Starz’s Ash Vs. Evil Dead

I feel like Starz’s Ash Vs. Evil Dead doesn’t get enough love or praise. It was always going to be a tough task to update and fluidly continue a scrappy, deranged, hyperactive, genre pioneering classic from the early 80’s into contemporary long form storytelling, but damn they kind of nailed it. Raimi himself directs the first episode to kick the party into gear, and sets the stage for two knockout seasons of nostalgic bloody mayhem, new ideas and demons worked into the existing lore and more deftly written comedic dialogue than you can shake a boomstick at. This picks up decades after the original cabin massacre, which Ash has now himself been blamed for. That pesky necronomicon isn’t quite done with him though, and pretty soon he’s on an epic, gore laced quest to defeat evil with two awesome sidekicks, the sexy, fearless and spirited Kelly (Dana Delorenzo) and courageous, scrappy Pablo (Ray Santiago). Their adventures take them on countless endeavours, side-quests and tussles with every demon under the sun, and it’s the characters who ultimately make it worthwhile. Middle aged Ash is different from the jittery youngster of Evil Dead and even the reluctant avenger he became in Army Of Darkness. He’s kind of a goof, but a goof who gets shit done in the end and lives to swill a beer and tell a grossly exaggerated tale about it. There are some truly inventive monsters, demons and deadites on display here too, from your garden variety howling, decayed possesses corpse to full on legendary denizens right out of the bible, a haunted car in a cool shout out to John Carpenter’s Christine, a possessed cadaver that literally shits and pisses all over a very uncomfortable Ash as the deadite inside takes liberties with it’s bodily functions, and all kinds of other stuff including an an evil Ash hand puppet that has to be seen to be believed. Other great supporting turns come from Lucy ‘Xena’ Lawless as an immortal badass demon hunter, Ted Raimi as Ash’s ketamine guzzling high school chum, Lee Majors as his ladies man of a father and more. I’ve only seen the first two seasons so far, but I’ve got nothing but great things to say about this show. It’s consistent with the tone and feel of Raimi’s original classic horror trilogy while building upon everything he did to blast new pathways into the Ash legacy. Punishingly, rewardingly gory, spectacularly hilarious at every turn, filled with loving references, deadites galore, this one is a keeper.

-Nate Hill

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Jack Sholder’s Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies

Everyone knows the expression ‘go fuck yourself.’ But can anyone think of a film where that actually, physically… happens? Well it happens in Jack Sholder’s Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. I’ll get to that in a minute. Robert Kurtzman’s original supernatural splatter-fest is a supremely underrated horror flick with a concept that pretty much begs for sequels, and while there’s a bunch, only this one is really worth checking out. The success of these really hinges on Andrew Divoff’s deliciously sinister performance as the ancient evil Djinn, a being who tricks people into making wishes which he grants on his own terms, before harvesting the unwitting soul of the wisher to fuel his powerful dark magic. Raspy voiced, narrow eyed and dripping with dangerous charisma, Divoff is a scene stealer and whoever decided to recast him for Wishmasters 3 and 4 should be fired, but in any case those two aren’t worth checking out. This one sees the Djinn get inadvertently woken up by a cat burglar (Holly Fields) during a botched robbery. In sneaky human form he calmly takes credit for the crime and deliberately goes to prison where he can reap all those juicy repeat offender souls and take advantage of how dumb they all are. It’s a cool setting and gives actors like Paul Johansson and legendary Tiny Lister (who is in every movie ever, apparently) a chance to play assholes who get in the Djinn’s way, but it’s Divoff’s show all the way. Now, the part you’ll want to hear about. During a meeting with his lawyer, an uncooperative felon (Robert Lasardo) makes the ill conceived wish that the attorney should ‘go fuck himself.’ The Djinn, never one to not put on a good show, works his magic and moments later… well. The lawyer gruesomely bends backwards in a way no human is meant to and quite literally does in fact fuck himself. It’s quite a thing to have suddenly show up in your otherwise run of the mill horror sequel, simultaneously surreal, awkward, outrageous and, if you have a sense of humour as demented as I do, pretty goddam hilarious. The film overall does the trick, I mean it doesn’t have the charm, chutzpah or awesome genre cameos of Kurtzman’s balls out original, but it’s still pretty sweet.

-Nate Hill

Irvin Kershner’s Eyes Of Laura Mars

Irvin Kershner’s Eyes Of Laura Mars is one bizarre film. Overall it really does not work, like it stands obstinately in WTF territory with its arms crossed, refusing to let either it’s a talented cast, lavish production design or unusual premise spur it on to greatness, despite the fact that parts of it work in fits and starts. From a screenplay by none other than John Carpenter, Faye Dunaway stars as Laura Mars, a controversial fashion photographer whose work has attracted the attention of a serial killer that starts staging their crimes after the photos she takes. Stranger still, every time our murderer goes for a move, she is suddenly tuned in to what he’s doing via his eyes, as if a clairvoyant. What a concept, right? Well I bet Carpenter had a few things to say about how they butchered his idea, they should have just given him creative control over the thing. Dunaway is a fantastic actress, she has a stately Sigourney Weaver vibe and her eyes are soulful fissures that do lend themselves to a story this intense, but she can’t do much with her role, as Laura’s ultimate culminated worth is a glorified scream queen. Anywho, the murders get the attention of police detective Tommy Lee Jones, and let me tell you I didn’t think he was ever this young. I’m aware that this was 1978, but to me Jones is one of those sagely actors like Morgan Freeman or Sam Elliott who seems to have always been old and just sprung out of the ground already wise, weathered n’ weary. The horror elements clash with a ridiculously hokey romance subplot between him and Dunaway that barrels in from farthest left field, feels artificially paced and undeveloped, an insult to both the intelligence of the audience and the integrity of Dunaway’s character, but I spied notoriously loopy producer Jon Peter’s name in the credits so maybe he had something to do with that. They would have been better off spending more time developing the pleasant camaraderie between Laura and her lovable entourage, which is one aspect that really works. The supporting cast/list of suspects also includes an awkward Raul Julia as Laura’s ex husband, her flamboyant agent (Rene Auberjonois) and a fantastic, scene stealing Brad Dourif in an early career role as her scrappy limo driver assistant. It sucks because the film has beautiful production design; Laura’s photography has an elaborate, provocative edge, the New York fashion scene and street-side elements are captured neatly and her ornate bedroom looks like a spaceship that Kubrick designed, but all that verdant personality is wasted on a story that’s so silly it hurts. Nothing is satisfactorily wrapped up, and the final twist is so lame that I couldn’t figure out if it was because that outcome hadn’t really been done before 1978 all that much and I’m just too young or simply because it was laaaaaame in itself. There’s a jittery score by Artie Kane that works and echoes stuff like Bernard Hermann, so there’s that I guess, plus game performances by Dunaway, Auberjonois and Dourif, but their effort really deserved better. This goes nowhere, and what’s worse, takes its sweet time getting there.

-Nate Hill

Spawn 1997

With the impending release of a new Spawn film next year that will be written and directed by original comic book artist Todd McFarlane (!), it’s time to take a look back at the eclectic 1997 version. It’s a mixed bag that’s mostly filled with stuff I love, in particular a real nasty comedic edge brought to the table by John Leguizamo’s profane, obese, horrific hell clown The Violator, who lets face it, kind of steals the show. I read that every actor under the sun was considered for the lead role, from Denzel to Samuel L. Jackson to Tony Todd, but I feel like they really lucked out with martial arts legend Michael Jai White, whose sinewy presence lends itself to the dark character and practically radiates pent up rage. Spawn was once Al Simmons, a government assassin who was royally fucked over by the evil mercenary Wynn (Martin Sheen, trying his darnedest to shake the good ol’ Hollywood boy image) and sent to the fiery pit of hell, only to be resurrected as a half demon antihero with more whacked out powers than Beetlejuice and a serious hankering for revenge. That’s this movie anyways, I’m not sure how faithful it is to the comics. Guided by a pseudo Van Helsing looking mentor dude (Nicol Williamson in his final screen role) and pining for the wife (Teresa Randle) he widowed, he embarks on a bloody odyssey to… well to kill Martin Sheen and anyone who gets in his way doing it. Oh yeah, and Leguizamo’s demon clown follows him around making horrifically dark jokes (“I’ve been around since before you were soup in your momma’s crotch) and chewing more scenery than the actor has in the rest of his collective career, which is some fucking achievement. It’s funny because this film simultaneously contains some of the best and worst special effects of the 90’s; Spawn looks, feels and sounds terrific, with tactility and tangibility that should be admired, swooshing reptilian cape, glowing eyes and all manner of slice n’ dice weaponry. However, when we see him visit the devil in hell, the CGI used to bring old Satan to life look absolutely abysmal, like a Starfox final boss they forgot to completely render. I suppose they didn’t have enough budget to make everything slick, but honestly they should have just cut those scenes completely rather than have that embarrassment parade across the screen. Still, it’s hardly a blight on the movie and if anything is part of its scrappy charm, I’ve just been accused of being too much of a critical Pollyanna lately, so I have to throw in the occasional jab at a film I love just for credibilities sake in this snooty community of cinema we live in. Overall this version of Spawn is a blast of beautiful special effects, horrific imagery, vivid performances and Leguizamo mugging the camera like an aggressive dog. I’ve read that he was in that fat suit for so many takes one time that he actually had to deliberately piss himself, which I’m sure only added to the manic energy he has, like how’s that for method acting. I’m not sure what McFarlane has planned for his new one (Jamie Foxx has landed the lead), but I’d advise him to retain the bite and ferocity this one has, as well as its dark humour, weird dream logic and practical effects vs CGI. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing though, it’s not like he’s the original creator of the whole comics series or anything.

-Nate Hill

David Cronenberg’s The Fly

It’s taken me years to finally get around to David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but I’m glad I did as it’s a terrifically slimy gore-palooza boasting practical effects that are on par with classics like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Cronenberg is known as the prince of body horror, and has carved out a now legendary swath of schlock-tacular horror films (many of which I’m unfortunately not caught up on), but his nightmarish visions almost always have a brain in their heads or something to say about media, psychology, biology or the way things work. In The Fly he takes a look at the universal human fear of disease and decay, a collective primordial disgust that Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis fuel their performances with. Goldblum is Seth Brundle, a brilliant but terminally awkward scientist who has developed a functioning teleportation device. Well almost, as he has trouble sending anything alive through it, and it has a habit of turning monkeys inside out. One night he drunkenly sends himself through, unaware that a tiny little stowaway has come for the ride. The computer gets confused, combines their DNA at a molecular level and, viola! Jeff Goldblum starts literally turning into a giant fly, and trust me when Cronenberg is at the helm of such a premise, no expense is spared on gallons of vile corrosive goo and repulsive glistening prosthetics, so don’t order in Pizza Hut if you have this one on in the living room. Geena Davis is effective as the journalist that falls in love with him and has to bear witness to the grotesque transformation, but unfortunately the film isn’t long enough to work as a romance, choosing instead to put the horror front and centre, which is where it’s strongest aspect lies. Goldblum is great as the twitchy doctor, and uses his physicality brilliantly once the metamorphosis begins, giving his lanky frame a staccato, animalistic rhythm that suits the character well. The effects are dazzling, if retro gore is your thing, a whole party bag of slime, pus and deformity that stands as a showcase for the FX team. I like Cronenberg’s horrors, or at least the ones I’ve seen, because no matter how schlocky they get, he never veers it totally into the sandbox and forgets his themes, he always seems in complete control of the nuttiness, following a specific recipe that doesn’t derail anything and that probably why he has become such a pedigree name in the genre. The film could have been a tad longer and a bit more fleshed out in places, but still serves as a slick, well drawn shocker that has not surprisingly stood the test of time.

-Nate Hill

For Your Ears Only: Guy Hamilton’s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

Image result for man with the golden gun poster

Tom and Frank are honored to be joined with filmmaker Wayne Kramer (THE COOLER, RUNNING SCARED, PAWNSHOP CHRONICLES) to discuss Guy Hamilton’s final directorial effort, The Man with the Golden Gun.

Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting Of Hill House

Netflix has been knocking it out of the park with their originals this year, and Mike Flanagan’s Haunting Of Hill House is no exception. Flanagan is the man behind 2013’s brilliant psychological opus Oculus and last year’s stellar Stephen King adaptation of Gerald’s Game, he’s been cutting his teeth and proving solid mettle in the horror genre for years now, and with this one he’s given the freedom of long form storytelling to give us a supremely chilling, deeply depressing yet surprisingly cathartic and effective piece of frightmare bliss than any horror fan will love. Based on a book by Shirley Jackson, I can’t speak for faithfulness to source material here but I can say that this is powerful, thoughtful and frequently terrifying stuff, a haunted house tale interwoven with rich, deep family drama and complicated psychological aspects that makes for an invigorating, if nerve exhausting experience.

From the first night the Crain family moves into vast, ornate Hill House mansion right up until the final, fateful night Mr. Crain packs up his five children and flees the estate without Mrs. Crain, they are relentlessly plagued by ghosts, spectres, bumps in the night, haunting visions and things you can’t even describe. The film flashes back between the children’s stressful childhood having to spend a year or so in the house, and to the present time where they have somewhat gone their separate ways and all have inner demons to face, stemming right back to their experience there. Did their mother really get overtaken by malevolent spirits, or did she simply lose mind? Why didn’t their father tell them anything about what he saw in the mysterious red room moments before he evacuated them in a panic? What was real and what wasn’t? Will they be able to overcome the residual trauma of these painful, scarring events and carry on into the light of their adult lives, or will the darkness envelop them as it did their poor mother? It’s a complex, dense story that goes way beyond simple haunted house motifs and cuts a direct line to the essential using the blueprint of a horror film, and that makes it something special.

Flanagan is fascinated by themes of mental illness and the ambiguity that lies there, and as he did with Oculus, he makes it a little bit tough to see where the vague line between psychosis and actual supernatural forces is drawn, letting the audience ponder what is actually real to some degree. Certainly the house is haunted for real, it’s too convenient that an entire seven person family would show symptoms that extreme, but how much did the house really do, and how much is in the shattered perceptions of these tormented folks? I love the complexity and challenges we get as a viewer there and can’t wait to see what Flanagan does next in his career to build upon these themes.

Now the big question: Is it scary? Oh my yes. I’m not easily rattled by horror but this has some of the most blood freezing moments of inspired ghostly terror I’ve seen, and a few that made me walk away and go find one of the cats or the dog to hold as I made the well thought out decision to watch most of this at night while I was alone in the house. From a scuttling zombie in a dumb waiter shaft, floating spirits that roam hallways peering in doors and looking under beds, the freaky ass ‘Bent Neck Lady’, giant dogs and all sorts of other stuff, this house is packed to the brim with terror. It’s also relentless, like you don’t even get that much of a break between scares and before the family can launch another heated, dramatic argument there’s already some leering ghoul or screeching apparition on their heels, even when they’re grown up and far from the house. They’re well staged, unexpected scares too, some of them reaching that chilling point where you genuinely wish you didn’t see what you just saw because you know you’ll lose sleep.

The cast is carefully chosen and all give beautiful work, but the standout has to be Carla Gugino in a difficult role as Mrs. Crain, loving mother, troubled woman and fallen angel. Carla did a showstopper in Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game last year and tops it here with an intense, passionate turn that echoes Jack Torrence while showing the aching confusion of a broken mind in crystal clear fashion. Henry Thomas does his best as Mr. Crain but they saddled him with unnatural blue contact lenses that make him look more like one of the ghosts than a human father, while Timothy Hutton fares excellently as the older version of him. The children are all vividly drawn, both in childhood and grown up later, brought to life by a talented bunch including Michael Huisman, McKenna Grace, Violet McGraw, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Julian Hilliard, Oliver Jackson Cohen, Elizabeth Reeser, Kate Siegel and Paxton Singleton.

Flanagan has shown true innovation here as a storyteller, deliberately editing together the narrative like a fractured patchwork quilt of scenes, starting some and doubling back to them a few episodes later so they tie in a certain way and show you a new angle on a character you wouldn’t have surmised, bringing things from a tactical, developed slow burn to a hair raising all out finale that shows us every ghost the house has to offer, but more importantly those that exist in the psyche of each family member, and the relationship between them. Cinematographer Michael Fimognari strives to use cuts seldom and hold the shots as long as possible, creating some dynamic, flowing camera work that captures things succinctly without any frenetic nonsense or hectic motion. The show samples everything from David Lynch style sound design, Stanley Kubrick visuals a lá The Shining, The Conjuring esque retro vibes, Stephen King trippy cerebral narratives and more, but it’s definitely a distinct piece all its own, from an original voice of horror that disarms, affects and scares no end. This is the kind of horror I love seeing, where the scares are used to illuminate and say something about the characters, because if you don’t care about them once the ghosts start coming out, well then the story has lost you in cheap parlour tricks. Flanagan knows this, and doesn’t let anyone off easy with his arresting, unexpected story. Brilliant stuff.

-Nate Hill

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