Category Archives: Horror movies

Director’s Chair with Julio Quintana

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Frank and Kyle are honored to be joined with filmmaker Julio Quintana to discuss his film, THE VESSEL starring Martin Sheen and produced by Terrence Malick and Sarah Green. Julio is a Malick protege, working as an intern on THE TREE OF LIFE.

THE VESSEL is now available to rent or own on streaming platforms, but please purchase the disc on Amazon that includes the English language and Spanish language version of the film.

 

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Halloween Special: Fred Dekker’s NIGHT OF THE CREEPS

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Join Frank and filmmaker turned Podcasting Them Softly co-host, Derek Wayne Johnson as they unveil PTS’s Halloween episode featuring a lively chat about Fred Dekker’s 80s masterpiece, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.

Victor Sjostrom’s THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE

‘The Phantom Carriage’ (1921) dir. Victor Sjostrom

‘Lord, please let my soul come to maturity before it is reaped’

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There’s a certain feeling that Halloween used to invoke when I was younger. It was a fun combination of dread and danger, ghost stories, candy and staying up late. It was crawling under a blanket on the couch and watching PG-Rated haunters with my parents or friends who would come over for a sleepover.

As I grew older this ambiance was replaced with R-Rated films and even more R-Rated shenanigans. It became profanity-laced MST3K style drinking bashes with my friends while watching zombies tear flesh and women get naked. Over the years that ‘old Halloween feeling’  if you want to call it that had all but been forgotten. But then the other day I crawled under the covers and watched Victor Sjostrom’s ‘The Phantom Carriage’ and that Halloween Spirit I hadn’t felt in so long – came roaring back and it felt fucking great!

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This film had been on my list for a while. I’m ashamed it took me so long to get around to it. ‘The Phantom Carriage’ is a timeless tale of the macabre. The kind of horror that seeps into your bones. It does a tremendous job of combining the visceral elements of your old-timey chiller with a deeper, more philosophical message. Age has only benefitted this film. Its eerie tone enhanced by the years. The seamless F/X work gives one the impression they are experiencing something truly supernatural and the minimalist score by Mattie Bye for the 1998 restoration really underscores the film’s foreboding tone. Each frame simmers with a sorrowful terror that is captured magically by cinematographer Max Wilen. This is a special cinematic experience and one can see why it was a personal favorite of Bergman’s and Kubrick lifted an entire sequence of it for ‘The Shining’.

‘The Phantom Carriage’ opens with a couple ne’er-do-wells drinking in a graveyard on New Year’s Eve and one of them tells an old tale – that the last person to die each year has to drive the Carriage of Death that goes from door to door collecting the souls of the departed for the following year. When one of the men is killed in a brawl he joins an old friend on the doomed carriage and must revisit the shitty life decisions he made and their consequences before being able to reconcile the ghosts of the past which haunt him in the present. The film unfolds with flashbacks within flashbacks but is shrewdly broken up into 5 parts as to not become convoluted or tiresome.

This Halloween if you’re looking for a truly atmospheric and unsettling film that will get under your skin, turn the lights off and watch ‘The Phantom Carriage’. Trust me.

Review by Damian K. Lahey

Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!

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The President is a liar and a rapist.  Hurricanes rain down biblical style wrath the likes of which this country hasn’t seen in generations.  Man’s inhumanity to man is a relentless drumbeat of daily headlines, and basic civility between those who agree on almost but not quite everything seems ready to collapse at any moment.  This is the world of 2017, and this is the world that birthed Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! A defiant howl against what feels like the breakdown of society itself, the film isn’t crafted for the faint of heart, nor should it be.  Audiences and critics are rejecting it in droves if opening box office numbers and review amalgamation sites are to be believed, perhaps expecting the mainstream horror thriller the ad campaign deviously promises and then being truly horrified at the ugly Dorian Gray-style mirror the film holds up to America’s face, filled with corrupted beauty and mob mentality madness.  There’s no doubt that you the viewer are meant to walk out of the theater in a brutalized silence, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t a high wire act masterpiece.

Aronofsky’s quite comfortable swimming in the same dark waters that Lynch, Bunuel and many other surrealists dive into with regularity; he’s made a career of it, and on occasion even found critical and box office success doing it, as in the identity bending Black Swan.  With Mother!, he’s doubled down on a symbolism filled nightmare scape, mixing and matching plenty of horror tropes (a disturbing house, plenty of blood, stranger danger galore) but never allowing the flow to fall into anything approaching a genre comfort zone.  He’s taken the angelic face of Jennifer Lawrence and turned it into a trap for all of us, with the camera locking in on her increasingly confused, angry and frightened visage throughout—while the lead performer should be our guide throughout the story, she’s given no tools to work with, no road map, no explanations, so neither are we.  Javier Bardem is her chilling man child of a husband, an artist whose focus on adulation over accomplishment serves as a cutting parody of the aging celebrity with a trophy wife as well as a none too subtle nod towards the current resident of the White House.  As their pristine renovated home turns into a demonic bacchanal, with characters blinking in and out of existence and humanity portrayed as little more than an internet comment section run amok, Aronofsky drags the viewer alongside Lawrence into chaos and madness with relentless glee.  It’s this glee at how emotionally disturbing Mother! is that I suspect is putting off many theater goers; sometimes the first swipe at a piece of art this brazenly obtuse yet intimate is so effective that it sends its audience screaming for the exits.  Have great faith that, while you may be repelled by what the film puts you through, it’s all very much part of the plan.

Last year audiences had the same disdain for Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, a similarly singular workout that never commits to being a “horror movie” until it’s so far beyond that definition that it’s achieved True Art status, which isn’t supposed to be easy and rarely tries to be.  That film’s disgusting deconstruction of America’s dedication to surface above all else is mirrored in the layered but loud assault on our society’s treatment of the planet and each other in Mother! It starts with a telling sequence that I’ll not spoil here, but hints at cycles of behavior that are as old as time, and as inescapable.  Darren Aronofsky blew through the first draft of this script in five days by his account, and the resulting film feels every bit the guttural reaction to 2017 that you’d expect from one of America’s leading provocateurs.

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Episode 44: THE VOID

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Frank and Kyle discuss the latest VOD horror sensation, THE VOID. They also discuss the latest footage from ALIEN: COVENANT. We’ll be back next week with an episode focused on Lawrence Kasdan’s SILVERADO and our top five performances from Danny Glover.

THE FUNHOUSE (1981) – A REVIEW BY PATRICK CRAIN

Poor Tobe Hooper. Unlike other genre contemporaries such as John Carpenter, George Romero, and David Cronenberg, he really didn’t waltz into the 1980’s with unlimited potential and the brightest of futures. Despite helming the Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974 and the well-received television adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot in 1979, Hooper’s reputation was one of an unreliable commodity; a combative personality who had been a contributing factor to the troubled production of Eaten Alive, Hooper’s third feature, and someone who had been outright fired from the William Devane/Cathy Lee Crosby vehicle, the Dark, in 1979.

But with horror at peak interest in the early 80’s, every studio was looking to get in on the action. And what studio wouldn’t want to splash “From the director of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre” across the front of the poster? Universal Studios certainly did. What emerged from Tobe Hooper’s major studio debut did him little favors in terms of his future (Poltergeist was a life-raft tossed his way by Steven Spielberg). But, in retrospect, the Funhouse is one of Hooper’s strongest films; another addition in a line of narratives about an almost folklorish, ruined America, where families are still separated by class and equally troubled. If the cannibalistic Sawyer family represented the unmanageable pioneer lifestyle amid an industrial society in the first Texas Chain Saw Massacre and a gluttonous shark swimming in Reagan’s pools of unfettered hypercapitalism in the sequel, the Funhouse’s twin families reflect America’s white hot fascination with both nightmarish tragedies that were being peddled by television magazine shows and tabloids and their voyeuristic curiosity for the malformed versus a travelling family populated by society’s outcasts.

There is a certain urban myth flavor permeating the central idea of the Funhouse. After a night of pot smoking and grab-ass at the local carnival, the wise guy in a group of four kids on a double date proposes they all spend the night in “The Funhouse” (which, as Wikipedia would correctly point out, is actually a dark ride). What lives within the Funhouse is the Barker and his hideously deformed son who helps work the Funhouse with the cloaking aid of a Frankenstein’s Monster mask. Not long after the kids witness the murder of a fortune teller at the hand of the Barker’s son, they are discovered by the Barker and their attempts to exit the Funhouse are thwarted at every turn. Will they survive the night?!?

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In 1981, the failure of the Funhouse was partly due to Universal’s decision to make the film look more like it was an entry in the slasher genre than what it really was; an homage to the horror film in general with elements of multiple eras represented throughout. While it was certainly made sense from a production standpoint to utilize as much no-charge Universal Monster iconography as possible, it’s hard to discount that the monster in the Funhouse is, like the majority of those early creatures, truly a monster to be pitied and goaded on to aggressiveness by his abusive, alcoholic, and manipulative father. For more modern influences, the opening shot recalls both the shower scene in Psycho and the opening moments of John Carpenter’s Halloween (and even Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, if you’re being generous). The traveling carnival setting has its roots in the oldest of American folktales including those that are represented in our films, such as Tod Browning’s Freaks.

But the Funhouse also hints at a true, simmering horror within in the modern family, and if there’s a nagging issue with the film, it is that its less successful in fleshing this out effectively. The mother for the representative “good” family seems to be a short-tempered alcoholic that instills nothing but fear and dread in her children but we can only guess at this given her scant screen time and the opaque dialogue surrounding her character.

Other than that, the characters and situations do offer up a certain dark streak that runs throughout the film and hints at something deeper. The clean-cut daughter, our identifiable “Final Girl,” isn’t exactly the frigid, do-gooder as in other films from the era. Instead, Elizabeth Berridge’s all-American Amy Harper disobeys her dad, smokes grass, engages in some free-spirited sexual misconduct, and goes along with the crowd without much resistance at all. The ubiquitous younger brother character has a certain perverseness given his prank in the opening moments of the film. I mean, it never occurred to me to, as a goof, take pictures of my older, naked sister in the shower. Additionally, in a nifty plot pivot, the “good kids” find themselves in double-jeopardy after the wise guy pulls a dick move and steals from the Barker and his son. Sure, this is a standard horror device but the motivation suggests a certain deterioration in Hooper’s overall worldview. After all, in both the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the protagonists’ transgressions were no greater than simply stumbling upon the antagonists’ hunting ground.

But from most standpoints, the Funhouse is an impressive film. The cast is uniformly great; Elizabeth Berridge radiates a nervous and apprehensive sweetness, Kevin Conroy is perfectly greasy as the corn liquor-soaked Barker (Conroy actually turns up as three different barkers, hustling for the strip tease, the freak-of-nature tent, and the Funhouse), Cooper Huckabee sports the right amount of Dirk Daring-Do as Barrage’s lunkheaded date with a heart of gold, De Palma regular William Finley turns up as the nip-taking, ghoulish Magician, and the always exciting Sylvia Miles, sporting the hammiest gypsy accent this side of Grayson Hall on Dark Shadows, steals each scene she occupies as the Fortune Teller. The film also sports some really beautiful widescreen camera work (including some fun split-diopter compositions and epic crane shots) courtesy of the great Andrew Laszlo, a master of color and darkness who gave Walter Hill’s the Warriors and Streets of Fire their distinctive comic book look. Here, much like in Hooper’s Eaten Alive, the colors give the film a roadside attraction garishness the look of which is as threaded into the American consciousness as the colors of the flag.

Like anything Tobe Hooper made after 1974, the Funhouse is far from perfect. The ending confrontation feels anticlimactic, uninspired, and deflated and there is a wish that at least some of the backstory that was written into the Dean Koontz’s novelization (initially released under the pseudonym Owen West) could have been incorporated into the domestic moments, if only to flesh out the parental conflicts with the children and restore a much-needed balance of subtext. But, as it stands, the Funhouse remains an overlooked, colorful homage to the institution of American horror, both real and imagined.

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BONE TOMAHAWK – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

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S. Craig Zahler’s gruesome and gnarly BONE TOMAHAWK is the epitome of a slow burn, and it hits all the marks in this concoction of a horror-western, b-movie, grind house-ish ode to everything that’s transgressivley amazing about cinema.

Set in the late 1800’s, a search party made up of the town’s Sheriff (Kurt Russell), the affable “backup” deputy (Richard Jenkins), the missing woman’s husband (Patrick Wilson) and a mysterious gunslinger gentleman (Matthew Fox) set out on a suicide journey into the heart of darkness to rescue a kidnapped woman (Wilson’s wife played by Lili Simmons) who was taken by a nasty and ghoulish group of indigenous people.

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This is a film that I can’t really peg down.  For a genre film, it’s production value is incredibly high, costume design is fantastic and the score by Zahler and Jeff Herriot achieve in a tranquil way, the characters journey to impending doom.  For having a deserving, gruesome and bloody climax, it was made without CGI and makes it that much more rewarding. The way Zahler captures the locations, the actors and builds an unprecedented amount of suspense is truly awe-some and admirable.

Kurt Russell is absolutely who we want him to be, the archetypal, honorable, ultimate bad ass alpha who will stop at nothing to rescue this woman.  Richard Jenkins is charming as he is affable providing unexpected and quirky comic relief that is an audacious line to walk in a film like this, but is completely welcomed and works perfectly.  Patrick Wilson gives one his best performances as the rage filled husband, forcing himself to go on this journey with a broken ankle, pushing himself to the brink.  And then there is Matthew Fox, who absolutely steals every single scene he’s in as the very cool and calculated gunslinger with his own dark past.

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Rounding out the fantastic cast is David Arquette, the always wonderful Fred Melamed, and surprising and welcome additions by Sean Young, Michael Pare, James Tolkan and the legendary Sid Haig.

The only way I can articulate my admiration and description of the film, is that this film is as if John Carpenter directed THE DESCENT meets THE THING with a dash of THE PREDATOR, set in the late 1800’s.  I’ve watched the film twice back to back, and I can’t wait to revisit it again.  This film certainly isn’t for everyone, but if the trailer and premise excite you, seek it out immediately.  You will not be disappointed.

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