Hellraiser; or The Music Video for Tainted Love is Way More Intense Than We Remember

Hello and Hallo-welcome to How Have We Not Reviewed This Wednesday, where we pick up our own slack and review those big name films we know you were dying to hear our opinions on all these many years of Hallowfest! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, two writers in the further regions of experience who are demons to some and angels to others.

Today’s Film Offering: Hellraiser

Lilly: Whoa.

Andy: You OK?

Lilly: Yeah just … give me a minute.

Andy: Get a glass of water or something. Or have a mint out of the box. NO NOT THAT BOah damn.

Cenobite: YOU RANG.

Andy: Yeah, sorry mate, we did the thing with the mints again.

Cenobite: YOU NEED TO STOP STORING INTERDIMENSIONAL PORTALS ON YOUR COFFEE TA-

Andy: Yeah, yeah I know.

51StiQZskKLAnyway. Hellraiser is one of the largest franchises we haven’t covered in any way, shape or form. Based on a novella by Clive Barker called The Hellbound Heart (way to spoil the ending, dude) there are no less than 9 movies in the series, with a 10th due sometime this year.

Lilly: Wait, what! I’m in. I’ve seen none of the other eight, will that be a problem? Whatever, I got time!

Cenobite: ACTUALLY THEY DECLINE IN QUALITY AFTER THE SECOND INSTALLMENT.

Lilly: That is surprisingly self-critical and meta of you, Cenobite.

Andy: WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?

It’s also fairly unusual as far as horror franchises go. It’s British, for a start, as is Barker, and he directed and wrote the screenplay for the first movie. It’s a long running horror franchise that ISN’T a slasher, and it also began in 1987, at a time when most other franchises were merrily beginning to plow themselves into the ground. The worst offender, Friday the 13th, was between Part VI and VII. In a market well past its late-70s prime, this is shockingly original.

The plot involves a man called Frank, a jaded man seeking new extremes of sensation. Purchasing a puzzle box in a Marrakech (or somewhere like it) he solves it – opening a portal to a dimension of ultimate pleasure and pain: indeed a place where the distinction between the two is essentially meaningless. And in the opening move of what promises to be a deeply unpleasant experience, he is torn apart by rusty hooks. Exit Frank.

Lilly: Oh, PS, this movie is super graphic.

Andy: Some time later (months? years?) his brother Larry moves into his house with his British (read: uptight) wife, Julia. As we here at Hallowfest know all too well, moving house is a pain in the ass; and in Larry’s case thanks to a rusty nail, the hand. A few drops of blood on the attic floor later, and Frank is back minus a few essentials. Like his skin.

Frank has some kind of hold over Julia through the power of boning, and convinces her to bring her more blood to help restore his body. Meanwhile, Kristy, Larry’s daughter, realises her stepmother is up to no good and investigates. And of course, the Cenobites, nightmarish denizens of the other realm, are not too happy about Frank escaping their clutches…

Lilly: So this film was a thing.

First things first–holy wow, this was an exploration of how far people go for pleasure. Hellraiser is at the core a nasty, gorey journey towards sexual fulfillment that sees pain as being part of the experience. Acceptable and consensual adult s&m relationships are turned up to eleven by Frank’s ever growing need for more dangerous stimuli. Unfortunately for him, the Cenobites go all the way up to twenty seven (see: rusty hooks). It does give a whole new meaning to ‘aftercare’, though.

I need to talk about the Cenobites. Seriously. I want to talk about them at length, and try and figure out what the heck I was seeing. I loved them. They were confusing ins-and-outs of orifices and piercings and oh all that leather–a symbol of extreme that transcends Heaven and Hell, clearly. I love how they were visibly walking the walk of their gospel. One of them is so hardcore, he doesn’t even have a face! I mean. That’s dedication. Or mutation? Who knows!

Cenobite: WE’RE NOT MUTATIONS. MORE MUTILATIONS.

Andy: Was that a PUN? NOBODY OUTPUNS ME IN MY OWN HOME I’LL KI-

Lilly: Whoa now! First off, don’t bother threatening him, he’ll just like it. Second off, I’m not cleaning up your bits they nail to a spinning display. I’m just not.

For creatures that have no basis in…anything? Any mythology known to my simple mind, the Cenobites march out on screen in the first few minutes of the film and take command of the space like true proud dom/mes. I wanted to see more, wanted to know more, and honestly am now pressuring poor Andy to watch more of the series so I can watch these loveable creeps in action.

The best part is that these terrifying beings aren’t even really evil. They operate on a whole different level than humanity, so it can appear as such, but they are just pushing the limits of what is pleasure and what we understand as pleasure to the extremes that the human flesh can withstand (and then just past that). They only appear when summoned, the ultimate submission needed. You need to request that they do what they do so well. Oh, and figure out a weird rubix cube for horny people. You have to do that, too.

Andy: There are very, very few works that get to the core ideas of H. P. Lovecraft as well as this. His elder gods are not evil, per se – they are simply vast, unknowable and operate without our concepts of what is right and fair. Ash’s “perfect organism” without “delusions of morality” in Alien is one, but it can’t talk. The Cenobites can, and every sentence out of their mouths is coherent, consistent, and utterly indifferent to the unfortunate mortals who stumble into their path.

Instead, the film asks us to consider who the real monsters are – the Cenobites, alien, unknowable and outside our own limited senses and perceptions? Or is it Julia and Frank, the sordid, down-to-earth, flawed humans who make terrible choices?

Lilly: Or is it the weird upside monster thing that defies gravity? Who knows!

Andy: Yeah, what is that thing?

Cenobite: NO IDEA.

Lilly: I really don’t find that comforting at all.

Hellraiser is the sort of film you hear about for years, followed by groans of remembrance of ‘that scene’ (which is different for everyone) and sniggers due to it being about sex. But it’s not just that. It’s about the morality of pleasure and the limits that can be stretched and, a bit troublingly, about how once you say yes to that world, there is no going back.

Andy: It’s also not perfect – Clive Barker is a writer first, and clearly a director a distant second, the result being that it’s shot like a really gory TV movie. But the ideas it has, the broader implications of its story, mean that I did not regret one bit jumping in on this franchise, er, 30 years late.

Lilly: So do we recommend this film? A hearty ‘yes please!’ from me.

Andy: And me!

Cenobite:

Andy: What now?

Cenobite: I PREFER CLIVE BARKER’S LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Andy: …Trust us to get one from the Hipster Dimension. How do we close this box again?

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Jaws 2; or Why is Anyone Still Swimming in the Ocean?

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Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Sequel Sundays, where the story continues when sometimes, it ought to have ended! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they put on their water wings and wade out into the peaceful, blood-soaked waters of Amity Island.

Today’s film offering: Jaws 2

Lilly: Welcome back to Amity Island, Jaws lovers! Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water because you forgot the grisly shark deaths from a few years ago–nope, this island is a magnet for big murder sharks so just stop swimming at the beach already! Jaws 2 takes place a few years after the events of Jaws, and the Amity Island tourist bureau clearly had been working hard, because everyone seemed to have forgotten about the messy shark deaths, including that of a little boy. I mean, sure, there had never been deaths of that multitude at Amity beaches before, but whatever, stop being so ridiculous about it, Brody!

And oh yes, we are joined by Jaws survivor/final guy (though not really since Hooper makes it), Police Chief Martin Brody! After the traumatising events of the first film, the poor man stuck around to attempt once more to get that peace and quiet he had hoped for in this post in the middle of nowhere tourist country. Not that he enjoys the water any more than before, and in fact, seems to openly despise it. If Jaws was the story of a shark menacing an island of people, Jaws 2 is the story of the ghost of that shark tormenting one of the residents while a real shark gets up to murdery mischief, the town council thinking it all a case of the Brody who cried shark.

Andy: Except of course there is an actual shark running around out there, with the gimmick that this time it’s had half its face burned off due to an incident early in the film involving a woman basically setting herself on fire with a gas can. This is worth watching in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way – gone are the measured cadences of Spielberg’s attacks. Instead we have … this.

Lilly: The film is taken a step further when Brody’s son, now grown up into the teenage rebellion stage where we all went out into waters where a shark had attacked us and killed a man in front of us to spite our father, right? Parents just don’t understand! Mike decides to take some friends (and his little brother) out on boats to hang out, because why not! It’s not like there is a recent case of a murder shark around these parts, right? Wait. Opposite.

Andy: Yeah, there’s a definite skew towards the younger folks here. Gone are the three middle-aged men out re-enacting Moby Dick; instead we have a group of teenagers trapped on a sort-of floating raft of their boats. It seems kinda harsh to say the latter group is less well-characterised than the former – Quint, Hooper and Brody being three of the most fully realised characters in, well, anything – but they aren’t really characterised at all, so when some of them inevitably get sharked, it’s more like the shark is a slasher villain than the strange, existential threat of the first.

Lilly: Jaws 2 is a film which not only continues the story of Amity Island, but explores what happens to characters after the horror film is over. Another shark is introduced, but this shark seems so much worse due to not just the upped ante of a sequel but also because Brody’s clear PTSD ramps up the tension, so scenes where even the audience knows it isn’t a shark but in Brody’s imagination are proven to be scary because we see Brody suffering in a way that is almost too real. Brody is a very real character in this film.

Andy: He is. He’s probably the only one, though. Even returning characters, like his wife and sons or the town mayor (wait, how did he get re-elected?) don’t really move past their characterisations in the first movie.

Lilly: Then we also see the horror of a town that lives off tourism. What do you do in the position of the town council of Amity Island, where you’ve clearly got a shark problem but you also don’t want to drive away money that will help your people survive through a long winter? Well, in Jaws 2, maybe the council goes too far with their denial and treatment of the shark issue as nothing, but seriously, it’s a scary thought. How do you risk the town’s tourist money without definite proof that it will save lives? A blurry photo of a shark from a site of a known shark attack of the past doesn’t really cut it when livelihoods are at risk. Shark attack politics! I love it!

Andy: Despite what you might have heard it’s not horrible, but it’s not very good either. It’s not that it doesn’t measure up to the first one – almost nothing does – it’s like it’s on a completely different scale. And this is coming from the guy who defended Alien 3 at length a few weeks ago – if my love for that and my ambivalence for this is any kind of scale to judge whether you should see this by, then use it.

Lilly: I definitely recommend it if you like monster shark films–if you are watching Sharknado, you should definitely give this a try. While you get all the fun of a monster shark, attacking sexy teens and doing general menacing, you also get a little peek into the mind of someone who survived such a thing, and see how sometimes, no matter what you do to save your town, it still doesn’t beat out small town politics for levels of horror. Go, watch, enjoy!

Friday the 13th; or Camp Asking For It

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Hello and Hallo-welcome to yet another year of Hallowfest Octobfilm, a series of daily blogs reviewing horror films throughout the month of October! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they sharpen their ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ machetes in preparation for this year’s Saturday theme–Slasher Saturdays!

Today’s film offering: Friday the 13th

Andy: I suppose a proper horror fan should feel some animosity towards this movie. Halloween may have codified many of the tropes of the horror genre, but it was the Friday the 13th franchise that showed you could essentially make the same movie again and again and again and still make money.

Lilly: Contrary to the old saying, it’s not a good man you can’t keep down, but rather a psychopathic bad man. Go figure!

Andy: And for all the slashed up teens, the only thing that the slasher glut really killed was anybody taking horror movies seriously for the next two decades. Dang.

Lilly: I mean, I disagree on this, because it wasn’t like horror films were really pulling in the prestige prior to the slasher wave. I think slashers did what any semi-entertaining sub-genre should do, which is bring in the money–I’m looking at you, Transformers films and the Marvel universe. Sure, it means that you are going to get loads of films that are sub-par at best, but at least people are watching, and you are developing a following that might not have stumbled into the horror arena at all if not for a cheesy slasher they saw some date night.

But I digress. Surprise! That happens a lot.

Andy: Now the plot concerns a group of camp counsellors reopening an old, abandoned camp at Crystal Lake, getting it ready for the kids who will presumably arrive later in the summer. Of course, this preparation mainly consists of having conversations with a crazy old man, sex, and getting axed in the face by a mysterious assailant. If this sounds familiar you may recognise it as the plot of EVERYTHING EVER.

Lilly: Meanwhile, this camp has not been abandoned that long, in truth, like it is almost insensitively not long. Twenty years is not long enough to say ‘Hey, the killer is probably not around anymore! Fluke!’ No, the killer, if he started young, could be only 38! Which is prime killing age. I mean, you’re not young and careless, but you also aren’t past your prime. Stupid. The people who thought to reopen the camp are stupid. How much wilderness is there in America? Find some other wilderness, build some cheap cabins, boom. No killer, no deaths hanging over the property. It sounds ideal. But maybe I don’t know enough about building children’s summer camps.

Andy: Anyway, this is the film that gets taken off in literally everything, from its own sequels, to The Simpsons, to The Final Girls, to friggin Lumberjanes. There is a real danger watching this film now, that any sense of originality and threat this film had back in 1980 has long since shrivelled up in the sun. It doesn’t help that Scream spoiled the ending way back in 1996.

Lilly: Something we are reviewing later in the month! Tune in!

Andy: Of course, it probably doesn’t help that this is not actually particularly well made. Michael Myers has been put through the same cultural exposure, but Halloween still maintains a sense of genuine threat. This, however, borders on, well, campy (I’M SORRY I’M NOT SORRY).

Lilly: For those of you just joining Hallowfest Octobfilm, it is best you know that sometimes, I love shitty films. I love them deeply and without apology. In fact, when something is described as ‘campy’, my black little heart flutters with enthusiasm. And in the case of Friday the 13th, doubly so. And I’ll tell you for why.

Friday the 13th is a perfect example of social horror. It’s got an easy to follow plot–murder happens at camp, camp closes, camp reopens, murders happen again, TWIST the murders are REVENGE–that is accessible to literally anyone who watches it, it has Kevin Bacon (swoon), and it is a film that you can make popcorn during and not be lost for the rest of the story because you missed a bit. And there is (listen carefully here) Nothing. Wrong. With. That. Also, since I haven’t seen Scream (later on in the month, tune in for when I have!), I didn’t even see the ending coming. I thought I had it pretty worked out, what with the hockey mask wearing fiend of the films being literally everywhere, as Andy mentioned, but it turns out he doesn’t even have the mask in the first film, AND SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER STOP LOOKING IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED…

…it wasn’t even him in the first place. How can I not be amused by the fact that the film depicts a man getting all the credit for the hard work of a woman? I love it.

OKAY YOU CAN CHECK BACK IN NOW, I’M DONE SPOILING, PROMISE.

Andy: To be clear, I do like this movie (maybe not love, like SOME people, but still). If it’s on TV and you feel like turning your brain off for 90 minutes, it’s probably OK. But there are also definitely better horror movies to watch in that time.

Lilly: Like Friday the 13th Part 2, which has the hilariously insensitive moment where they are looking for the charming, wheelchair bound Mark, and the first place they look is upstairs. Brilliant!

A Christmas Horror Story; or YAAAAS CHRISTMAS ANTHOLOGY HORROR YAAAS

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another holiday edition of Hallowfest Octobfilm! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who are trying their best to keep the Christmas spirit in their heart, because if it is let loose, it might be the death of you.

This week’s film offering: A Christmas Horror Story

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Happy Holidays is ‘too PC’ for some, so does this work? 

Lilly: Hi, my name is Lilly,

Support  Group: Hi Lilly.

Lilly: And I’m a horror anthology-aholic. Seriously, I love horror anthologies–it’s like a horror buffet where you get to try everything and sometimes you get delicious shrimp puffs that are soooo good or you end up with dry pigs in blankets that should have stayed in bed, but you get variety. Love it. So, when I heard there was going to be a new horror anthology film coming out for Christmas (that was Canadian to boot!), well. It was like Christmas had come early.

A Christmas Horror Story is the story of one awful Christmas eve in a small town that has had big tragedies. Held together by the random updates from radio DJ WILLIAM SHATNER, it features Krampus, a family that gets more than a tree from a trip to the forest, zombie elves, and menaced teens.

Andy: If the presence of Captain Kirk didn’t tip you off, this one hails from Canada. There’s a very loose overarching plot connected by the radio snippets, but mostly, the movie’s stories are very independent from each other – there’s little to no character crossover. One in particular, an outbreak of zombie virus among Santa’s elves at the North Pole, seems to have almost no connection to the rest of the film. Or does it?

Lilly: Actually,having grown up in a small town, the connections in this film are subtle but legit–the teenagers know the teenage daughter from the family being menaced by Krampus (one is her boyfriend), one of the family with a problem with their Christmas tree retrieval is a cop who is featured in the sexy teens being menaced line at the beginning, and DJ Kirk is actually the grandparent of the Krampus family–Loveit. Just. Love it.

Andy: Apart from Shatner, who is excellent as the bored DJ on the long shift, there’s only one standout, and that’s George Buza as Santa having a very bad day. Everyone else is mightily forgettable, but then they’re basically meat on the hoof for whatever horrible stuff is going to happen to them.

The weakest story is probably the one involving the teenagers getting menaced. They break into their school, which used to be a convent filled with Evil Nuns, to investigate murders that happened there last year. It’s the kind of thing that’s been done a million times before and a lot better, and it’s also the one with the most tenuous link to Christmas.

Lilly: Like, it isn’t even a virgin conception, which they were sort of trying to imply? I guess? I don’t know? I didn’t really understand any of the evil spirit’s motivation in this one, admittedly.

Andy: The other two are OK, with the stronger being about a family attempting to get a ‘discount’ on a Christmas tree before discovering they’ve paid a much higher price when their son goes missing in the woods, and the weaker being about a family menaced by Krampus, whose prosthetic face and design is probably the single best element in the film.

Lilly: Yeah, he looked amazingly creepy. I also liked the take on Krampus in this film, the mythology a bit different than you’d expect–I don’t want to spoil (I DO BUT WON’T) but it was definitely a bit darker even yet than the Krampus of Krampus. Not nearly as well realized, of course, but it was only one part of a multi-storied film. I really enjoyed the Krampus scenes in this, though, where you discover just how bad the family has been–and it’s pretty bad, spoiler alert (not a spoiler, you know they had to be bad to be menaced by Krampus).

Andy: Overall, like most horror anthologies, this one is a tad uneven, but loads of fun. Even if you don’t agree with us and like the other stories better or worse than us, the whole thing moves along at a lovely clip and you never linger in one place for long. Even the occasional lapses are forgivable, because this film does not take itself seriously in the slightest. Hopefully parts of it will make you smile a big stupid grin, and as far as I’m concerned, when that happens, it’s done its job.

Lilly: It’s a jolly good time, this film, and definitely worth picking up some popcorn and enjoying this holiday horror season! If you are hankering for festive frights, you’re in luck–A Christmas Horror Story delivers just that.

Krampus; or Letters to Santa are Serious Business

Hello and Hallo-welcome back to Hallowfest Octobfilm, where our intrepid bloggers Andy and Lilly are feeling festive, but aren’t daring to pout or cry. Christmas is a surprisingly rich vein of holiday-themed horror delights, and we’ll be looking at some over the next few weeks.

This week’s film offering: Krampusnewposter-krampus

Andy: Last year during Hallowfest, we saw an amazing portmanteau called Trick ‘r Treat, a fun, scary romp through the intersecting lives of some people having a very, very bad Halloween.

Lilly: Missed it? Click this inviting hyperlink to go and read it! We’ll wait.

Andy: This year, director Michael Dougherty gives us another holiday-themed horror flick to sink our teeth into, and off we went to the cinema to oblige.

Lilly: As if I need an excuse to get large popcorn to sit and eat in a dark room, the best place to consume large amounts of popcorn. But yes, continue on with the review.

Andy: But first, I hear you asking, what exactly is a Krampus?

Lilly: I didn’t, I know that Krampus is–

Andy: Well, as all good little boys and girls know, if you are very good, Santa Claus, or St Nicholas, will creep into your house on Christmas Eve and fill it with gifts and toys. But what if you’re not so good?

Well, I was always told that I would get a sack of coal, but because Austria and Bavaria are places where scaring the bejezus out of kids is practically a past-time, instead they threaten them with the Krampus, a servant of St Nick’s who instead of leaving toys, stuffs you in a sack and carries you off to God Knows Where. Fun times.

Lilly: Krampusnacht and Krampuslauf sound terrifying and awesome. Look them up!

Andy: The movie stars Adam Scott (of Parks and Recreation fame) along with Toni Colette and a host of semi-familiar faces.

Lilly: The film takes staple awful parts about Christmas (last minute shopping fist fights in the mall for deals you don’t need, family you hate most of the year showing up on your doorstep, so much food that you aren’t sure you like but eat every year because you’ve always had turnip at Christmas, etc.) and hits you with them as if they are a given. When the awful finally breaks the Christmas spirit of the main family’s son,he rips up his letter to Santa and throws it into the sky, wishing ill will on all those who ruined his holiday. As you do.

Cue Krampus!

Andy: So what we have is essentially a Christmas horror-comedy in the same vein as something like Gremlins, in which the transgressions of a family are punished in a ridiculously over-the-top fashion. There is great joy in seeing the generally pretty awful extended family menaced, and at the same time, there is a genuine sense of threat. The, er, ‘man’ himself is appropriately kept at arm’s length for most of the story, and when he does make his entrance, there is a real gravity to it.

Lilly: Yes, this film paid off for what it promised–Christmas comedy horror with some great creatures (thanks Weta Workshop!) and some ridiculous set ups. The trailer teased monstrous toys, and it one-ups that with murderous Gingerbread men. Loved it. Obviously we can’t give away too much, with this being a very new film (and one I hope to put into my holiday film rooster), but it is a) loads of fun and b) acted well for a film that has half a child actor cast. It had some interesting storylines, so old plot chestnuts that were decently used, and it wasn’t trying to hard to be anything but what it was.

Something I did want to touch on was the pacing of this film (we talk about it a lot, deal with it). It was actually quicker than your usual horror comedy, and what was really interesting was that the horror and comedy elements were sometimes on top of each other, so there were moments were truly horrific things were happening, but it would cut to the ridiculous and back and again, almost giving you mini-breathers between horror and laughter. Sometimes, it was clear what was supposed to scare you and what was supposed to make you laugh, and then, it would all melt together and you’d end up with scenes that were creepy and laughable and fun.

Also, as a side note: what was with everyone speaking English to the grandmother who clearly preferred German? I mean…what? They understood it, obviously, so…what? Anyway.

Andy: It’s good fun, overall, and probably worth your time if you’re into this sort of thing. My only criticism is that it falls into a weird middle ground – it’s too mean and scary for people look for a few thrills, but for others it may not go far enough. There’s a lot of bark, but maybe not enough bite.

Lilly: Yeah, this is one of those Holiday horrors that isn’t quite a punishment for all those bad girls and boys out there, but is still a lump of coal to throw into the midst of the other holiday television coming your way. It’s a enjoyable way to pass some time with your loved ones this season, so why not give it a go?

The House of the Devil; or Adventures in Cultist Babysitting

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another weekly review of a random horror film we’ve stumbled upon! Joining you is your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who suggest always taking a sarcastic, comeback spewing friend to a creepy house because who knows when you’ll need someone else to die instead of you in a situation.

This week’s film offering: The House of the Devil

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Talk on the phone. Finish your homework. Watch TV. DIE. (A typical Friday night, then?)

Lilly: Imagine you are hard up for cash and want to move into a sweet new apartment, so you decide to take a number from a vague flyer about a babysitting job. Not hard, we’ve all done it. Then you call said number on a payphone, leave a message…and the pay phone rings. Do you even pick it up? No. No, you do not.

But then, you aren’t the lead in The House of the Devil. And a good thing or it wouldn’t have been a film.

Andy: Yeah, ‘naive’ is definitely the word that springs to mind here. It’s a film that deliberately places itself back thirty years but I don’t think that anyone would have fallen for this in the 80s

OR now. Still, if you need the money…

So our young heroine heads off into the back of beyond, displaying some sense in taking her much more suspicious friend along with her, and is offered a ridiculous sum of money to essentially watch TV and eat pizza. Also Grandma’s upstairs, but she’ll be no bother. Promise.

Lilly: So, the creepy guy who called you on a payphone (how did he have the number, ooOOooo) and lives in the middle of nowhere near a graveyard lied about having a kid–so what! Take the money! Think of your decently sized apartment! Take it! You’ll surely live to enjoy it, right? Right.

Andy: And … that’s kind of it for most of the film. She’s in the house, looking around, and slowly, slooowly coming to the realisation that things are not what they seem.

Lilly: It’s a babysitter-gets-menaced piece that definitely delivers, and most importantly, really pays attention to the details of its predecessors in the genre. This becomes evident very early on–in the opening credits, in fact, which feel so eighties you practically come out of them wearing leg warmers and sporting a side ponytail. The shots, the music, the fashion–all of it had the feeling of classics like Halloween. And, uh…Halloween II. Anyway, you get the point!

Andy: There’s a lot to like. There’s no weak link in the cast, but there’s no big ticket stars either, which can be distracting. The biggest is probably, I dunno, Tom Noonan? It’s very, very well put together.

However, it is absolutely glacially paced. It’s the only criticism I have, but it’s a big one if you get easily bored. It stretched right up to the edge of what I could deal with. It’s almost like they didn’t have quite enough plot and just substituted atmosphere instead. But it’s still very good.

Lilly: The pacing was alright for me (she said, having fallen asleep during it but that can be blamed on being tired, not the film) but I was sort of thrown by weird focus’ the film had. Like on pizza. No pizza in this film was good. Like, no one finished a piece and that is really distracting. Also, was the pizza place she called an evil pizza place, or did they honestly want to make sure she didn’t get hungry while babysitting Nana? I have a lot of pizza related questions and the film did that to me. Twice in a film was pizza deemed not good, and that stands out, is all I’m saying.

Andy: The fact that you had time to ponder these things is telling. Even with a nap. Anyway. The soundtrack is excellent.

Lilly: Yesssssss. There is a scene where she is bopping all over the place, dancing to a tune, and I was right there with her. I mean, besides the fact that she bopped right upstairs without thinking of poor Nana who might be napping. Inconsiderate.

Also, I did wonder what it was that turned teens off caregiving for the elderly–was that a thing in the eighties? A sudden wave of creepy elderly folk tricking young people into their homes under the guise of elder care for pay? What happened to those teens? I want to know.

Andy: One final observation – the lead, who is otherwise very good, has the most forgettable face in movie history. Every time she turned away I automatically replaced her with Suzy from Suspiria, and was surprised when she turned back around.

Lilly: I was even thinking that, and I don’t even like Suspiria enough to keep the lead in my mind.  Anyway, for a film made in 2009, I was really impressed by how much of the tone of an eighties film it really captured, with a bit of creep and a bit of camp, and I definitely would recommend this one for a fun movie night treat.

Andy: Sure. Just remember it’s a slow burner. Also, it says in the opening it’s based on a true story, but as far as I can tell that’s a load of dingo’s kidneys.

A Field in England; or What Just Happened?

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another review penned by your beloved bloggers, Andy and Lilly! Apologies for the radio silence, but we’re back with a new review, and are getting ourselves on schedule to return weekly with new offerings!

This week’s film offering: A Field in England

shaw-a-field-in-england
Let the psychedelic imagery begin on the poster, get you ready for it!


Andy: Despite our fondness for the weird, neither of us is really into the truly surreal. I wouldn’t watch a David Lynch film unless you hold a gun to my head. So it was with some trepidation we embarked upon this, an explicitly surreal historical horror about alchemy, repetition, cowardice and friendship.

Filmed on an ultralow budget with one location, the plot, such as it is, involves four apparent deserters from a English Civil War battle, who decide to walk to a local alehouse supposedly on the other side of the field they find themselves in. Of course, some of these people are not what they seem.

Lilly: Shot in black and white and featuring P.O.V. camera work and ‘drug trip’ techniques, it was definitely a mixture of the familiar and the ‘what the hell was that?’ It was both interesting character study and indulgent art-house shots and close ups of Reece Shearsmith’s emoting face. There were times where I just self-reflected on my movie choice. Maybe choosing something because an actor or two (Julian Barratt!) I like is in it isn’t a good idea. Was I being punished with existential crisis suffering Civil War cowards? Is that what was happening? Was the idiot even a coward, or just an idiot? I don’t. Know.

Andy: Yeah, it’s a strange one. The whole thing screams “unreliable narrator”, especially after they sit and eat a load of mushrooms.

Lilly: There are a few ways to read this film, and all of them are grabbed from bits and pieces of evidence rubbed together to hopefully make something stick. Everything from ‘They’re all dead’ to ‘Whitehead (Shearsmith) is a disguise for the master he claims to serve’ float around idly amongst shots and sounds and images that beat the atmosphere out to the sound of the drum track that plays. Then there are the tableaus that give you a moment to go ‘wait…what?’ before the story takes up again. Those were…interesting? I didn’t know what effect was wanted, but they just took me out of the story and gave me a minute to think about whether I was bothered to go get a drink or not.

Andy: The trouble is that the film is both more and less than the sum of its parts. It reaches grandly for all of these different themes and ideas and horror but there’s no substance to hang it on. It’s very difficult to follow what precisely is ‘going on’, at least in a meta sense, so everything just sort of hangs there in space. It’s like a stage play with half the scenes missing, and everything is either too brief or too long. I imagine it’s someone’s favourite film, but there wasn’t enough to it. I guess the term is that it didn’t ‘resonate’ with me.

I suppose the only interesting theme I dug out of it was a kind of Sisyphean disdain for anybody actually achieving anything. No ale is going to be drunk, no treasure is going to be found, and no hole is ever going to be deep enough. Heck, the field itself seems endless. There is no end. Which in itself is a pretty scary idea, but not enough to keep me engaged for 90 minutes.

Lilly: I was intrigued up until the moment I realized that I was never going to get answers for anything I was trying to piece together, and then I was Sisyphus, trying in vain to get some sort of idea of what was happening. Was it a trip? Was it PTSD? Was it some sort of witchcraft, the whole thing? Who knows. For me, it’s a ‘maybe?’ recommendation–it’s not for everyone (it wasn’t really for me) but it does have some interesting ideas, some good acting, and a good use of one massive field in England.

Andy: Yeah, it’s a very tentative maybe from me, which probably means a no. Some people may like it as a surrealist nightmare. I am not one of those people.

The Final Girls; or A Slasher with Heart

Hello and Hallo-welcome to the first in a weekly series of reviews done by your intrepid bloggers, Andy and Lilly, featuring a variety of films from all realms of horror. Stay tuned for ghost stories, demons, vampires, killers, and all that goes bump in the night to be showcased over the following weeks.

This week’s film offering: The Final Girls

Not to be confused with Final Girl, which also has Alexander Ludwig. No, seriously.
Not to be confused with Final Girl, which also has Alexander Ludwig. No, seriously.

Lilly: Welcome back, readers, and welcome back, us, to the blog! We took a week off there, recovering from our month of macabre, but couldn’t stay away–seeing as you’re here, neither could you, so hoorah!

Andy: You’re not getting rid of us that easily, horror fans.

Lilly: This week, we watched The Final Girls, a film about the daughter of a scream queen who finds herself launched into her mother’s most famous frightfest fodder, Camp Bloodbath. She, along with four of her friends, end up in a situation where they have to live through the movie–not the easiest thing in a sexy teen slasher whittle-down film that is clearly taking off Friday the 13th.

Andy: It’s to this movie’s credit that the mechanism by which they end up in the nightmare of living through a slasher film is not really explained at all, but it’s all so breezy that you really don’t mind. Everything’s more brightly coloured and more vivid, but also seemingly shallow. You half expect to see a boom mike most of the time. The characters are the same – compared to our intrepid modern band, the movie characters they encounter are one-dimensional in the extreme.

Lilly: To add to the drama of being thrust into the freaky fictional world full of machete-related deaths and bad eighties fashion, our main character is dealing with the fact that her mother, in real life, died three years prior in a tragic car accident, so having a younger version of her being menaced is that much more stress added on to a pretty stressful situation.

Andy: Except of course, she’s not her mother – she’s her film character – an impossibly sweet girl called Nancy who wants to lose her virginity and play guitar. Talk about a mind screw.

Lilly: For a simple set up, this film is incredibly clever and is everything a horror spoof should be. A real love for the slasher genre is evident, from the characterizations to the musical cues and ‘don’t have sex’ rules being recognized by the poor teens sucked into it. Even Billy, the murderer, is actually terrifying, not just terrifying in the fake film and laughable with the arrival of modern protagonists. It’s actually pretty impressive, how this film forces you to care about the characters that, to our generation of horror fans, are known to be ‘meat on the hoof’ types–the jock, the girl-next-door, the sex-pot, the bad girl–due to them being juxtaposed against modern young people. It gives you a moment of ‘wait, they are people, though’ that you sort of forget, watching slasher film after slasher film. It brings those characters back into sharper focus after, as a viewer, I became almost desensitized to their menace because, hey, they shouldn’t have went and had sex while a killer was on the loose–which is nonsense logic, but something you calmly accept, watching slasher horror.

Andy: It’s such a simple, simple refreshing change to the format. Rather than going full hog into the gruesome (of which there’s surprisingly little) it instead gives us characters we care about. When was the last time you were genuinely scared for a horror protagonist? When was the last time you were emotionally affected by one?

Lilly: The modern teens being trapped in the film is bad enough, and then you have the relationship between Max (the main girl, played by Taissa Farmiga) and Nancy (played by her mother, who is played by Malin Akerman). Nancy is ‘the shy girl with the clipboard and the guitar’ who, in the original movie, gets killed after having sex with the resident jock, but Max, having some issues between drawing the line between reality and fiction (reasonably so, given her situation) wants to change that. Easier said than done, because the film still needs to play out, apparently. There still needs to be one Final Girl (hence the title).

Andy: Another character you don’t come across very often is the horror ‘expert’. Duncan is the world’s biggest fan of Camp Bloodbath and is the only one happy to be trapped there. His sheer enthusiasm carries the early part of the film, as he mimics dialogue as it happens around him and almost squees when he sees the killer for the first time. He’s not like Randy in the Scream movies, dispensing advice on how to survive – this guy’s just happy to be a long for the ride.

Lilly: Something truly impressive about this film is that it handles the relationship between Max and Nancy so compassionately–it feels like you step out of the campy Camp Bloodbath world when they are given time to bond, and you are watching a very well-acted teen girl mourning her mother. It’s painful, and hard, and I just was heartbroken about a million times over for Max. This is a horror film that doesn’t half-ass the personal tragedies that are going on during the massacre.

Andy: It really is very impressive and very well shot, from the absolutely spot-on recreation of 80s slasher films to the visually arresting look when the fourth wall comes up and pokes you in the eye.

Lilly: The beginning of the film pulls you in with Duncan’s enthusiasm and the likeable characters surrounding Max (save that bitchy ex played by Nina Dobrev) and you just stick with that feeling of ‘come on, you crazy kids!’ that deepens as they all grow well past the development you usually get in a slasher. I sort of hope this is a new age of them, where the good and bad of that genre gets mashed together and we get more films like this. Sequel? Yes please. 

Andy: We were somewhat blindsided by how much we liked this one. It’s definitely one for anyone’s watch-list.

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!