Ash vs. Evil Dead ; or Ash is Bruce is Ash is Bruce

Hello and Hallo-welcome to our final blog of the season! Please, hold your weeping to the end, and join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, in their excitement over the return of Ash Williams to their lives.

Today’s (final) film offering: Ash Vs. Evil Dead, “El Jefe” (which isn’t a film, a fact duly noted by your bloggers!)

Watch as he fights demon hordes and middle-aged sag !
Watch as he fights demon hordes and middle-aged sag !

Lilly: This month, we’ve been delving into the world of Evil Dead to make sure we were ready for one thing: the end of days. On top of that, it made watching a reboot series starring Ash all the easier, since we were caught up in all the mythos. That was also helpful.

Andy: And whaddaya know, Starz have just started showing a new series, following our favourite chainsaw-and-shotgun wielding hero!

Lilly: Ash vs. Evil Dead takes place thirty years (to the day) after Ash’s horrible cabin vacation, and we find him working at a Value Mart and rocking a wooden hand. He is still Ash–a bit dumb, a bit of an asshole, minus both ‘bit’s–and he has done something incredibly dumb. He’s read from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. Uhwhat.

Cue evil! And dead! The evil dead!

Andy: The scene where he realises what he’s done is pretty funny, as well as his attempts to immediately run far, far away. He’s the only one who knows how dangerous this all is, but he’s also a coward and an idiot – one who is essentially working the same job he was when we last saw him in one of the endings to Army of Darkness (presumably the canonical one now).

His best moments though, come when he flashes back to the night in question. Buffoon he may be, but he was clearly very disturbed by what went on in that remote cabin, and his mild PTSD helps to humanise him, as well as generate sympathy for someone who is a fairly reprehensible character.

Lilly: See, yes. I hated Ash in Army of Darkness for exactly that reason–he didn’t seem to show any real…realness. Like, I know it was a comedy horror film, but this is comedy horror, too, and it took a moment to give us an insight into Ash that made him a little less sarcasm asshole monster and a little more a guy who had a really, really bad experience, so is just going to punch and sex his way through life to try and forget it. That I can totally get behind.

Also, hey! There is another character besides Ash! I mean, there are of course side characters around Ash, with his little Honduran friend and the girl that is way, way, waywayway too young for him, but there is also Officer Fisher, who suffers one of the creepiest nights on the job ever, and is somehow involved in all this. Oh, and Lucy Lawless! Xena! Xena is in it! Very exciting. Not that we know anything about her yet, but still.

Andy: Yeah, unlike a movie, this is essentially a pilot – there’s a lot of stuff being set up and not a lot being knocked down yet. But there’s enough here to hook a fan.

Lilly: This first episode, El Jefe (meaning The Boss), is where we see Ash confront himself and the role he has to play in this whole evil taking over the world thing, and it’s a fantastic opener to the series. It was funny, with just enough asshole-saying-dick-things moments balanced out with physical comedy and good script writing, and it had more of the tone of Evil Dead 2 than any of the other films in the series.

Andy: It was actually funny, but also gory and grim, with several callbacks but scope to expand the mythology – which I suspect they’ll have to do to maintain some momentum in the plot.

Lilly: I am actually really curious and excited about what is to come, and if that isn’t a sign of a good premier episode, I don’t know what is!

Andy: Check it out. It’s Groovy.

May; or Making Friends Isn’t Easy, Especially From Scratch

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Frankenstein Friday, where grave robbing is not just a hobby, it’s a calling. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they thread their needles in preparation for a different kind of cross-stitch project.

Today’s film offering: May

May...be a bit weird.
May…be a bit weird.

Andy: We watch a lot of out-there horror stuff here at Hallowfest. Last year and this year, we’ve seen a film where a man reconstructed his own face using wax, a documentary crew following around a slasher villain, and a found footage about some people going to actually find Frankenstein’s Monster. 

Heck, my favourite film is Alien. So, when I say this, I say it with some authority. This film is weird.

The plot, such as it is, is about an extremely socially awkward woman’s attempts to connect with the people around her. She’s desperately lonely, but not wise in the ways of the world, so her attempts don’t necessarily go as well as she’d hoped.

Lilly: Life isn’t all bad for the lazy-eyed May, though! She has a best friend–said bff is a creepy doll in a glass box, but still! That’s nice. Right? Right?

May is one of those films that gives you awkward heebie jeebies before any actual horror happens. You watch as an incredibly awkward girl tries to make herself attractive for a boy, and just the opposite happens. As her outside becomes more beautiful, the inside becomes more…well. 

Andy: It really makes you realise the banality of evil. It’s not caused by grandiosity, just by a slow, gentle slide away from anyone who could be able to reach you, talk to you or stop you.

Lilly: The character of May is one of the most well-realized awkward, weird girls I have ever seen on film. She is weird in a real way, not just in the ‘I love sparkles on my pancakes, listen to this song it will open your eyes to your soul, I collect buttons from old shirts’ kind of way you get in indie films often enough.

Andy: She’s like the antithesis of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Sometimes people who are shy and really kooky are not people you want to be around – they’re alone for a reason. Sometimes, they may even be dangerous.

Lilly: What’s great about the characterization of May is that she is set up in direct contrast to another character, Polly, who also has a physical deformity of sorts (a massive mole on her finger) so would have been teased in school as well, and you see that it isn’t the teasing that necessarily made May the monster she becomes, but rather something else.

Of course, you could argue Polly’s family told her differences like a mole on your hand made your special while May’s mother made a point of saying she wouldn’t make friends with her lazy eye, so perhaps that didn’t help, but once we see adult May speaking to her doll as if holding a conversation, you are relatively sure there is more at work than a bad childhood. May is insane, not quirky. She’s actually mentally unstable, and desperately needs help, but seems to have just slipped through life, hiding herself away. Until she meets Adam, anyway.

Something I also thought was well done was the first time her and Adam get intimate, mainly because it was the realest ‘virgin’ scene I’ve seen in a film, where she had literally no idea what to do beyond hugging and pawing at his fiercely, in that way kids pet animals before they are taught to ‘pet nicely’. That barring-teeth sort of hugging you see toddlers do to toys, where their love is almost aggressive. It was so….weird.

Andy: Part of what makes this film so disturbing is that we are used to seeing characters like this go through some sort of redemptive arc – Steve Carrell’s 40 Year Old Virgin sorts himself out with the perfect woman, endless teenage girls are made over and ‘improved’, so subconsciously you’re waiting for it here. You’re waiting for someone to rescue her. And no one does, so she rescues herself. Which is not exactly what the audience had in mind.

The first hour or so of this film could be seen as an offbeat romantic comedy but believe us when we say this is a true horror film – it actually horrifies. And there’s no sudden turning point, just a slow, shallow slide, and we’re suddenly at the bottom of a psychosis.

Lilly: Yeah, when I said she was ‘hiding herself’, it’s more like, as Andy says, a slow, steady slide that we witness. She actually doesn’t hold back much crazy. She openly compliments Polly’s neck or Adam’s hands, plays with a scalpel at work, and enjoys telling stories about dog guts. She only really holds back the big guns (her bff dolly friend), and even then, it’s almost as if that just doesn’t come up, not that she’s hiding it. She actually brings the doll out into the world, even, and shares her bond with it in one of the most disturbing scenes. And she doesn’t seem to see how it might be seen as odd.

There is also an odd sort of line in the film between what is real and what May is imagining (there is no distinction by how it is shot or presented, so it is hard to distinguish), so who knows if there is anything supernatural going on with that doll or not, but really, in the end, this is a story of a troubled young lady trying to make friends and deciding that, in order to get exactly what she wanted from another person, she’d have to go custom order. Which is an insane idea, which makes sense, since it is May’s idea.

Andy: It’s interesting, but also very, very odd. This is definitely one for the cult bin, and we definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone just getting into horror. It’s seriously one of the strangest ones we’ve ever reviewed.

Lilly: Yeah, we mainly reviewed it this year because I had seen it years ago and needed someone else to watch it so I could share in the awkward, strange taste it leaves in your mouth, to be honest.

It’s…a thing. It is weird, it is different, and it is…May.

Bonus: Adam is played by Jeremy Sisto. Remember him? Yeah. So there’s that!

Taste of Fear; or Coming Home Can Be Awkward

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of #TBT Terror, where we get nostalgic for the good old scares. Your bloggers, Andy and  Lilly, would like to assure you that you aren’t just seeing things; there is a corpse in the pool.

Today’s film offering: Taste of Fear (note: this film’s USA title is Scream of Fear)

Sound of terror! Smell of horror! Sight of scary!
Sound of terror! Smell of horror! Sight of scary!

Lilly: Hammer Horror sort of has a reputation. We all know this. Kensington gore, Dracula, gasping heroines swooning and brave young men bally-well doing their jolly best to stop that horror, whatever it might be. It’s over the top, it’s flashy, it’s sex, sex, sex and death.

That all said, Taste of Fear is not that. 

Andy: No less an authority than Christopher Lee said this film was the best thing Hammer had ever done. It’s a cold, twisty thriller, with nothing supernatural at all – which is unusual, at least.

Lilly: Set in the south of France, Taste of Fear is the story of a daughter coming to visit her father after ten years of being estranged. She has spent that time in Switzerland with her nurse, who, not long before her coming, died–we see this in the first few moments of the film, in fact. Did I mention the daughter was in a wheelchair after a riding accident? That was pretty important. She’s in a wheelchair after a riding accident.

Anyway, the daughter gets a letter from her father, asking her to come home, and so she does, to meet…well, everyone, as she hasn’t seen her father for ten years, so hasn’t met his new wife or driver or Christopher Lee. They’re all there, happy to meet her, but something is missing. Oh yeah. Her dad. Off on some mysterious business trip, she is told he’ll be back soon. She is suspicious, and just gets more so as events unfold that aren’t exactly pointing to her father coming home any time soon.

Andy: Like seeing his body, for instance. In many places. More than once.

Lilly: Taste of Fear is a psychological thriller that is well written, fun, and more twisty than the craziest of crazy straws. 

Andy: It’s like an M Night Shyamalan marathon, without the sudden, utter drop in quality after a solid opening. Or M Night Shyamalan coming in to solve the plot. It’s amazing what this film crams into its 76 minute runtime.

Lilly: It has hints of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte and Shadow of a Doubt to it, and as you watch Penny (the daughter) figure out what has happened to her father (spoiler: if there is a body, he’s possibly dead, okay?), the plot starts to thicken so quickly that the last half hour is literally like wading through delicious, plotty molasses. The characters all settle into who they really are, and it all kicks off.

There is a lot to praise in this film. The masterful build up of the plot, the hints at what is going on being dropped in neatly, not in the heavy-handed way you can get sometimes, for instance. It is only 76 minutes long, as Andy has said, yet nothing is left hanging–tying up as many loose ends as this film does it’s a feat to be noted. Then there is the acting by all of the cast, none of them coming off as camp or flat–the weakest was probably Ronald Lewis as Bob, and even then, he was good as the ‘what even is your job description’ chauffeur.

Andy: I wouldn’t rank it as among my favourite films, but it’s one of the most efficient thrillers I have ever watched. And if you can guess all the twists before they come, you’re smarter than me.

All in all, there are worse ways to spend an hour and a bit. I haven’t written too much this review, simply because the less you know about a film like this, the better – go in almost blind, and you’ll have a great time.

Lilly: While it wouldn’t crack my top ten films ever, this is definitely one of my favourite psychological thrillers, especially for how short it is and how unknown it was to me prior to us going on a Hammer kick.

Now. Go. Watch. And enjoy!

Army of Darkness; or Ash Has a Bad Trip Back Through Time

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Ash Wednesday, where we look at the films in the Evil Dead series to prep ourselves for the premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who would like to remind you that the undead hordes aren’t always going to fight fair.

Today’s film offering: Army of Darkness

Hey, remember: his girlfriend just died.
Hey, remember: his girlfriend just died.

Andy: So we thought Evil Dead was weird and Evil Dead 2 was awesome. What do we think of the third in the trilogy? Weeell…

So at the end of Evil Dead 2 the evil was defeated, but at the cost of our eponymous hero being sent back in time. The legendary hero who was mentioned in the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis turned out to be none other than Ash himself!

Lilly: Twist! I guess! Not really!

Andy: Unfortunately the locals aren’t pleased to see him, and he’s immediately hauled off to enslavement and probable death at the hands of the ‘Deadites’ – the possessed people from the last two films finally getting a name. Of course, being a manly man of action, he escapes, regains his ‘boom-stick’ and sets off on a quest to retrieve the Necronomicon, defeat the Deadites, and somehow get home.

The first thing that is apparent is that there’s been a jarring shift in tone. The change of setting is certainly a factor, but this plays out much, much closer to a dark fantasy film than a straight-up horror. The horror itself is toned down, and the comedy side is ramped way, way up.

Lilly: I guess. Not really.

Andy: The trouble, for me at least, is that the blending of horror and comedy is what made Evil Dead 2 so good. Evil Dead was light on the comedy side, and becomes almost dull and gruelling in the latter half. This film shows that knocking out the other strut doesn’t do the series any favours either.

Lilly: Hands up, I didn’t like this film. It just was too…ridiculous. Zany? Do people say ‘zany’ anymore? Because I am saying it in regards to this. How long was that mini Ash scene? I get it, it is funny because there are tiny Ashlings everywhere, and they are evil, and whatever. Ha ha, they can use a fork as a weapon. Like. Seriously? What was even happening here? It was like a filler scene while they set up the actual plot or something. They knew they could just, you know, turn the camera off and set up, right? I felt distracted, not entertained, and that’s a bummer. 

Andy: Yeah, this film has one thing in abundance that you can sort-of level as a criticism in the trilogy as a whole – filler. Trouble is here, the stakes feel lower, so the gaps are more noticeable.

Lilly: Ash, as well, was not the Ash either of the prior two films portrayed. First, he was a nice guy who got a bum deal re: a cabin vacation. Then, he was a sarcastic smarm monster who had a rough go of it. In this film, he’s a slapstick asshole who has all sorts of bravado and no brains. When did he become an idiot, is my question. Like, going mad from his loss is one thing, as we see in Evil Dead 2 but when he messed up the incantation before taking the book? I mean. That was pretty important. You should probably remember that. And what was the plot line with the girl? What was that? Her evil makeup was boss, but really? Really. 


Andy: Part of what made the previous two so enjoyable was that Ash was so relatable. He’s not the sharpest page in the Liber Daemonica, but his heart was always in the right place. Here, he just comes across like an arrogant jackass. Which would be fine, but I didn’t find him to be a particularly funny arrogant jackass. Humour is as subjective as horror, I guess, but here? It all feels kind of lazy. The hits are very, very few and far between for this viewer.

Lilly: You know my favourite part? The Undead Deadite army. I mean. They were great. I will get behind marching skeletons any. Day. And the makeup effects were pretty awesome. The guys in the creature workshop and makeup department deserve all the thumbs up. Besides that, though…Meh.

Andy: Yeah, I’m gonna have to say you can probably skip this one. What’s weird is this one is generally really well regarded – people love this movie. I don’t know if it’s in a so-bad-it’s-good way (which would make me sad because Evil Dead 2 is ACTUALLY good) or they’re just seeing something I don’t. Wouldn’t be the first time, I guess.

Frankenstein & The Bride of Frankenstein; or Playing Happy Families with Boris Karloff

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where you get two horrors for the price of one! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who would like to remind you that, no matter what, making a living creature from the parts of the dead is a long-term commitment, so be sure not to just create a monster without thinking through the consequences.

Today’s film offerings: Frankenstein & The Bride of Frankenstein

Andy: Now this is some proper old horror. Released in 1931 and 1935, respectively, there’s not really many older horror films that you can sink your teeth into – there’s Dracula, released in 1929, and stuff like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu and The Hands of Orlac and…OK, well there’s loads, but my point is this film is pretty much one of the baselines on which the rest of horror is built.

And you probably know that, as a reader – that these films are hoary old ‘classics’, historical relics worth doffing your cap to before diving into the more modern, post-Night of the Living Dead landscape.

But you know what? These films are actually, y’know, good. And you should watch them. Both of them.

Lilly: It’s not just about paying your horror dues on these ones, people. It’s about really enjoying something that just happens to be one of the horror giants.

To be clear, Frankenstein is the man who made the creation, not the creation's name. So. Come on.
To be clear, Frankenstein is the man who made the creation, not the creation’s name. So. Come on.

Andy: Frankenstein is a sort of bare-bones retelling of the original novel, shorn of its framing story and a lot of exposition. Gone is the ugly yet tortured and erudite philosopher monster of Mary Shelley. Instead, we get one that is almost mute, strong, yet childlike and curious, and abominably treated by his creator.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. A young woman named Elizabeth is concerned for her fiance, a brilliant young scientist engaged in mysterious experiments in the nearby mountains. Unbeknownst to her, his experiments are even more macabre than she expects, involving body-snatching, grave-robbing, and in one case, theft, culminating in a wild, stormy night where his creature is give life. It’s alive I tell you! I needn’t say that the scientist’s name is Dr Henry Frankenstein.

After being tormented by one of the most despicable characters ever put to film, one of Frankenstein’s assistants, the creature eventually escapes, and wanders into a local town – one where the marriage of young Elizabeth and Frankenstein is about to take place…

Lilly: Dun dun duuuun.

James Whale’s Frankenstein is a painful tale of an outsider who just wants to live amongst others, but is unaware that he is breaking the rules of society by merely existing. Dead are dead, and the creation that Boris Karloff so brilliantly plays is not dead in the least. He is, as Andy mentioned, curious, innocent, and wanting to explore. One of the most heartbreaking and touching scenes in any film I’ve watched is when the creation experiences sunlight for the first time. He lifts his hands to the sky and seeks out the warmth he feels on his skin, to hold it and understand it. The rest of the film is a series of experiences had by the creation where, when he reaches out inquisitively, he gets burnt (sometimes literally) by those around him. The humanity that Karloff puts into the creation makes the audience instantly react to his torture by Fritz, not to mention pity him after a misunderstanding that leads to an act that the creation surely didn’t mean.

While the film takes only the bare bones of the original tale, it does capture the failure on the part of the doctor to care for his creation and the effects it has on both parties. It also beautifully questions who the monster is by having it made so obvious that what the creation was doing, he was doing because he didn’t not know better, or was afraid. It’s a great take on the story, and very much worth watching for that reason alone.

Andy: Bride of Frankenstein is framed a little differently. On a stormy night (noticing a theme here) Lord Byron and Percy Shelley praise Mary for her story of the monster. She insists that there’s more story to tell.

Lilly: Fun fact! Mary Shelley’s story originally came about after a dark and stormy night much like the one seen here, where her and her writing buddies got together and dared each other to write some awesome scary stories. Frankenstein was her offering. True story!

Make that The Bride of Karloff and I'm there.
Make that The Bride of Karloff and I’m there.

Andy: Having somehow lived through the end of Frankenstein, the titular ‘hero’ and his ‘monster’ go their separate ways, unaware of the other’s survival. Henry is nursed back to health by Elizabeth, while the monster heads off for various unpleasant encounters with the outside world. Henry has sworn off his monsters – until the arrival of his mentor, the sinister Dr. Pretorius, who insists they try again. 

Later, Dr Pretorius meets the monster, and rather than rejecting him as everyone else has, welcomes him as an old friend. In fact, he’s building him a companion…

Lilly: Not to mention weird little people, but that’s just this film’s thing, I guess.

Now, unlike Dr.Frankenstein, who wants to make a monster for science and knowledge and knowing, etc., Dr.Pretorius honestly comes off as someone who wants to make life just to, you know, play with it. He is a detached creep of a creator, and the beauty of his creation is almost in direct contrast with the underlying nasty that is driving the doctor.

In fact, the beauty of ‘the bride’ is frankly unnerving, the more you think of it, and especially when you see her beside the creation. Frankenstein’s monster was made to see if life could be returned to dead flesh–no need to fuss about with him looking human when that is the goal, after all. However, the bride (Elsa Lanchester) is beautiful, made-up and sporting that amazing hair. Someone thought it was relevant in her creation to make sure she was appealing visually. For why? If she was purely a gift to the creation, why did beauty play into it? He had no concept of what was attractive or not. It’s creepy. Just think about it. Blech.

Andy: There’s absolutely no excuse for not watching these films. They’re paced excellently and very brief – together they are roughly the same length as The Shining – but the sheer brilliance of James Whale’s tale of Gods and Monsters drips through every frame. Boris Karloff has never, ever been equalled as the monster, and Elsa Lanchester has past through ‘iconic’ into part of a kind of background radiation of pop culture.  

But which one’s better?

Lilly: Frank

Andy: Bride

Lilly: But…

Andy: …Yeah, just watch both.

What We Do In The Shadows; or The Office Meets The Vampire Chronicles

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Laugh-it-off Monday, where we try and start our week from a point of laughter, to really build up to those screams. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they sit down for a house meeting to discuss the ground rules, such as who does the dishes when and whether or not blood stains will invalidate their lease.

Today’s film offering: What We Do in the Shadows

Not to be confused with what we don't in the sunshine.
Not to be confused with what we don’t in the sunshine.

Andy: Remember how last week we said New Zealand was becoming the King of Comedy-Horror? This is the jewel in the crown, as far as we’re concerned.

The plot couldn’t be simpler – a documentary crew follows around four housemates as they try to navigate an increasingly complex 21st Century. Also, they’re all vampires. The result is something like Parks and Recreation crossed with Interview with the Vampire. You think kids think you’re out of touch at 30? Try being 400.

The genius of this film is that the vampires are not only trying to appear cool and with it to the outside world, they’re also trying to do it for the film crew. The embarrassing asides about how they have to draw each other’s appearances because they can’t see their reflections, or endless bickering about housework, are not gracefully swept under the rug, despite their best efforts.

Lilly: This film tries to combine not only numerous sources of vampire lore, but numerous styles of comedy, with the cut-to interviews, plays on words (‘evil bidding’ was one of my favourite moments in the film), and lad comedy with pranks and in-jokes being awkwardly explained to only have backfire. Then there was comedy around their killing, because yes, they’re vampires, they kill, so what–it was great. Again, this was a film, like Young Frankenstein that actually seemed to like the source material it was parodying, paying some attention to the tropes you get–the very fact that they had varying styles of vampires based on how old they were–the oldest, Petyr, looking like Nosferatu–was brilliant. 

Andy: And, they’re just so earnest, and the result is a quartet that is oddly endearing, as well as shambolic. You almost forget that they are essentially looking for people to eat on their nightly jaunts.

There’s just so much to like in this film, from the clearly very carefully thought out difficulties of being a vampire in the 21st Century, as well as keeping a low profile, all the way to their relationship difficulties – ex-girlfriends, overly-familiar familiars and a hilarious local rivalry with an equally useless pack of werewolves.

Lilly: It takes something that has been blown way out of proportion (vampires) in the last ten years of film and makes it more, y’know, human. Part of the terror of vampires is that, unlike a lot of the monsters and things that go bump in the night, they are actually often able to blend in–sure, they have fangs, or long nails, or are strong, but so do goths who weight lift, right? You can mistake a vampire for someone like you, and these vampires even more so. You can see this most in Vladislav’s struggle with seeing his ex at an event they are going to. Who hasn’t angrily huffed over the ex daring to show up some place you wanted to show up? And he’s immortal, so it’s going to keep happening! I mean. Come on. It doesn’t ignore either genre, horror or comedy, in its undertaking, and I really appreciate that. It’s a perfect balance, and a perfect film to end our laugh-it-off Mondays with.

Andy:It’s just so effortlessly good. Horror-Comedy fans, definitely check this out.

We Are Still Here; or Why Moving Can Be Stressful

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Shut-In Sunday, where horror doesn’t go far from home! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who think full disclosure should be well enforced in real estate agents, especially when houses are haunted.

Today’s film offering: We Are Still Here

Which is why we are not there.
Which is why we are not there.

Andy: Moving house is stressful. Especially when your wife is deeply depressed because your son’s been hit by a car and killed. What you probably need then is a house deep in rural New England. Of course, the real estate agent hasn’t let them know that owners of this particular house don’t tend to, y’know, ‘stay’ very long.

Lilly: Which I feel like is illegal, but you know. Our first sign of evil, that.

Andy: Directed by Ted Geoghegan, whose resume includes a lot of B-Movie writer and producer credits – this is the first time we’ve come across him – this film does have a bit of geek cred in casting Barbara Frampton of ReAnimator fame, as well as a visual aesthetic inspired by the Italian horror legend Lucio Fulci.

The result is a film which is visually one of the most stunning haunted house movies we’ve seen in a good long while. The whole thing is stylishly shot, extremely creepy, but also really, brutally violent. These ghosts aren’t the kind of passive ‘point-at-where-the-bad-thing-happened’ ghosts. These spirits are pissed.

Lilly: I’ve never seen such a good use of angles as I did in this film. Every shot was lined up artfully to an effect, which is long, tiresome work and careful consideration on the part of the director, and I’m really impressed. It made the whole film feel tense, like something was about to happen, so that, by the time something did, your nerves were shot anyway.

I was also really creeped out by the design of the ghosts in this film. You get glimpses in the trailer, but these ghosts are made of ash and fire, and for some reason, that makes them come across as far more sinister than your average haunting. When you start to learn the background of the house, it gets all the spookier, and you are left feeling on edge because you are hit with the fact that these ghosts, as Andy mentioned, are supernaturally pissed.

Andy: Not to mention that the locals are either completely unfriendly or a little too friendly, and you have a recipe for being creeped right out of your seat.

Lilly: Then there are their weird friends who are invited over to try and help sort this out. It’s sort of tragic to learn that the are recent friends made after the death of the couple’s son, but then, when better than to befriend those who believe they can contact those who had passed? You get an excellent reasoning for the couple staying in the house with the mother’s desperate hopes that one of the ghosts might be her child, or might know how to get in touch with him, and as it all comes to a head, you are stuck hoping with her, that it will all be worth it in the end.

Sometimes, when watching a horror film, you can see what is coming, you can figure out the rhythm of the film, can find some comfort, but this film did not have that. I was pleasantly surprised, I was spooked, and there were times we both said “nope!” which is a rare one, since Andy can read a film and prepare himself more often than I can. This one caught us both off guard.

Andy: Pretty much. This film never really lets up – the creepy things happening may change, but there’s no moment where the sun comes up and you know you can relax for a few minutes. It’s not overly intense, but it is relentless in its dread.

Lilly: And, unlike some other films I’ve seen, it really works with the tragic background of the characters. There are lazy writers out there who would just have the son’s death be something you were told once and then it was used again once more near the end of the film, but this film is absolutely steeped in mourning, where the two stories of ghosts who haunt us metaphorically and physically are both given time to really get to the viewer.

Andy: We don’t really want to give too much more away on – the joy is in trying to parse out the plot yourself – but it is good, and we do recommend it.

Crimson Peak; or It’s Always Gloomy in England

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Straight-Up Scary Saturday, where the scares are anything but subtle. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who would like to remind you that there is nothing normal about bleeding walls–if your walls bleed, call a plumber or priest immediately.

Today’s film offering: Crimson Peak

More like BABE peak, right?
More like BABE peak, right?

Lilly: Sigh. Tom Hiddleston.

Andy: Sigh. Guillermo Del Toro.

Lilly: Crimson Peak is the story of a young lady who wants to become a writer but is stuck being a secretary (she is a lady after all, ho ho ho) at her father’s building company. Stuck, that is, until a tall, dark, incredibly handsome stranger shows up and takes an interest in her…stories. Definitely not in her father’s money, no no no. It’s definitely in her stories. Definitely.

Tragedy soon follows the tall, dark stranger’s entrance into her life and it spurs her decision to move to England with her new brooding beau and his beautiful yet batshit sister. She arrives at his ancestral home, Allerdale Hall, and proceeds to become the queen of justifications as her life gets more and more insane.

This is a Gothic Tale.

Andy: No kidding.

It’s also a Guillermo Del Toro tale. A man who believes that horror is best viewed through the lens of an extremely dark fairytale, he is possibly one of the greatest people currently working in the genre. With a stable of director credits including Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, and even such oddities as Cronos and Mimic, as well as producer credits on films like The Orphanage and Mama, his movies are characterised by beautiful imagery, insectile forms, scenes of decay and parental (especially paternal) abandonment or neglect.

Going to a new film directed by him is something I approach with something approaching awe. I’m a fan, essentially.

Lilly: As this is a film still in theatres, we hardly want to spoil, but there is a lot to like about this film. It is aesthetically fantastic, the sets absolutely stunning. The colour palette is dark and sensual

Andy: This film is nothing if not lovely to look at, which is what we’ve come to expect. The main set of the house is a fantastic model of decay and neglect, with a steady stream of leaves and later snow through the central hole in the roof. There are other touches – a grand library full of mouldering books no-one bothers to read. A creaky water system that sounds like the rumblings of a train. A slow seepage of the red earth up through the floorboards.

Lilly: Don’t forget, due to chimneys and poor carpentry, blah blah blah, the house breathes. Pro tip: if your new fella has a house that breathes? Just leave. Divorce. Shut it down.

Andy Yes. It gives off the distinct impression that not only has nobody lived there for a long time, nobody should live there. It’s the most interesting and developed character in the film.

Lilly: Meanwhile, I think the Baronet, played by Tom Hiddleston, is brilliant. He’s tortured, he’s dark, he’s secretive, and he’s sympathetic even with his twisted behaviour. I could literally use the word ‘gothic’ a million times to describe this film, and I want to use it again here to describe him. A man tied to a decaying family home and possessive older sister, I just want to play gothic bingo with his narrative. Handsome and charming? Check. Mysterious background? Check. Passionate towards the heroine? Check. Wants his wife to live in a giant castle of a house and never go in that one area of the house, ever, you hear me? Check!

Andy: Speaking of the older sister, she also gets an interesting build up. Played very capably by Jessica Chastain, she’s a woman who knows the power of not caring if she is liked or not. The young American bride her brother brings home is desperate to be liked, and this puts her in a position of weakness to someone so cold and distant. There’s a whiff of Rebecca’s Mrs Danvers here, probably one of the all time great gothic characters. There’s also more than an edge of The Fall of the House of Usher to the bizarre sibling relationship.

Lilly: Of course, we should probably talk a little bit about our lead, the charming Edith. She is able to see ghosts, something we learn at the very beginning of the film, and it has always been a rather spooky affliction. She is warned to ‘Beware of Crimson Peak’ (something we see on the film posters, so who needs to see ghosts?) by the same ghost several times, and sees visions of others who have been lost in tragic deaths. Yet, when she goes to her new home with the bleeding walls and deathly cold corridors, she is optimistic, which makes her one of the most Gothic-y things of all: the young woman who gets menaced in the name of curiousity and love. It’s really neat, truth be told, to see a character so honestly written–while modern horror audiences would see her as idiotic at times, she actually reads as someone from her time, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Andy: And, that’s sort of it for a character list. There’s our young heroine, her husband and her sister-in-law. There’s a young doctor who was the blushing bride’s other suitor, but even he’s a relatively minor character – everything else is on our three leads.

So far, we’ve praised the visuals and some of the characterisation, so it might seem like we really like this one.

However.

The trouble is that I naturally hold Guillermo Del Toro to a very high standard. His stories have been stunning visually and often narratively clever. The trouble is, here, he isn’t doing anything new. Not just for him, but for gothic tales generally.

There’s all the usual things we see in his films, and in some ways this one consolidates them, but they’ve been done before. The ghosts moving strangely? Mama. Moth motif? Mimic. One ghost in particular looks exactly like the ghost from The Devil’s Backbone. And as you can tell from some of the references we’ve made already, there’s a lot of drawing from the well of gothic literature. The trouble is, he then doesn’t do anything with the bucket.

Part of me wonders if it is just because I am too familiar with gothic literature, but for such a visually sumptuous film, the plot as it unfolds feels at turns tired, strained, worn and predictable. There are some nice touches, but for such an original director, I kind of expected more.

Lilly: I think a big problem with this film was how it was marketed, myself. I expected a lot more scares, a lot more terror, and what I got was a perfectly pleasant story. Well, not pleasant, but still, an enjoyable two hours spent. I think it was best said by Edith herself when she describes her story (clearly something that is supposed to be a mirror of what she experiences in life, ps, a sort of watery echo of Northanger Abbey, in my opinion) to a publisher: this is not a ghost story, this is a story with a ghost in it. However, the trailers really didn’t give any indication that that was going to be the case, so people might come out really disappointed. Fair enough. But I wasn’t.

Andy: Hmm. It’s a perfectly fine film, in its own way. Many, many other people will probably like this one more than me, and that’s a perfectly legitimate opinion. However, to me it’s like a decorated Easter Egg. Vibrant, colourful and gorgeous to look at – but inside is still a boiled egg. It’s edible, sure, but needs salt.

I did laugh, however, at the portrayal of my homeland as a vast, cold wasteland where “nothing grows that isn’t bitter”. Dead on, that.

Young Frankenstein; or When Willy Wonka Raises the Dead

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Frankenstein Friday, where it’s alive, it’s ALIVE! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly–but that’s pronounced Owndy and Lolly, if you please.

Today’s film offering: Young Frankenstein

Yes, that IS the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond.
Yes, that IS the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond.

Lilly: Much like with The Wicker Man, Young Frankenstein is a classic of its genre, a horror parody that stars Gene Wilder as Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced ‘Fronkensteen’ out of embarrassment about his family’s legacy), a man tugged back by his roots to Transylvania and the family castle.

Andy: Which is weird, because Frankenstein created his monster in Ingolstadt.

Still, our young hero discovers he has inherited his family’s pile in Eastern Europe, and so leaves his hilariously standoffish wife-to-be and travels out to view his new estate. On the way, he picks up his faithful retainer Igor (pronounced eye-gore) and a ‘lab assistant’ named Inga, who may not be the best with a test tube, but has other, er, ‘assets’.

Lilly: And then there is Frau Blücher, the mysterious housekeeper of Frankenstein Castle who has a secret plan to make sure that Frederick takes up the family business.

Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks at his best, and it’s probably because his co-writer for this film was Gene Wilder, an influence which lead the jokes to not only be funny, but neater than you get in other Brooks films. In an interview, Mel Brooks even explains that Wilder didn’t want Brooks to feature in it because the man had a way of ‘breaking the fourth wall’–he said he wanted less of the ‘wink at the audience’, and you see that in script writing. Marty Feldman is the only character who breaks that wall, and only a few, very effective times. It makes this film feel a little different from other Brooks films, and that’s okay. 

Andy: There’s less of a scattergun approach here, with jokes focused on being clever and appropriate to the source being spoofed, rather than five-a-minute. The result is a film that never stops the plot moving, but keeps the laughs coming at an amazingly high hit rate.

The gothic setting certainly helps – the whole setup is all ready so overwrought that Gene Wilder’s mania tips it right over into a kind of hilarious melodrama. Although he is massively ably supported by Marty Feldman, who deadpans several of the film’s funniest lines as the lecherous and irreverent Igor.

Lilly: This is a film that not only riffs off the source material, but seems to adore it. Certain choices in the shots are clearly made to match what Young Frankenstein is spoofing, making it not only a parody, but an homage. The opening scenes could be straight from a James Whale film, and the laboratory feels a lot like the original films, mainly because Brooks got a hold of all the original equipment made for those features and rented it. There is even a point where one of the authority figures in the village say a Frankenstein had caused them issues five times before this, and that is a nod to the Frankenstein films of the Universal series. It’s so good, and unlike a few spoofs or parodies, it has a real respect for what it is cashing in on.

Speaking of Gene Wilder’s mania, however,  his terrific amount of energy in this film really makes it fun to watch. He throws himself into the role of the tortured, mad, charming Frederick Frankenstein to the point that you truly just want him to do it, to make that thing LIVE. Partnered with Marty Feldman, the pair of them make a great double act, and again, you are charmed by the two even as they are grave robbing–not an easy sell.

Andy: It’s just a film that’s so easy to like. It’s much more accessible than some of Mel Brooks’ other films – there’s less reliance on shock, more on satire. It’s smutty, certainly, but it’s also the most family friendly of his as well. Definitely recommend, and essential viewing for fans of classic horror.

Lilly: There are so many great moments in this film, and so many great jokes, it’s one that leads to quotation and  rewatches for me. I love Gene Wilder as an actor anyway, and in a loving parody of something I adore, of course I am there. Andy! Are we done with the review?

Andy: Soitenly.

Blood on Satan’s Claw; or Homestyle Horror

Hello and Hallo-welcome to #TBT Terror, where we pay attention to those films that you might have missed, making sure to pay our respects to the films that paved the way for modern chills. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they take a stroll through the idyllic countryside, hoping that they need only fear a rainy day and not the coming of Satan.

Today’s film offering: Blood on Satan’s Claw

He could just wash his hands, but nope.
He could just wash his hands, but nope.

Lilly: Today’s film is one that we (spoiler alert) seriously love, so don’t be alarmed by the gushing.  

Blood on Satan’s Claw is a lesser known folk horror film (in the same category as The Wicker Man) that keeps you feeling creeped out until the very last scene. A gem we found after watching A History of Horror  (hosted by Mark Gatiss–go and find it and watch it!), the film tells the story of a community that is menaced by the threat of the devil himself coming to town. 

Andy: Or at least, it might be the Devil. It’s never made explicit what it is, exactly. The local children all seem to be getting a bit weird too, and hanging around an old abandoned church…

Lilly: Nothing is really explicit in this film, which makes it a lot of fun. You go from scene to scene of the town’s people dealing with this situation, and each new development is mysterious and weird and icky and great. 

Andy: Plus, thematically, it makes so much sense. These are 17th Century farmers, most of whom probably can’t even read. Why should they grasp the horror that’s unfolding around them? For that matter, why should we? Some of the best horror movies have very, very little exposition – it’s a very modern obsession that everything should be explained away. (If anyone claims they can explain everything that happens in The Shining, that person is a liar or hasn’t paid attention).

Lilly: Jumping right into it, I want to point out that this film really gets the importance of a soundtrack that is on message. The main theme of Blood on Satan’s Claw is one that is charmingly haunting, and that is so very fitting to this film. It has sweet little flutes and sharp violins, and it is really just the sound of a gentle countryside tale being intercut with terror.

Another thing I love in older horror films is the earnest seriousness of the tale, none of this tongue-in-cheek stuff you get nowadays. Not that I don’t like that as well, but it makes the story that much creepier when it is approached in a way that makes you as an audience just sit and watch the confusion and fear build in the town without comedic relief or ‘eh? eh?’ moments.

And ANOTHER thing I really like is the absolutely weird way the devil makes himself known in the town. It’s gross and would be so terrifying if you had no way of knowing what it was using modern tests or what have you (modern devil tests?) and yes.

Anyway, this film is one that plays on the usual trope of ‘she’s a witch!’ but takes it further, and you watch as the village is torn apart bit by bit by each supernatural event. Trust starts to dissolve and no one is safe from one another’s doubt.

Andy: It’s essentially a Puritan Witch-hunter’s worst nightmare come true. This isn’t some Salem-esque hysteria – there’s something seriously wrong, and the local clergy are virtually powerless. It’s a dreamy, dark descent into a communal collapse, all to the backdrop of a bucolic maybe-never-existed rural paradise, and the lilting, descending notes of a terrifying soundtrack.

It’s pretty much one of my favourite horror films, is what I’m saying. It genuinely baffles me how obscure it is.

Now, there is one scene that is potentially troubling, involving the rape and murder of a very sympathetic character. As always with horror, your mileage may vary, but for me it underlies the terrible wrongness at the heart of this film, and is treated as a very serious event by other characters. Other than that though, I will not only recommend this film, but aggressively push it on anyone who expresses even a vague interest. You NEED to watch this.

Lilly: Agreed. It has a slow pace, and the scene mentioned above is a bit of a shock to the system compared to the rest of the film’s tone, but that’s sort of what makes it so, so scary and great and good. So go, watch, and let us know what you think!