All posts by natewatchescoolmovies

24 years old from Vancouver, Canada. Loved movies since I can remember. I do reviews on Instagram and Facebook as well, and after being harped at by my friends to start a blog as well... Here I am. I try to give obscure, overlooked films a day in court, ones I feel are hidden gems, that deserve to get some love.

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

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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

Darkness Falls

Darkness Falls is, for the most part, a cheesy little cheapie horror flick in the vein of The Ring or others, predictable as ever and doesn’t stray too far outside the box of genre convention. However, there is one sequence right near the beginning that’s so good it could be it’s own little short film independent of the rest of the thing. In the coastal northwest town of Darkness Falls (you’re pretty much setting yourself up for spooky shit if you call your town that), the monstrous ghost of a hundred year old woman has come back to haunt residents. Dubbed the Tooth Fairy when she was alive because she gave gold coins to kids who would bring her their teeth, she was killed by an angry mob when two of the youngsters went missing and there was no one else to blame. Now she’s back, and grown up Kyle (Chaney Kley) has returned to his hometown to try and stop her. Cue a tiresome parade of dimly lit, poorly edited chases, near misses and jump scares that don’t have much of a lasting impact. Now, as for the opening five minutes of the film, the whole sequence seems to be from a different, way better film and is genuinely terrifying. It opens as young Kyle is alone in bed on a particularly rainy night, and the ghost is somewhere in his room, belting out eerie shrieks and scuttling all over his walls and bedsheets, this whole part is probably what caused my lasting fear of darkness as a kid and remains one of the best spook show prologues of any horror flick, especially when he races out into the hall to find his mom and the bitch follows both of them all over the house. Sadly, after that first few minutes of quality, the rest of the film gets progressively less scary, badly written and overall starts to blow. Put it on with your friends for a good few minutes of pure unfiltered dread, and after the title credits just crack the beers and keep it going as background noise for an hour or so, because it won’t hold your attention for long. That first scene though.. fuck man, I’ve never been the same since.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: After Dark Horrorfests’ Tooth & Nail

Tooth & Nail is part of After Dark Horror Fest’s 8 Films To Die For series that aired sometime around 2007, and concerns a post apocalyptic future where punk-esque cannibals roam the wasteland preying on people, but the film is a lot less interesting than that description, and is only really worth it for the presence of Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones as two of the nastiest scavengers of the whole bunch, who call themselves the Rovers. There’s a group of peaceful folk called the Foragers, who are being hunted by these Rovers in some near deserted, nondescript city like Cleveland, Philadelphia or Denver, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. Some adequate gore and decent cinematography here and there, but ultimately it’s underwhelming given the potential in premise. Vinnie Jones is fun, if a bit underused as the scythe wielding Mongrel, he mostly stalks around and glowers as he hunts his prey. Michael Madsen is a barrel of fun though as axe wielding psycho Jackal, there’s something about seeing him wearing an epic fur coat and growling out lines like “this isn’t your lucky day friend, and guess what? It ain’t gonna get any better” right before he buries said axe in some poor dude’s spine. Too bad the rest of the film couldn’t keep up with his inspired lunacy, but oh well.

-Nate Hill

David Grieco’s Evilenko

Serial killer biopics and character studies have been all the rage since their inception in the early 90’s, but rarely do they get as earnest or serious as David Grieco’s Evilenko, an intense look at Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo (renamed Evilenko here), a heinous child murderer that took advantage of loopholes in the post war soviet region and preyed on youngsters for years. Malcolm McDowell is harrowing in the role and gives the character human depth and dimensions beyond just lurking, killing, evading capture and awaiting trial. I saw a documentary once on his career and apparently he turned this role down several times, which is interesting because he’s absolutely dynamic and almost unrecognizable as the guy, quite the piece of work. Martin Csokas plays the inspector on his case with his usual well spoken gravitas, hunting the man down but taking so many years to nab him that the body count went well above fifty victims. The crimes are shown with a disassociation and removed coldness, blunt but never exploitive. There’s two other film versions of this true story, an HBO original film called Citizen X that takes the police procedural route and Child 44, a recent one with Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman that was a melodramatic, unfocused mess. This one is an intimate look into the killer’s psyche, a definite cut above most serial murderer films and anchored tightly by McDowell’s committed performance. Disturbing stuff.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: toXic

In the endless sea of direct to video output, sometimes you find one that although is rough as all hell around the edges, has potential and moments that shine, even if they’re stuck in a muddled, overcrowded narrative. Toxic is one such film, a psychological horror/crime hybrid that is so full of B level movie legends, rappers and porn stars that some are only around for a second, a whole galaxy of fringe talent caught up in a story that needs complete attention to be understood, not because it’s any kind of genius labyrinthine story, but simply because it’s edited with a chainsaw and has more dangling plot threads than an entire season of CSI. There’s two timelines it takes place in, a setup that already isn’t explained well enough off the bat, but such is the level of commotion. In one, nervous mobster Tom Sizemore (nuttier than usual as this was his first gig after a stint in jail) hires two henchman (Corey Large and Danny Trejo) to find his daughter (Charity Shea) who is apparently very dangerous, but he won’t say how or why. She ends up at a strip club run by rapper Master P and her presence seems to cause nothing but trouble for everyone there including a severely depressed hooker (Dominique Swain), an ill fated homeless man (C. Thomas Howell) and others. In another timeline we see another strip club run by pimp-with-a-heart-of-gold Costas Mandylor, in which Corey Large shows up again as a mysterious bartender and the whole berserk plot hinges on his two characters, but they really should have let him stick to producing duties and hired another actor because he’s in desperate need of some acting classes. All manner of other famous faces make cameos too including Bai Ling as Sizemore’s weird clairvoyant girlfriend, scene stealer Susan Ward as a sympathetic bartender, Steven Bauer, Lochlyn Munro in dual roles, Paul Johansson, Ron Jeremy, James Duval, Johann Urb, Holt McCallany, Cerina Vincent, Shar Jackson, Nick Chinlund and the list goes until you start to wonder if these prolific people were just hanging around the studio lot and needed extra work. Here’s the thing: there *is* actually a discernible story here that’s interesting and engaging, and upon reflection it does all in fact make sense. *But*…in a ninety minute film with this many cameos and random stuff, it’s too much to feel coherent. I will say that the final twist/revelation is handled in a top tier, musically visceral way that’s quality stuff, but so much else was kind of incomprehensible that several people I’ve watched it with could tell there was a twist by the tropes being used, but not what it actually was. With a new angle on editing, sharpening up the script and whatnot this could have been something more accessible, but I still really like it for effort put into a neat storyline, the laundry list of cool cast members, that final scene that’s done so well and the obvious, endearing homages to Tarantino and Tony Scott in style and tone. Interesting, pulpy, lurid, scattershot stuff.

-Nate Hill

Ronny Yu’s Freddy Vs. Jason

Freddy Vs. Jason was kind of an inevitable thing as the two horror franchises paralleled and then gradually veered towards each other, it was just a matter of getting it right. Did they? Well.. yes and no. It’s better than Alien Vs. Predator, in case you were wondering, but in terms of doing a satisfactory collision and Mortal Kombat session between these two horror boogeyman, they could have done a bit better. Their first mistake is over plotting it; so much time is spent explaining how they both end up in Freddy’s hometown of Springwood that it seems redundant, who cares about specifics, any telling of it is going to seem silly anyways in a crossover like this, we just want to see the two of them kick the shit out of each other. Then there’s the painfully overdeveloped plot involving two ex Springwood teens (Jason Ritter and Brendan Fletcher) who escape the nuthouse and race home to try and warn everyone. By the time the two of them actually start physically scrapping, so much nonsense has come before that it’s almost too little too late. I say almost because the fight scenes are pretty spectacularly warped, from vicious hand to hand or glove to machete to Freddy launching giant oxygen canisters at Jason like torpedos. Choreography and effects are put to good use in these scenes, even if the filmmakers show a bizarre sympathy towards Jason that seems to come out of left field and paint Freddy as somehow more of a bad guy. There’s all kinds of stuff going on here from a cornfield rave that Jason interrupts in typical bloody fashion, a stoner character that’s a shameless ripoff of Jason Mewes’ Jay, flashbacks to Crystal Lake of yesteryear that get in the way and what have you. That’s the thing, there’d be space for all this random stuff in a film featuring only Freddy or only Jason, but in this collective dust-up there’s only really room for these two cooks in the kitchen. Still, we get plenty of deranged fight scenes between the two, Freddy utilizing his freaky dream powers and Jason swinging around that blade and any other large blunt object he can find. Who wins? Wait and see, but I’ll say it does have my favourite Freddy line of any Nightmare film: “How sweet.. dark meat!” He growls, approaching Kelly Rowland with razor glove at the ready. Fun stuff, if a bit too hectic.

-Nate Hill