Tag Archives: Horror

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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Rating- B+/ Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of Westerns. I occasionally like to watch one with my dad, but they’re not typically my favorite genre, or my second favorite genre, for that matter. That said, the premise for Bone Tomahawk immediately caught my interest. A western? Pfft. With hill-dwelling cannibals? Huh. With cannibals and a bit of the old ultra-violence? Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. now you have my attention. I just had to watch it.

My level of interest was increased exponentially by the presence of Richard Jenkins, a veteran character actor I’ve loved and admired since my early teen years, when I saw him in Burn After Reading and The Visitor. But really, like any other of the ubiquitous American character actors that blend into small roles in big movies every year, I’d seen him so many times before that. And let me tell you, this movie started out with a bang.

Rather than being a straight-out slow burn, Bone Tomahawk starts out cuckoo and then slows down around the middle to reflect on it’s themes and characters, then becomes balls-out sadistic in it’s final act. Some people think the 2/3 part drags, but I would not be among them. How can a movie drag with such a great cast of actors and characters. If you want to flat-out categorize this as a horror-western, then Bone Tomahawk has something 99.9% of contemporary horror movies lack- it makes you give a damn about it’s protagonists. Which is something in this day and age as rare as Aztec Gold.

Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) is the cool-as-a-cucumber man of the law in a tiny town in the old West ironically dubbed ‘Bright Hope,’ this moniker being ironic because three people have just been abducted from Bright Hope by feral hill people who also happen to be inbred cannibals.  Arthur (Patrick Wilson) is the happily married man and former cowboy whose wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) is abducted by the psychos.

This comes at a particularly bad time for him (not that there’s any particularly good time to have your wife kidnapped by cannibals) because Arthur has recently broken his leg falling off a roof and must decide whether to go after her in his current condition or stand by impotently while the love of his life gets eaten by hill people. Except for Arthur, there’s no deciding about it. He’s going, man.

Arthur and Hunt are accompanied by Brooder (Lost‘s Matthew Fox), an racially biased flirt and Chicory (Richard Jenkins,) a chatty eccentric and Hunt’s right hand man despite his rapidly advancing age. Together they have no idea what they’re getting into, and personalities clash when Brooder’s abrasive nature, lack of compassion, and casual racism butts up against the others’ surprisingly Liberal values. Added to the explosive mix is Arthur’s hotheadedness when it comes to saving his wife his way and his powerlessness when dealing with his broken leg. Not to mention how fast the posses’ horses get stolen by Mexican bandits. How could this situation go wrong? Add conflict, injury, and homicidal cannibal nutcases and stir well. Let simmer.

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Bone Tomahawk is an exceptionally well-written and well-thought out horror movie that happens to have a few scenes that rival the fucking Human Centipede in gore factor. And I’m not talking the surprisingly tame Human Centipede I. I’m talking Human Centipede II, with Martin tearing out peoples’ tendons, baby. Except this movie offers more in the dialogue department than the THC movies. Not that that would be hard.

The conversations the characters have in their blooddrenched journey is fairly idiosyncratic, a little Tarantino-esque, but with a verve of it’s own. Subjects such as flea circuses and reading in the bath might seem a little random and out of context until you realize no, they make more sense than you originally suspected. Slowly, the pieces of the narrative start to fall into place, the good, the gory, and the weird.

And boy, is this movie gory. There was one death in particular (you’ll know it when you see it) that had me squirming in my seat. And I am not a prude. Depending on your threshold for really bloody movies, this might have you cheering or running in the other direction. The violence is really raw and sadistic, definitely not for everybody, or even most people for that matter. But it’s not all about the gore here. The filmmaker, a first-time director named S. Craig Zahler, has more tricks up his sleeve than just wanton brutality.

Although the characters’ lack of true shock and horror at the events unfolding rapidly in front of them seems kind of unlikely given the circumstances (they seem disturbingly calm after having someone disemboweled in front of them, not a likely reaction for anyone who isn’t a hardcore psychopath,) this movie is for anyone who’s wanted to see the Western genre done a little differently, but with a deft hand in terms of dialogue and character development.

The miracle of Bone Tomahawk is that it utterly keeps your attention and your investment in it’s characters alive for it’s 2+ hour runtime. That’s no mean feat for a first-time director who allegedly was told my many people prior to filming that this movie couldn’t be done. Maybe they should have spent more time making their own movies and less time arguing that Zahler couldn’t see this project to completion. But as Taylor Swift wisely said, the haters gonna hate, and this film is evidence of their failure to sway the dream of a potential-packed filmmaker with a bright future.

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When Animals Dream (2014)

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Sod the naysayers. I think this movie is wonderful. Lycanthropy as a metaphor for the hairier aspects of puberty is a motif that’s been used before, but never as a story like this been so meditative and visually astonishing as the the Danish chiller When Animals Dream. I knew as soon as I saw the gorgeous opening credits that I was in for something special, Animals’ coastal small town setting as stunning as it is deeply desolate and bleak.

Comparisons, of course, will be drawn to Tomas Alfredson’s haunting story of young vampire love Let the Right One In, both are outstanding films that effortlessly outdo American fright films and prove, once again, that horror can have truly scary implications without focusing on gore or wanton brutality. This is why off-the-radar horror is often (never say ‘always’) better than the slasher films and gorefests mainstream studios offer up to the bloodthirsty masses.

Marie (Sonia Suhl) is an awfully nice girl who happens to be turning into a werewolf – the victim of a family secret that has been kept from her for the majority of her youth. Marie lives with her dad (Lars Mikkaelson,) who seems well-meaning but is way over his head with the women of his family; and her mother (Sonja Richter,) who- ahem – doesn’t seem to be all there, lacking the ability to even rise from her wheelchair or express herself verbally.

And what’s with all those injections mom keeps taking? What exactly is making this woman sick in the first place? Could it have something to do with an attack by a group of Russian sailors years before? Whatever the case, Dad isn’t telling, and Marie grows up none the wiser until she begins developing strange bruises and coarse hair all over her body.

Marie starts working in a fish plant, where she is pushed into a vat of rotten fish by her jeering co-workers the first time under the pretense of ‘hazing.’ The bright spot in Marie’s life is Daniel, (Jakob Oftbro) a cute guy who doesn’t treat her like a total outcast. However, several other men at the plant (led by the leering Esben,) who abhor Marie for her femininity and perpetuate attacks and harassment of a sexual nature on the girl.

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Marie begins to separate herself from her parents and takes up Daniel as a boyfriend, goes to a rave-even has sex, discovering her sensuality and becoming more self-confident in the process. But as the townspeople discover Marie’s fleshly habits, things can’t end on anything other than a full-scale bloodbath. You just better hope you’re on the right side of this war, or you might just end up being this girl’s dinner. Marie didn’t start this. But she’ll sure as Hell finish it.

Some people might not like that Marie doesn’t devour anyone who is not a direct threat to her life, and that her wolf make-up doesn’t look as wolfish as, say  An American Werewolf in London. But these things didn’t bother me. There are some unanswered questions like, will Marie randomly kill people who don’t mean her any harm, or is she harmless just as long as you don’t push her buttons too much? Regardless, it was fun watching the narrow-minded townspeople get what’s indubitably coming to them, in the form of a ravenous, empowered Marie.

Sonia Suhl gives a very good, understated performance as the main heroine and I really liked that she was pretty without being particularly ‘glamorous’ or made up.  There are some really creepy moments in his film, for example the eerie sounds during the sex scene (akin to a rusty door rattling on it’s hinges (!))

Honestly, When Animals Dream is not terribly scary, but it’s creepy and loaded with unsettling atmosphere. It isn’t as thought-provoking as Let the Right One In (mostly due to Marie’s most unwerewolf-like benevolence unless her life is being directly threatened,) but it’s incredibly moody and- wouldn’t you know it?- sometimes incredibly heartbreaking. It’s easy to see who’s the real monster in a town of merciless louts and bullies. But in the end, they’re all pretty much fucked. There’s a new queen in town, and once you’ve wronged her, you better hope you can run fast enough to avoid being nibbled on.

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Aliens (1986)

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There’s something inherently terrifying and grotesque about the creatures in Alien and it’s sequel, Aliens. The way they scuttle across the floor like crabs. The way they latch onto your face and impregnate you with their evil spawn. But nothing has posed quite as epic a threat as the alien queen mother in James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens. She’s fucking huge, for one thing. She has a vendetta. No wonder, Ellen Ripley, our heroine, abhors her.

Let me just say that Aliens is not a bad movie, by a long shot. It has good production values, effective acting, a solid story, and sympathetic characters. But, frankly, it just didn’t measure up to Ridley Scott’s original in my opinion. I know, right? Let the incredulous comments begin.

The plot of Aliens picks up right where the original left off. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) hops in an escape pod on the doomed spaceship the Nostromo and puts herself in cryo until rescue arrives. hopefully sooner rather than later. Fifty-seven years later (later, definitely later) a large ship picks her up and she soon finds herself at war once again with her mortal enemy, the face-huggers. Engineering her return to the vile creature’s planet is the weasley, manipulative Burke (Paul Reiser,) and she sets forth to save the settlers that have inadvertently arrived on the planet from the original with a bunch of soldiers with huge egos who, in the end, don’t stand a chance.

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The character of Ripley is consistent with the original, but we learn new things about her, like she has a daughter that aged and died while she was in cryo. Ripley’s new daughter figure comes in the form of Newt (Carrie Henn,) a little waif who’s whole family has been killed and who has been living in the ventilation system in the  compound where the face-huggers attacked. This adds an emotional component, as Ripley struggles to protect Newt and the soldiers from a larger-than-life menace and her extra-terrestrial children.

Now on why I think this is a good movie, but not as good as the original film. The first movie in the series was claustrophobic and loaded with atmosphere, whereas this one is more of a standard action flick. Alien incorporated modest practical effects and was done on a fairly low budget, while Aliens has a much larger budget and is much bigger and brassier than the original.

Now for the good. The characters are more sympathetic and more fully developed in this one, from the soldiers played by the likes of Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn to the little girl, Newt. You didn’t care as much about the protagonists in the first movie (other than Ripley,) but the side characters here are given some serious consideration by the writer. Aliens is also much less of a slow-burn, so if you like fast-paced action films that are not so much mood pieces as roller-coaster rides, this is the movie for you. The first was less of a Hollywood film, which was what I liked about it. But this one has more of a character arc, exciting mood, and a sense of mainstream appeal.

I was occasionally not as into Aliens as I probably should have been, I’m not much of a action fan. It gets to the point where I actually get bored by explosions and gunfights no matter how well they’re done for that sort of movie. I very much enjoy more atmospheric/ ‘slow burn’ films, but don’t let that deter you from this action-packed, entertaining movie. Alien and Aliens are very different films, despite being linked by the same heroine and universe, and they’re both worth watching in their own way.

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Phenomena (1985)

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There is one great moment in Phenomena, Dario Argento’s frustratingly Schizophrenic fright flick. In this sequence, which stands head and shoulders above the rest in an otherwise incomprehensible movie, a pet chimpanzee named Inga rushes to warn her human daddy John (Donald Pleasence) that a killer has broke into his house. Alas, John is paraplegic, and as he slides down the stairs on his device built for wheelchairs to let the poor simian in, the killer, cloaked in shadow, pushes the button on the control panel to trap  him on the staircase.

It’s a tense moment, punctuated by the screams of the frightened ape. But the rest of the movie is a shoddy mess, with jarring metal music and terrible acting. This is my first Dario Argento horror film. Maybe I should have started with something else? There are times that Phenomena is so bizarrely put together, like a pastiche of hellish themes and images, that is almost becomes so bad it’s good. Almost. Argento had an amazing idea, but it’s ultimately all for naught. Could this be a classic horror movie actually in need for a remake? Purists would shudder to think of this film being refurbished, but I think it is actually a distinct possibility.

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Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly, in a very poor performance) is a teenaged schoolgirl neglected by her wealthy actor father. She is sent to boarding school at the beginning, and while she might seem like your everyday debutante with too much money on her hands and not enough to do with it, she is anything but ordinary. Firstly, she is much more down-to-earth than the other girls in the academy, but that is not what sets her apart. Jennifer can communicate telepathically with insects, and this might come in handy with a serial killer on the loose. With girls dropping like flies (no pun intended), Jennifer befriends John (Pleasence,) an entomologist studying the part bugs play in the decomposition of corpses. Not creepy at all, right? He also has a pet monkey, who’s kind of important, as she turns out to be much more deserving of the title ‘hero’ than Connelly is.

Phenomena has an abundance of imaginative images and ideas, but ultimately it comes off as an unintentional comedy. Part of this is the acting; while Pleasence is competent at his craft as always Connelly can barely deliver her lines in a convincing manner and the rest of the cast is  just terrible. Heavy metal songs by artists such as Iron Maiden and Motorhead cut into the action at the most unsuitable times, and the film has a definite MTV vibe to it. You practically expect Beavis and Butthead to be commentating in the background. Yeah, Jennifer Connelly is… hot. Motorhead is… cool. Uh-huh-huh. In fact, America’s two favorite idiots would be easier to take seriously than this movie. Forget how powerful Connelly was in Requiem for a Dream. Watching her here is positively painful. It’s like seeing the ass-to-ass scene from Requiem a billion times back-to back. You just want to cry for her. And not because of her aptitude for the craft, either.

The last twenty minutes are almost worth watching just for the crazy turns the plot takes, but they’re not enough to sit through a hole-filled, badly acted, and yes, boring story. Why is this school open when girls are constantly dropping dead? Why does John send Jennifer to find the killer all by herself? Why does the killer kill? No seriously, did someone just happen to overlook the villain’s motivation? Why can Jennifer talk to insects but not larvae? Why does the little boy look like that? The reason for all of these, of course, is because. Because that’s the loony-ass direction the plot takes. Terrible actors, dated music video-style sequences, characters we don’t give a damn about; Phenomena is a muddled mess. It’s high point is that it should provide some unintentional comedy for undiscerning viewers. No wonder the ape was the only one I liked.

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Alien (1979)

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Seven intergalactic travelers. One fucked-up alien antagonist. Apart, they don’t stand a chance. Together, they’re still pretty much screwed, unless the intrepid Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) can find a way out.

    Alien is a hugely influential, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller which makes fantastic use of practical FX. Director Ridley Scott (who would later helm one of the other all-time sci-fi greats, Blade Runner) creates a irrepressible heroine in Ripley, who exudes coolness and confidence but has enough of a soft spot to make a mad dash to save the cat when shit goes down. She also makes a mean science fiction-horror ‘final girl.’

Ellen wasn’t always in a position where she was forced to be a hero. A passenger on the spaceship Nostromo, her job is is help the crew mine ore on friendly planets. However, when Kane (John Hurt) crawls into some kind of hatchery on a downed ship and gets an unidentified creature glued to his face, his unwise and ultimately fatal misstep gets the rest of the crew into a whole lot of trouble. Stalked by an alien of superior intelligence and an aptitude for hunting prey, the film’s desperate band of characters must overcome their differences and their power struggles and attempt to survive an overwhelmingly dangerous entity. On top of that, one of the passengers is hiding a secret- one that could potentially get them all killed.

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People get the impression from the much talked-about and riffed-on ‘chest-burster scene’ that Alien is a big gorefest, but they would be not entirely accurate to assume this. In fact, Alien is less a schlocky splatter fest and more an atmosphere-filled, even subtle thriller which is also a bit of a slow burn. People are picked off one by one and try to pull together and overcome helpless terror in a pretty hopeless situation. Moreover, the Nostromo is not a overly friendly place for women passengers to begin with; there are only two female passengers among a group of men with big mouths and big egos. In a way, Alien can be seen as a feminist allegory; it is only when Ripley decides to shed her anxieties and her clothes, believing the creature to be dead, that it viciously tries to bring her in particular down.

Ripley is a strong protagonist in (a she doesn’t scream and fret a lot like many heroines. (b she doesn’t need a man to save her, (c she doesn’t amble around clad like a prostitute while strangling men with her legs/inadvertently turning on the  fanboys who watch and (d she doesn’t have an unnecessary and poorly defined love interest. She does have one gratuitous pantie shot to please the gents who are watching but she mostly doesn’t fall into any of the traps of science fiction heroines. Although Weaver is very good, it should also be mentioned that all the actors do an outstanding job in their respective roles.

The design of the monsters is very good, the film ratchets up the suspense masterfully as the body count makes a steady rise, and Ridley Scott manages to keep this tale grounded in reality. Sure, the spaceship setting and face-hugging creatures are fantastical, but the ongoing barrage of fear and squishy sound effects- and the reactions of the characters- feel all too real. Alien is an effective scare flick that created an innovative world for the spin-offs and sequels to follow and leaves you feeling satisfied at the end. Tune in to The Cinematic Emporium for my follow-up review of the film’s sequel, Aliens, coming soon.

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The Ward (2010)

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I’ll admit, I kind of went out on a limb with this one. I had seen the theatrical trailer quite some time ago, and it didn’t look like my type of movie, which is a polite way of me saying it looked like crap-ola. But I had just seen John Carpenter’s Halloween for the umpteenth time, and I saw this on Netflix Streaming and decided to give it a whirl. How bad could it be, right?

Pretty bad, as it turns out. This ain’t no Halloween, and to top off a heaping shit cake is the king of all crappy twists. Did anyone actually think this was a good idea? The plot follows Kristen (Amber Heard,) a cute blonde who burns down a farmhouse and is taken to a sinister mental institution. She says she’s perfectly rational and sane; for some odd reason the shrinks overlooking her case disagree.

Kristen goes under lock and key in North Bend Psychiatric Institution, where she meets her fellow patients,  flirty, manipulative Sarah (Danielle Panabaker,) brainy Iris (Lyndsy  Fonseca,) who is rarely seen without her handy-dandy sketchbook, contrarian Emily (Mamie Gummer,) who picks fights with just about everyone and paints her mouth clown-red in protest at group meetings, and timid, infantile Zoe (Laura-Leigh,) who talks in a wittle bitty baby voice and clutches her stuffed bunny in protection against a world she can’t quite comprehend.

Little do these disparate band of loonies know that shit’s about to go down in a big way, when the ghost of a dead patient lurks around the halls of the spooky institution. Meanwhile, creepy nurses scuttle around menacingly, and Kristen tries to convince her shrink (Jared Harris) that something, er… not human is making it’s rounds around the psych ward, which goes over about as well as a fart in church.

The drab grey color scheme and the movies utterly self-serious delivery of campy situations and lines, without a smidgen of irony or humor, should single-handedly sink this enterprise, but it would almost just barely get by as a passable movie if it weren’t for the spectacularly dreadful ‘twist’ at the end. I won’t spoil the delight of this abomination for you here in my review, but let’s just say it’s been done in other movies, and done better, many times. I’m starting to think if you don’t have a truly innovative and interesting twist, you should just forgo the damn thing and stick with a straightforward plot.

The acting here is okay (‘okay’ in that I didn’t want to scratch my eyes out, but I still I still wasn’t overly impressed ,) The main problem (besides the super-hokey twist ending) is that the movie takes itself far too seriously without delivering any real scares. It lacks a real sense of purpose and terror, yet lacks the strength to go all the way as a satire or even a comedy-horror hybrid.Being simultaneously corny and grim isn’t a good position for a fright flick to take. And we never really care that much about Kristen, as Amber Heard’s performance lacks the ferocity or the plausibility to take her beyond the realm of poorly written heroines.

I highly recommend you avoid The Ward like the plague. In attempting to kick-start his career, John Carpenter has committed the worst of moviemaking vices- he’s wasted his time, and ours. A failure on almost every concievable level, The Ward is best forgotten and moved past as a regrettable misstep in Carpenter’s career.

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Halloween (1978)

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It may seem unconventional to review a slasher movie called Halloween in the midst of the Yuletide season, but I’ve never been much good at these things, so please, bear with me.

On Halloween night fifteen years ago, a six-year-old boy and very sick cookie named Michael Myers stabbed his older sister to death with a steak knife. Cut to present day, it’s Halloween once more, and Myers is on the prowl again, returning to his native town of Haddonfield, Illinois in search of new blood. The only thing that stands between brainy teen Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and unspeakable evil is the dedicated shrink Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence.) Loomis thinks Myers is sick, incurably sick and he’s determined to stop him from killing again if it’s the last thing he does.

Of course, a killer in a film has to have victims, and these are helpfully provided by Laurie’s ditzy, slutty friends (Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles,) who go down in a classic scream queen fashion- usually partially or entirely undressed. What Myers didn’t count on was Laurie being a startlingly formidable opponent and knitting needle-assassin, doing her best to keep herself and the kids she’s babysitting (Kyle Richards and Bryan Andrews) alive while Loomis rushes to get there in time.

  Halloween has an absurdly simple premise and it’s done on a modest budget, but it’s one of the most successful horror movies of all time. Why? Well, John Carpenter’s sleeper has a few killer tricks up it’s sleeve, including spooky cinematography, a chilling score, and an extraordinary final girl in Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. It lacks the graphic gore and  showy bodily dismemberment of it’s peers, doing well by keeping most of the carnage to your imagination.

Rather than being a fallible human  opponent or tragic victim of childhood mistreatment (as he is portrayed in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of the same name,) Michael Myers is a unstoppable force of nature- an entity of almost supernatural evil who is determined to kill… and kill again, no matter how many bullets and sharp implements pierce his malevolent hide.

Poor, long-suffering Loomis has his work cut out for him- and his toil continues for an extensive line of sequels. Myers’ unbeatable and ambiguous nature makes him both a fresh and terrifying villain and a bit of an annoying plot device; a villain who can’t be killed puts Loomis and Strode in a kind of a frustrating position, and the audience in a bit of a bind themselves- what the hell is he? That odd bit of uncanny might be invigorating for some horror fans, but for me it kind of boggled my mind in a bad way, and I tended to annoyance at his invincibility and often wanted to scream “Die, you fuck, Die!” at my big-screen TV.

However, Halloween is a shining reminder that you can make a superior movie with an inferior budget. The actors shine (with the frustrating exception of Nancy Kyes as the more aggravating of Laurie’s two friends, who’s mannered inflection and practiced flaky attitude in the stuff of nightmares.)

    Halloween has it’s truly creepy moments and the film managed to introduce three iconic characters- Myers, Strode, and Loomis, who is dedicated to cleaning up a shitstain of a situation- somebody has to- but is not without his moments of humor, like when he stands outside the Myers house and scares the crap out of some adolescent boys; just for funsies (!)

   Halloween isn’t the best or scariest horror movie of all time, but it’s a vital addition to a genre that doesn’t always contain the most high quality or intelligent movies. For all it’s slashings and demented antics from a masked, seemingly motiveless killer, it is a smart film; it knows what scares you, and incorporates those fears into an utterly ordinary suburban environment, where nice middle class citizens work and play.

The idea, of course, is that if it happened to them, it could happen to you; a chilling concept partially or totally absent from horror films with more fantastical elements. If you have a soft spot for horror but don’t like loads of blood and Hostel style torture over atmosphere and restrained terror, look no further than John Carpenter’s spooky classic, the sleeper that defined a genre. No horror fan’s collection is complete without the movie that started it all.

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The Changeling (1980)

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Old houses are evil. But if I owned a mansion as nice as the one George C. Scott has in this movie, I’d take a chance on the vengeful child spirit. Scott plays John Russell, an unflappable musical composer coping with the unexpected death of his daughter (Michelle Martin) and wife (Jean Marsh.) Russell moves into a gorgeous old house intent on doing some work on his music and attempting to move on from his loss, but before you can say “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” strange and eerie things start happening in the mansion. Largely unperturbed, and aided by lady friend and love interest Claire Norman (Scott’s real-life wife, Trish Van Devere,) John decides to investigate.

I won’t go into who haunts the house or why, because it would cheat you out of the experience of seeing the movie and finding out for yourself, but I will say The Changeling is an eerie (a bit too dated to be truly frightening) horror classic with a great deal of mystery. The best part was when John Russell finds a secret passage behind a wooden shelf in his closet that leads to a hidden room. That meant a great deal to me, because when I was a youngster I used to spend vast expanses of time searching for hidden panels and doors in my a hundred-year-old but strangely unexceptional home (I might have also been looking for a wormhole to Narnia, but let’s not focus on my childhood obsessions.)

The characters were a bit underdeveloped (John being weirdly nonreactive to the supernatural mayhem around him while Claire plays the role of the typical classic heroine, shrieking and fretting constantly until you want to tell her if she can’t deal with a little ghostly hi jinks, she needn’t get involved at all.) John’s motivations actually make a lot of sense; as a recently bereaved husband and father a suggestion of life after death should be a relief to him. He’s already experienced so much grief, more than he lets on, why should the spooky antics of a spirit not at rest break him? However, although George C. Scott does an amazing job balancing stoicism and unfathomable grief, his character left me a little cold. And I had no use for Van Devere’s shrieking woman in peril, who falls in little flat from the perspective of someone who has seen so many bad-ass women portrayed in movies, or at least women with something to do in the script except wail and tremble in abject terror.

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That said, I really do like The Changeling. It’s a classical ghost story with a lot of atmosphere; no gore or lurid shocks to be seen. If you like movies like The Others with Nicole Kidman (one of my favorites, and superior in many ways to the much-hyped The Sixth Sense,) you’ll like this.  I love that The Others in all likelihood borrowed the character idea of a elderly caretaker named Mr. Tuttle, a homage that none but the most perceptive horror fans will probably  catch. Although I feel sorry in a way for the wronged spirit, just a boy at the time of his death, I thought he acted a little harshly in punishing the senator (Melvyn Douglas,) indirectly related to his murder but still the only remaining opportunity to get revenge on a living person.

I really felt for Melvyn Douglas’ character, who discovers something no one should have to learn about their much-loved father. While Douglas is the ‘changeling’ of the title, he’s not as much a perpetrator as a fellow unfortunate who was nevertheless lucky enough to live to a ripe old age and achieve success, while the spirit languished and limbo and allowed his hate to grow.

  The Changeling isn’t really a horror movie of a keep-you-up-all-night variety, it’s low-key and dated and in  all actuality not terribly scary. On the other hand, if you like murder mysteries that will keep you guessing and that incorporate a creepy supernatural element, this movie is for you. It takes a somewhat old soul or fan of older horror to appreciate this; it isn’t for those that crave instant gratification or get impatient easily. It’s a mood piece, graced by the formidable presence of George C. Scott. But it will survive when the majority of modern fright flicks are forgotten in junkyards somewhere.

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Goodnight Mommy (2014)

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***Warning- This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk,*** Ugh. I had such high hopes for this movie. The theatrical trailer promised creepiness, atmosphere, and a chilling amount of well-thought-out psychological horror. Well, it arguably has some of these things, except maybe the well-thought-out part. Disclaimer- Goodnight Mommy is visually beautiful and atmospheric, set in the scenic location of rural Austria. But as good as it looks, a movie like this needs a satisfying payoff. And that, my friends, is where the film seriously disappoints.

Beware, potential viewers, this is when I get into big spoiler territory- to comment on how Goodnight Mommy fails as a narrative and a horror film. The movie has a deliciously spooky premise, as two nine-year-old twin brothers Lukas and Elias (Played by Lukas and Elias Schwartz) wait for their mother (Suzanne Wuest) in their isolated house, only to have her return covered in bandages and not the same loving woman as she was before her operation.

Whether she’s literally not the same woman or just has suffered a drastic change psychologically is anyone’s guess. This woman-creature, however, is about as far from ‘motherly’ as it is possible to be, slapping her sons around, sleeping with the shades drawn all day, and gobbling cockroaches. Understandably perturbed, the boys decide to investigate.

Initially, we are treated to a visually sumptuous, intriguing build-up, with the boys simply occupying the exclusive,  enthralling, and slightly spooky and sinister world they share together. They wander into caves, run through cornfields, and and at one point enter a underground room which is inexplicably littered with human bones to retrieve a yowling stray cat. Mom’s not well, so they pretty much do their own thing, and this childhood drama laced with the uncanny and outright horror is weirdly compelling.

However, when mom starts addressing one boy and acting as if the other doesn’t exist, I had one fervent plea to ask of the script- ‘please don’t let one twin be dead and the other hallucinating him.’ That’s like, the biggest cop-out twist that it’s possible to incorporate in a movie like this. Well, the film devolves near the end into virtual torture porn, where the little boys brutalize their mother for information. She says she’s their real mama, but they don’t believe it. The long, lingering violence perpetrated by two little kids is unnerving, but not necessary or  crucial to the narrative either, like a sick joke with a pitch-black punchline.

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I sat through it, albeit in relative discomfort, hoping for a kick-ass twist that would exceed my expectations. But no, they insisted on going down that road. The road with the dead kid and his grief-stricken twin too traumatized, or too bat crap- crazy, to acknowledge his loss. Didn’t The Other by Thomas Tryon already do this to better effect? (the book, which was outstanding, not the movie, which is arguably worse than this one.)

There are a handful of creepy moments to be had here (just seeing the mother swathed in bandages is enough to give me the willies.) Mostly it is an overlong (even at 99 minutes) movie which stretches out it’s screen time by featuring unnecessary visits from unnecessary additions to a paper thin script. That would be okay if the twist was worth half a turd squirt. It isn’t. Many small horror films with ultimately little to say can achieve a near-perfect balancing act from their chilling sense of suspense and mounting dread.

Take the movie Honeymoon. it’s a small, modest, low-budget horror. It works at holding our rapt attention. The Living and the Dead has a tiny plot (a woman with cancer imprisoned in her house by her irrational son) and could certainly be cut down ten minutes or so but somehow it earns our grief and sympathy. Goodnight Mommy has a spectacularly Gothic atmosphere (despite being set in a modern-style pad) and is even chilling at times, but ultimately lets us down with it’s distinct lack of anything new, innovative, or original to offer.

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The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence)

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If one thing can be said for the third (and blessedly final) film in the Human Centipede trilogy, it’s that it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tom Six is a narcissistic, self-congratulatory fucktard with a huge boner for his own presumed ‘edginess’. It’s too bad, since the first ‘pede was passable and the second actually had it’s outstanding qualities (mostly manifested in the superb lead performance by Laurence R. Harvey as ‘Martin’) that this one should be such a train wreck.

Yeah, you’re going, tell us what you really think. So I will, and don’t think for one moment I’m going to spare anyone who participated in this ‘movie”s feelings. I mean, whoever wrote this script needs to be waterboarded and centipeded x20. Oh yeah, that would be Tom Six. But the biggest ‘screw you’ doesn’t belong to Tom Six, but to his lead, Dieter Laser. Laser, in a tooth-grindingly manic film performance, is about as ‘scary’ a baddie as a toddler throwing a tantrum.

Picture a gigantic skeletal looking two-year-old with sunken features jumping about like a moron and spewing profanities, and you’ve pretty much got Dieter Laser in this movie. Laser should be banned from acting indefinitely. His performance makes Adam Sandler look like Sir Ian McKellan. But never mind. Laser plays Bill Boss, a racist, homophobic, misogynistic D-bag who happens to be the warden at George H. W. Bush maximum security prison (oh was that a little retarded political commentary? I never would have got that. Huh.)

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The prison is poorly run, understaffed, and the heat and the prisoners is driving Boss toward an inevitable mental breakdown. See how he jumps around like that and over-enunciates ever-y-thing? That’s the Texas heat getting to him and boiling his brain! Or maybe he’s just a chode. His meek assistant Dwight Butler (Laurence R. Harvey) hates him, the inmates want to rape him and the only thing from which he derives meager pleasures his his secretary and virtual sex slave, Daisy (former porn star Bree Olsen.) Ol’ Daisy’s expected to accommodate Bill in any way he sees fit (i.e. lots and lots of blow jobs, sometimes in front of the visibly uncomfortable Dwight,) and he continually blackmails her by holding her felon father’s prison sentence over her head. So suck my dick, bitch! And fix me a sandwich!

That’s right. The only woman in THC3, and she’s being treated like a dog and raped throughout the entire film. Her purpose is to be beaten senseless and be repeatedly assaulted and objectified. Weirdly enough, I actually felt embarrassed for Bree Olsen throughout this film. There’s a certain point while listening to Laser wheeze “Suck it, SLUT” as she tearfully performs fellatio on him that you begin to feel that Olsen was probably actually less humiliated and degraded in the adult film industry.

One day at the prison nightmarishly fades into the next when Dwight has a light bulb moment- inspired by the first two movies, he will convince Bill to turn the prisoners into a massive human centipede. This installment stands as kind of a film within a film within a film, with nods to the first two and a cast of characters oblivious (apart from a glib in joke at the beginning) that the two leading men look exactly like the antagonists from the first two films. Bill initially rejects the idea, but soon the gruesome twosome join forces to make the biggest human centipede the world has ever seen.

This is the kind of film where a doctor (Clayton Rohner) allows the construction of a human centipede (i.e. God-knows-how-many people sewn ass to mouth) but won’t allow them to be shot and put out of their misery because it’s against the Hippocratic oath. And Laurence R. Harvey, God knows I love the man (he tore up the screen in THC2 as the silent Martin Lomax) but he sports the worst fucking Texan accent I’ve ever heard.

On top of that, the character of ‘Dwight’ is wildly inconsistent.  So, he says he loves Daisy (Olsen) (an unrequited affection, sadly) but he has an opportunity to open the door and save her when she is cornered by the rioting prisoners. He doesn’t. Furthermore, after seeing Daisy’s sad fate at the end he mourns for exactly a minute and a half before gloating the the visiting Governor (Eric Roberts) about the completion of the centipede.

Maybe this is a intentional decision on the part of the filmmaker to show Dwight’s fickleness and amorality. However, it seems like he wants us to like Dwight on some level, as he plays the part of a hang-dog anti-hero, and it’s impossible to invest in him when his character has the emotional consistency of a squid.

“The Human Centipede 3” seems to want you to take it as a comedy, but it’s mix of horrific violence and hellish slapstick (like watching a Saturday morning cartoon from Hell) is about as funny as finding dog poo on the bottom of your shoe. There’s not a scrap of humanity or realism to the proceedings, and in the end THC3 is a thoroughly Schizophrenic, incomprehensible mess with dialogue that sounds like it was written by a thirteen-year-old in a psycho ward. So my advice to you is- even if you liked the first two movies, stay far away from this shit fest. It is to cinema what Hitler is to peace activism.

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