More like The Midnight Mess Train. Man this was a royal disaster. I get that there was a Clive Barker short behind it and yeah it’s probably a cool one as he’s a great storyteller but man if you’re going to adapt something that scant you at least have to give it more than just a vague blueprint and an endless, grinding parade of gratuitous, painfully CGI gore that serves no other purpose other than to perpetuate itself in scene after scene of disgusting, unsatisfying carnage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a gore-hound and a horror nut but there’s something called pacing, context and artistic style and the violence in this has none of that, it’s as flat, drab and unpleasant as I’d imagine the meat slaughterhouse we see multiple times is.
Bradley Cooper used to do a ton of cool genre stuff before he went Oscar titan on us and he’s engaging enough as an NYC art world photographer who is searching for those perfect, edgy shots of the city’s underworld, a vocation that pushes him into nocturnal escapades where he inevitably sees something he shouldn’t. That something here is well dressed, mute, homicidal bulldozer Mahogany, a spectacularly violent serial killer who rides the late subway train and literally butchers people like cattle for some unseen, hidden purpose. Of course he starts to notice Cooper tailing him and isn’t too stoked. His life begins to unravel as he becomes obsessed with finding out Mahogany’s deal to the point that it affects his relationship to his girlfriend, played by the lovely Leslie Bibb in one of the rare times they actually give her a role deserving of her untapped talent.
The problem with this is it makes not a goddamn lick of sense. Why is Mahogany killing people on the train? Does he have an employer or is he just a wild card loner? The film makes a half assed attempt to answer those questions but unfortunately it’s way too preoccupied with torture porn to tell it’s story clearly, succinctly or even remotely in a way that grabs us. There’s only so many shots of Jones bashing people’s heads in with a giant meat tenderizing hammer before our brains turn to the same mush it inflicts and we just. Don’t. Care. And the gore is often done in this really weird, closeup/slo-mo/lame way like the film was meant to be seen in 3D or something but they never bothered to even finish the process and we’re left with video game cutscene gore. It’s a shame because there are aspects that shine. Jones is incredibly menacing, he’s always had a terrific presence as an actor and the Mahogany character on his own terms is pretty frightening, until the film does his shtick to death. Bibb is terrific and I really felt for her as the poor girlfriend dragged into a nightmare, it’s also not one of those horror flicks where the significant other doesn’t believe the protagonist’s wild predicament to the point of abandoning them, she actually tries to help and I liked that character choice. I really liked Brooke Shields as an art world shark who talent scouts Cooper’s work, there’s a directness and genuine intelligence to her acting that turns a quick cameo into something very memorable. But holy shit man, most of the film is just ridiculous, poorly lit bloodshed and I get they’re on a dark subway train underground but even then dude… find your angles, set up your lighting, set aside time to colour grade… have some fucking pride in your craft. And for god’s sake know when enough gore is enough and your audience just wants to tap out and go watch Candyman again, another film based on Barker lore that knows when to use violence to shock or frighten, not to beat us over the head with it like Mahogany and his hammer until we’re in a vegetative state and just want to turn the tv off. A midnight meat train wreck if I ever saw one.
So what can be said about Hellbound: Hellraiser II.. well for starters it’s so fucking off the map crazy that it makes the first film look like a modest teaser trailer. It’s like they gathered up the entire collective special effects team employed by Hollywood in the 80’s, turned them upside down to see what shook loose and the result was this bonkers, smor-gore-sbord of a flick.
In the first film the Cenobites and all manner of pandemonium they brought with them were largely limited to the confines of one very haunted house, where they tormented the humans within. This time we follow what’s left of these people, namely Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) as she ventures into the hellish realm that these things come from and… well it’s quite a wild ride. After finding herself in an asylum run by a mad doctor (Kenneth Cranham) who gets a little too curious with that ol’ Rubik’s cube, she gets sucked into a portal and spit out onto a vast labyrinthine plane of pure evil, and that’s pretty much all there is for story. Oh and some neato backstory elements to the Cenobites that show they weren’t always supernatural dominatrix freaks, I liked that touch.
Honestly I preferred this over the first one simply for the level of ambition and sheer lunacy thrown at it and it’s ability to (mostly) hold up a coherent story throughout the din. Setting the story within the dimension of hell itself allows for so many more effects, cues, scares and opens up the tableaux much wider. Also, this picks up pretty much right where the first left off and as such we’re plopped down right in the mayhem whereas the first took some time and held back while lore was established. Sound, fury, gore and momentum propel this onto a level that is impressive even in the land of bonkers 80’s horror sequels. The loony surgeon whose fault the horrors are this time around gets a grisly Pokémon type evolution that has to be seen to be believed, not to mention a metropolis of stone catacombs where anything can happen, a Cenobite vs Cenobite Mortal Kombat death match and some weird sentient floating monolith thing that hovers over the land and looks down like Sauron’s eye. That isn’t even to mention the hundreds of gallons of blood, guts, pus, fake tissue, gristle and glorious glistening body horror on display. A true step up from the first and one hell of a twisted flick.
“Jesus wept!” exclaims a character in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser before being ripped to shreds. No kidding, and I bet David Cronenberg did too. Explaining the plot of rgis film to someone who hasn’t seen it can be vague and pretty bizarre. “Magic evil Rubik’s cube has the power to summon mutilated, sadomasochist beings from hell who inflict both pain and pleasure by maiming, mauling, dismembering and otherwise dispatching those who called for them in the most inventively graphic ways possible.” Well it is that, but you kind of have to watch it all unfold yourself to see how cool it actually is or it just sounds weird.
Many horror films start by showing a family moving into a house that has a dubious past and so does this but where it goes from there will floor you. Andrew Robinson (cast against type here as a meek dude) is a chatty yuppie who moves his new wife (Claire Higgins) into a family inherited home for some relaxation. Never mind that there’s maggots and decrepitude everywhere, the real danger is the lingering ghost of his reckless alpha male brother Frank (Sean Chapman in a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke which I would have paid big money to see) who got too curious with aforementioned Rubik’s cube and started all kind of trouble. Before too long his half dead corpse is resurrected, Robinson’s young daughter (Ashley Lawrence) becomes involved as do the inter-dimensional Cenobites and yes, all kinds of hell is raised.
It’s cool to see the impact that one film can have on so much in culture after it, the ultra gory practical effects, kinky costume design and overall distinct vibe here has obviously gone on to influence everything from Jacob’s Ladder, Event Horizon, Beetlejuice to countless video games and graphic novels. Pinhead is now an iconic character to the point where people know him before they do the film but back here he wasn’t even called Pinhead, credited simply as ‘Lead Cenobite.’ Every infamous legacy has its beginnings though and this is quite an arresting, gruesome, atmospheric and deliberately weird piece of cosmic horror. The performances are all sensual 80’s melodrama which just somehow works, the score is a bombastic orchestral overture courtesy of Christopher Young but it’s really the special effects that win the day here. Whether it’s a corpse crawling across the floor with no skin, razor sharp meat hooks ripping though flesh, living room walls opening up into other worlds or the startling, otherworldly design of the Cenobites themselves, this is one visually gorgeous piece of horror and looks even better on Blu Ray.
Seems to me NIGHTBREED had been out for a while before I made a point of sitting down to watch it. I’d seen the trailer a bunch of times, been curious, but it wasn’t until I read the illustrated screenplay that I admit to really becoming hell bent on checking it out.
It is at once a phantasmagoria, a dark fantasy, a love story – a rich, self-contained world that seemed on the verge. But, as I would discover, the powers that be didn’t receive from Clive Barker what they were hoping for. He had produced for them two Hellraiserpictures, thus they made the mistake of assuming they were set to receive yet another study in fear. Especially with a title like, Nightbreed. Hence you have the reason for the fractured state of the movie and all the subsequent releases and restorations – the producers attempting to fashion the movie into something it was never meant to be.
What you ultimately take away from Barker’s monster-piece is the feeling of wanting more – and not just a re-cut of the existing elements. I suppose that’s why the idea of a Nightbreed series, I feel, would work better than another motion picture. There is so much to mine, so many characters – along with my favorite, Kinski (played by my guest Nicholas Vince), that I would love to see make a return.
So, kick back and enjoy our discussion on all things concerned with the tribes of the moon. “God’s an Astronaut. Oz is Over the Rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live.”
Clive Barker’s Candyman is bar none one of the best horror films ever made. Many factors can take credit for that, but the two chief among them are Tony Todd’s performance as Daniel Robitaille, the hook handed, honey voiced spectre that haunts even the frames he doesn’t appear in, and Philip Glass’s beautiful yet terrifying electronic score that rips through the story like a rogue orchestral piece with a life of its own. Production design and locations are also key here, as they filmed in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini Green Project for real, and it makes all the difference. Candyman is one of those urban legends, the angry ghost of an ex slave who was murdered, and now gets resurrected to raise hell whenever someone says his name in a mirror five times. That someone here happens to be college professor Virginia Madsen, who has heard whispered rumours among the locals and decides to research it a little too closely. Before she knows it she’s seeing Robitaille everywhere, dead bodies are starting to pile up and she begins to look an awful lot like the culprit. With the help of her boyfriend (Xander Berkeley) and colleague (Kasi Lemmons, always fantastic) she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery but Candyman is a tough curse to shake, and the killing doesn’t stop. Many of the actors here are genuine residents of the Green, providing both authenticity and a very human quality to the film. Todd is now something of a household name and has achieved cult status for this role, it pretty much set him up for good in the horror genre and it’s no wonder, he’s a hypnotic dark angel as Robitaille, with both seething menace and a crazy calm lurking behind those eyes. There’s moments of real fright that hold up to this day as truly chilling shockers, such as a kid getting ambushed off camera by Candyman in a park restroom and the horrific aftermath of a dog’s murder coupled with a missing baby, brought to life by Vanessa Williams’s vivid, heartbreaking performance as the mother. This is how you create an effective horror film, by balancing gore with story and character, creating an atmosphere in which we feel both lulled by the sights and sounds but always unsafe as to what could be lurking through that bathroom medicine cabinet or dark, graffiti scrawled hallway. A classic. There’s two sequels that aren’t too awful thanks solely to Todd’s presence, but they come nowhere close to this one.
Hellraiser: Inferno marks the first juncture in the franchise where ideas deviated beyond the formula set in place by the first borderline surreal, masochist piece.
Gone is the dreamy, sordid aesthetic used back then, the Cenobites who were front and centre are reduced to limited appearances and the story is less otherworldly and something decidedly more noirish and down to earth. Whether that’s accepted by franchise die-hards and horror hounds alike is subjective, but I didn’t mind it’s slow burn approach or sidewinding tone. Craig Sheffer, the closest thing you’ll get to Josh Brolin without breaking the bank, plays a crooked Detective who finds himself dragged down a rabbit hole of creepy, murderous goings-on when he’s assigned to hunt a serial killer known as ‘The Engineer’. Of course the murders always seem one step ahead of his grasp, and naturally dark secrets from his sketchy past are brought to light as he gradually begins to lose his mind. Doug Bradley does eventually return as the iconic Pinhead, with a few members of the Cenobite posse, but their presence is kept mostly on the back burner for quite a while. Taking antagonist duties for a while instead is Sheffer’s eerie psychiatrist, played with sinister charm and knowing charisma by James Remar, a dubious fellow with a few tricks up his own sleeve. This is the one entry that sticks out from the franchise in it’s diversion from the usual path of distinct, abstract psychosexual horror and mutes the whole icy nightmare down to rebuild a story in it’s own image. You’ll either appreciate the initiative, or you’ll miss the good ol’ freakshow of the original film. Up to you.
Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers has a reputation as one of the lesser quality adaptations of his work, which led me to put off watching it for years. Well I don’t know what film the critics saw, cause the one I watched was wicked good. Nestled in that perfect area of 80’s horror where the blood was corn syrup, the flesh was latex, there wasn’t a pixel or rendering in sight and atmospherics mattered more than excessive violence, this is one serious piece of horrific eye candy with the backbone of King’s wicked imagination to hold it steady. The story tells of a small Midwestern town (is there any other kind in the man’s work?) That falls prey to a pair of vampire werewolf hybrid creatures who subside off the blood of virgins and morph into slimy behemoths that conveniently show off the impressive prosthetics. Brian Krause is one of said creatures, drifting into town with his creepy mother (the wonderful Alice Krige) and setting his sights on severely virginal schoolgirl Madchen Amick, by dialing up the charm past eleven. People and animals start to die all over town and the suspicions arise, but the pair are cunning and have most likely been doing this for centuries almost unnoticed. It’s nothing too unique as far as the concept goes, but the fun of it lies in the gooey special effects and one demon of a performance from Krige, a veteran stage actress. She is one part beautiful seductress (even to her son, in one unsettling scene) and one part volatile banshee, setting your nerves on edge time and time again throughout the film. Krause does the demonic James Dean thing nicely and Amick shows blossoming reilience beneath the required mantle of terrified cream queen. The three of them run amok in a beautifully realized fever dream of psycho sexualized terror, small town atmospherics and a classic old school horror climate. This film loves it’s cameos, so watch for Clive Barker, Ron Perlman as a grouchy state trooper and King himself as the world’s dumbest graveyard caretaker. Baffles me why this was panned upon release. It’s actually one of the best films I’ve seen based on King’s horror work, and there’s a lot to compete with.