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October Horror Marathon #12: The Legend of Hell House

Legend of Hell House [1973] dir. John Hough

A paranormal physicist is hired by an elderly millionaire to prove the existence of spirits and, thereby, the life beyond. Accompanied by his wife and a pair of mediums (one mental, one physical), he embarks on a week-long stay in the famously haunted Belasco mansion. Soon the mental medium begins experiencing strong paranormal sensations that turn into dangerous physical manifestations. Thus commences a battle of wills between the medium’s spiritualism and the doctor’s pseudoscience. Hough’s adaptation of Matheson’s Hell House looks fantastic, when not wholly ridiculous and overwrought. Heavily stylized and brimming with forced perspective, Hough’s set design and camera work elevate the film’s content. Colorfully shot, and sexually suggestive Hell House very much a precursor to 70s haunters like Michael Winner’s The Sentinel. Though, unlike Winner’s film, Hell House does not go far enough to distinguish itself from other likeminded features. With emphasis on the haunting as a sexual awakening, Hough hints at post-swinging London politics, but the film is hamstrung by prudishness, Matheson’s script unable to include his novels more racy elements. As the house begins to employ its strategy of divide and conquer, Hough’s film become much more fun to watch, but turns so stiflingly serious and dour in the final act. Gorgeous to look at and featuring a wonderful score, Hough’s haunting has flourishes of brilliance that the compromised script cannot fully support. B

— 5 hours ago
#the legend of hell house  #Richard Matheson  #haunted house  #horror  #film 
October Horror Marathon #11: Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell [1972] dir. Terence Fisher

A young doctor sets out to continue the work of Dr. Frankenstein, harvesting body parts from corpses and collecting them in his flat. When he is ratted out by his Igor, he is arrested and subsequently sentenced to 5 years in a prison for the criminally insane. Fortunately for the young man, this particular institution is secretly run by the Baron himself. Bribing the warden in exchange for his silence, the presumed dead Viktor Frankenstein is using the prisoners as specimens. Gathering together a specialized group amassed for their individual strengths (intelligence, strength, dexterity &tc), Frankenstein moves closer to his goal of creating the perfect Prometheus. Cushing resurrects the mad Viktor for the last of Hammer Studio’s Frankenstein series. With studio veteran Fisher once again at the helm, the film has all the benchmarks of classic Hammer Horror: rich period detail, gothic set design, and the post-enlightenment tension between science and faith. The series benefits from the change of scenery, the vast majority of this film taking place in the asylum. This enables Fisher to be more playful with the Frankenstein mythos, even incorporating elements of Beauty and the Beast. While it never quite reaches the height of Hammer horror, Fisher’s film is a pleasant, albeit minor, lunatic entry in the Frankenstein series. C+

— 16 hours ago with 1 note
#frankenstein  #horror movies  #film  #hammer horror  #peter cushings  #frankenstein and the monster from hell 
October Horror Marathon #10: Joy Ride

Joy Ride [2001] dir. John Dahl

A college student’s road trip to see his girlfriend gets derailed by his older brother, whom he has to bail out of jail. While stopped at a gas station, his brother installs a CB radio into their car and the pair begin making prank calls to truckers, pretending to be a woman. Soon they hook a driver with the handle Rusty Nail and lead him to a hotel room for a rendezvous. Upon Rusty’s arrival things take a violent turn, as he reacts poorly to being made the fool. Rusty then seeks out the perpetrators, intent on getting revenge. Great performances by Zahn and the supporting cast in this well-directed road movie, built around a series of effective set-pieces and wrong turns. Noir veteran Dahl avoids twist and high concept horror and executes a simple premise in the most improbable way imaginable. Employing off screen violence (the killer is mostly a voice through the CB) and suggestion, Joy Ride is firmly planted in the thriller camp of horror films, relying on tension and pace for the bulk of the impact. When engaged in Red State/Blue State dynamics and the threat of violent masculinity (the siblings are intimidated and fearful of nearly every male figure), Dahl’s film is thematically rich and observant. Sadly, Joy Ride gets a case of the third act doldrums, as the story runs out of gas long before the characters do.  C+

— 5 days ago with 1 note
#Joy Ride  #horror movies  #film  #paul walker  #horror 
October Horror Marathon #9: Malevolence

Malevolence [2003] dir. Steven Mena

On the run from the law, a group of low-rent, idiotic bank robbers procure the requisite child in peril (vis-a-vis hostages), and hole up in an abandoned house. The stakes are raised precipitously when one of the safe-house’s neigbours is revealed to be a serial killer. Beginning with a ‘based on true events’ title card, Mena declares open season on all genre clichés, no film too revered, no plot point too derivative to be processed through his dismal filter. However inept, Malevolence cannot be faulted for pace, the film in just as much as rush to “get on with it” as the audience. From Mena’s synth-based score, to his POV camerawork, Malevolence is most indebted to Carpenter, particularly Halloween. This is simply too heavy a weight for this film to bear. To be fair, the Carpenter comparisons cease once Mena goes full-blown Texas Chainsaw. For horror fans, this film is the Linus’ blanket of slashers; well-worn and grubby, offering the canon comfort of decades of genre convention. D+

— 6 days ago
#malevolence  #slasher films  #horror movies  #film  #halloween 
October Horror Marathon #8: Terrorvision

Terrorvision [1986] dir. Ted Nicolaou

The Putterman family find their recent satellite dish has become the a conduit for an alien monster. Once unleashed, the creature begins to consume its’ victims and regurgitate goo-covered duplicates. Opening with a clearly miniature space set, where an alien sanitation worker expels an anusy creature into Earth’s orbit, Terrorvision’s Z-Grade 50s inspiration is on full display. That also marks the zenith of Terrorvision’s realism, as the rest of the movie was apparently written by the world’s most out-of-touch, grumpy grandpa. An attempt at satirizing 80s pop culture phenomena, namely MTV, hair metal and Cold War hysteria, Terrorvision is a mess. With the whole cast engaged in an overacting competition, Terrorvision’s irony laden dialogue is relentlessly one-note. Each scene clangs into the next with ceaseless soundtrack cues, constant yelling and directionless camerawork. Terrorvision completes it’s transition from misguided to reprehensible as subplot involving swinging attempts to mine laughs from homophobia.  If Nicolaou’s goal is to replicate the intellectual mire of modern television, he’s done a fantastic job. Only the creature effects show real imagination, when not duplicating the large intestine. The Puttermans are top candidates for Worst Horror Movie Parents Ever. It’s as if Leisure Suit Larry directed a horror movie. D

— 1 week ago with 2 notes
#Terrorvision  #horror  #horror movies  #film  #halloween  #80s horror 
October Horror Marathon #7: The Toolbox Murders [2003]

The Toolbox Murders [2003] dir. Tobe Hooper

An LA apartment complex is home to transient Hollywood starlets, young couples and a murderous handyman. One new tenant becomes (justifiably) concerned with the sudden disappearance of her neighbours and the terrifying noises emanating from behind the paper-thin walls. The once masterful Hooper reaches his absolute nadir with this cliche driven, shlock show, devoid of any reality-based human interactions or facsimile of believable behaviour. At no point does Hooper’s film resemble anything other than a direct-to-DVD feature, poorly lit, edited, acted and directed, all participants simply going through the motions of a horror film. It’s nearly impossible to reconcile The Toolbox Murders as the product of Hooper, who is responsible for several of the best entries in the horror genre. Only in the dying minutes of the third act, when the building’s hidden slaughterhouse is revealed, does Hooper show any real engagement with the material. By that point, all the lunatic set-piece can provide is a glimpse into what a much better movie might look like.  The downward slide in Hooper’s quality that began in 1990 continues unabated, a once prominent figure in the genre reduced to a horrible imitation of the type of film he perfected in 1974.  D+

— 1 week ago
#the toolbox murders  #Tobe Hooper  #horror  #film  #Halloween 
October Horror Marathon #6: Eyes of a Stranger

Eyes of a Stranger [1981] dir. Ken Wiederhorn

A psycho-sexual killer is stalking women in Miami, and a local news anchor attempts to track him down. When her prime suspect turns out to be her neighbour, she places not only herself, but also her handicapped sister, directly in the killer’s path. Early American slasher film succeeds largely due to Wiederhorn’s gleeful plagiarism, his risible application of the “talent borrows/genius steals” axiom paying huge dividends . Combining elements of Black Xmas’s phone calls, Carpenter’s objective camera, Argento’s score and color palette, and Martino’s gender politics, Wiederhorn’s film distinguishes itself from the era’s glut of likeminded, low-budget slashers. Keenly self-aware, Wiederhorn edits the first sequence of Stranger by cross-cutting between literal cameras and frames. A photographer discovers a body while taking a photo. Cut to TV cameras pulling away from the scene. Then rolling Teleprompters and cameras filming the news of the murder. Jump cut to a close up of the image of the television in the TV control room. Then zooming out of that image to expose the TV in a bar where the next victim is drinking. Our entrance to Stranger’s world is purely cinematic; behind the lens, the titular Eyes. This is how full set-pieces can be lifted from Hitchcock or Wait Until Dark to elevate rather than diminish Wiederhorn’s material, his Yankee Giallo’s reflexive reference points circumventing the somewhat rote plot. Hitting all the requisite genre beats while infusing the material with style and a substantive thematic arc, Eyes of a Stranger is a far better film than its reputation would suggest. B

— 1 week ago with 1 note
#eyes of a stranger  #horror movies  #horror  #film  #slasher films 
October Horror Marathon #5: Wolf Creek 2

Wolf Creek 2 [2013] dir. Greg McLean

The Australian outback becomes a hunting ground when a murderous pig farmer terrorizes unlucky tourists. Follow-up to the 2005 sleeper performs all the basic functions of a horror sequel, chiefly more screen-time for the villain. Where Wolf Creek got a lot of mileage out of a streamlined story and an evocative and terrifying setting, though, Part 2 simply limps along, substituting irony for insight, and punny one-liners for dialogue. The original Wolf Creek escaped the torture-porn ghetto and caught on with audiences primarily due to a fidelity to the gritty, minimalist Ozploitation films of the past. McLean’s earlier success makes it all the more disheartening when Part 2 fails to make any significant impression or improvement on its predecessor. Even when engaged in a George Milleresque outback car chase, McLean’s film is more Kangaroo Jack than Mad Max. Early on, the film’s biggest genre twist is that the tourists are not American but German, which makes their bland pre-victim chatter far more tolerable. As is the case with most sequels, Wolf Creek 2 increases the effects budget, giving the viewer bigger wounds, more explosions and CGI kangaroos, but halves the impact of the onscreen violence by virtue of excessiveness. His film grinds to a halt when he becomes engaged in clumsy metaphors for Australia’s anti-immigration xenophobia via basement torture interrogations, a la Three Kings. Once again, the most resonant line of dialogue can be traced back to Miller, as (in the role of audience surrogate) our killer quips, “That’ll do, pig.” D+

— 1 week ago
#wolf creek 2  #ozploitation  #horror movies  #film  #horror 
October Horror Marathon #4: Waxwork


Waxwork [1988] dir. Anthony Hickox

A group of wealthy college students are invited to a private party at a mysterious waxworks. Once inside, they find the exhibits transport them into scenes of famous monster movies where they become the victims of werewolves, vampires and other touchstone horror creatures. Broadly stylized horror-comedy favours gore over wit and resembles a horror anthology more than a film proper. When inside the evil magician’s waxwork, the film is lively, bloody fun. Unfortunately, every exterior scene is laboured, dull and clumsy, with Scooby-Doo plotting. Hickox fills his cast with parodies of spoiled, vacuous, young Reaganites, whose deliberate dickishness makes it impossible to root for them to succeed. It takes a particularly dire cast of characters to make you prefer the Marquis de Sade to the protagonists. Still, the film is silly enough fun when focused on reproducing Classic Universal monster films with irreverent modern gross-out gags. C

— 2 weeks ago
#waxwork  #horror movies  #horror  #film  #80s horror 
October Horror Marathon #3: Lord of Illusions


Lord of Illusions [1995] dir. Clive Barker

When a routine insurance fraud case goes sour, a private detective finds himself in the middle of an occult civil war. With a past littered with mystic, supernatural experiences, the detective is contracted by the wife of a renowned illusionist in an effort to discover the circumstances of his murder. As he delves deeper into magician’s background, he discovers a fanatic, violent cult preparing themselves for the resurrection of their evil leader, The Puritan. As with Hellraiser and Nightbreed, Barker continues his exploration of secret societies that exist between plains of existence. Only Lord of Illusions blends his demonic fetishism with pulp-noir, the results a mix between Barker’s sensibilities and Carpenter’s b-movie impulses. For Barker, the interplay between the horror and noir doesn’t cohere, as the formal aspects of each genre cancel the other out. What remains is a horror that isn’t particularly scary and a noir without a central mystery. This disparate treatment extends to Barker’s subject matter, as he is both contemptuous of magicians and reverent of magic. The entire film has this back-and-forth problem, even meshing practical and CGI effects, with distracting results. Eschewing Carpenter’s Catholicism for Barker’s brand of Sado-paganism, Lord of Illusions has the potential of his earlier genre accomplishments, but cannot overcome the clumsy construction. C

— 2 weeks ago
#lord of illusions  #clive barker  #horror movies  #horror  #film 
October Horror Marathon #2: The Town that Dreaded Sundown [1976]

The Town that Dreaded Sundown [1976] dir. Charles B. Pierce

Fictionalized story of the ‘Phantom Killer’, a hooded murderer that terrorized the town of Texarkana in the late 1940s. Mixing elements of True Crime and Slasher, Pierce attempts to build upon his breakout feature, The Legend of Boggy Creek. Despite a larger budget and real actors, however, Pierce hasn’t grown much as a filmmaker. Armed with a ‘point-and-shoot’ technique, he once again utilizes Creek’s omniscient narration device. Only in Sundown, the technique is jarring and superfluous. Where Creek was attempting a verite, documentary approach, Sundown is a standard 3 act horror procedural. In utilizing the narration, Pierce appears unconvinced of his ability to tell this story via montage. Sundown’s best sequences are the killer’s attacks, as each subsequent episode escalates the methods, violence and terror employed by the Phantom. In these scenes, Pierce’s ability to manufacture a real sense of fear and terror through atmosphere is on full display; his knowledge of the territory a real asset. However, these nighttime scenes are strung together in-between incongruous comedic episodes, littered with inappropriate musical cues, leaving the film schizophrenic and crude. Though Sundown contains many effective sequences, it still remains the work of a director unsure of the type of films he wants to make. C  

— 2 weeks ago
#the town that dreaded sundown  #horror movies  #film  #slasher films 
October Horror Marathon #1: Oculus

Oculus [2014] dir. Mike Flanagan

After a decade in a mental hospital, troubled Tim is released and reunited with his older sister, with whom he shared a particularly difficult childhood.  Eager to move on with his recovery, he is derailed by his sister’s insistence on the completion of a pact they’d made as kids: the destruction of a haunted mirror.  Once the evil object is located, the pair return to their isolated family home, hoping to draw out the spirit and destroy the mirror.  Flanagan’s studio follow-up to his promising microbudget debut, Absentia, is a lean, effective piece of spookery, woven out of temporal shifts, hallucinations and unreliable narration. Oculus works best when not engaged in long stretches of dialogue between characters (of which there are an efficient 4 and ½), and focusing solely on scares and subterfuge. Flanagan knows that malevolent objects are best suited to the world of literature, their believability strained onscreen and thus the tension muted. Fittingly then Oculus is almost entirely subtextual, Flanagan’s battered siblings armed with only a subconscious understanding of the threat they face. The film’s plot is really just the psychic unpacking of past trauma via a particularly supernatural, and violent, form of exposure therapy. What begins with a ridiculous conceit (a haunted mirror! Not even coke-era King stooped so low) becomes an exploration of childhood trauma and inter-generational cycles of violence. The mirror is not a haunted object, but a talisman, passed down through generations, shifting the siblings’ past into focus. The Mirror becomes Maltese, a MacGuffin for Flanagan’s real malevolent monster: the destructive, consuming legacy of child abuse.  B+

— 2 weeks ago with 6 notes
#Oculus  #horror movies  #film  #horror 
Tiff #4 →



The Sacrament [2013] dir. Ti West

When a photographer’s sister joins an isolated religious cult, he enlists a Vice documentary crew to track her down. Indie-horror auteur Ti West lays waste to his considerable talents with this tasteless found footage re-creation of the Jonestown Massacre. In…

Just released this week, here’s my review of it from back in September during TIFF.

— 5 months ago with 2 notes
#Ti West  #horror movies 

Joe [2013] dir. David Gordon Green

A teenage boy forges an intense and paternal bond with a man named Joe, an ex-con with a dark and violent past.  Recognizing similarities between the two, Joe seizes the opportunity for mentorship, attempting to both protect the boy and redeem himself.  David Gordon Green emerges from his wilderness years with a dark, Southern gothic that immediately reestablishes his sinuous style and unique, dexterous tone.  At times Joe is light and playful, Green effortlessly crafting scenes of humorous rumination through his objective, observational style.  At other times Joe is mythically minded, a contemplation of masculinity and inheritance saturated with a pervasive threat of violence.  From start to finish Green’s film is never divergent, thematically aligned through elliptical editing, a score at once brooding and sublime, and rich cinematography.  No longer mawkishly Malickian, Green has refined his aesthetic into a poetic, lyrical formalism thoroughly his own.  A-

(from a earlier TIFF post)

— 6 months ago
#joe  #David Gordon Green  #Nicholas Cage  #film 


Haunt [2014] dir. Mac Carter

A family takes possession of a new house with a terrible past, one which still lingers in the floorboards, closets and foley work.  With the foreknowledge that the previous owners had died one by one, the new tenants make themselves at home, with their teenage son increasingly aware of spooky goings-on.  When the troubled teen begins a relationship with a troubleder girl, they seek to draw the predatory ghost (or ghosts) from their astral plane.  Haunt is an extremely lean haunted house vehicle, steeped in conventions and devoid of wit, momentum or engaging facsimiles of humanity.  Carter’s film relies not on story or character, but on an eerie soundtrack and the audience’s previous experiences with genre filmmaking to fill in the multiple gaps.  Carter offers little to no back story on his characters (far too generous a term) and relies on confusing flashbacks and bookend narration that attempt to clarify his plot but only expose his weaknesses as a filmmaker.  The flashback sequences are particularly problematic, as there is no way to discern whether this information is solely for the audience or if the characters are somehow psychically receiving information from the film’s specter.  Not only are the characters empty vessels, but the setting is similarly vacant.  Why has this family moved to this house, when there is seemingly nothing, not even a town (though we hear vaguely of townspeople) nearby?  Why aren’t any of these children in school?  Seriously, where is everyone when this ghost is making all this fucking noise?  Deeply confused about dramatic irony and jump scares, Carter  makes little use of the haunted space, the set design nondescript and, therefore, not at all frightening.  In the wake of 2013‘s The Conjuring and Mama, and making absolutely no effort at genre-subversion, Haunt feels especially bland, regressive and dull.  Haunt’s best features are its’ short runtime and horror cliche checklist drinking game potential, as one can predict the film’s dialogue and beats right up to the limp twist.  Perhaps it’s not a sound cinematic idea to have your central character’s defining characteristic be his introspection.  C-   

— 6 months ago
#Haunt  #horror movies  #film  #haunted house  #ghosts