON’T BLINK (2014)
Shame on my lowbrow tastes! I know full well on Netflix there are a variety of thoughtful, independent well-received horror flicks by budding auteurs concerning paranoid body dysmorphia, gender subjugation and the overall dehumanizing effects of modern technology and yet I bypass them all in favor of a tale detailing the trials and tribulations of a road trip gone sour starring BRIAN AUSTIN GREEN and MENA SUVARI. If you’re not in the mood for MENA, worry not as it isn’t long before she literally disappears! In fact, everybody in this movie vanishes one by one as in “poof!” one minute they’re there, the next they’re not! Is this a terrible idea for a movie or a modern twist on WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? I don’t know. Half of me thinks this approach has a clever, existential TWLIGHT ZONE effect and the other half of me is suspicious that the makers of the movie needed to save money on special effects in order to afford the swank upscale lodge featured in the film that the cast and crew presumably got to stay in. This joint is so fancy it has a tree growing out of the living room! Anyway, I didn’t hate this movie even though it was practically begging me to and at least it features a fine, unhinged performance by ZACK (SCUT FARKUS!) WARD.
Truth is, the standard “young folks gather in an isolated place to be killed” flick is far less likely to trigger my disgruntled curmudgeon response than an undeservingly glorified movie might. Plus courting films with a slim chance of succeeding is a valuable part of the Netflix experience for me. It reminds me of the good old days when choices were so scarce you HAD to bump into a turkey now and then and there was no way anyone could warn you. Netflix is still going to hell for stomping out video stores but I gotta slap it five for making flicks you wouldn’t want to be caught renting discreetly available at no extra cost. Not that in any way excuses the savage extraction of fourteen seasons of LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT under the cowardly cover of night in the early hours of January first 2015, an event that will henceforth be referred to by me as the MELONI-ocalypse.