Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear (2013) d. Various (USA)
The multi-headed anthology film, where a disparate group of filmmakers ally forces (or at least throw their respective hats into the same ring), continues to gain steam and **thisclose** to being a legitimate subgenre unto itself. Three...Extremes, Chillerama, the V/H/S films, The Theatre Bizarre, Little Deaths, The ABCs of Death and so on. However, I can’t say I’ve been really impressed by most of these, since many simply feel like a two-hour short-film festival with little unifying rhyme or reason. On the one hand, I’m happy these artists are reaching a broader audience than they might just shilling their short on YouTube, Vimeo, et al., but at the same time, my nostalgic heart pines for a time when the portmanteau format was utilized with a bit more cohesiveness and forethought, where a unifying vision ran through the proceedings. Even if the stories themselves were uneven, they at least felt like they were of the same universe. Happily, Chilling Visions (originally produced for and aired on the Chiller network this May, and now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory) is that rare beast where all involved are pulling in the same direction even as they utilize the “divide and conquer” method of filmmaking.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Nothing Left to Fear (2013) d. Anthony Leonardi III (USA)
When a new pastor (James Tupper) arrives with his wife (Anne Heche) andfamily at the dust blown borders of Stull, Kansas to head up the local congregation, he finds himself unwittingly caught up in a mysterious Wicker Man-type conspiracy with specific designs for his two daughters, Rebecca (Rebekah Brandes) and Mary (Jennifer Stone) Unfortunately, despite screenwriter Jonathan W.C. Mills’ attempts to do something different with the “insiders/outsiders” tropes, the enterprise is submarined by director Anthony Leonardi III’s misdirection of his ensemble and misguided overuse of humdrum swirling black CGI tendrils.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Hidden in the Woods (2012) d. Patricio Valladares (Chile)
An assault on the senses and the soul, one whose curtain-raiser features a father raping his daughter, then dropping the ensuing infant into a bucket nine months later and feeding it raw meat. Exploitation nightmare logic holds sway over cohesive storytelling, presenting a dark fable where destitute chainsaw-wielding psychopaths outrun and outgun gun-toting police officers, where runaway waifs turn cannibal, where one’s shattered brachioradialis (aka the forearm bone) becomes a lethal weapon, where everyone’s dark side is their only side....
The House on Straw Hill (aka Exposé aka Trauma) (1976) d. James Kenelm Clarke (UK)
A curiously dubbed Udo Kier plays a high-strung novelist working out the sophomore jitters in his country hideaway (when he’s not donning rubber gloves to do the horizontal mambo with bouncy playmate Fiona Richmond, that is), with Linda Hayden as the typist hired to take dictation. One of the infamous “video nasties” banned in Britain in the ’80s, writer/director James Kenelm Clarke presents a hallucinatory and twisted portrait of sex and violence, and while his presentation has a decided confidence of conviction, his narrative is absolute loopy claptrap...which is not necessarily a bad thing.
I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013) d. Steven R. Monroe (USA)
I was a relatively inexperienced exploitation viewer when I first encountered the original 1978 I Spit on Your Grave. As a result, I couldn’t feel the full impact of the beast since the shoddy camerawork, lackluster performances, and middling makeup effects kept me at a distance. I understood that this was a terrible situation that our main character Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) was in, but the execution of the story itself couldn’t get past the filter of my Hollywood-honed sensibilities. Later, as I consumed more alternative and rough-edged efforts, I revisited the film and was not only more affected, but more impressed by what writer/director Meir Zarchi had been able to capture. Like the child who shies away from the bitterness of coffee yet later grows to appreciate a double expresso, my tastes have either sharpened or dulled (depending on your opinion) to see past the flaws wrought by meager funds and limited experience. I now see I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman) as a vital piece of exploitation cinema, a brave, fearless and underrated examination of the reality of rape and the fantasy of revenge.
Monday, October 14, 2013
The Living and the Dead (2006) d. Simon Rumley (UK)
A gut-wrenching exploration of mental illness, social status, age and mortality, writer/director Simon Rumley’s macabre microbudget masterpiece attacks viewers with staccato visuals and a driving soundscape serving its terrifying high-concept narrative.
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) d. Katt Shea (USA)
No one would deny that attempting a sequel to Brian De Palma’s sensational screen version of Stephen King’s breakthrough novel is a pretty thankless gig, but screenwriter Rafael Moreu’s approach is so clumsy one can only wonder what the rejected ideas looked like. In the town next door, another odd duck female adolescent, Rachel (Emily Bergl), experiences the rise of telekinetic powers coinciding with her sexual maturity, and wouldn’t you know it, mom J. Smith-Cameron is a Christian loony toon just like Piper Laurie in the 1976 film. (I’m not sure if the “rage” of the title is supposed to be a riff on “Rache” – I’m going to ignore it so I don’t have to slap anyone.)
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Final Terror, The (1983) d. Andrew Davis (USA)
A group of male park rangers decide to turn their river clean-up assignment into a little recreational jaunt with their equally outdoorsy lady friends. But there’s something lurking in the woods, something that wants to be left alone. Equal parts Friday The 13th, Just Before Dawn, Deliverance, and Southern Comfort, what could have been just another maniac-in-the-woods programmer turns out to be loaded with suspense and boasts a raft of soon-to-be-stars in early, strong performances.
Goldberg & Eisenberg (2013) d. Oren Carmi (Israel)
At the end of the 2008 home invasion hit, The Strangers, one of the hapless victims tearfully asks her attackers, “Why us?” The chilling answer, “Because you were home,” resonates on a primal level; we realize that there is nothing they/we could have done to avoid their/our fate. No wrong committed, no law transgressed, no rhyme, no reason. Israeli writer/director Oren Carmi taps a similar vein with his latest feature, one that mines the randomness of human interaction along the same lines as Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. Sometimes insanity just finds you sitting on a park bench and it’s all downhill from there.
Friday, October 11, 2013
American Gothic (1988) d. Hough, John (UK/Canada) 90 min.
Set in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, this sturdy “vacationers in peril” tale follows a group of mildly annoying yuppies looking for a little R&R and finding M&M (madness and murder) instead.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
The Signal (2007) d. David Bruckner / Jacob Gentry / Dan Bush (USA)
After a mysterious transmission invades every cell phone, radio, and television, humanity turns against itself with the end of the world looming nigh. This gimmicky yet strangely moving fright flick distinguishes itself not through originality, but by smartly integrating just about every popular trend afflicting contemporary horror films.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Trilogy of Terror II (1996) d. Dan Curtis (USA)
After terrorizing a generation in the 70s with his spooky television output, producer/director Curtis revisited his roots first via a reboot of his cult soap opera Dark Shadows in 1991, followed by this sequel to the celebrated 1975 anthology TV-movie starring Karen Black. In the original version, Black played the lead character in all three segments; here, Lysette Anthony (who had played Shadows’ Angelique for Curtis) takes up the mantle, switching up hairstyles and accents for a trio of enjoyable horror yarns that very nearly match the entertainment value of its predecessor.
At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964) d. Jose Mojica Marins (Brazil)
A gravedigger (played by writer/director Marins after the original actor bowed out) challenges the religious and social customs of his small village, intimidating and threatening everyone in his path with his belief that he is a superior man, free from such common restraints. With his wife Lenita (Valeria Vasquez) unable to bear children, he sets his eye upon the betrothed beauty Terezinha (Magda Mei) of his best friend Antonio (Nivaldo Lima) with murder the means to justify his godless desires.
Monday, October 7, 2013
The Old Dark House (1932) d. James Whale (USA)
Almost forgotten in the Universal collection of horrors, this gem of a flick is often overshadowed by its more popular monster rally brethren. Director Whale’s follow-up to Frankenstein is well worth seeking out for its sheer atmospheric wackiness and gale-force acting from the entire ensemble, several of whom would turn up again for Whale in Bride of Frankenstein.
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Death Weekend (aka The House by the Lake) (1976) d. William Fruet (Canada)
Lothario dentist Chuck Shamata lures comely model Brenda Vaccaro away to his secluded woodland getaway under the false pretense of a grand socialite party. A lover of expensive toys, he flaunts his flashy sports car, only to discover that she’s the superior driver after he smugly obliges her request to take the wheel. Unfortunately, a carful of drunken joyriding hoodlums come along the same stretch of road and before long, the two vehicles are locked in a thrilling duel that concludes with the idiots careening into a ditch. The thugs’ enraged leader (Don Stroud) vows revenge; he and his cronies set about tracking the couple to Shamata’s opulent mansion by the lake, subjecting their quarry to an evening of torture, humiliation and rape.
The Monkey’s Paw (2013) d. Brett Simmons (USA)
Kicking off with a bleaker version of the original tale’s finale, this adaptation by screenwriter Macon Blair acts as a both a sequel to and an updating of W.W. Jacobs’ classic short story of twisted wish fulfillment. C.J. Thomason stars as a New Orleans blue collar worker with minimal prospects and even fewer aspirations, content to grind out the hours then drown sorrows at the local watering hole with co-workers Stephen Lang and Corbin Bleu. But one night, former supervisor Daniel Hugh Kelly brings out the titular wrinkled keepsake from his youth, gives it to Thomason and before you can say “Deadtime for Bonzo,” the ill-advised wishes start a-flyin’.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Harold’s Going Stiff (2011) d. Wright, Keith (UK)
With a tagline like “The Nicest Zombie You’ll Ever Meet,” hardcore horror fans might be a little reluctant to saddle up with this Brit import fearing it to be an overly cutesy spin on the exhaustingly prevalent walking dead. While it’s not likely to send any shivers down the spine or lunches lurching down the loo, Harold is a sublime piece of filmmaking and a thoughtful reinvention of the shambler mythos.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974) d. De Palma, Brian (USA)
Two years before he emerged as a superstar filmmaker with Carrie, De Palma concocted this comedy/horror re-working of Phantom of the Opera. When enigmatic studio magnate Swan (Paul Williams, in a stroke of inspired casting) steals aspiring composer William Finley’s rock opera version of Faust, the spurned tunesmith swears vengeance. As he attempts to sabotage the Death Records offices, Finley’s face and vocal cords are destroyed in a horrific record pressing accident, transforming him into a masked freak haunting Swan’s new rock opera house, the Paradise.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
|They warned me that my eyes would fall out someday if I kept watching this crap...|
Another slow month, but rehearsals for The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail down in WV have kept me occupied during the times when I wasn’t bashing away at HIDDEN HORROR (which is taking shape slowly but surely, and a shapely lass she is). But for the most part what we saw was worth seeing, and now it’s time to clear the plate before diving into the abyss that is the October Movie Challenge! I don’t expect this year to be nearly as bonkers as the past two (where I topped the century mark both times) – too much on the plate these days to do a full-on Scare-A-Thon, although I might take a stab at it in an alternate month in 2014, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, as always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Mirror Mirror (1990) d. Sargenti, Marina (USA)
Enjoyable little riff on the old haunted mirror gambit (although oddly enough there’s not a lot that is related in any way to reflecting or vision, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, but I digress). Rainbow Harvest plays an achingly shy misfit relocated from Los Angeles after the sudden death of her father, trying to start anew with kooky mom Karen Black.