Category Archives: Full Length

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American Mary (2012)

Written & Directed by: Jen & Sylvia Soska (Dead Hooker in a Trunk)
Produced by: Twisted Twins Productions
Starring: Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs. Jason)
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This film is, by far, one of the more truly creative and impressive films to be classified as horror in the last few years. It is difficult to come across a new film and walk away from it without saying “been there done that”, but let me assure you, you have not been here, and you have not done this.

I am at a loss for how to describe this film without giving it away, but one word comes to mind: unique. This film is about passion, finding your true self and expressing it un-apologetically; of course there is also violence and gore, rage and revenge, and everything required to be categorized in the horror section; but it is much more than a just horror film. The Soska sisters have said that they wanted to make a film that is undefinable, and I believe they have done just that. It is beautiful to watch, perfectly executed, and very well paced — and being a low budget independent production, that is extremely difficult to achieve. It truly is an empowering film.

The humor, ambition, dedication, emptiness, loss, violence, sarcasm and passion for her craft that Katharine Isabelle displays is something we can all relate to. It’s human nature. They’ve allowed us to feel connected to the character rather than making her inaccessible; masked and banned to the shadows. I was particularly taken by the performances of Tristan Risk and Twan Holiday. Many people see the culture this film explores as bizarre and in some ways terrifying, but within it are truly beautiful human beings, and Tristan and Twan nailed it!

I have definitely written this review with my serious face on, so let me assure you that in addition to being a powerful work of art, this film is also just fucking awesome.

As someone who refers to Audition as the perfect date movie, I have to agree with the Soska sisters that American Mary is definitely a romantic comedy. I look forward to what Twisted Twins have in store for us in the future, and hope they continue in their efforts to re-define the term “chick flick”.

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Bio-Cop (Short, 2012)

Written & Directed by: Steven Kostanski (Father’s Day, Manborg)
Produced by: The Astron-6 Team (Father’s Day, Manborg)
Starring:
Robert Homer
Rick Cordeiro (Outlaw Bikers)
Adam Brooks (Father’s Day, Manborg)
Matthew Kennedy (Father’s Day, Manborg)
Marko Balaban

Official Website: http://www.astron-6.com/ OR http://manborg.com/

Coming soon to video disc! Bio-Cop is an epic five-minute trailer of pure ooey gooey excellence! There really is no professional sounding way to describe slime, melting flesh and organ rot. I’m going to say that again — organ rot. I am so happy right now. Anyway, a freak lab accident takes a nasty turn, leaving a  once-normal-man horribly mutilated and unable to die. Physically indestructible, but plagued with intense emotional problems, this newly declared super-cop is sent to rid the streets of a super-drug. Unfortunately this walking bio-hazard has a serious death wish — for himself, and everyone he comes in contact with.

Quick test for my twitter followers- What are three of my favorite things? If you said Gore, Laughter and The 80′s… you’re right! While viewing this film, my eyes experienced a visual orgasm so satisfying, they were left soggy and emotionless for days. From the mist rising off the slick city streets, to the combination of pink and blue lighting against a dark shadowy industrial backdrop — every atmospheric element worked together perfectly to convince me that I was watching an instant 80′s classic. It was as if I had dusted off one of the VHS tapes from my shelf and loaded it to the VCR. The epic voice-over and music accompany hilarious snippets of dialogue that tell the story of this walking catastrophe. It’s not surprising that the make-up effects are fantastic since the writer/director Steven Kostanski is also a well known FX artist. Gore-hounds will not be disappointed as this short contains facial explosions, vomit, tissue regeneration, gun violence, blood, mutation, mutilation and a human being eaten alive.

An instant classic and a definite favorite!

*This film was screened at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival this past week. We’ll keep you posted, and let you know how you can check it out in the near future!

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Black Christmas (1974)

Directed by: Bob Clark
Written by: Roy Moore (screenplay)
Starring:
Olivia Hussey
Margot Kidder
John Saxon
Keir Dullea

I used to work at a video store. While I walked through the horror movie section, putting movies back on the shelves, I always saw BLACK CHRISTMAS. It was never rented out, for it had a thin film of dust over its VHS case. I was big into zombies, and Black Christmas seemed to lack them. Why bother? The director, Bob Clark, went on to direct A CHRISTMAS STORY after BLACK CHRISTMAS. How scary could it really be?

Fast forward many years later: I was no longer at the video store, but had decided since I had cleared out the zombie section, it was time to start expanding my horror repertoire. Why not pick up the dusty old tape I’d passed by so many times before? In the time of DVD’s, the poor VHS had been forgotten. Luckily I still had my VCR.

At first glance, the movie seemed harmless enough. Someone screaming vulgarities into the phone, preying on young sorority girls – it didn’t seem original to me. I had already seen enough horror films with girls being scared. I wanted something new!

By the first death though, I was hooked. “Who was the killer?” “Why is he still calling the girls?” I continued watching; waiting for the inevitable exposition and climax – the showdown between the killer and the main character, Jess (Hussey).

By the end credits, I was left with chills. Black Christmas successfully did what rarely any movie could do to me: leave me speechless. I had to watch it again.

Years later, I now own it both on DVD and Blu-Ray. But what about Black Christmas that makes it so different?

While the film initially starts with showing several girls at a sorority house preparing for Christmas break, it expels itself to be so much more. In 1974, sorority horror films, let alone slasher films, had yet to impact the genre. Black Christmas was one of the first, or arguably the first, film of its kind -it even inspired John Carpenter create Halloween.

But with an ambiguous villain and often disturbing phone calls, the viewer is purposefully left uneasy with the whereabouts of the killer. From the haunting sounds of the house, to the portrayal of children singing  harmless Christmas carols, no matter what scene you’re in, you’re never comfortable.

That’s just it: you’re never comfortable. Right up to the end of the film, the viewer is never left a sense of relief. The tension builds up and leaves no room for breathing. The phone becomes an unfamiliar stranger. The town too, seems to disappear leaving the large sorority house to become the only place of commonality. Even then, it too betrays as it tightens in on you. What room is safe? Which cast member will survive? What will happen next?

Oddly, one of the incredible things I took away from the first slasher film was the lack of slashing. Leaving the viewing to only ponder what had taken place, it all adds into the chaos that you’re left feeling. That feeling won’t go away when you’re done watching either.

Looking back, when working at the video store, I wish I had seen Black Christmas. I passed it off for a lack of “originality.” For an older movie, it certainly presents something new. That, and it was disrespectful for me to let it collect all of that dust.

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Candyman

Directed by: Bernard Rose
Written by: Clive Barker
Starring:
Virginia Madsen
Tony Todd
Xander Berkley

I picked up a used copy of 1992’s Candyman for my husband’s horror collection. Even though he hadn’t seen it, I was certain it was right up his alley. Indeed Candyman hasn’t lost its touch. Pre Urban Legends andTales From the HoodCandyman is still the film for urban horror.

Virginia Madsen (Sideways) stars as Helen, a Professor’s wife working on her own thesis. Her sleazy husband Trevor (Xander Berkley) belittles Helen’s research, so she sets out on her own to investigate Chicago’s own urban legend, Candyman. While photographing in the projects, Candyman (Tony Todd) appears to Helen. Her visions continue and gruesome murders follow Helen. Soon the authorities suspect Helen, and Trevor thinks she’s crazy.

I can list plenty of other projects with both Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd, but for me, their definitive film is Candyman. Madsen’s ideal as the intelligent, determined yet oblivious wife obsessed with Candyman. Likewise Tony Todd is at his utmost creepy and somehow alluring as the unjustly tormented former slave. Madsen’s Oscar nominated turn in Sideways is nowhere near as memorable as her role here. Her initial calling of Candyman in her bathroom mirror and her final triumphant scenes are cult gold.

After I first saw Candyman, for years I had dreams in which the fur clad and hook toting menace appeared. Todd’s trademark role and deep voice are that creepy, and like Bloody Mary, every kid has called Candyman five times in his bathroom mirror. Fans of gore and creative, bloody murders will no doubt enjoy Candyman. What little effects given are along the lines of fire, blood, and more blood. The violence, however, is not excessive. Integral to the story, many of the spooks in the film are carried out largely by the actors. Helen trips in the dark, dirty, messy projects we know it’s a place where real and fictious horrors can happen. When Helen enters a rank and bloody bathroom-is crap everywhere? Of course not. The audience, however, knows the smells through Madsen’s reaction and the director Bernard Rose’s swift pans.

One intriguing concept from Rose is the lack of those herky jerky Blair Witch style cuts and crazies. The scene of the crime is always fully panned, giving the audience a panoramic view. It’s almost like a three dimensional video game pulling the viewer in. Likewise, Rose moves the camera shots up and away, as if we were swooning like the characters onscreen. The camera work and gore doesn’t take away from Candyman like so many modern films that over do it and deter from the story with unrealistic effects. Clive Barker’s source story is allowed to shine.

Rose also makes use of some very beautiful and haunting urban artwork. Candyman graffiti appears throughout the film. Bees also play a significant part in the film, and this subtle attention to detail makes Candyman work. The families in the projects fear the legend of Candyman and the hooligans who commit crimes in his name-and the audience feels this fear. Like it or not, the racial statements in Candyman help the fear factor. Within the film, folks gasp at the thought of a white woman in the projects. When Helen is indeed attacked, through our collective mind we plant the seed for what the gangs, gang bangers, and hooks will do. Candyman isn’t real, but this film of racial violence and black legends fills the void left by the mainstream media and run of the mill horror standards.

Despite a very satisfactory ending, two sequels followed Candyman. Both 1996’s Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman III: Day of the Dead (1999) are worthy for fans who still can’t look in their bathroom mirrors. Lessened by the loss of Madsen, and direct to video styles for film three, The Candyman chills have continued into the 21st Century.

Candyman is for any fan of the macabre, but particularly those horror buffs tired of the formulaic scare. Intelligent fans, underground enthusiasts, minority audiences-who doesn’t Candyman appeal to? No matter how artistically displayed, the buckets of blood, a touch of nudity and sexual innuendo aren’t made for the young kids or squeamish prudes. Also be warned that Candyman features several brief scenes victimizing children and dogs. Several editions of Candyman and its sequels are available on DVD at affordable prices, or even a bargain VHS. But do avoidCandyman cut up on television. If you’ve got a fur coat and a hook,Candyman is your perfect urban horror movie and it’s great Halloween costume.

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Clive Barker’s Book of Blood

Directed by: John Harrison
Written by: Darin Silverman
Starring:
Jonas Armstrong
Sophie Ward
Doug Bradley

Like most little boys, to me Saturday morning was perhaps the most special day of the week. Monday, and the start of another five days of school felt like a million years away, and the best way to celebrate was to wake up early, eat a bowl of sugary cereal, and watch a long line-up of morning cartoons. Fast forward a couple decades (give or take), and life hasn’t changed much, save for the fact that Saturday mornings now mean a chance to get up early and ring in the weekend with a little stack of horror films (and when one gives it some thought, is an H. G. Lewis filmreally all that worse than watching Tom and Jerry mercilessly beating each other with hammers?)

So on this particular Saturday morning, I found myself putting in a newly acquired copy of “Clive Barker’s Book of Blood” into my DVD player, which I had been meaning to see for quite some time. As an avid Barker fan, and also a huge supporter of the last film adaptation to emerge (Midnight Meat Train, which I was fortunate enough to see screened in Toronto at a Rue Morgue event) my pre-viewing hopes were quite high. Was I disappointed? Read on, fellow horror fan.

The film title is maybe slightly misleading — it is an adaptation of both “The Book of Blood” as well as “On Jerusalem Street”. The main plot revolves around the dark tale of Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong) and the events which unfold when he forms a relationship with his professor — paranormal researcher and author Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward). The film is characteristically Barker in the sense that the plot is much like a tapestry, with many different elements and aspects to the story woven together to create a fantastic and sinister journey into darkness. Without revealing too much and running the risk of spoiling any of the tale, I will quote director John Harrison, who very accurately described the film as being “…much more of a spookshow than a goreshow.” This is for the most part true, since the film masterfully creates moments of high tension without resorting to off-the-wall visual effects and is, at it’s very roots, a ghost story. But that said, the film wound up offering many moments of nasty on-screen blood-and-gore, and did so with style.

Simply said, the film is typical Clive Barker in regards to the atmosphere, the story, the characters, and the subject matter involved. The filmmakers also added a few small homages to the earlier Barker films, most notably Hellraiser (the attic of the house, as well as the closet I found to be very reminiscent of Hellraiser) including one scene featuring a set of dangling chains. Barker fans will certainly not be disappointed.

As for myself, it’s still early on this Saturday morning, and I see the world has been blanketed in our late February snowfall. While the city outside waits to be thawed out by the afternoon sun, I’m going to get another bowl of cereal and put in yet another horror film.

Until next time horror fans — keep it sick.

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Crazies, The (2010)

Directed by: Breck Eisner
Written by: Scott Kosar & Ray Wright
Starring:
Timothy Olyphant
Radha Mitchell
Danielle Panabaker

Creeping Jesus, I thought – is there no movie safe from the twisted clutches of the Hollywood film industry and their insatiable thirst for remakes? These days it seems like no film is off-limits, and in my experience of past Hollywood remakes, rarely do they come close (let alone improve) on the original. But is it any wonder? All one has to do is look at the films that are being remade: classics. It’s not like the industry is looking through the archives of films that had the potential to be good, but fell short because of budget or acting restrictions. Instead they’re dusting off big-named cult classics and bringing them into the modern day.

I’m really not as cynical as it probably sounds: unlike a number of horror purists out there, I refuse to judge a film until I’ve seen it. I may be skeptical about remakes, but in all fairness there are a good number of them that I really dig, including: Night of the Living Dead (1990)13 GhostsHalloweenDawn of the Dead, and The Hills Have Eyes to name a few. And how many of us either forget or simply aren’t aware that John Carpenter’s The Thing, a film that has secured the status of cult classic in the minds of numerous film fans, is also a remake of an earlier film. To put it simply: I’m not against remakes, I’m just against bad remakes.

Stepping into the packed theatre on this late night in March, I had no idea what to expect. The Crazies had a very successful opening weekend, which was certainly promising — but how many people were even familiar with George A. Romero’s original film? Was the film just another watered-down remake intended to cash in with the new generation of tween horror fans?

The lights dimmed, and ninety minutes later—

—I was nodding in approval. The Crazies, though differing from the original in more ways than one, was a faithful reinterpretation, and a bloody entertaining one at that. The story was essentially the same as in the original (those not familiar with it should either see the original, or instead read a plot synopsis) but with the added overtones of a post-911 America. It’s no secret that director George A. Romero is known for two things: gut munching gore and social commentary. The remake was not obscenely gory by any means — though still quite violent at times — but instead focused on building great moments of tension and suspense. The use of jump tactics is generally a cheap way that inferior horror films achieve a reaction from the audience. In The Crazies the jumps were all well planned and were doubly effective because of the excellent filmmaking involved in setting them up. The film had substance, and above all, creativity; making use of unusual locations (I’ll think twice about using an automatic car wash again…) and in every sense of the word was a genuine thrillride.

As I found out, I wasn’t the only one giving a nod of approval to the film. Director George A. Romero, after watching a screening of the remake, said that he ‘enjoyed the movie’ and found it to also be well acted. If the man who brought us the original classic gave it the thumbs up, far be it for me to disagree.

As of this moment The Crazies is still playing in the theatres, and to really get the full experience I suggest you go and check it out on the big screen. This is one remake that certainly did not disappoint.

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Cream of the Crap: Nailgun Massacre

Directed by: Bill Leslie
Written by: Terri Lofton
Starring:
Rocky Patterson
Ron Queen
Beau Leland

This is intended as a primer to appreciating, enjoying and ultimately loving the worst horror movies ever made! The acting is terrible, the effects are obvious, the plots have more holes than swiss cheese. Continuity? What’s that? If you can look past all this, you can often see the desire and hard work that allowed some poor schmuck to make his own movie.

The first film in question is one of my all time favourites, Nailgun Massacre (1985). Finally seeing a DVD release, this is one of the worst, most entertaining films I have ever seen. The plot is simple. A woman is gang raped (although her pants are never removed in the scene) by a crew of construction workers. Shortly afterwards, a series of brutal murders are committed in the area. Our first view of the killer is nothing short of hilarious. A black motorcycle helmet, with black electrical tape obscuring most of the visor (because it was just tinted, not mirrored) covers the killer’s face, and presumably alters his voice into a booming, electronic parody of Darth Vader. It also seems to allow him to laugh menacingly while also speaking, a feat I have yet to master. This head gear tops off a fashionable camouflage jumpsuit and a portable (and bright yellow) hydraulic tank which powers his weapon of choice: the nail gun.

The murders are more or less directed towards the construction workers, but just about anybody is a potential victim as our killer does away with hitchhikers and drifters. Sub-plots are introduced and done away with quickly, as a group of young people venture into the woods to fix up an old house. This serves little purpose but to explain where the killer got the nail gun, although this occurs well after several murders have already been committed. Red herrings are also thrown around, seemingly at random until nearly everyone involved is a potential suspect. The investigators, an aging, overweight sheriff and a denim clad doctor seem generally aloof about the sudden rash of murder in the small town. They eventually figure out who the killer is and a thrilling chase scene ensues, involving an old brown hearse and the doctor’s sporty black doctor car.

Stuff to Watch For

The most obvious features of this film are the nail effects. Nails never seem able to actually go all the way into the flesh, always sticking out approximately an inch, just long enough to wiggle whenever the actor moves. The frequent sex scenes are another highlight, shot with all the style and emotion of really, really cheap porno. All but one of them results in death by nail gun.

The shoddy camera work and directing are rampant in this flick. Frequently, scenes begin with a noticeable delay, as though the actors are waiting for some kind of signal. Also, I have counted seven distinct instances where the reflection of the cameraman is clearly visible. The best one is immediately before the chase scene where the cameraman and director are hilariously obvious in the reflection of a car door.

The acting is appalling, but it’s Oscar caliber when compared to the local folks enlisted to fill bit parts. The old lady store clerk is obviously reading (and flubbing) her lines while doing her best not to look at the camera. An old man who discovers one of the bodies is virtually incomprehensible.

Final Words

Nailgun Massacre is a classic D film, one that should be viewed by all independent film buffs. It proves that education, talent and skill are really not necessary when making a movie. They are certainly not required to make a movie entertaining.

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Dead Genesis

Written & Directed by: Reese Eveneshen
Starring:
Emily Alatalo
Lionel Boodlal
Colin Paradine

The advent of affordable digital photography equipment and high quality editing software has changed the way independent filmmakers ply their trade. Production costs have plummeted since the days of immense Betacams and costly editing machines, leaving more money to spend on actors, sets, effects, script editors, coherent plots, likeable characters and lots and lots of zombies. Right? Well apparently not as Dead Genesisdirector Reese Eveneshen has given us a great looking, high def film that is missing most of these elements.

We start out with the beginning of a typical zombie outbreak. A professor who either had something to do with the outbreak or “warned us all!” about the impending zombie plague delivers a confusing, rambling speech before slitting his own throat with an exacto knife. And this, dear readers, is the most gore we see for quite some time. Following the speech, the passage of time is shown in an awkward sequence of “Two Weeks Later”, “Four Months Later”, “Two Days Later” title cards framing the nearly zombie-less apocalypse and bringing us up to speed. Eventually we encounter our heroine, Jillian Hurst a “former news writer and amateur documentarian”. She is preparing to make a pro-”War on Dead” propaganda film to garner public support (There is a brief attempt made to demonstrate that support might be necessary with the mention of zombie rights activists but this idea is passed off as a joke and never revisited) and sets out to film a few days in the life of the “deadheads”, an elite zombie killing force identified by their grim attitudes and homemade “DH” patches on their clothing. Jillian conducts her interviews and…not much else, unfortunately.

The “deadheads” (an awful choice of name for a group of zombie hunters, although the kids who made this movie may not be quite old enough to know who Jerry Garcia is) are possibly the least convincing part of this film. This mashup of cliche character types (tough girl, good ol’ boy with wife and kids at home, quiet religious guy who goes crazy later, etc.) is not in the least bit dirty or battle worn, despite spending “weeks at a time” fighting the undead. The only thing that gives them away as soldier types at all are a couple of camouflage hats and their guns. With their fashionable “Roots” backpacks and khakis, they looked more like university sophomores. The sad part of all this is that there are some really good actors in the group who could have made a better movie if they weren’t spending their time chewing on unwieldy, unnatural dialogue (writer/directors take note: have someone edit your work, you may not be as clever as you think you are).

At this point I’m sure you’re wondering “okay, what about the zombies?” Yeah, me too. I think this is the first zombie film where the number of characters outnumbers the zombies. I’m being facetious of course, but only slightly. There are no shambling hordes, no waves of walking corpses and none of the armies of the undead that have apparently all but taken over. Zombie encounters are brief, minimal and don’t even involve original kills. The zombie makeup is pretty good for the most part although shooting in digital enhances the “fakeness”. I think the makers were so caught up in their misguided attempts at social commentary that they forgot that zombies=horror movie=supposed to be scary. And come on guys, CG headshots? Really? Just because Uncle George does it now, that doesn’t make it OK. He’s paid his dues, you haven’t even applied for membership.

Dead Genesis looks and sounds great (albeit with some slightly intrusive canned ambient “forest sounds”) and features some really excellent acting. But that’s it. Any idea of a coherent film was lost long ago when the story was replaced with a collection of “you know what would be awesome?” scenes and more talking heads than a West Wing marathon. Nothing really happens that you weren’t expecting and the less said about zombie prostitution the better. With everyone and their brother making a zombie film these days, there is no excuse when putting out a bad one. Better toys and better actors does not mean better movie, you only have to look at the work of Todd Sheets, Brian Paulin and Brian Clement to see how good cheap zombie movie making can be. At the screening, director Reese Eveneshen made an allusion to Romero’s zombie films as a “recipe for great apple pie” and how everyone else is making apple pie but not following the recipe. Well Reese, you followed the recipe but you forgot one thing: the apples.

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Dead, The

Written & Directed by: Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford
Starring:
Rob Freeman
Prince David Oseia
David Dontoh

As we wade (shamble?) through the ever growing pile of zombie films, there are those that cause us to sit up and take notice.  “The Dead” is one such film and while it contains most of the elements required to make a decent zombie movie, it falls prey to lapses in logic and amateurish acting.

“The Dead” is the first zombie movie from Africa and at this point, fans of Resident Evil 5 should be salivating.  The film opens as a lone man in bedouin robes walks across the desert, dealing with the occasional zombie that lurches after him.  The first few necessary elements are there: great setting, slow, Romero-style zombies, practical effects.  We soon learn that our hero is American soldier Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) the only survivor of a zombie induced plane crash.  We are never given a reason for the outbreak (yay!) and we aren’t even sure how much of Africa is infected.  All we know is that Lt. Murphy wants to return to his family in the states and for that, he requires an airport.  Along the way he meets Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia), an African soldier searching for his son after shamblers destroyed his village.  Conveniently, he knows where an airport is and the two set off across the African savannah.  Unfortunately, this is where the movie starts to go south.  As yet, we haven’t heard much from Lt. Murphy but once he is given someone to talk to, his forced delivery and some awkward dialogue begin to break the spell.  This is where we start to leave logic behind.

The movie plays out like a video game; the hero or heroes are presented with a challenge, the challenge is overcome using nearby items, after a quick cutscene, a new challenge is presented.  Problems walking around with zombies everywhere?  Oh look, a car!  Radiator overheats and needs water, argument ensues over using their precious water supply.  Oh look, a working well!  We’re hungry and we’re going to starve.  Oh look, a chicken!  Events that could be devastating to our heroes are resolved in the next scene and even the ever present zombies start to feel like less of a threat and more of a nuisance.

Then we come to the problem of the journey.  Now I realize that this is a minor quibble and that there could very well be an off-camera explanation but hear me out.  Two soldiers, traveling across the savannah day and night, no roads, no cities, no street lights, zombies everywhere (and probably a few not so friendly animals) and never once do we see either of them consult a map or compass.  They just sort of happen upon everything they need and even the aforementioned airport is suddenly there, right in front of them.  It’s a minor detail but I feel it was something that should have been at least mentioned, otherwise these two guys would have been traveling in circles.

It is nice to know that there are still filmmakers who value a serious zombie film as we seem to be up to our spurting neck wounds in zombie comedies these days.  The effects in “The Dead” are excellent and mostly practical (a little CG isn’t going to kill you), the setting is fantastic and Prince David Oseia is an actor I would like to see more of but the video game plot and severe breaks in logic keeps “The Dead” from having a place in my collection.  Back to the pile it goes.

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Descent, The

Written & Directed By: Neil Marshall
Starring:
Natalie Mendoza
Shauna Macdonald
Alex Reid

When we entered a new decade I found myself getting a tad retrospective, and began going over the horror films from the past ten years. I’ll admit that at first, I thought that the years spanning from 2000-2009 offered very little with respect to the horror genre. The whole process ultimately resulted in my writing a “Best of the Decade” article, which forced me to delve a bit deeper into the tomes of horror history. Happily, I am able to report that it was a pleasant stroll down memory lane, and there were a number of horror films from the above mentioned years that had eluded my immediate recollection. One of those such films is none other than the horror gem: “The Descent.”

I remember watching the film for the first time — it was during a point in which I was out of the loop in terms of hearing the latest horror gossip and movie buzz (there were a rough patch where my internet speed was unfortunately reduced to that of dial-up, which aside from being really retro was just a frustrating experience when it came to using the internet). Thus, when I found myself with a copy of the film, I had no idea what to expect, or even what the gist of the film even was. It looked interesting (I mean, just look at that fantastic Dali recreation on the movie poster!), and that was enough to get me to pick it up in the first place.

To this day, I consider “The Descent” to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the past decade. It, along with films such as High Tension, are excellent examples of the new style and trend that the modern horror film is taking. Unrepentently bloody, fierce, shocking, atmospheric, utterly tense, and above all well-made. The darkness and grim pessimism that pervades throughout is what makes “The Descent” so great and yet so very depressing to watch at the same time. The claustrophobic environment, tight angles, and fear of what lurks in the darkness are the elements that contribute to a high tension film — be warned, it’s impossible to not watch this film from the edge of your seat.

Boasting an almost entirely female cast, “The Descent” tells the tale of a group of thrillseeking women who get their dose of adrenalyne by exploring deep dark caves. As we all know as horror fans, the setting for a film can literally make or break a movie; thus, what better setting for a hororr movie than deep underground — a lightless labyrinth where there is danger at every turn. The women are warned before entering the cave: the prolonged exposure to the darkness can lead to disorientation, dizziness, claustrophobia, and even hallucinations. If one cannot even trust their own eyes, one is left to wonder how many of the horrors that wait in the darkness are truly real…

As horror loving people, we know that there are truly feel good horror films — movies like “Halloween”, and “Friday the 13th”. While I whole-heartedly recommend “The Descent”, I simply tell you: don’t expect to feel good after watching this film.

…and stay the hell away from caves…

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Dr. Butcher, M.D.

Directed By: Marino Girolami
Written By: Fabrizio De Angelis & Romano Scandariato
Starring:
Ian McColloch
Alexandra Delli Colli
Sherry Buchanan

“He’s a depraved
, homocidal killer… and he makes house calls!”

People be warned: we’re dealing with some savage shit here. If exuberant gore, graphic gut munching, putrefying cadavers, and fiendish medical experiments aren’t your thing, then for godsakes turn back now. This unrepentent assault on the retinas isn’t for everyone, and even hardened horror fans may flinch while watching this one. But if you can hack it, well boy, you’re in for a bloody wild ride. All puns intended!

Plot? Story? You’re out of your mind, brotha, if you’re expecting these things to matter. Dr. Butcher (also released in North America as Zombie Holocaust) is all about the red stuff! This sanguineous symphony of sadistic shlop is sure to separate the men from the boys. If ocular trauma is your thing, step on up and watch a man’s eyes torn right from their sockets and immediately devoured like pearl onions! Yum! Do you like your women au naturel and painted in exotic floral patterns? Well ya weirdo, it’s even got that. Everything from botched surgery to a Mr. T lookalike, and a myriad of outre events in between, Dr. Butcher is sure to satisfy your sinister cravings.

The moments of “plot development” and dialogue are great times to sit back and instead listen to the sound of you cracking open another cold one, since this film is like playing leapfrog from one gross-out scene to the next. And while it doesn’t offer memorable moments like Fulci’s zombie vs. shark incident, it does boast an awesome cranial lambasting involving a spinning boat propellor! Gee-whiz, where’s your Tylenol now, big guy?

Need I say more?

The next time your guests are hungry for gore, put Dr. Butcher on the menu. It’s sure to shock, entertain, and make you damn well think twice about going to your next check-up.

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Here’s lookin’ at you too, kid!

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Evil Dead (2013)

I’m an extremely open horror fan. I will watch anything and everything and I will never look away from the screen… unless I fall asleep, which is probably a bad sign as it means that what is happening in my head is far more entertaining. I will sit through the remakes and the reboots, but I try to do so with an open mind. The fact of the matter is that we are not living in the 70′s/80′s anymore. Every new generation of filmmaker contains fans of the films that came before them, if they weren’t fans they wouldn’t be attempting to make movies for a living (You don’t voluntarily live a life of unstable uncertainty unless you love the shit out of it – ask any drug addict!) My point is that times change. Society is different, the technology is different and we are different. You can try and make a film as spot on to the original as you can but it will never be close enough.

It’s easy to blame it on the writing/directing/producing/acting, but the real fault lies in the evolution of filmmaking as a whole. Maybe it’s due to a production value that is far too advanced to capture the gritty quality of the original, no matter how many post production filters are used; maybe it’s not the actor’s abilities, but rather the simple fact that they are too well known in an industry that is over-saturated with on screen talent; it could be the use of CG FX vs the old school practical effects that used to get us excited no matter how fake or ridiculous it looked; or maybe it’s the fact that certain films seem factory made, stripping us of our sense of nostalgia. We are no longer experiencing history in the making, we are sitting on a conveyor belt looking at the same product pass us by over and over, blending in with no discernible quality to set them apart from the rest. Years later when asked if you remember a scene in one of these films, will you? I already don’t. The remakes of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all looked the same, felt the same, and I couldn’t tell you damn thing that happened in anyone of them. I admit this as someone who was curious and excited upon their release, paid money to see them, and didn’t totally hate any of them.

Is it common for two queens to reign over the same territory? No. So why do we have so many "Scream Queens?" THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HIGLANDER! Or in this case, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Is it common for two queens to reign over the same territory? No. So why do we have so many “Scream Queens?” THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HIGLANDER! Or in this case, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Horror fans know who Marilyn Burns is, but the average Joe would refer to her as “the chick from Texas Chainsaw”. So hypothetically, if TCM had nothing else going for it, at least it would have a stand out factor like that. Unfortunately we don’t create and destroy careers as easily in modern times (unless the actor is willing to do it themselves in front of cameras). We don’t give unknowns a chance anymore because hiring a well-known actor is better for business, but is it really better for the film? Are we adding an important title to that star’s ever growing list of credits, or burying it under a pile of films that actor will always be better known for?

When it comes to remakes the fans of the original are always gonna be pissed over one thing or another; but like I said, this is a different time, and that means a different audience. The new generation of movie goers just reaching the cusp of the R rated market is a new ball game. These barely legal adults may not have had the pleasure of experiencing the original films the way we did. They also grew up in a time where sex, violence and coarse language have become the norm in prime time television. They will receive it differently, and remember it as we remembered the originals. There are also movie goers such as myself who will attend with an open mind, regardless of our dedication to the original, and just take in the enjoyment of the audience experience (might as well before we get old and start complaining that it’s too bright and too loud). I may not hate the films, but I can recognize a flawed and a failed attempt. Regardless, who am I to say that a film is bad if it has given at least one human a single shred of enjoyment.

The films we are now remaking originated in a time where that generation’s filmmakers were remaking the classics. Do you think they were well received? No horror film has really ever been well received outside the horror community until more recent times (with the exception of The Exorcist). The only differences lie in the fact that before everyone complained that it was all too much, and now we’re complaining that it’s just not enough. We’ve gone above and beyond what our horror forefathers had ever hoped we could achieve. We can show what we want and how we want to anyone that is willing to sit in front of that screen. So maybe we can all just shut up and be thankful that we have come into a time when genre films can top the box offices alongside the big boys.

Oh right, Evil Dead…

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D’aww

There was no shortage of blood in this film. The beauty of it shooting off the chainsaw in rapid-fire pellets was an image that made the entire experience worth it to me. No it’s not the same. People will say it took itself too seriously, but guess what, so did the original. The camp wasn’t intentional and wasn’t embraced until the second film. On the other side of the spectrum you will have people saying it didn’t take itself seriously enough. That’s just bullshit. I liked this remake. If you’re going to do one, this is the way to do it. It wasn’t a total disappointment and it got people talking. Not all remakes blend together into an unrecognizable mush; certainly Dawn of the Dead and The Hills Have Eyes have earned their horror acclaim, and I think Evil Dead displayed the right attitude to secure its place in the same graduating class. The shots were fantastic, the atmosphere was bang on and the possessions were disturbing. There were times I laughed when I wasn’t supposed to, but come on, it’s because I was having fun. When the girlfriend says “We need to get her to the hospital”, my response was “You’ve had two lines in this film, we don’t take orders from you!”. The only thing that bothered me is a common mistake any film could make: it showed a scene in the preview that wasn’t included in the film. The one totally creepy draw-in was demon Mia lifting the floorboard and saying a rhyme direct to camera. Where the eff was that in the movie?! Otherwise, I liked it. So deal.

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Exorcist III

Written & Directed By: William Peter Blatty
Starring:
George C. Scott
Ed Flanders
Brad Dourif

Tonight was Oscar night, and like every other Oscar night for the past thirty-seven years, there wasn’t a single horror film nominated. That is, not since director William Friedkin adapted a novel by author William Peter Blatty about a normal American girl, who becomes possessed by the devil.

If you ask a roomful of horror fans to write a list of what they consider to be the top five scariest films ever made, it would be a safe bet that The Exorcist would be on 99% of those lists. It is widely considered to be the scariest film ever made, and while it has been subjected to a barrage of parodies and countless homages, it is still every bit as frightening today as it was when it was first released in 1973.

A film with such commercial success and critical acclaim was too good to be left alone, and thus a sequel was filmed four years later, helmed by John Boorman and starring original actress Linda Blair. It goes without saying that any movie that follows what is considered the scariest film of all timewill naturally fall short – the Exorcist 2: Heretic is generally regarded as the weakest installment in the series, and overall just a poorly made horror film (though in this reviewer’s opinion, the film did have merits worth mentioning, and will be discussed in a later review).

After the disappointing sequel, the Exorcist series lay dormant for years until author William Peter Blatty decided to adapt his novel, “Legion”, into what would become The Exorcist: Part 3. Writing and directing himself, Blatty picked up the storyline and characters from the first film, while changing the tone and atmosphere drastically. The film, released in 1990, is highly reflective of the shift that was occuring in horror cinema at the time. Ever-so-slowly the monster in movies was changing; away from the ridiculousness of unstoppable Boogeymen and fantastic creatures, and towards the dark side of humanity itself. This redefinition of horror, which showed that the actions within human nature are far more disturbing than anything dreamt up, is still aggressively being explored in today’s modern horror films.

The Exorcist 3 was successful for this very reason: it didn’t seek to simply re-do the first film (which is one of the criticisms of part two), but managed to develop the storyline and characters further, in a different type of setting and with a darker, more grisly plot. The writing, which is always the foundation for the film, is as solid as can be. Blatty’s flair for dialogue is well crafted, and superbly delivered by the talented cast. George C. Scott’s portrayal of Lieutenant Kinderman is powerful, believable, and ultimately what makes the film interesting and compelling to watch.

The film may explore the sadistic side of mankind, but it’s also in a large part a supernatural horror film dealing with the same topic as the previous two films: demonic possession. Horror fans will not be disappointed by this incredibly overlooked and neglected film which, without a doubt, is a worthy sequel to the first film and deserving of more praise than it has received.

 

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Familiar

John is a simple man, he lives a simple life- in a mediocre house with his teenage daughter and his even simpler wife. If only contentment was equally as simple. John has an anger inside of him that has been growing for quite some time. His simple life and inner rage have become all too familiar and something is about to change.

TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sBQadfeT2eM

The Film
FAMILIAR is beautifully shot. The scenes and camera work are very calm and calculated much like the character of John (Robert Nolan) at first glance. As the voice inside him grows impatient and demanding, so do the framing  and camera movement, allowing the intensity to build on par with John’s increasing dissolution.

The film begins with John taking you through a day in the life of his discontent. The build-up takes it’s time and John’s complaining starts to run its course after a while. As much as you want to hate John for all of his negativity and scheming against his seemingly innocent wife (Astrida Auza) and daughter (Cathryn Hostick), it is almost impossible. As the film moves along you begin to dislike them just as much as he does. They are dull and predictable and you want something bad to happen to them, or just something to happen at all.

It’s rather genius that as John’s inner voice becomes more impatient, so does the audience. Forcing the viewer  to crave violence is a strategy I find both unsettling and brilliant. Die-hard genre fans needn’t worry! Though the journey feels long, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it shines blood red. I’m not about to divulge any spoilers, but I assure you that the payoff is excellent and probably not what you’d expect. The special effects are fantastic and the quality of this film overall is pretty impressive for a low budget short, begging the question, what could they do if given the means and opportunity for a full length feature?

FAMILIAR comes to us from Fatal Pictures based out of Toronto.  Their previous shorts CONSUMPTION (2008) and WORM (2010) screened internationally at a wide range of popular genre festivals including Dark Bridges Film Festival, Screamfest, Oklahoma Horror Film Fest and The Sydney Underground film festival.

Co-founders Zach Green and Richard Powell  are responsible for nearly every aspect of the filmmaking process from initial concept to marketing. Producer Zach also edits and is heavily involved in post, with hopes of writing and directing in the future. Writer/Director Richard also takes an active role in the editing room alongside his producing partner. Together they work to create original and challenging independent films of high quality and artistic value.

Check out the INTERVIEW with Fatal Pictures

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Father’s Day

Written & Directed By: Astron-6
Starring:
Adam Brooks
Matthew Kennedy
Connor Sweeney
Mackensie Murdock

Media reviewed: Toronto After Dark Film Festival screening

If you’re anything like me (that is, under the age of 40) you probably don’t actually remember the “grindhouse” era.  We’ve seen the films, sure, thanks to the home video boom in the 80′s and the recent grindhouse revival (and subsequent dead horse flogging) but the actual experience of seeing cheap, grainy, worn out genre films in a dank, smelly theatre populated with perverts is lost on us.  Our grindhouse experience was the dimly lit horror section of our local video store, the shag carpet in the basement of a friend’s house, that one guy you knew whose extremely liberal parents had a satellite dish and pay-per-view.  The worn, 4th generation tapes, the tracking lines that you could never quite get rid of, especially during the nudity…this was our grindhouse!  The guys who form the Canadian movie-making collective Astron-6 must understand this because “Father’s Day” was the first faux grindhouse film I’ve seen that actually made me feel nostalgic.

The film begins as though it was taped off of a pay-per-view late night program, complete with tracking lines.  The premise: a monster known as Chris Fuchman is raping and murdering fathers on Father’s Day.  Fuchman is being tracked by Ahab (Adam Brooks) who seeks revenge for the death of his own father.  Assisting him in his obsessive quest are John the priest (Matthew Kennedy) and Twink the street hustler (Conor Sweeney).  I won’t spoil the rest and honestly, the movie gets so ridiculous that you simply have to see it to believe it.  All you need to know is that the gore is fantastic and completely insane, the performances are tastefully hammy and the commercial break in the middle had me instinctively reaching for the fast-forward button.  The movie drags a bit toward the end as the increasingly nonsensical plot is fleshed out but the payoff of Lloyd Kaufman as God makes up for it.

Speaking of Maestro Kaufman, did I neglect to mention that this is a Troma film?  The film began as a fake trailer (watch it here: www.astron-6.com/fathersday.html) that led to Troma commissioning the full version for $10,000.  After enjoying an extremely limited theatrical run, the DVD should be out soon as part of Troma’s New Directors series.  I can’t be the only one hoping for a limited VHS release as well!

The generation that cut their teeth on VHS is now making movies and the aesthetic is creeping back in to fringes of the genre.  Ti West kicked it off with the “House of the Devil” VHS release and other distributors have begun resurrecting the format for promotional or collectible purposes.  Tape swapping events and even VHS screenings are popping up everywhere as the video/grindhouse (rewindhouse?) reminds the under 40 crowd why they like horror in the first place.  So head to the thrift store and pick up a VCR or two for cheap, I have a feeling you might be needing them.

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Flesheater

Written & Directed By: S. William Hinzman
Starring:
S. William Hinzman
John Mowod
Leslie Ann Wick

It was three in the morning on a warm April night the first time I saw “Flesheater”. I was sitting on the floor in my small apartment with my friend — both of us delusional, hysterical, warped out of our minds on strong rum and sleep deprivation. Too exhausted to move, and too burned out to sleep, I scoured my DVD collection for something to throw on the television and blindly pulled Flesheater off the shelf. We looked at the DVD and realized it was still unopened. “Should we give it a chance?” my friend asked. “Why not?” I thought, “A good zombie film may be the perfect way to bring this twisted evening to completion.” The sun would be up soon, but until then, we were going to mix fresh drinks and experience a movie that was new to both of us.

We shut off the lights and the TV came to life — violent red letters blared across the screen: “…this EVIL which will take FLESH and BLOOD from thee and turn all ye unto EVIL…” The next thing we knew we were smack dab in the middle of the woods, surrounded by 1980s teenagers, underage drinking, and bad dancing. However, the redeeming quality to the film was the atmosphere — much like Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead” remake, the overall feel of the film was spot on.

A few minutes into the movie, a farmer uncovered an ancient burial ground in his field: a stone (bearing the same warning that appeared in those firey red letters before the film began) and a full length coffin bound by a chain and padlock. Exasperated, he angrily mutters the words “Damn college kids” as he proceeds to break the padlock and pry open the dusty coffin. “Damn college kids?” I repeated outloud, “This stupid fucker is about to unleash a zombie plague!”

Had the man taken my advice, perhaps the carnage that was to ensue could have been avoided. But alas he did not, and instead he freed the Flesheater (Bill Hinzman) from the grave. After that, it didn’t take long for the zombie horde to grow: the zombie farmer bit another, who bit another, and soon the remaining teenagers were forced to find shelter in an abandoned house.

Sound familiar? It should, as the entire film proceded to unfold in a way highly remeniscent of George Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead.” Hinzman, who stars as the Flesheater and also serves as director, was essentially giving himself a part where he could once again be a badass, flesh feasting zombie that on numerous occasions got a handful of naked lady flesh as well. But what can I say — he plays the role well, and in addition to that his directorial skills are decent. Flesheater turned out to be not a bad film at all — daresay even a good zombie flick.

But that’s as far into it I’m going to get. It’s worth a rental — and if you’re fortunate to a score a copy of the well-priced “Zombie Pack 2″ DVD collection, you’ll find a copy of Flesheater inside (along with Burial Ground and Zombie Holocaust, making it a decent addition to your shelf).

Expect to be entertained, just don’t expect to be amazed by the intelligence of the characters. I mean, if I knew it was a bad idea to open up a padlocked coffin bearing a menacing inscription, even while blitzed on alcohol and lacking sleep in the worst ways possible, it’s a safe assumption that the film operates according to the idiot plot.

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Freaks

Directed By: Tod Browning
Written By: Clarence Aaron ‘Tod’ Robbins
Starring:
Wallace Ford
Leila Hyams
Olga Baclanova

For such a short little film, Tod Browning’s 1932 masterpiece Freaks has had a torrid history of controversy and international bannings. This horrific take on the lives, loves, and losses at the circus remains disturbing, tragic, and twisted seventy-five years later.

Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) is a beautiful trapeze artist, and the little Hans (Harry Earles) is quickly smitten with her. Despite fellow tiny performer Frieda (Daisy Earles) warnings that Cleopatra is laughing at Hans and only marrying him for his money, life at the circus goes on for the collection of ‘freaks’. When the strongman Hercules (Henry Victor) accidentally reveals his and Cleopatra’s plans at the wedding feast, the drunk Cleopatra also spills her disdain for the ‘freaks’. Although they claim to accept Cleopatra as one of their own, when Hans falls ill due to Cleopatra’s poisonings, the freaks take matters into their own hands and exact a horrid revenge.

Freaks is a story so strong that it effectively ended director Tod Browning’s (Dracula, The Unholy Three, London After Midnight) career. For numerous reasons, A-list Hollywood personal Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow refused to work on this loose adaptation of Tod Robbin’s short story ‘Spurs’. Audiences were shocked at the exploitative nature of Freaks, and for many years, it was banned abroad. Today we are of course much more accepting to all walks of life; but as much as we desensitize ourselves with sex, blood, and gore, Freaks still offers plenty of disturbing imagery.

The cruel treatment of the circus’ little people, the abuse of the hermaphrodites and Siamese twins — these and other deformed performers are mocked, laughed at, played, and deceived — but they serve their comeuppance swiftly and with equally cruelty. Browning’s vignette gives us a voyeuristic approach into this bizarre behind the scenes sideshow tale. The Bearded Lady (Olga Roderick) and the Skeletal Man (Peter Robinson) can love just like the rest of us. This very subject matter is too far from our mainstream; it is freakish to us. Freaks makes us uncomfortable and that’s part of the horror. We don’t like to admit our prudish, cruel ways. We know we shouldn’t look, but like the gapers at the car wreck, we just can’t help ourselves. Have we learned the error of our ways yet? Perhaps not.

What’s so delightful about Freaks is that as exploitative as it is, it’s also a serious eye-opener about our society’s mistreatment of those we perceive to be different. Instead of costumed cast, masked actors, and smoke and mirrors, real circus personal were employed. Olga Baclanova’s Cleopatra is beautiful and deceitful. We love her thirties looks, but her ugly personality reflects the ignorant feelings of the time. Daisy Earles as Frida is more beautiful as the little lady who sees Cleopatra for what she really is. The entire cast delivers just fine — from the Human Torso Prince Randian to the Armless Girl Frances O’Connor and then some. It’s adorable and disturbing at the same time.

Freaks is dated in its thought and style, which may make it unviewable to some; but it’s also still right on the money in unveiling bigotry. Kids who aren’t mature enough to understand the visual and social complexities here should definitely not watch, nor should prudes or the squeamish. Freaks isn’t just a bizarre old horror picture. The final comeuppance is indeed scary (“One of us! One of us!”), but this classic should be seen and studied often by film students and classic enthusiasts year round.

Though some sequences are lost, Freaks is available in several DVD editions and video on demand options. I’m surprised the full video isn’t officially available free online, but I digress. Freaks is an affordable, worthy — nay necessary addition to your film collection. “We accept her!”

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Friday the 13th (1980)

Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham
Written By:
Victor Miller
Starring:
Adrienne King
Betsy Palmer

Everyone remembers their first time watching Friday the 13th — particularly horror virgins who went into the film having no real experience with other movies in the genre. Even by today’s standards the movie can still bring the viewer to the edge of their seat, thanks to the tight angles, the well-lit night shots, and the nail-biting soundtrack that rivals that of John Carpenter’s Halloween. In 1980 when the film was first released, it was even more shocking: it was a bloodbath set in celluloid. For those horror virgins, their cherry wasn’t just popped, it was ruthlessly torn through with a rusty machete. This unrepentent assault on the senses has earned its place in the annals of horror history, and for good reason — it inspired a generation of films, introduced the legendary monster Jason Voorhees, and is still the yardstick by which modern horror films are measured against, over twenty years later.

From the first frame, we’re thrown into the dark woods of Crystal Lake in the year 1958, where a bright summer moon hangs high above a group of happy counsellors who sit and sing songs –

Hang down your head Tom Dooley… hang down your head and cry…

The camera, with it’s ambiguous perspective, records the scene of a young man and a young lady as they leave the group and sneak off into the darkness, driven by teenage lust. The scene doesn’t last long before the camera perspective is revealed to be the killer’s point of view, bringing the audience behind the eyes of the killer as “he” confronts the teenagers. The moment before the young girl meets a premature end, the camera freezes on her face: eyes wide with terror, caught in the midst of a vain cry for help. Burned into our memories, the frame ignites to pure white, and the opening sequence is complete.

This sets the tone for what develops into an absolute nerve-grinding experience. No one is safe at Camp Crystal Lake, and those who do meet their untimely end are slaughtered so mercilessly there are scenes that to this day, after multiple viewings, still make me cringe. The special effects, masterfully executed by gore maestro Tom Savini, are beautiful and painful to watch at the same time. Friday the 13th is clearly a low-budget production, but much the same as in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” it actually adds to the realism of the film, making it gritty and believable. It is in fact almost preferable (in this reviewer’s opinion) to see the original print of Friday the 13th, and not a digitally restored one. The scratches on the celluloid, and the low-quality film give it an unrefined appearance, and make it all the more grisly and shocking.

As I stare outside tonight, the spring moon is bright and full, like it was at Camp Crystal Lake the night the first murders occured. As the cool breeze blows by, I can almost hear the faint strains of a campfire chorus:

Hang down your head Tom Dooley… poor man is gonna die…

Happy camping.

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Furfangs, The

Directed By: Andrea Ricca

What do you need to make a film? According to moviemaker Andrea Ricca, just one cameraone computer, and zero budget! Now I’ll admit that I had never heard of Mr. Ricca until just recently, when it was recommended that I head over to his website to check out his third, and most recent Independent short film: The Furfangs. And when I did, the first thing that caught my eye was the well-designed movie poster — a very Critters inspired scene featuring sharp-toothed fuzzballs with ominously glowing white eyes and mischievous grins. The film already passed the first test: the creatures looked promisingly excellent.

Weighing in with a playtime of just over five minutes, a one-man cast, and not a single line of dialogue, The Furfangs is a highly entertaining endeavour. It focuses around a middle-aged man, who one night receives some very bizarre guests… of the extraterrestrial variety. Though initially deceived by their cuddly appearance, the tribble-sized aliens bare their teeth (quite literally) and turn into the houseguests from hell. The man must use his wits to rid his home of the alien threat before they demolish his house, and wreak further havoc in his life.

Andrea Ricca proves that all you need to make a great movie is a love of filmmaking. It’s impossible not to like this short flick: twisted creatures, tongue-in-cheek humour, and tight editing prove that Mr. Ricca has a genuine knack for making movies. The creatures interact perfectly with the live-action main character, and for a no-budget production the CGI is done amazingly well. It’s no wonder that Andrea’s previous films — also employing large quantities of CGI — have already been featured in SFX Magazine, and even scored him a Rondo nomination.

Short films are hit and miss. Virtually anyone with a camera can make a movie, but it takes someone with a keen instinct for pacing and editing to produce a great short. The Furfangs is a shining example of microcinema at its best: energetic, creative, and fun from start to finish. What’s really impressive is how Ricca manages to create the illusion of decent production values, while in reality having literally no budget. How does he achieve this? Well in addition to the excellent attention to lighting, CGI rendering, and editing, there’s one aspect to a movie which is supremely important (yet often neglected) in the Indie film industry: music. Music is the soul of a film, and if it doesn’t match what’s happening onscreen the results can be disastrous. What really sets this apart from other short films is the highly appropriate soundtrack, courtesy of Gianfilippo de Mattia, whose amazing score complements the film perfectly.

So there you have it, folks. If you haven’t been able to tell, I really dug this short film and highly recommend you check it out. You can watch it either by going to Andrea Ricca’s website, or by viewing it on YouTube. If you like it, leave him a comment — I’m sure he’d love to know his films are being enjoyed.

Kudos, Mr. Ricca. You’ve made an excellent movie!

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Halloween (1978)

Directed By: John Carpenter
Written By: John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Starring:
Jamie Lee Curtis
Donald Pleasance
PJ Soles
Nancy Loomis

“Death has come to your little town, Sherrif…”
- Dr. Samuel Loomis

After a long, hot summer, it has finally returned: October. For those of us who love horror films, being scared, or even just enjoy decorating our homes and handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, October is a special time of year. It arrives at a crawl-pace, and seems to pass by so quickly, which is why it’s important to savour each and every day of autumn. For me, that includes a tradition of compiling a list of 30 horror films, and watching one every night of the month in an attempt to stay constantly in the Halloween mood. It’s a routine not entirely dissimilar from those chocolate advent calendars… but with more screaming, and a heck of a lot more blood.

As the editor of the Blood Theatre, it seems that these days I spend the majority of my time doing exactly that: editing reviews and articles, mainting the website, and rarely having the opportunity to sit back and write. Which is unfortunate, because I love having the chance to reflect on some of the horror films which I love (and every so often hate). It gives me the chance to re-live them… to re-experience them, and in some cases, get just a little bit nostalgic. Which is why, on the occasion of it being the first of October, I thought it was only too appropriate to present to you a review of my very favourite horror film of all-time: HALLOWEEN.

For those of you who read one of my very early reviews of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, you may recall my mentioning that I actually viewed FRIDAY THE 13′TH, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and HALLOWEEN all for the first time, together, one Halloween night in my youth. The three films left an incredible impact on me: FRIDAY THE 13′TH was raw, visceral, and unrelenting; NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was almost poetic, darkly sinister, and packed a concept that made you question reality itself; however, HALLOWEEN became my favourite of the three films almost instantly. It was atmospheric, suspenseful, and unforgettable. I don’t think there is another horror film that I’ve watched as many times (admittedly, the film has probably seen over 50 plays between my VCR and DVD player), and it has held up on every subsequent viewing. To me, it is the perfect horror film.

The story is brilliant in its simplicity: in Haddonfield, Illinois, a six year old boy murders his sister on Halloween night. He spends the next fifteen years in the Smith’s Grove mental institution under the care of a psychiatrist who comes to realize the unspeakable evil that lies behind the boys eyes. And then, one cold October night, Michael escapes and returns to Haddonfield to begin what is to become, a legendary massacre. Enter: Laurie Strode, and her friends Annie and Linda… three highschool girls who, thinking that their Halloween night will be a routine evening of babysitting, become the target for Michael’s bloodlust. Why them? Well, until the (originally unintended) sequel came around, there was nomotivation… no reason. And therein lies the horror of HALLOWEEN.

Perhaps it’s the memorable performances: the film debut of young, innocent Jamie Lee Curtis; the intense eyes of Donald Pleasance; thetotally air-headed dialogue of P.J. Soles; the stiff attitude of Nancy Loomis; or the endearing and honest face of Charles Cyphers. Maybe it’s the haunting image of Michael’s white mask slowly emerging from the darkness, courtesy of the sheer artistic brilliance of Dean Cundey; the unforgettable, nailbiting minimalist soundtrack; or the story, written by the now-legendary John Carpenter and the late Debra Hill. If we take a moment to step back, we realize that it could be any number or combination of those things. So, perhaps better yet, it’s important to recognize that HALLOWEEN has become one of the most important horror films ever created because, in an astronomically rare occurance, allof the elements were there: the stars aligned and gave life to a masterpiece in creative tension.

When people ask me to list off my top five favourite films, even if the list isn’t specifically horror themed, HALLOWEEN will always be there. Personally, it has been a very significant film in my life, and I will forever be grateful to John Carpenter for creating it. Its shoestring budget proved that all you need to make a great, timeless classic is a passion for filmmaking and a daring imagination.

I leave you now, on this cold October 1st, as a heavy rain falls outside of my window… much like that fateful night when Michael escaped from the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Before the nightmare began. Before HE came home.

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Halloween 2 (2009)

Written & Directed By: Rob Zombie
Starring:
Scout Taylor Compton
Malcolm McDowell
Tyler Mane

In a purely hetero way, I love Rob Zombie. More than a few songs regularly find their way into my daily playlist, and when he became musican-turned-filmmaker, I was more than psyched. However, maybe it was the immense hype that surrounded his first film House of 1000 Corpses, but my first reaction to the film wasn’t good — in fact, I disliked it immensely. I appreciated parts of it, but overall I just wasn’t sold on his directorial abilities. I guess that’s perhaps the danger of making your first feature film a throwback movie that owes many of it’s scenes to earlier films: back in the day, I’d rather have just sat down with the first two Texas Chainsaw movies than watched House of 1000 Corpses.

And then Devil’s Rejects was released. If I had any doubts about Zombie’s abilities as a filmmaker, they were certainly set straight. I was so blown away by his style and talent behind the camera that I became an immediate fan again. And upon going back and watching House of 1000 Corpses again, I loved it.

When it was set that he was directing the “remake” of Halloween, despite the fact I was against remaking a seemingly unremakable horror classic, I knew that it was in good hands. Perhaps the best hands in the industry, since I knew he wasn’t going to spoon feed us an identical version of the original (ala the Psycho remake), but instead put his own savage twist on it. And boy was I ever right. The Halloween remake was less a remake than a re-envisioning, using the mythology as the springboard to launch into a new version of the Michael Myers tale unlike any we had seen before. It was graphic, well written, well acted, and simply put: well done.

And then came along the sequel.

In all fairness, the original 1981 Halloween 2 fell short of the first film as well. It’s not that Halloween 2 (either of them really) were bad films, it’s just hard to be a follow-up to a film that just got it right and was magic on celluloid. Both Halloween films were excellent, and as we all know, it’s near impossible to completely recapture the same level of excellence when it comes to sequels. In John Carpenter’s original Halloween 2, the film is essential in that in many ways it forms the crux of the series, establishing the relationship between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers (even though in Carpenter’s own words, he came up with the idea after sitting infront of the typewriter for hours drinking beer). In Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, there is nothing particularly essential about it, aside from the fact that it continues the “new” mythology that he began to create in the first film.

So, by now you’re obviously aware that the film isn’t fantastic. But how “not fantastic” is it? Well let’s take a look at some of the negative aspects. Firstly, I, like any other red-blooded male, will admit that his wife (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a beautiful woman to look at (and with good acting skills as well), and I appreciate the fact that he manages to cast her in all of his films. But her character in this film was more detrimental than anything else. What most horror fans walk away with is the feeling that her character has almost transformed into that of an attractive Mrs. Voorhees, commanding her boogeyman son to continue his gruesome killing spree. Furthermore, let’s take a minute to talk about that disturbed boy of hers. I have no problems with the overall look of Michael Myers — it’s darker, grittier, and really reflects Zombie’s style well. But the decision to have Myers sport an enormous forest beard through the film, well… it just wound up looking like a late-in-his-career Jim Morrison going on a bloody rampage (and don’t get me wrong, I too had always assumed that if such a scenario were to happen, it would be really awesome). Lastly, without delving deeply into it, I will only add that the direction in which Zombie took the character of Dr. Sam Loomis was, although different, in my opinion deviated too far from the spirit of the original character, and was so different in treatment that he might as well have not even shared the same name.

There’s a surprising amount to analyze and discuss in Halloween 2, particularly the concept of the white horse and the actual role that his mother played in the film. But unfortunately there just isn’t enough time in this review to tackle all the issues. I would like to end by saying that although this probably seems like a scathing review of the film, it wasn’t all bad. It was just unfocused, and seemed like Zombie didn’t have a perfectly clear vision of what he wanted to achieve with the film. Stylistically, it was 100% Rob Zombie. But coming from the brilliance of the first film, it’s difficult not to be just a little disappointed with his follow-up effort.

That said, I look forward to his next movie, because I know he’ll manage to successfully redeem himself. Just like Michael Myers, you can’t keep the guy down, and that’s why I love him (again… in a purely hetero way, of course.)

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Halloween H20

Directed By: Steve Miner
Written By: Robert Zappia & Matt Greenberg
Starring:
Jamie Leigh Curtis
Josh Hartnett
Michelle Williams

Halloween H20, the “where are they now” installment of the franchise, is not bad at all — in fact, it is quite good. It certainly redeemed the series after the unfortunate bitter taste that was left after part six, and overall it successfully captured the atmosphere and other elements from the original that made it a nice throwback to the 70s. Had they actually stopped the series here (with the exception of Rob Zombie’s re-envisioning which I quite enjoyed) the series may have retained more credibility and not been further plagued by sub-par sequels. Halloween H20 was in my mind the definitive final chapter, and certainly the last good film in the franchise.

Taking place exactly twenty years after the grim events of the first two films, Halloween H20 essentially skips over the previous three sequels (excluding the third film which was devoid entirely of the Halloween mythos) and once again reunites audiences with Laurie Strode, a now middle-aged woman seeking to restore some peace to her shattered life. Having taken all precautions to avoid ever meeting her deranged brother again, she has changed her name, moved to California, and works as headmistress of an exclusive boarding school where her 17-year-old son (Josh Hartnett in his first role) attends. She suffers the effects of post-traumatic stress, and in turn resorts to alcoholism — the result of which has created an ever-increasing rift between her and her son, who resents the fact that he is forced to look after an over-protective mother who lives in constant fear.

Ultimately, Laurie’s worst nightmare turns into reality when her psychopath brother returns to continue his spree of violence and butchery, working his way through the student body in an attempt to get Laurie and her son. Just as the film eludes to paralleling the classic Frankenstein tale, there reaches a point where Laurie has nothing left to lose, and must redeem herself by facing the monster alone. What ensues is a high-tension game of cat-and-mouse, and an unforgettable climax.

Why this film is so often overlooked and frowned upon is unknown to me. I believe it was successful in everything it set out to do: it brought the franchise to an acceptable conclusion, while maintaining the atmosphere and overall feeling of the first two films (despite it’s much higher budget). While I enjoy the other sequels simply for the sole reason that they show Michael Myers slashing his way through Haddonfield on Halloween night, the true Halloween series for me will always be parts 1, 2, and H20.

In my opinion, it is wise to stay away from subsequent sequels. They take the series in a direction that I never thought it would go, and have overall been rather dissapointing. Halloween H20, while it is often overlooked, stands as one of the last (if not the last) great slasher film to be released into theatres. It captured all the good aspects of the slasher genre, and should take it’s place as a worthy horror film in the annals of horror history.

Happy Halloween.

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Hemlock Grove

Netflix sure has come a long way over the years; in March of 2013, it was estimated that over 33 million people currently subscribe to their service. As video stores seemingly fall by the wayside, the popularity and reign of Netflix only continues to rise. Given their power position, It’s really no surprise that projects began developing with the intention of being Netflix exclusive.

Enter: Hemlock Grove; a thirteen episode series made specifically for Netflix. When the initial trailer began to surface, I’ll admit I had no idea what to expect. On the surface it appeared to be another “Anytown U.S.A. has a dark secret” type of stories — but what caught my attention was a name: Eli Roth. The man responsible for bringing us such graphic delicacies as HOSTEL and (my personal favourite) CABIN FEVER. In addition to serving as executive producer, Roth also acted as director of the premiere episode. If a guy with such a solid track record was attaching his name to the project, how could it be bad? At the very least we could surely expect disgusting, cringe-worthy traditional effects… couldn’t we?

The basic premise of Hemlock Grove is simple enough: when a series of brutal murders begin, it becomes a race to discover the culprit before he (or it) continues their spree of destruction. From the very beginning we’re tossed into the simply bizarre universe of Hemlock Grove; a town so weird and dysfunctional that the savage murders almost seem to pale in comparison. There’s a girl convinced she was impregnated by an angel; a boy with a blood-fetish who has seemingly mastered the old Jedi mindtrick; his giant, blue-glowing, eye-deformed medical experiment of a sister; their sadistic, manipulative, and sex-starved creature of a mother… and the list goes on, and on, and on.

I kid you not: everything in Hemlock Grove is a mystery to which there is never an answer; it is a perpetual “…” that leaves you hanging until the series reaches its end, still leaving you strung up and waiting for a proper resolution. And to make it worse, the entire time the writers treat you as if you already know why everything is happening. I understand it was influenced heavily by Twin Peaks — of that there’s no doubt — but even Twin Peaks was easier and more satisfying to follow! At least the absurd was expected, and even served a purpose in the story.

Writing and story aside, I did thoroughly enjoy the cast. Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron… the performances were all well done. The up-and-coming Freya Tingley handled some tense, mature scenes brilliantly, and Kaniehtiio Horn was particularly effective in her possession scenes. If the material they had been given was as good as their acting I would no doubt be writing a very different review.

But let’s talk effects, because again, with Eli Roth’s name front and centre we’re surely expecting an emphasis on practical, old-school guts and grue. Did it deliver? Yes and no. At the very heart of it, this is a werewolf story. No matter what else happens in a werewolf story, the most important scene is the transformation, and over the years special effects gurus (like Rick Baker) have elevated these scenes to an art. I don’t think we were necessarily expecting Hemlock Grove to top the beauty of, say, An American Werewolf in London… but I also don’t think we were expecting to see the majority of it achieved through CGI. Where the concept succeeded, the execution failed.

No matter how much I wanted to like the show, I just couldn’t get into it. And that’s disappointing to me since I legitimately dig Eli Roth and everything he’s attached his name to.

When all is said and done, the series suffered from a bad story and an under-developed script more than anything else. On the plus side, if you ever lay awake at night and wondered what would happen if they blended True Blood, Twilight, and Twin Peaks together? At least now you have your answer:

Welcome to Hemlock Grove.

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JAWS (1975)

Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfus

Every year on my birthday, I like to indulge in the finer things. After waking up on a simmering August morning, I take some vitamins, maybe eat some bran, then pop on the 1975 hit summer classic, Jaws. I watch it by myself as it is the only way to watch this film. The suspense is felt at such a greater depth alone, rather than risk watching it with the distraction of other human beings. My father would play the VHS in our living room every summer and would discuss Jaws trivia and general shark information. He recounted the time he first saw the flick on the big screen, when everyone screamed and threw their popcorn at the sight of a decapitated head popping up from a sunken ship.

Before slasher flicks became the mainstream in American horror movies, film makers took a few different routes to create a horrifying experience for their viewers (THE EXORCIST 1973 most notably comes to mind). I believe Jaws is a true horror movie even when it sways to action, drama, adventure and thriller. Produced by David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, the story is based off of Peter Benchley’s novel “Jaws” and was adapted by a young Steven Spielberg who bit off more than he could chew. Surprisingly, the film became quite the success after countless days wading in the water, and Verna Fields scrambling in the cutting room to finish the project. With Barrie Butler on board as cinematographer, the film is warm and beautiful with terrifying shots set-up to make our stomachs churn. The visual is stimulated with the most simplistic, dark and now iconic two-note sound created by John Williams. Our heart beats faster and faster with each da-duh, da-duh…

On the surface, (no pun intended) the story line is about a shark on a murder spree where three fellows set out to hunt and exterminate the creature on a not-so-perfectly sized boat. Underneath it all, it’s a story of fear and the complexities of humanity. The location is Amity, where the summer is hot and the people need to cool down at its most popular tourist attraction, the beach. The hero of the story is new-to-town police chief named Brody, a family man who values his job but is plagued by a deep seated fear of the water. The villain is mayor Larry Vaughn, an ignorant politician fueled by greed as he refuses to close the beach after mauled up bodies wash along shore. When Brody musters up heroic qualities of conquering his fears, he stands up to the mayor and overcomes the ocean in order to battle a much darker force. Supporting characters include Quint, a gruff seasoned sea-man war veteran and Hooper, a young and rich oceanographer with just enough energy to help chase after a great white.

What Jaws has to offer as a horror movie is terrifying suspense, and chaotic death scenes. Compared to horror movies of modern day, however, the blood and gore is not over-the-top but is used when necessary. The powerful introduction of the film sets the mood. The warmth of a sunset and some guitar strumming relaxes the senses until it is assaulted by the point of view shots of an unseen predator, preying on a young woman swimming in the beach. Her death scene is violent without using a drop of blood. Perhaps one of the most chaotic scenes is during the busiest beach day (my favourite shot in all of film history is Brody’s epiphany from the shore) where young Alex Kintner suffers a visually brutal shark attack. The mix of blood, his bright yellow inflatable, and his dismemberment leave a lasting impression. Later, a discussion ensues over the dissecting of a dead shark, and as the mayor claims, he does not want to see “that little Kintner boy spill out all over the dock”, leaving us with an even gorier picture painted in our imaginations. The death finale of the shark himself, or “Bruce” as they named the mechanical shark behind the scenes, suffers a well orchestrated explosive death, giving the audience a sigh of relief.

In the greater scheme of things, the shark is a symbol in this story. It is the greatest monster in the water, a predator, it is aggressive, hungry, and it knows no fear. It does not understand empathy nor will it give mercy. What is most horrifying of all, is that the shark is also given human qualities. The shark works alone, is methodical, and plans to terrorize his victims in the same neighbourhood. It is the reactions from the people throughout the story that reveal true humanity, to squash the offensive in order to create a form of peace. It’s top of the ocean food chain vs top of the city food chain in this epic story telling of fear.

On my birthday this year, I will enjoy the 1970′s birthday suits, bleeding limbs, the feel of real film before my eyes, and sing “Show Me the Way to Go Home”. I will bask in the glory in the making of and viewing of my favourite horror movie, Jaws.

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Lovely Molly

Written & Directed By: Eduardo Sanchez
Starring:
Gretchen Lodge
Johnny Lewis
Alexandra Holden

Media Reviewed: Preview screening

Destined to live forever in the shadow of The Blair Witch Project (1999), Eduardo Sanchez has delivered a very effective riff on the old haunted house tale with only marginal use of handheld camera footage.  Lovely Molly is Sanchez’s first full length film since the disappointing Chinese ghost story Seventh Moon (2008) and (barring a few missteps) should help him break free from the “found footage” stigma.

Following our introduction to Molly (Gretchen Lodge) (via video camera footage of her unsuccessful suicide attempt) we are taken back several months to her wedding day and introduced to her new husband Tim (Johnny Lewis) and her older sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden).  The newlyweds move into Molly’s childhood home, an ominous dusty grey house in the countryside.  The characters are not fleshed out immediately, we are given more information about them as we need it like Tim’s job as a truck driver (keeping him out of town much of the time), Molly’s job with mall cleaning personnel and her former problems with heroin addiction.  The “less is more” approach that Sanchez based Blair Witch on is used to great organic effect in Lovely Molly and makes us feel that we are a fly on the wall watching the events unfold rather than being told a story.

As the hauntings get worse so too does Molly’s ability to maintain her sanity.  Tim returns home to find her naked and catatonic in her childhood bedroom.  She slips back into heroin use which gives Tim and Hannah the perfect excuse for her increasingly erratic behaviour.  In an attempt to prove that she is not crazy, Molly attempts to record the events with a video camera, of course coming up with nothing.  We’re also shown footage of strange symbols in a cellar beneath the shed, late night prowling through the woods and peeping in on an unnamed neighbouring family.  The date stamp on the footage gives us a sense of the short timeline of events as the video camera becomes both Molly’s diary and confessional.

We learn fairly quickly that the likely haunter is Molly and Hannah’s father who sexually abused Molly when she was a child.  The ghost seems determined to continue the abuse from beyond the grave and even follows Molly to work.  As she unravels, Molly alternates between victim and aggressor as the evil spirit takes over; she pleads to Tim for help and then attempts to seduce the local pastor.

The performances in Lovely Molly are a bit uneven but the atmosphere and sound design make up for it, firmly keeping us in the story.  A small quibble I had with the otherwise brilliant score by Tortoise was the regular use of incredibly piercing high frequency tones during most of the “scary” parts, I assume they were used to create tension in the audience but they became increasingly grating as the film went on, which, I suppose, may have been the intention.  The ending was a little bit of a letdown and includes an unnecessary reveal but is suitably bleak and leaves us wanting more in the best possible way.  Sanchez has finally risen above his “one-hit-wonder” status and I look forward to his next effort, I just hope this time we won’t have to wait more than a decade.

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