Tenebrae & The Bird with the Crystal Plumage; or Italian Night at Hallowfest

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Twofer Tuesday, where it’s double your trouble for your boil and bubble! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they slap on some black gloves and whack on the synth soundtrack.

Today’s Film Offerings: Tenebrae & The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

220px-Tenebrae_-_Film_1982Andy: A woman looks out her window, as Goblin’s fantastic theme kicks in. Outside, the camera prowls upwards, and at the moment you expect it to cut, or the leitmotif to fade into something else, it just … doesn’t. Instead a 4 minute crane shot accompanied only by the soundtrack prowls over the building, looking into other apartment buildings, before a pair of bolt cutters appears, and a window on the far side is broken…

It’s a colossally pointless technical exercise and stops the movie stone dead. It’s also one of my favorite things in a horror movie.

———-

Well here we are again, Dario. Did you miss me?

Dario Argento is a director I’ve always appreciated more than loved. His beautifully shot, gaudy, gory extravaganzas deserve their place in the horror pantheon, but I’ve never felt that immediate connection I feel with, say, John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, or his contemporary Mario Bava.

Tenebrae though, is real good. My first unqualified recommendation.

Dario Argento first cut his teeth in the giallo genre, the twisted, Italian forerunner to the slasher genre, but very distinct in, er, execution. His first four features are all giallos, but then in the late seventies he began work on his Three Mothers trilogy, of which Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) are the first two parts. Everyone assumed the third part was next, but instead we got his fifth giallo, Tenebrae.

For fans of his supernatural stuff, this must have been disappointing, but when the results are this good, how can we really complain?

The plot (haha Italian horror plot summary) concerns a horror author called Peter Neal, who arrives in Italy on a book tour. On his trail are his embittered ex-wife, his agent and his assistant. Oh, and someone who claims to have been inspired by Neal’s books to go on a killing spree. Bugger. And apparently it’s based on a real experience of Argento’s, so that’s creepy.

The plot is pretty standard at this point if you’ve seen any thrillers, police procedurals, slasher movies or, yknow, anything with a plot, but as always with Argento, the key is in how it happens. There’s all sorts of cool themes bubbling away under the surface here, mainly to do with how much responsibility an artist has in the response his art gets.

Personally, I can’t get over how well shot this film is. It’s gorgeous to look at, and made by a man at the height of his powers and clearly enjoying himself. The crane shot above is just one of many such ‘tricks’ in the movie. It all seems to have been shot in some kind of modernist nightmare landscape, where everything consists of concrete, sharp angles and ultra-bright lights. This motif continues inside as well, where every character has some kind of abstract art instead of depictions of humans, all metal instead of wood or paint. It’s a hell of an aesthetic.

It’s just really, really good.

Usual caveats still apply, however. If you’ve never found Italian horror to your liking, this one’s unlikely to change your mind too much. It’s bloody and occasionally nasty, so bear that in mind. Don’t show this one to the kids, whatever you do.  

———

Anyway, about that tracking shot. Why did I like it so much? Well, it finally let me ‘get’ Argento. His movies almost always feature brutal, almost operatic deaths (and Tenebrae is no exception), buuut here we are, still watching. Watching someone else be killed is associated with absolute extremes of hedonism, especially in Rome. It’s indulgent to our worst impulses.

And do you know what else is indulgent? A four minute long tracking shot of a building set to Goblin’s music. Awesome.

Lilly: Let me just step over the puddle of gush Andy’s left here to get to my review of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

91iPRh8ZMxL._SY679_The film kicks off quick with our man, Sam, an American writer on vacay with his model girlfriend in Rome. He’s out for a night walk, as you do, when he finds himself in a ridiculously strange scenario involving being trapped between two glass doors, on one side of which is a gallery where a woman is being attacked by a mysterious figure in black gloves (giallo!) and a raincoat. He can’t help her, and he can’t get help, either, trapped in his glass cage of emotions.

Luckily, the woman survives and it turns out, she is the wife of the gallery owner (workplace drama, amirite?) and Sam decides he’ll stick around Rome to be a help in solving the case, somehow, since writers are great sleuths in most fiction! Murders continue to happen, women are being killed, and there is something relevant about a painting of someone in a raincoat murdering a young woman…

Welcome to Italian slashers!

the-bird-with-the-crystal-plumage-help.jpg
High…Five…Don’t leave me…Hanging, man.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage starts with one of the most ‘huh’ inducing moments of opening menace in a horror film I’ve seen. Loads of films in this vein open with a murder, a creepy moment that you cannot imagine what you’d do if it were you being hunted in the night, but Sam’s predicament takes it to a new level. I mean, if you’re the victim, you honestly have two options–survive or die. But with Sam, he’s left with no option whatsoever, just trapped and made to witness without action. Much like the viewers at home, honestly, which is why I keep coming back to this film.

It’s the way Argento plays with the audience in this film that I enjoy. There is one series of shots that I noticed echoed in Halloween, where someone is in bed and looks down at the bedside table, to then look up at the door and back down again. As this is a POV shot, the audience is made to do the same, and the second time they look up, you know there is something about to happen but yet, much like Sam, you have to just wait and watch. Then, standing in the doorway on the third glance upwards, is a shadowy figure–not a dude in a sheet, whoops!–and just. I love it.

Oddly, I’m not the biggest Dario Argento fan, to be honest. This is my favourite of his, and maybe it’s because it has yet to feel overly creepy in its treatment of female characters/actresses. It doesn’t feel as exploitative–not every woman was naked or leered at with the camera yet, which I appreciated. The violence wasn’t overly sexualized (up until the end, anyway, where it got weird, I admit) and it didn’t make it out that the camera was undressing the actresses. There was no chats in towels, for example. That was nice. You don’t need that in films unless the film is about being in a locker room, like all the plot happens there so there would be no reason not to be in towels. And even then, open your lockers and get changed! Seriously.

I want you to check this film out, I really do. It’s a neat murder mystery, it’s got some good and weird dots that get connected neatly until the finale, where we all are left shocked and going ‘wait, what!’ Plus, one of the clues is a bird. What even. And, as Andy said, it’s well shot. Like.

Go, watch, and enjoy!

Advertisements

Something Wicked This Way Comes & Disney Shorts; or Kids Have No Fear Or All the Fear

Hello and Hallo-welcome to Twofer Tuesday, where you’re seeing double–double trouble, that is! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they check out some Disney flicks which totally won’t be scary, right? Right?

Today’s Film Offerings: Something Wicked This Way Comes & Mickey Mouse (et al) Shorts

Andy: A movie is never on more dangerous ground than when it’s an adaptation of a book loved and admired by the viewers. If it succeeds, like the BBC’s The Secret of Crickley Hall, which we reviewed yesterday, it’s amazing.

something-wicked-this-way-comes-posterSomething Wicked This Way Comes kinda … doesn’t.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s go back to basics. Something Wicked was originally a 1962 novel by the absolutely legendary Ray Bradbury, who took a break from his usual sci-fi to pen a touching tale about boyhood, fatherhood, youth, love and regret.

Oh, and it also managed to codify absolutely every creepy carnival trope known to man. Anything, ANYTHING that has a carnival of mystery and horror in it owes something to this book, and the dreamlike quality of the narrative doesn’t disguise the naked terror of Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium, who can grant you your greatest desires, for a price, of course. 12 year old Will Holloway, his best friend Jim Nightshade, and Will’s father Charles all battle against Mr Dark’s influence on the town, and he seems to have taken a particular interest in the two boys, especially Jim, who is the braver and more curious of the two.

This adaptation forgot to put that last bit in, at least tonally. The plot’s broadly the same, and certainly all those elements I mentioned in the first paragraph are there, but the underlying terror, the threat of Mr Dark and his coterie of monsters carrying the boys off with false promises and foul trickery, is gone. I expect better from *checks notes* Walt Disney. Wait, WHAT? Yep, this is a Disney movie, which is certainly an odd thing to think about, although they do occasionally throw things like this up. Remember Hocus Pocus, where everyone was obsessed with whether a teenager had had sex yet?

The trouble is, lifting a large portion of the horror out somewhat mutilates the story, if not the narrative, and leads to some real weirdness. Mr Dark leads a parade through town at one point, and in the book, you are left in no doubt that this is a ploy to hunt for the boys. Here, they seem to come to this conclusion on their own and climb into a storm drain, which comes across as mildly paranoid deprived of context.

Most unforgivable, though, is the absolute gutting of both the scariest scene in the book and the emotional arc of Charles Holloway’s character. One of Mr Dark’s most terrifying minions, the Dust Witch (what a name!) hunts Charles through his place of work. She’s completely blind, and smells and feels her way around for him, and it is absolutely beyond scary, but it turns to triumph when Charles fights back.

Here, the Dust Witch isn’t scary in the slightest, and has instead been turned into a sexy young lady played by Pam Grier. What an utter, frustrating waste of both an amazing character AND an amazing actor, and they took both the entire hunt and Charles’ fightback out. Here, she just rocks up at Dark’s request and overcomes him easily, because god forbid we actually engage with the themes of the fucking story.

Gah.

So, it’s a mess, but there are some good points. Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark is fantastically sinister in one of his earliest film roles, and there’s a certain fun to be had in watching townsfolk succumb to temptation, but ultimately it didn’t really do a lot for me.

Read the book instead, kids.

————————————————————————————–

Lilly: Now, from the literary to the literally silly, I’m taking you back, waaay back to 1929 for my first contribution to this Disney double-bill, bringing you chat about some shorts! Mickey Mouse’s classic cartoon, The Haunted House, for instance! In a weird haunting scenario, Mickey finds himself in a haunted house on a dark and stormy night, compelled to play music by a cavalcade of increasingly weird ghouls.

Who just want to dance.

It was messed up.

First, the house itself: when Mickey enters, there is a bolt that comes down and a lock that squirms (good god, squirms!) across the floor to lock the mouse in. I’m spooked already. Then a bunch of bats appear, and a spider, and honestly, house, calm DOWN. You half expect some rats to come running out, but then, Mickey is a mouse, so would he be scared of them? Mind, he’s terrified of the bats, and surely they are some sort of rodent-y cousin, right? Maybe they are ghost bats. Maybe that is what is scary.

Anyway. He then goes down this spooky hall, and while lighting a match to see in the pitch dark, he finds his shadow morphing into this hideous beast that then squiggles off the wall and after him as he runs screaming and Jesus Christ, Disney, is that DEATH. Is DEATH chasing Mickey Mouse?!

So, as mentioned above, Death and his skeleton friends bully Mickey into playing the organ, an instrument he doesn’t play so likely the mouse is possessed at this point, since he is playing so well and all, and then comes the skeleton dance scene! It seems like cartoons were really into this trope for a while, what with the Skeleton Dance, Skeleton Frolic, and this. Show me a skeleton, Disney said in this period, and I’ll show you three, dancing in unison, and no doubt will they fall apart at one point, put themselves back together all wrong, and become some sort of aberration that makes you cry to look upon but damn, can it tap all those feet (even the ones not touching the ground!)

What I’m saying here is that this less than ten minute short is creepy as heck, so anyone who says anything about kids these days watching violent things then I will point them firmly in the direction of The Haunted House and scoff. Pfft.

Or, I’ll point them towards 1933’s The Mad Doctor, another Mickey Mouse misadventure–seriously, if Mickey can sleep at night after the shit he’s seen, I’d be surprised–wherein the first scene shows Pluto being kidnapped by a large, shadowy figure and me losing my shit since I hadn’t signed on for Pluto peril, no sir. Anyway, we find out that the man who kidnapped everyone’s fav pooch was Dr.XXX (this isn’t a porn, I swear), a rhyming mad doctor who proceeds to voice his plans to WRAP a chicken gizzard onto the wishbone of a pup and then see if it lays eggs. Fucking Disney had human centipede BEAT in ‘33, okay? There was even drawings to illustrate it!

Anyway, this cartoon has another slithering lock (still creeps me out) and an interesting tunnel sequence with weird semi-3D action going on, which baffled me. Plus, it had a bit with some stairs that I was sure were going to turn into a slide but instead were coffins! COFFINS. Then a slide, but STILL. You got me, Disney. You got me. Even if you did the same doorknob gag as you do in The Haunted House. It had some copying moments, sure, but enough new (like a creepy af mad scientist schtick and a SKELETON SPIDER) to have me want to add them both to a short and spooky cartoony playlist.

The next in the series I watched was 1937’s Lonesome Ghosts, where a bunch of ghosts call some ghost busters (Mickey, Goofy, and Donald, of course) because they are bored and want a laugh. Which, sure, why not! I have two questions about this set up of ghosts calling the offices of the ghost exterminators–one, why do ghosts own a working phone? Two, why is Goofy wearing a deerstalker? Is he the Sherlock Holmes of ghost hunters? Or is it just to keep his ears warm? Does Goofy know who Sherlock Holmes is? Is Sherlock Holmes in the Mickey Mouse universe, or is it The Great Mouse Detective Goofy is knocking off?

I might have lied about only having two questions.

Anyway, this one had a lot more violence towards the characters, but I am prepared to go out on a limb here and say that’s Donald’s influence. He’s a violent duck with anger issues. Fight me if you don’t agree. Donald would.

This short featured some new haunted house bits, like a mirror gag with Goofy and a ghost pretending to be his reflection, and a door flat on the ground then being used as an entrance for the ghosts to enter the room via the floor, so I like that. I also think I found a new tattoo idea with the wise words of Goofy, muttered to himself as he wanders the halls: I’m brave but I’m careful. Damn, Goofy. Mantra right there. Whisper that to yourself before bedtime, get it into your self-care routine!

Though, like in the last two shorts, is it even a Disney spooky film if it doesn’t feature characters getting in a line and doing a dance which involves flapping their hands? Is it?

Moving on! I actually took a look at a Disney knock off, the 1937 Skeleton Frolic, by UB Works! If you’ve seen Skeleton Dance, from 1929, you’ve seen this short, save a weird long bit featuring a skeleton who cannot master the flute. Which, can I just say, how could he, he has no LIPS. This is the same problem I had with the Nic Cage Ghost Rider film–how could he whistle for his bike when he had no lips! NONE. I’ll believe other-wordly flaming skull head powers and shit, but a whistling skull? Nope.

Also, again with the weird skeleton monster with three skulls and four legs and nope! What is it with Disney wanting me to think about dead humans fused together? WHAT DO YOU WANT.

Moving on! I then decided to check out Betty Boop’s Halloween Party from 1933. From the get go, you see squiggling trees, which literally every short had from this era, I’ve decided. I declare it, so it will be!

So Betty decides to throw a party and she invites the lonely scarecrow, awww. He’s terrifying to watch move but awww. Oh wait, actually, when he gets there, Betty declares he is practically a walking broom, so get to work, Scarey! He’s that friend you invite to the party because they are great at setting a table and clearing up afterwards, poor (terrifying) guy.

Might I just say I love how this is one of those cartoons where everyone bounces? Like they just bounce their way through life to the music that either they can hear or are eerily attuned to. I dig it. Also, I love the wall paint that is literally a flick and there is a witch on the wall. I’ll take two cans.

So the baddy in this is a big gorilla guy and since Betty’s friends are all animals I’m not sure if I take that at face value or it’s racist. Likely both? Who knows! He goes around, shouting at owls and calling them ‘funny face’ and I find that oddly hilarious. He also bobs for apples and steals all the apples, and in this Boop-iverse, bobbing for apples has been seen three times prior to him doing that, so it seems like I’m supposed to think that’s a big deal.

Anyway, he ALSO tries to kidnap Betty, but she legit haunts him with DEMONS then giggles her little face off. Betty is the Strong Female Character I need in my life, frankly. Anyway, Betty is haunted, is what I learned.

Well, readers, you’ve got this far with me and I want to leave you with one last short, back to Disney. A modern one, now, from 2013, Mickey Mouse again (because he doesn’t sleep anymore, he just low frequency screams for eight hours a night then gets out of bed) in Ghoul Friend. First off, I love the stylized animation in this one–it is supposed to look old timey and I dig it. Retro Mouse! Also, the humour is amped up just a bit, so a gag with a tiny wrench hit me more than most of the ‘jokes’ of the previous shorts, but hey, I’m a modern gal and tiny wrenches appeal to millenials, I guess? Who knows.

Then Disney hits you with the scariest fucking thing possible. A Goofy Zombie. Drawn in the style of some sort of fucking Ren and Stimpy night terror. While it makes me die when Mickey goes to run away and the zombie doesn’t move for a while, when he DOES and he starts scream-moaning? I fainted. Well, no, I didn’t, but–AND THEN HE BECOMES A SKELETON MONSTER TOO AND JESUS H.MOUSE WHAT IS HAPPENING. CAN MODERN KIDS HANDLE THIS BECAUSE I CAN’T.

Shit, Disney. Shit.

In short on those shorts–go, watch, and OH GOD THERE IS LIKE A BONE COMING OUT OF GOOFY’S HEAD GOOD LOOOOORD.

Hellevator & Release the Hounds; or First Floor: Housewares, Fake Blood, and Schadenfreude

Hello and Hallowelcome to the last of this year’s Twofer Tuesdays, where you get two screams for the price of one! You join your solitary blogger, Lilly, as she leaves some vaguely European forest to step onto an elevator that surely doesn’t meet Health and Safety Standards.

Today’s Offerings: Release the Hounds & Hellevator

To start off, surprise on two counts, readers! First off, it is only me, Lilly–due to some scheduling issues, Andy couldn’t join us for this last Hallowfest review. Second, we are ending this season of Hallowfest with two gifts that keep on giving. Rather than two movies, this Twofer Tuesday, I am going to talk about two of our favourite reality television shows–Release the Hounds and Hellevator (both available on Netflix)!

Before I dive in, for those of you who turn your nose up at reality television, I have no hopes of converting you through these reviews, but I do hope you check out both these shows–the amount of writing and creation of worlds and narratives needed for each challenge is admirable, and truly, if you are a ‘any horror is good horror’ type of person who digs haunted houses come October, these shows are for you to enjoy!

So, let’s start with Release the Hounds!CcUy1yd2

Premiering in time for Halloween in 2013, Release the Hounds was a British television show with a basic premise: send three people out onto the supposedly haunted and horrific grounds of a mad man who hid his fortune and made sure it was guarded by, you guessed it, vicious hounds. Lucky for all of us, the show has had three seasons plus this year’s Halloween episode (and we can only hope for more), the third featuring the theme of ‘Famous and Freaked’–though, unless you watch British reality shows or youtube, ‘famous’ might be a stretch in the case of the celebs got onto the show to be frightened.

The premise of Release the Hounds is relatively simple–do a challenge in a certain amount of time, find the key, and the time you take to find the key makes all the difference due to the fact that the longer you take, the further away the gate gets from the end of a dog run you are going to be made to do with the titular hounds what that get released. Yes, the last part of each challenge is one person going to a run, each round with a heavier backpack full of cash, trying to outrun a pack of German Shepherd-type dogs who have nothing better to do than chase down that red backpack to munch on.

Before I talk about the dog run too much, let’s talk challenges. This isn’t do a puzzle and raise a flag Survivor style games, oh no. The very first episode kicks it all off with a challenge that features a wall of washing machines that the contestants had to open up to find the key. Inside was everything from soiled sheets to organs and back again. All fake, of course, but you can tell the props department had a field day with this gig and smell was definitely made to be part of the gags. Other episodes feature a man hung by hooks in his back having to be hauled closer and closer to the contestant so they could take something from his mouth. Phonebooths filling with water, clowns appearing over and over to shock you while you try and remember something for a nasty game of memory, and coded clues to help unlock something that might save your friend’s life are all part of the game. It’s like going through a haunted house that also demands you to do basic math or word puzzles to get out of it at the same time.

Hosted by Reggie Yates, a cheeky chap who cannot help taking the piss out of the contestants now and again (as we are all doing from the safety of our living rooms), Release the Hounds then has a fantastic final challenge to be faced by all the contestants. The dog run.

First off, brilliantly, the contestants are made to walk by the dog enclosure to get the money that is theirs to keep if they survive the last task. Naturally, it is a cacophony of barking while the shaken player loads up the red bag the dogs are clearly trained to want a piece of. Then, having looked their soon-to-be-attackers in their furry little faces, the contestant goes to stand behind the gate that will raise when the siren goes, letting them make a break for the end of the run where a ladder (and Reggie) are waiting. This is the point where many realize that 60 metres of a head start in front of the barking beasts isn’t all that much.

The third season, the show thought ‘well, these people aren’t being eaten by the hounds nearly enough!’ clearly–though it was a pretty fair ratio of winners and dinners–so they added in another element to the run portion. At the gate, the runner is offered more money for them to take home/for their given charity in the case of the celebs. The only catch is that they have to move back x amount of metres to be closer to the dogs and further from the exit. Of course they don’t take it, right! Right? Wrong. Some do, and seeing who it is is part of the fun. Adding in the next element of money hanging from trees along the run (which jumping to would only be advantageous if you were a star basketball player with high reach and long legs to keep ahead of the hounds) to grab if you want, and you get to see people at war with themselves about whether it is worth the risk of the far more gruesomely depicted ‘death’ of the later season.

Release the Hounds is as funny as it sounds, and it is well aware of it. While the show is played as real events with tragic loses of those who are caught by the hounds, there is a definite element of tongue in cheek in the writing of the challenges and in Reggie Yates’ presenting style. Definitely worth sitting down for forty minutes to try out!

HellevatorNext, we have Hellevator!

This is a reality show birthed from great minds of horror the Soska Sisters (American Mary, Dead Hooker in a Trunk) and Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions (Get Out, Insidious, Paranormal Activity) and features an elevator that is literally the worst way to get between floors in any building and that is counting stairs that are literally on fire.

The premise of the show is three friends go into the Hellevator to take a ride through the floors of a haunted building (which changes every episode, again the elements of storytelling baffling to really think about with each episode having a different backstory for the home of the Hellevator). Each floor, only one contestant is permitted to leave the Hellevator, going out to do a challenge then make it back to the Hellevator before the doors close and they are left forever.

Hellevator is hosted by the Soska sisters, twins Jen and Sylvia, who clearly have open disdain for all those who enter the Hellevator, laughing at their screams and generally showing open disgust when any celebratory moments are shared. They make jokes about corpses and giggle when people are lost behind the closing doors of the Hellevator, and they are a huge part of what makes the show enjoyable.

When it comes to the writing, I might surprisingly think Release the Hounds has a one up on Hellevator, if only because there is some moments of repetition through the series of the latter. Why does every other story feature a furnace? And the last run always looks so familiar. They did make it a bit more varied in the second series of the show, with the Inferno Run, but even then, the rooms were the same, and I was a bit bored by the third time I saw any of them. Of course, when it comes from a company which specializes in making franchises and stand out characters people want to see more of, I suppose this style is welcome. It reminds me a lot of old adventure style game shows where the audience can call out the name of the room as the contestant is entering it.

The contestants of Hellevator are certainly more varied–from nursing students in it to win it to cheerleaders (much to the hostesses with the mostesses dismay), you don’t have to worry about knowing any of them as there are no celebs here, but one can hope a special gets done and maybe we’ll see more horror faces hitting the close door button to go down to the depths of where ever on the Hellevator.

If you are interested in reality television, these are must watches that are well produced and written. If you aren’t interested, then you aren’t going to be won over by any amount of attention to detail or shared laughter with the host over some guy up to his waist in blood trying to find a bag of cash that he had pushed out of the tub while getting in. I highly suggest giving both of these a go, especially with a group of friends, because nothing quite adds to the fun like a crowd to help cheer on those poor people trying to out run dogs or beat the clock to return to a haunted elevator.

So that’s it for this year’s Hallowfest! Thank you so much for joining us, and make sure to keep an eye on the site for more additions throughout the year! We are looking to keep adding as it goes along, with audio additions as well as more writing! So stay tuned to this channel, readers, and hope you have had an excellent Hallowfest season!

 

 

 

 

The Brood and The Fly; or Damn, Creation Is a Messy Business

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Twofer Tuesday, where it takes two to tango or write a review, apparently! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they settle in for an evening where the only thing that could possibly kill their buzz is rage babies and men merged with insects–oh damn.

Today’s Film Offerings: The Fly & The Brood

Lilly: Being Canadian, I figured maybe we ought to do a David Cronenberg double bill, because when his films mention ‘Halifax’, it’s the Halifax I know, and I get a cheap thrill from that.

So, let’s get started with our favourite Cronenberg film, The Fl

Andy: The Broo–wait, what?

Lilly: No, your favourite, not the one we just watched.

Andy: That IS my favourite.

Lilly: I can’t even look at you. So I’ll start!

Fly_poster.jpgThe Fly is the story of Dr.Seth Brundle, played by the inexplicably hot Jeff Goldblum, who has developed a teleportation device. He is so excited about it, he does what every drug dealer knows not to do–he uses the merchandise, aka his own experiment, to only have it go horrifically wrong. Remember that episode of The Simpson’s Treehouse of Terror where Bart melds with a fly? It’s that, but with Geena Davis and gross bits of fly anatomy you’ve never thought about horrifically appearing on Jeff Goldblum’s person, something you’ve thought way too much about. Or is that last part just me?

This is a film I’ve seen a few times and still get all the jeebiest of heebies. I admit, body horror isn’t really my thing (I squirm and say ‘nope’ a lot) yet I can’t look away as the highly engaging character of Dr.Brundle becomes less man and more monster. At one point, Seth muses that perhaps he was an insect dreaming he was a man all this time, and hot damn, what a strangely powerful idea. Mortality is explored through the (many) lensed eye of a man who has accidentally empowered himself beyond caring about aesthetics and humanity and I will sit through Brundle taking his teeth out for that weirdness.

Speaking of teeth, the effects of this film are disgusting. As they should be. Brundlefly is so fleshy and abhorrent, the makeup job starts becoming almost less noticeable with its extensiveness. Also, his horrific looks challenge not only Geena but the audience, as he claims to have never felt better when good gosh, he looks the worst. If you look like you’ve been left too long in the microwave, does it matter if you can climb on the ceiling? I keep watching The Fly to figure out if I have an answer for that.

Beyond the horror of Brundle’s transformation is the fact that Veronica (Geena Davis’ character) is watching him turn into this thing that he will not admit is a monster. It’s like watching a loved one turn to drugs or other destructive vices that momentarily promise something more but ultimately destroy you in front of those who care. You can question whether or not the choice the other is making is right, but when they are losing facial bones and turning into a fly in front of your eyes, I feel like that is definitely intervention time.

brood_poster_01.jpgAndy: The Brood, on the other hand may lack some of The Fly’s emotional depth, but it makes it up through sheer, glorious unpredictability. It follows a man trying to hold body and soul together after the worst possible events have transpired in his small family: his wife has ended up at an asylum.

This is no ordinary asylum though (of course it isn’t, it’s horror) and had Doctor Oliver Reed–

Lilly: The inexplicably hot Oliver Reed.

Andy: Wait, where did that chin come from?

Lilly: Inexplicably HOT chin!

Andy: Anyway. He seeks to treat patients in an unusual way: by forcing mental problems to manifest as physical ones.

Aaand right about there, several of you have felt a shiver up your spine. Imagine seeing your depression, or anxiety, or in my case inattentive-type ADHD manifest itself on your body. Ewww.

Lilly: Seriously, that one part alone had me all squirmy. Can people do that! Is that a thing!

Andy: Of course, that’s only part of the problem. The other part is that tiny versions of his daughter seem to be murdering those around him. Oh no!

Lilly: Hate it when that happens!

Andy: It’s an awesome movie, told well, and it utterly transfixed me from start to finish. The Fly is amazing, but for me, The Brood stole my heart.

Lilly: Which I can get. I was so creeped out by the cult therapist that I found it difficult to get to the horror bit without already being icked out. I thought his mishandling and overly personal treatment of patients was the horror, having no idea what the film was about going into it. I barely noticed the first hints of the physical manifestations in the beginning because a) I thought it was a play and b) I was busy thinking about how inexplicably hot Oliver Reed was. Is he wearing nursing scrubs! Why is that hot! What is happening! Now, my inability to follow plot isn’t any fault of the movie’s, but rather my own fault for getting swept up into the weird style of therapy that I clearly just wasn’t supposed to hone in on so closely.

So we’ve got two options this Tuesday, as always, and they are somewhat different but also share some elements. We’ve got a film about science causing a man to look at his life, look at his choices, and we’ve got a film about what if emotional anger was physically manifested? You will get body horror in both, and you will question your taste in men in both, so what more could you ask for! Oh, I know, Canadian accents now and again! Win!

So, it’s a recommendation to watch both from both of us! What other David Cronenberg films do you like, readers? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter @Hallowoctobilm!

Poltergeist(s, 1982 & 2015); or They’re Both Heeeeeeeere

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Twofer Tuesday, where it’s double the pleasure, double the fun! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they argue about whether their house is built on an ancient burial ground or a local graveyard that was supposedly moved than wasn’t, and which would be a worse scenario.

Today’s Film Offerings: Poltergeist (1982 & 2015)

Lilly: A Poltergeist isn’t your average friendly ghost (see: Casper or Bruce Willis), but an entity that literally cannot even with the living and wants them gone, girl. That’s the message from the two films we are looking at today, anyway, so let’s get started with the 1982 Poltergeist, shall we?

Andy: Okay, well–what is that light in the other room? One second. You sum it up.

Poltergeist-1982-movie-poster-1Lilly: Picture it: Suburbia, 1982. In the first of a set of newly built middle-class dwellings, we find the Freelings. A typical nuclear family of wife, husband, and two and a half kids, the Freelings are set up as being loving, lovely, and just trying to settle in to the neighbourhood, which the father (played by Craig T.Nelson, or everyone’s favourite Coach) helped build and design. They have an anxious teenage daughter, a son afraid of thunderstorms, and the stupidly adorable Carol Ann. They are happy, even if their tv is somehow controlled by their neighbour’s remote and the mother has anxieties about their children drowning in the pool they are digging in the backyard.

Then, Carol Ann starts talking to the people in the TV.

Andy: lilly where are you I cant see

Lilly: So, 1982 was a strange time, I gather from this film. First off, not everyone knew who Mr.Rogers was. Second, when Carol Ann is staring at television static, her mother says ‘That isn’t good for you!’, flipping the channel to put on a war film in mid jungle battle scene. Ah, better! Of course, she could also watch the football game with her father and his angry friends (one guy literally didn’t stop yelling the entire scene and I’m not sure he was using words), which actually seems to be just a series of tackles on the screen. Or, turn off the tv and listen to the soothing sounds of her father yelling at the guy next door…You getting a theme here? There’s a theme.

And guess what! Violence in the modern day isn’t the only thing this film brings to mind! Oh no! It also brings the desecration of graves into the mix, because guess what! The neighbourhood is built on an old graveyard and apparently ghosts hate that. If you take anything away from the Poltergeist films, it is that fact.

Poltergeist explores the normalization of violence in the modern world, where modernity is more important than respect of others, as we see in the fights over a television remote and the whole graveyard being built over thing. Even the act of ghostly hands moving Carol Ann across the floor is normalized by the Freelings–give her a helmet and that’ll be fine! Fine, having ghosts in the kitchen!

Andy: help lilly

Lilly: A film that was originally slated to be directed by Spielberg, who only ended up writing it and producing it, it was taken on by the late Tobe Hooper (known for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre among other things) yet written by the same guy who wrote E.T, and boy, can you feel that. It’s like a slightly more scary Disney horror film–it could fall into line with Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, or that one that the Olson twins did (I want to say Double Double Toil and Trouble because obvious title is obvious). It has a bit heavier imagery and a few more adult situations, but 1982’s Poltergeist is the horror film people who don’t watch horror films could watch when they were a kid. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, or that I didn’t enjoy it–it just means it is a gentler take on the story of a haunted family.

2015, however? All bets are off. This shit is getting spooky.

Poltergeist_2015_poster.pngFirst things first, this is the Bowen family, and in case you have any doubts about them being just a Freeling knock-off, well, rest assured, dear readers, the beloved family they are not. The father, Eric, is a sarcastic asshole who is bitter about being laid off and won’t let you forget it, but also won’t let his wife go back to work because man reasons and ugh and life. Amy is a mother on the edge, clearly worn down by her manchild husband, angsty teen, boy with a million neurosis (though zombies aren’t one of them?) and totally not stupid adorable daughter (but Carol Ann had really set that bar high). They were more realistic, sure, but holy cow, did the new twist on the family dynamic seem to really kick off the darkness of this reimagining.

Something I did not mention was my love for the original medium extraordinaire, Tangina, but if I loved her, I died and came back with undead adoration for this film’s ghost hunting, charismatic Carrigan Burke (maybe a bit of film fun, using ‘Burke’, as in the grave robbers Burke and Hare). He strolled in with all his charm and confidence and stupid hat, and I was sold the moment he showed his war wound. What a strange thing to change, but then, I guess with making the father so hateable, they needed to throw in a male role model who didn’t whine about having to parent, I suppose. You had to believe someone wanted to get Maddi out of the wall, and it was hard to think Eric didn’t want to get her just because no ghosts were going to get one over him, damn it! First John Deere, now the undead!

This version focused more on the son and his finding of his bravery than anything else–and I didn’t really know why. I suppose it was trying to convince me that his strength was to being admired, along with his vulnerability but I think the anger and disdain for him was waaaay to amped up to make it read that way. I rooted for him because his family seemed to hate him past a surface level–like sure, put the kid with a nerve problem up in the attic, and just try and play catch with him even though he clearly isn’t into it and…yeah. It was like I was as scared of his father pushing him to breaking with his masculine bullshit as much as the unearthly forces haunting the family. Maybe that was the point? If so, well played, movie. If not, well.

You might be able to tell I didn’t like it as much as the original. However, that isn’t entirely true. I found it actually really hard to compare them, when I got down to it. One is the story of a family fighting to get one of their own back while the other is the story of one boy trying to save his family, and that is two really different narratives. It all depends on what you are feeling. 1982 gives you family romps with horror elements while 2015 gives you horror with moments of familial discord that is cured by the power they find within themselves to fight the supernatural. Whichever you are into, you’ll find your fit of suburban ghost story in one of the two!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to be going–Andy got sucked into our closet as we started writing the review and I’ve got a few parapsychologists from the local university coming plus a charming rogue of the ghost hunting world I’ve got to freshen up for. This house will be clear, yet!

Go, watch, and enjoy!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacres; or That’s the Last Hitchhiker Hallowfest Picks Up

Hello and Hallo-welcome back to Twofer Tuesday, where we hang up two movies up on meathooks until they are nice and gamey! You join your amateur abbattoirists, Andy and Lilly, who ask the age old question – how many chainsaw kills count as a massacre?

Today’s film offerings: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) & The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Lilly: Hey Andy, are you ready for our next exciting double-bill? It involves chainsaws!

Andy: Ughhh. Give me a minute.

Lilly: You don’t look good.

Andy: I have a vicious headache from watching the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s good, but my goodness is it gratingly loud. Could you get me some tylenol or something?

Lilly: Nah.

Andy: What?

Lilly: Well, while you learned that the original gives you tinnitus and headaches, I learned from the remake that helping people is for suckers.

Andy: Oh, I guess that’s fai–wait, what?

Lilly: I give you tylenol, and next thing I know, I’m going to be tied to the ceiling, getting my ears chainsawed off or something. So I have to leave you to suffer. And kick you in the balls.

Andy: OW!

Lilly: There, now your head doesn’t hurt any more! Let’s start the review.

The_Texas_Chain_Saw_Massacre_(1974)_theatrical_posterAndy: FINE. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, very, very loosely based on Ed Gein, was first unleashed on audiences in 1974. Directed by Tobe Hooper, it is one of those awesome movies that you don’t so much watch as let happen to you. The plot is simple enough: five teenagers encounter a creepy hitchhiker, a creepy gas station attendant, and eventually wander off on their own to meet an exceptionally creepy man with a penchant for masks made of skin and power tools.

It’s remarkably straightforward. One of the teens doesn’t come back, and so another goes looking for him. Any notion of sticking together is almost entirely ignored; it’s like they’re allergic to each other.

Lilly: It does make you wonder how many of your friends have to go missing before you just, I don’t know, get new friends? Or is that just me and my new mantra of ‘help no one, survive this thing’?

Andy: Of course, the true measure of this movie isn’t the plot, so much as the utterly grimy and harrowing atmosphere it creates. Everything in this movie seems dirty and corrupted, and every noise grates and puts you on edge riiight up until the last half an hour where one of our protagonists literally will not. Stop. Screaming. Yeesh.

Lilly: Such a fuss when faced with all the murder!

The original is not only famous for its grimey, almost sweaty feeling atmosphere, but notorious for the production itself being hot and sticky, which shows in the performances, I think. Everyone was melting and going just about out of their minds, plus there were chickens and bones everywhere. The set design alone had me at ‘hell(o)’. As a creepy connoisseur of serial killers, some of the touches that did harken back to Gein were well used and placed.

Andy: There’s a possibly apocryphal story I heard from a video on VHS tapes on Youtube about this movie: when the BBFC came to cut it, they couldn’t, because there is no one moment in it that you can point to and say “that right there is the bad bit.” It’s almost bloodless, the violence is fast and brief, but the world that the movie creates is utterly depressing and horrible and impressive and amazing. It’s so successful at creating it’s own dreadful atmosphere – something that only a handful of very, very good horror movies do. Halloween is one, as is Alien – that’s the quality level we’re talking here.

It’s not exactly an enjoyable experience, and like I said, it gives me headaches with it’s relentless audial assault, but damn is it effective at what it sets out to do. It won’t make any top ten lists for me, but I have a very healthy respect for it and director Tobe Hooper, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

Lilly: Then comes 2003’s remake.MV5BZDg2NDJkOGYtMjM3My00Mzc2LWJiYjktODFlMzBjNmQwMTEyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_

Andy: I do not have a healthy respect for this one.

Lilly: First off, I did appreciate the police footage at the beginning, throwing me into the story visually pretty damn effectively, even if I was promptly ripped out by Jessica Biel–she will always be the eldest daughter on Seventh Heaven to me, I’m sorry, I cannot help it. The film also did what some do when they are ‘period’ pieces, in so much as desperately smacking me with references and cultural trappings of the seventies. I get it, I get it, it is the seventies, weed, hippies, van, Lynyrd Skynyrd, hitch hiking being sexy, check, got it.

Andy: Favorite post-film discovery: the movie is set in 1973, but they listen to Sweet Home Alabama, which apparently wasn’t released until 1974. No single fact sums this movie up better.

Lilly: Also, side track re: weed–one of the characters claims at one point that he got two pounds of weed in Mexico to help him and his girlfriend start a new life. That throwaway line (and frankly lie because bullshit) took me literally forever to get over. How much was two pounds going for back then? He got it with his two other friends, so split that fortune three ways, genius, and then what? You could afford a KFC value meal after that, maybe. A new life! Dump him, Jessica Biel. You deserve so much better.

Dumb teens aside, I got to say, I had some scenes I loved in this film. Leatherface sewing with his little peddle a-goin’? Priceless. An interesting shot that goes through a head wound and out a window? Well, you got my attention, film (though you lost it when you did it again–don’t push your luck). But then other times, I was bored since, unlike the original, this film continously went above and beyond the call of duty to make me feel like these teens were doomed. I came to that realization on my own with the original, with slow dawning horror that matched that of the poor teens, but the remake didn’t give me a chance to think for myself, every other moment being more grim and heart-sinking than the next, a constant assault to my teensy bit of hope left that maybe those crazy kids will make it and start their new life with their $2.50 of weed money. It felt like a movie that worked hard to weave a tapestry of horror that invoked that sense of hopelessness was remade into the equivalent of a t-shirt that said ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Whatever’ that you can buy in bulk that was then shot at you with a cannon. In the face.

Andy: I still don’t understand where this movie’s completely insane nihilistic viewpoint comes from, though. It’s as if–wait a second, “Producer: Michael Bay”.

Well, that’s that mystery solved.

Lilly: So, I guess the question is, would we recommend these cinematic…things?

Andy: Yes and no.

Lilly: Yes to the first, no to the second?

Andy: Yes.

Lilly: Ditto.

Resident Evil & Silent Hill; or Violent Video Games Movie Adaptations Make Us Violent

Hello and Hallo-welcome to Two-fer Tuesday, where you get a double dose of horror, as prescribed by that shady doctor who sounds suspiciously like Vincent Price. You join your bloggers, Lilly and Andy, as they try and discover why the Red Queen shut down and figure out where Sean Bean is–they were sure they could hear him in the other room, but upon looking, there is no one there, and what are those sirens about…

Today’s Film Offerings: Resident Evil & Silent Hill

Lilly: Well, we’re doing video game adaptations, which are always good, right? Right? Remember the Mario movie? Anyone? Or was that a weird fever dream I had? Anyone? Please?

Andy: Nope. Sadly, that exists.

Lilly: Right. Yes. So! Today we are doing two films, deciding that one video game world adventure wasn’t enough for us hardcore types. No, we doubled down, and here we are.

residentResident Evil is the story of a workplace health and safety nightmare in the secret underground facility known as The Hive underneath Raccoon City. One broken vial, and the whole thing goes to shit, an airborne virus leading The Hive’s A.I. (known as the Red Queen–Alice in Wonderland references happened in this film, BTW) to shut the whole place down and kill those inside. I thought that was pretty evident that that was what was happening, but then we spend a good portion of the film trying to figure out if the Red Queen is the baddie or not. Or, at least the film was doing that. I spent most of the film guessing who was the asshole who did this among the group we follow throughout the exploration of The Hive after lockdown.

Oh yeah, so there’s an issue I had from the top of the film–so the A.I. locks down the facility, and to figure out why that happened, people are sent inside it. Hold on. If a place shuts down, and one of the reasons could be an issue that is airborne and dangerous, why oh why would you go inside? Is A.I. developed enough to have a holographic image but not to be able to be remotely accessed in this scenario? I get that remote access could be a security risk, but so can research featuring zombie viruses and genetic mutations, sooo. Whatever.

Anyway, we follow Alice, a confused artfully nude Milla Jovovich, who apparently was guarding the mansion until lockdown, but doesn’t remember due to part of the protocol of the lockdown is releasing gas that knocks you out and can cause acute memory loss, so cue that old amnesia chestnut! And it wasn’t just her in the mansion, there was a sketchy seeming cop, and then they also stumble upon James Purefoy, Milla’s fake but maybe not husband. It’s a whole thing, readers. A whole. Thing.

So, Alice (get it?) and the crew of soldiers who appeared to see what’s up with the Red Queen all head for The Hive and cue adventure and mystery and oh GOD will someone just explain at least ONE THING going on right now?

Andy: Yeah, the whole plot is a really weird mix of vague under-explanation and then in-your-face hand-holding. It explains things poorly, but then has a crappy CGI 3D map pop up every time they go somewhere new so we can follow along. I normally hate narrations, but this was crying out for some Escape From New York style opening exposition.

It’s also worth pointing out that this movie is so divorced from the video game it heads into “why bother with the license” territory. None of the (extremely memorable) characters from the series appear, at least not in this one, the mansion from the first game is bright and airy and never revisited past the first ten minutes, and the zombies are, well, zombies. Dogs and The Licker, I guess, but OK.

The trouble is that many video game adaptations fail at capturing the feeling of games, as well as the setting. Resident Evil was always about artificial scarcity. Do you fight these zombies, or save the bullets for something nastier later? Having Michelle Rodriguez yell that she’s out is not a particularly good thematic link.

Lilly: Also, I warn you now, one of the scariest elements of the film is spectacularly undermined by the awful, awful CGI. Also, this film is full of tropes that I usually love–hyper violence, badass women, scary children, doggies–yet I just kept checking the time to see when it would get to the point. Every revelation made me impatient to know the full story, and not in a ‘I’m so impressed by these nuggets of information, I want MORE’ way but more in a ‘ugh, fine, move on’ sort of way. Not curious, just annoyed that they were taking so long.

Andy: And with that we’ll move on, from the glittering tower of corporate ineptitude to the far creepier environs of Silent Hill. And if I had a list for most underrated horror movie this one would be in my top ten.

Lilly: Welcome to Silent Hill, where you don’t have to be sleeping to have a nightmare!

In Silent_Hill_film_posterthis film, we follow Rose and her sleep-walking/screaming/doodling daughter, Sharon, to the town of Silent Hill, THE tourist destination for those of you with children who keep saying the name of it after a night terror. Rose goes against her husband’s wishes and takes their child to find out just why it is everyone’s got the name Silent Hill on their lips–or at least Sharon does.

Well, guess what, the place of the child’s nightmares ISN’T a nice place.

Silent Hill is a town that changes at the drop of a hat, or rather an air raid siren. Things are already bad (it’s raining ash) when Rose gets there, but bad turns to way worse when the siren goes off and the world shifts, letting the viewer know that holy heck, we aren’t in the real world anymore. Bloody walls, monster fire babies, and wait, is there a cult? Anyway, Silent Hill shifts back and forth as Rose (and a poor cop who was just trying to be sure Rose’s daughter was okay) tries to find Sharon, following clues that she assumes her daughter has left for reasons unknown to the viewer (or was that just me? Why would Sharon take her other on the creepiest scavenger hunt ever?)

Andy: And although this has one of the best backstories of any horror movie (or game for that matter), what this has in spades is atmosphere. Rose shifts between two worlds – the unsettling, silent, ash-world of a burnt out town, and the terrifying, industrial nightmare of a town that is still burning. It works both as a horror, and as a trip into a surreal world of nightmares – both worlds are very, very wrong on a fundamental level, and for once there is a satisfying explanation as to why.

The other thing that is remarkable is how completely female-dominated the cast is. It’s not quite ‘feminist’ in the way something like this year’s Wonder Woman was, but the protagonist is a mother looking for her daughter. Tagging along is a cop, who is both a badass and also a female. A disposable cult member is a woman, as are both of the antagonists. Holy hell! Even Pyramid Head, a symbol of powerful, dark, male urges in the second game in the series (ie. a giant rapist with a metal head), is reduced to an agent of female forces. Huh.

Lilly: I am definitely pro the lady power in this film–the men seem to only be there to serve the women, with the cult lackeys especially and the cop who first notes how he is looking for the police officer with Rose, then protects a nun from Sean Bean which is definitely under the job description for police. It did have that whole ‘Mother is God’ narrative going through it that sort of broke Rose down to one role, and then of course there was a certain scene featuring barbed wire that seemed unnecessary, but besides that, it was nice to just have women pushing along the story.

Andy: I only have two criticisms. The first is that Sean Bean and friend could and should be lifted cleanly out of this movie in an edit. They add nothing except stopping it completely dead and demonstrating details which should be obvious to us anyway and that Rose is not exactly in our universe any more. In case, you know, the constantly raining ash clouds and giant cliffs at the end of town didn’t tip you/her off.

Lilly: See, I disagree with this–not just because Sean Bean amuses me, but I liked how the men were painted as unable to help. This is a world created by a young woman and men had no place in making anything happen there. The only male that got things done was Pyramid Head, and even then, it was childish flailing and ripping akin to a murderous toddler throwing a bloody tantrum, making him more like something with no agenda than characters with driven, passionate desires like we see in Rose, Christabella, and Alessa.

Andy: The other is to do with the monsters. I love Pyramid Head in this movie, and it is very cool that he’s been degraded to lackey by Girl Power, buuut he loses some of what made him so interesting in the first place, namely his symbolic power, in the second game. Ditto with the creepy nurses in the basement. Their cleavage had a point originally, believe it or not. Why is it needed here?

Lilly: I literally ask that during every movie I watch, soooo.

Andy: Other than these minor quibbles though, I looove this movie. It’s fantastic, and easily the best video game adaptation movie ever made. Which is like saying it’s the least bad member of Nickelback, but it’s still worth checking out.

A quick word on the sequels. Resident Evil has several million at this point, but the second, Apocalypse, ramps up the stupid to such a goofy level that it is far, far more entertaining than the first. Is that an improvement? Is it the Empire Strikes Back of drivel? God knows, but I liked it.

Meanwhile, Silent Hill has one, the wretched Revelations 3D. It evaporated my goodwill and killed this series so fast that it’s kind of impressive, in the same way you would have a grudging awe towards the sinkhole that just ate your apartment block.

Lilly: So when are we watching that one?

Andy: Never.

So that’s one thumbs down and one thumbs up from us on this two-fer Tuesday pairing–definitely check out Silent Hill and maybe forget Resident Evil ever happened!

A Study in Terror & From Hell; Or Elementary, My Dear Ripper

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where you get two films for the price of one–shame that price is your SOUL (lightning, lightning, thunderclap, thunderclap, cackle)! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they venture into the foggy streets of 1800s Whitechapel, which are no place for a lady at night (so they should both be alright).

Today’s film offerings: A Study in Terror (1965) & From Hell (2001)

Lilly: Full disclosure: I’m all about Jack the Ripper stuff. I’ve been on the tour in London far too many times, I’ve read books, I’ve listened to all the theories (both plausible and outlandish), and we own TWO Jack the Ripper themed board games (three, if you count a pocket version of one).

Andy: He’s also a sort-of brutal irony in human form. No one knows who he was, but he’s easily one of the most famous serial killers ever. He’s very stylishly shown, but in reality he mutilated his last victim so horrendously she could only be identified from her ears. His victims elicit sympathy for their anonymity amid the squalor of London, but in death have achieved an immortality they would otherwise have lacked.

Lilly: Second full disclosure: I’m all about Sherlock Holmes stuff. I studied the stories in uni, I have done walking tours (both self guided and not) of locations mentioned in the tales, I have visited 221B Baker Street more than once, I have several video games starring the great detective, and we own FOUR Sherlock Holmes themed board games (though they overlap with the Jack ones in the case of two of those).

So, did I like A Study in Terror, a film where Sherlock Holmes attempts to solve the unsolved mystery of who Jack the Ripper is? Can I just point you towards those first two paragraphs, please and thank you, I’ll wait here.

Super biased as I am, however, I’ll do my best to review the film without dying of excitement. Let’s do this!

A Study In Terror 250.jpg

A Study in Terror is everything we love about 1960s British horror–outlandish, garish, creative death scenes, and cockneys. Okay, maybe not all horror from that era had cockneys, but one set in 1880s Whitechapel sure does. With an opening scene where a prostitute gets stabbed through the neck with a large knife (there are no spoilers with these films re: the deaths, just wiki Jack the Ripper–though don’t depend on the deaths being in order at all, because nope), you can’t say this film doesn’t kick off quick. It’s actually pretty well paced, the murders happening at perfect intervals between Holmes and Watson (and Mycroft makes three!) trying to solve the case.

Let’s talk Holmes and Watson for a minute. It was said at the time of the film’s release that they were clearly heavily influenced by Rathbone and Bruce’s depiction of the pair, and since Bruce is (in)famous for creating the bumbling fanboy to Holmes version of Watson, I got to agree on this one. While John Neville’s Holmes is a picture perfect replica of the Paget illustrations of Holmes, and had some quirks that really delighted the Holmes fan in me (not to mention dropping famous lines like it was hot throughout the film like a Holmes’ Greatest Hits album), Donald Huston’s Watson had to practically comb his moustache every two minutes to make up for the mess it was after metaphorically blowing Holmes for every single deduction he made. I have a real pet peeve with having Watson act that way, so naturally, while amused by just how ridiculously up Holmes Watson was in this story, I was also annoyed because damn it, Watson is a sounding board with intelligence, not some sort of Yes Man.

Then there is the fast and loose way history is used in this piece. There are some good Holmes + History mashups out there (like The Seven Per Cent Solution which has Holmes and Freud teaming up, for one of MANY examples), but this…is not one of them. It is barely a good enough Holmes story, but coupled with the murders being in the wrong order, in the wrong places, and at the wrong time, well. It’s a bit like making a film about the Titanic set in Alaska in the 1980s.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d watch Titanic 2: You Betcha That’s a Big Boat, but it wouldn’t be anything close to the actual story. And don’t get me wrong, historical fiction doesn’t need to have all the facts–fiction can come into play–but if you take the dates and locations and mix them all about, it’s no longer historical, even, it’s just using the same name and place. To go back to the Titanic comparison, it would be like a film called Titanic being about a schooner that hit a rock and everyone lived. Basic idea of boat disaster, but waaay off the mark.

That said, Sherlock Holmes didn’t exist, so we are already setting the bar pretty low for reality.

It’s a fun film. It’s cheesy, it’s got little Holmes fan shout outs and little Jack the Ripper mythology fan shout outs, and it features very young Judi Dench, so how can you say no! Go, watch, enjoy!

laverastoriajacksquartatore2.jpg

Andy: From Hell is a different beast entirely. Here, the chronology is more or less intact, Whitechapel is suitably depraved and disgusting (and most importantly, dark), and it seems to have a much firmer grasp of time and place.

What’s different is that the motive for the murders is a grand conspiracy involving everyone from the Queen down, and that the poor women of the East End, the ‘unfortunates’, were killed because of hidden knowledge about a royal affair.

Based on Alan Moore’s comic book of the same name, the story mostly concerns the trials of Frederick Abberline, one of the lead detectives on the case, and Mary Kelly, one of the women implicated in the plot. Unfortunately, if you know anything about the ripper killings, you can take an educated guess that things aren’t going to go well.

It’s an odd film, filled with all of the weirdness of late Victorian London – lobotomies, poor houses, opium dens, and bizarrely, grapes.

It’s certainly not a very fun or hopeful movie – there’s none of the morbid humour you get in, say, Sleepy Hollow, which has a similar vintage and Johnny Depp. Also, I am not sure about the decision to make Abberline a drug-addled psychic, considering the real guy was commended a bunch of times and lived until 1929.

Still, it’s one that might be worth watching. It’s conspiracy is pure hogwash, obviously, but it does a good job of leading us around between suspects. On the other hand, a half decent documentary might be your best bet on the ripper killings.

The Haunting (1963) & The Haunting (1999) Double Bill; or Hill House Ain’t Having It

ee6d85380f0678b8c44ba57656b1f772

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where we offer up two films for the price of one, like it or not! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they take a leisurely drive in the countryside, only to stumble upon a house that doesn’t quite have the right angles, does it…

Today’s Film Offerings: The Haunting (1963) & The Haunting (1999)

Andy: It’s a strange situation that, despite the fact that everyone can draw a ghost from the age of five up, the best ghost stories hardly have any ghosts in them at all. The works of M. R. James, The Turn of the Screw, The Woman in Black, and of course, The Haunting of Hill House by the brilliant agoraphobe Shirley Jackson. The weird, bewitching tale of young Eleanor drawn into a house that at first seems welcoming, and yet malevolent has been adapted to film twice – once in 1963, and then again 1999.

Of the two, the 1963 one is more subtle and faithful to the source material. Directed by Robert Wise, bizarrely in between The Sound of Music and West Side Story, the tale concerns Eleanor Vance, a woman who has recently been, er, ‘liberated’ from the demands of caring for her invalid and deeply unpleasant mother. Striking out for the first time, she answers an advert for an experiment at an old house, specifically for those who have displayed some latent psychokinetic ability, which she did as a child.

Joining her is fellow subject Theodora, an exuberant and coded lesbian character, Luke, the prospective heir to Hill House, and Dr Markway, the kindly man running the experiment as a cover into investigating the paranormal.

The trouble is, of course, that when the paranormal does hit Hill House, it’s not obvious whether it is being orchestrated consciously or unconsciously by Eleanor herself. Because, as becomes apparent, years of mistreatment have rendered her a deeply emotionally damaged woman.

This is a great film, one that is best watched alone with the lights off to let it affect you. It has one of the best uses of sound in a movie (which makes sense, given Wise’s penchant for musicals) and offers no easy answers to the mysteries of the house. Awesome.

And there is the terrible beating heart of the movie. Is Eleanor doing this with her mind? Or has the House found the weakest member cracking and started worming its way into widen it? Thoughtful, shuddery stuff.

Lilly: Then there is 1999’s The Haunting.

a2b5b57a6c21bf6e4c3cd76a14055fd7.jpg

Screw your subtleties, stuff your ambiguity, Hill House is definitely haunted in this remake. In fact, forget the book’s claustrophobic build up, the doubt of your narrator, all of that, because 1999 was not a time for thinking, it was a time of doing and casting Owen Wilson while you were at it. The Haunting is an horror thriller, and the thriller part takes front seat as you are made to be terrified, damn it, so stop thinking about the implications of a house that picks at your own mental cracks and instead be afraid of a ruddy big statue coming to life, watch out!

This film is not a thinking man’s horror. It strips the basics of the story by Shirley Jackson and slips them into a heavy handed haunted house film. There are ghosts, you are in danger, and just help us, Eleanor, help us, this is not the story Jackson wrote at all.

That said, it’s fun!

So, do you hold a film tight to the material it is remaking or do you accept some oddities if you are over all entertained? Question for the ages right there. Because if we are talking about a film adaptation of Jackson’s novel, then this is awful. It misses the point of the tale while it  takes out the spookiness of not knowing whether it is the people or the house or both that are making the supernatural events occur. Ooooo is it Liam Nee–No, it’s not Liam Neeson, there is clearly a ghost. That bed just attacked them. It’s a ghost.

But. Again. It’s fun.

As someone who hates when people compare books to films (so naturally just did that, hypocrite), I guess I just have to go with comparing the two films. And hoo boy, are they different. But I’ll watch and enjoy them both.

You know why you should watch this film? Because a bed attacks someone. A statue attacks someone. There is a scene involving the fireplace that is magnificent. Hill House means business, and as haunted houses go, this is a heck of a ride. The backstory created about Hugh Crain is pulpy and deliciously evil, the effects are creepy, and Liam Neeson is in it. It’s one of those films you watch with friends and a big bowl of popcorn, and there is nothing wrong with that. So go, watch, don’t take too seriously, and enjoy!

Severance and Doghouse; or The Long-Awaited Danny Dyer Double Bill

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Two-fer Tuesdays! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, a pair who might benefit from a team building exercise or two, but would rather just have a weekend away in a town overrun by monsters, if that’s alright!

Today’s film offerings: Severance / Doghouse

severance.jpg

Andy: We talk about a lot of supernatural horrors on this blog. Werewolves. Witches. Vampires. There are, however, far more mundane horrors. For some, true horror is the dreaded corporate retreat. What could be worse than being stuck with the people you can’t stand 9-to-5 for an entire weekend? Other than insane paramilitary war criminals joining in the fun, of course.

Severance follows the trials of Palisade Defence’s European sales team, as they head up into the mountains of Eastern Europe, for a relaxing weekend of fun, frolics and, for one member of the team, drugs and hookers.

Unfortunately for them, they find a dilapidated cabin, no food and a band of well-armed psychopaths who seem to have something against their company and their ability to keep breathing.

The cast is notable for having a high proportion of actors more known for their comedy work as opposed to horror – Tim McInnerny, Andy Nyman and Danny Dyer make up some of the hapless crew – and there is a really vicious streak of black comedy throughout the whole thing. It’s not ‘haha’ funny, except for a few instances, and a lot of the deeper humour comes from the more overzealous corporate types trying to push the weekend activities forward even after it’s become apparent things are very, very wrong.

Overall though, it lacks the heart that makes something like Shaun of the Dead tick – if you populate a cast entirely with bland but likeable or fairly horrid characters (Mr.Dyer excepted of course), there’s no-one to root for, and when the movie reaches the inevitable point where horror takes over entirely, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done elsewhere and much better. It probably doesn’t help that so-called ‘torture porn’ as a genre lacks the mythology of the zombie genre to riff off of, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone being violently murdered is nowhere near as intrinsically funny as zombies shuffling around while all in the foreground remain oblivious.

It sounds like I’m ragging a lot on this movie, but it’s not bad per se – it’s just that the horror-comedy bar is set very, very high at the moment. I would tentatively recommend it; if anything is more subjective than what makes people scared, it’s what makes ‘em laugh.

Kudos though, for the awesome setup where a guy explains the mechanics of a fairly grisly sort of demise to an incredulous coworker, and then is happy rather than upset when he is ‘proven’ right. And for giving us Danny Dyer tripping his balls off in the middle of a forest. 

 

Lilly: And then there is Doghouse.

doghousecover

Set in some remote village out in the middle of who-knows-where, Doghouse is a charming tale of a few lads trying to cheer up their buddy after a divorce got him down. The group, headed by chauvinistic charmer Neil (portrayed by the fantastic Danny Dyer), get to their destination to only find that the female population of the town (of which it was supposedly three-to-one in favour of women over men, according to Mikey, played by Doctor Who’s Noel Clarke) have turned into homicidal monsters. Lucky they came in a bus and could drive away–but wait, their bus driver was a woman, and whatever turned the locals was air borne. Oh no!

Let me open up this discussion of Doghouse with the fact that I am a feminist. Surprise! I am. I think about representation of women in films, I think about the Bechdel test, my mind is ever working to try and be better when it comes to my own thought process re:women and men in this world. So, with that premise above, you can well imagine my tiny mind was working over time to figure out if it was okay or not. I’ll tell you the exact moment where I stopped thinking. It was when Neil, known womanizer, cannot shoot their bus driver who has gone monster, and his friend yells at him ‘Now is not the time to stop objectifying women!’ Okay. You got me, film. You got me. Because this is a film that takes the struggle I felt internally and makes it a physical threat. Is it okay to be treating women this way? In real life? No. In this situation? Yes, or else they will eat your face.

And sure, even as monsters, they are objectified by the men, but almost instant karma comes of any sexualization of the creatures, and I love that. Throw in the fact that the cast is full of fun actors like Keith-Lee Castle and Stephen Graham, you have to stop thinking too hard on if the film is ‘okay’ and just accept it is a comedy horror which was not meant to be taken seriously. You see how both genders are stereotyped and abused in the plot as well, with men acting like fools because of women (even monster women) and women eating the flesh of men in a fit of rage because their brains are taken over by a chemical–that’s a stereotype, right?

Horror wise? This was a scary film. I mean, just think if half the population was suddenly transformed into monsters. Think about it! I’ll wait. Because that’s scary stuff. And the creature design was definitely aiming for that, while still having these creatures being ‘familiar’ enough to see the women they were. Creepy, shudder-inducing stuff.

As for the comedic aspect of the film, I think finding humour in situations can be different for everyone–I was straight up laughing just at the synopsis of the film, so I was an easy sell on this one, plus I think Danny Dyer is just such a fantastic bit of fun that whatever, I’m not going to nitpick about how some of the jokes fell flat or there were some parts that were clearly meant to be funny but just didn’t quite manage it because it was too close to the horror side of things. Comedy horror isn’t easy, and you do sometimes get films that don’t really manage both genres. However. Sometimes, you have films you hold to different standards, and this is one of mine. I think there are lots of films out there that are that for others that I don’t get (see: our reviews of The Thing which Andy loves and I ew at) and that’s okay.

Should you watch Doghouse? Yes. Absolutely yes. For me, it’s like if Shaun of the Dead was mashed up with At World’s End, and then Danny Dyer came along and punched it in the teeth and all the bromance happened. With a few touching moments, a few genuine scares, and a few hilarious moments wrapped around moments of ‘You IDIOTS’, this is a fun film to just pop on and have some popcorn to. Enjoy!