Tag Archives: creepy

Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate

For a film about some book written by the Devil, old Satan is curiously absent from Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, a gorgeous looking but frustratingly muddled and ultimately incomprehensible pseudo religious mumbo jumbo thriller starring Johnny Depp and his trusty librarian’s man purse. Depp is Dean Corso, a rare book dealer known to be ‘thoroughly unscrupulous’ by his peers for his cunning habit of ripping off clueless clients. He’s a decent-ish guy though and is moral enough to be kind of shook when millionaire manuscript collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella, never hammier) and his hilarious pinstripe suit commission him to track down an ancient volume said to be written by Lucifer himself. This leads him on a Europe trotting spot of intrigue to compare Balkan’s copy to two others and look for clues that might help this collective bunch of spooky book nerds summon the devil… or something like that. This is either one complex film that was just beyond my tired ass or one confused film that Polanski didn’t really know what to do with other than give it the slow burn Rosemary’s Baby effort. The problem is, there’s nothing in the kerosene lamp *to* slow burn here, it’s just an undercooked series of chases, extended discussions on theology and satanism and one very silly, very cliched summoning ceremony complete with baroque robes and hundreds candlelit stone chambers as only rural Europe can provide. What works about it? The supporting cast is nicely placed. Langella has a lot of fun as the maniacal zealot and I was thinking the whole time that they just should have casted *him* as the Devil to amp up the proceedings, he already has the look. Lena Olin is appropriately savage as a vicious cultist bitch who fornicates with Depp and runs off into the night. The underrated James Russo has a nice bit as Dean’s rare book dealer buddy. Impossibly sexy Emmanuelle Seigner is some supernatural siren who follows Depp around like a vulture and uses her snazzy powers to assist him when necessary, for purposes the film never feels the need to even tell us. There’s a terrifically unconventional score by Wojciech Kilar, who also put his talents towards eccentrically spooky work in Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is perfectly suited for oddly eerie compositions. Depp is strangely ineffective here and is either stressed, smoking, slamming cocktails or wandering about in a trench coat daze while nondescript forces of muddy menace muster around him. And the ending? Fuck if I know, man. I mean it works as a neat tour guide of some really pretty Europeans cities and towns, the atmosphere is very evocative, the supporting actors all give wonderful work but it’s like somehow the lynchpin of it all, and I suspect it’s the script, is just… absent. It’s sad because this premise with all the talent involved should have been something truly frightening and memorable and instead it’s just kind of.. meh.

-Nate Hill

Basketball porcupines from outer space: Nate takes a look at the Critters franchise

This one kind of demands to be observed and reviewed as a quadrilogy instead of four separate films because they flow into one another and so do many horror franchises that spawned a ton of sequels, but each of the Critters films are under ninety minutes and therefore easy to binge. Add to that the fact that there’s a handy DVD four pack floating around out there for extra convenience and you’ve got one cool little package. It would be easy to dismiss these films as a giant ripoff of Gremlins and indeed there are discernible parallels but there is both enough anatomical and characteristically different features to these creatures as well as narrative originality in the films themselves to make them a franchise worthy of distinction. Plus, ya know, Leonardo DiCaprio in his first movie, like, ever.

So what are Critters? They’re an extremely troublesome, destructive race of outlaw aliens that kind of resemble a hybrid between porcupines, gorillas and… basketballs. They arrive on earth and quite literally roll around like basketballs with no real plan other than to evade a couple shape shifting cosmic bounty hunters dispatched to exterminate them as well as bite, chew, maim and terrify every human being they come across. The first film would kind of have an Amblin/Spielberg vibe if the critters weren’t so savage and R rated in nature, which is a perfect example of why this isn’t simply a Gremlins rehash. The evolved Mogwai were nasty little shits, no doubt, but these things are positively murderous and inflict the kind of gore that Romero would be proud of. The first two films take place in wistful Grover’s Bend, one of those sleepy little American towns where nothing bad ever happens until it does and then the town is never known for anything else *except* that incident. An apple pie rural family headed up by the great Dee Wallace must confront them and defend their farmhouse from critter advances in super gory, chaotic fashion. Oh and Billy Zane shows up with a painfully 80’s ponytail too, before being quickly dispatched in a barn. The second film is more of the same although they thought they could sneakily recast the great M. Emmett Walsh with decidedly less iconic Barry Corbin as the town Sheriff, nice try. The third film is the most effective and not just for Leo Dicaprio but also because the setting change from rural county to dilapidated big city tenement building is way more spookily atmospheric, and allows for some hilarious hijinks with a laundry chute. The fourth film should be great because it’s that obligatory horror entry that’s set in space (like Jason X or Leprechaun In Space or.. wasn’t there even a Hellraiser in space?) but it kind of plods along in humdrum territory, the critters don’t even show up until like over halfway through and the only really memorable work comes from the ever awesome Brad Dourif and the luminous Angela Bassett.

The one character besides the Critters that holds these four flicks together is a town drunk turned intergalactic warrior played by Don Keith Opper, who is kind of a weird, aloof dude but provides each new film with eccentric gusto while new supporting players surround him. DiCaprio shows signs of his career to come and carries the highlight third entry nicely, while the first two feel very much akin to one another in a sort of Halloween and Halloween 2 kind of way. Low budget slapdash cheese like this is my bread and butter, I’m very fond of 80’s trash horror franchises like this and was beyond stoked to see the DVD at Walmart last second before going through the til and be able to binge all four films in one night. They’re great fare of this shit is your cup of tea, and they have this maniacal, almost Evil Dead style comedic sensibility to them that I greatly appreciated. My favourite scene of the whole thing: Dee Wallace brandishes a giant double barrel shotgun out her front door to ward off two Critters incoming up the driveway. Suddenly they speak to each other in some Furby gibberish with subtitles, one observing “They have weapons!” “So?”, his buddy retorts. Dee fires off a round that obliterates one of the two beasts into a puddle of fur and blood. The other one looks over and exclaims “Fuck!” in their weird little outer space creole dialect. I love that warped sense of humour gifted unto these scrappy little flicks, they’re a ton of fun.

-Nate Hill

Fritz Böhm’s Wildling

It’s always neat when a filmmaker gets to direct a feature for the first time and gain traction with their debut, one can sometimes get a sense of a fascinating career to come from an artist’s initial output. German director Fritz Böhm scores huge points in this arena with his debut feature Wildling, a wonderful concoction of folk horror sensibilities, a coming of age tale, lycanthropic creature effects, moody ethereal atmospheres and odes to Grimm Fairytale lore. It’s a lot to take on but never feels like too much for him or his accomplished cast of actors who all give beautiful performances.

Ana (Bel Powley) is a young girl who is raised alone in a remote cabin by a man she knows only as Daddy (Brad Dourif). He tells her her she cannot go outside for fear of the Wildling, a monster who eats children and hunts for her as she is the last of her kind. When she becomes a teenager things get complicated and through circumstance she finds herself in the outside world, a small town whose Sheriff (Liv Tyler) takes her in. She’s changing though and as the encroaching Northwest wilderness surrounds the town like an elemental spirit, so too does her emerging true nature haunt these people and cause fear and hatred, especially in a few folks who have hunted her race in the nearby mountains for generations while a mysterious, silent woodsman (cult actor James LeGros is right at home in this type of thing) hover around the woods around them.

This is an absolutely gorgeous film and hits hard for a number of reasons. Powell is a great find and turns confused naïveté into fearsome, raw primal power in a very physical performance. Brad Dourif is legendary and pretty much incapable of work that is not astonishing, and here too he provides a tragic, violent, conflicted and very intense portrayal of a man whose actions and decisions follow him like a storm. The film is beautifully shot, fluidly edited, the story is rich, deep yet never over complicated or stuffed with any stale exposition. Paul Haslinger, formerly of Tangerine Dream, composers an earthy, ambient and altogether classic original score full of nature’s essence, the danger of forests at night and the visceral thrill of discovering ones very own identity for the first time. It’s drama, horror, folklore and more in one seamless package and I love it.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Tim Curry is GingerClown

It’s the great Tim Curry’s birthday so let’s look at a horror movie where he plays an evil clown… and no it’s not that one you’re all thinking of. Gingerclown is an awful, trashy, cheesy piece of crap and I loved every excruciating minute of it, despite probably losing a year or so of my life sitting through the entire 80 minutes of it (it somehow feels way longer). The ‘plot’ is barely there: an asshole jock makes the nerdy kid go into an abandoned amusement park in exchange for a kiss with his ditzy girlfriend. This carnival happens to be haunted by sadistic Gingerclown (Curry) and his merry band of prosthetic monsters who are somehow voiced by an all star genre cast that the budget feels like it suspiciously went only to. The acting of all the teens will make your eyes and ears bleed, the dialogue is so far beyond cliche it could be the fucking textbook on cliches. It feels like a terribly failed Tim Burton pastiche mixed with a low rent version of like Critters of Ghoulies with the fluid drenched, jerky animatronic effects and the whole thing feels sloppy, cheap and incredibly shitty. But you know me, I lap this cheap shit up like pigs at a trough, genre garbage is my formative bread and butter and this one is a fucking laugh. The actors are all having a ball including Lance Henriksen as a hung-ho ‘BrainEater’, Brad Dourif as a morbidly obese ‘Worm Creature’ and Sean Young as ‘Nelly The Spiderwoman’, the only one who approaches anything remotely resembling scary. Curry himself has a ball as titular Gingerclown, a cackling maniac who makes the most out of lines like “ Quack quack quacker… time to die, motherfucker!!” as he clumsily ambles down a hallway brandishing a rubber ducky. Like, wow. This guy is like Pennywise’s retarded twin brother who never made the big time. The sets are ambient enough, colourful and interesting but the lighting is super dark and muddy so it’s tough to tell what’s going on but that’s probably just to hide the hilariously primitive effects. This was written and directed by a Hungarian dude and often when someone from a different country tries to do a genre throwback to an era of American movies it ends up horribly tome deaf via the culture gap which is kinda the vibe here, the dialogue feels like it was fed through a short circuited algorithm. But hey if you’re in the mood for some ultimate trash of the trashiest, SHITTIEST variety then get drunk and give Gingerclown a go.

-Nate Hill

Misunderstood Oddity: Lindsay Lohan in I Know Who Killed Me

Imagine if Paul Verhoeven and Dario Argento co-directed a deranged, kinky, surreal sequel to The Parent Trap by way of the Black Dahlia but called it the Blue Dahlia instead and you have something vaguely approximating the essence of I Know Who Killed Me, a truly bizarre Lindsay Lohan film that is one of the worst reviewed universal flops out there. Is it really that bad? I’m not sure to be honest, this isn’t really a film you watch, it just sort of… happens to you, and then leaves you in the dust to reconcile your feelings about it.

There’s a scene in Martin McDonough’s comedy classic Seven Psychopaths where Sam Rockwell asks Christopher Walken for feedback on his totally outlandish script pitch and Walken, without saying whether he liked it or not, dryly replies “I was paying attention, I’ll tell you that.” That’s kind of how I feel about this one, there was never a dull moment but I still can’t really decide whether it’s my thing. I’ll tell you one thing though, out of the ten dozen or so reviews on IMDb, they are ALL one star heckle jobs and NO film out there deserves that no matter the quality, there can always be found in any film some element that keeps it from complete and utter dead sound flatline. Even the worst film I’ve ever seen (which we won’t speak of here) at least has some cool costume design in one segment. Anyways that level of barbaric hatred just tells me that a lot of folks weren’t irked by the film itself but rather Lohan, who was going through some shit at the time and was cruelly splashed all over the tabloids in a flurry of exaggeratedly negative light. I’ve always loved her, found her to be a fantastic talent, full of charisma and organic personality and she does a fine job here playing two roles for the third time in her career.

As the film opens she’s straight A, good girl Aubrey Fleming, who is swiftly ensnared by an especially nasty serial killer (seriously this guy is one overkill piece of work) who also took another girl in the area some time before. When the Feds find and rescue her she’s different than before, both physically and psychologically. The killer left her horribly mutilated to amputee levels and she also claims to not even be Aubrey at all but a street smart, smoky voiced stripper called Dakota Moss. Her parents (Julia Ormond and Neal McDonough) play along while an FBI appointed psychiatrist (that duplicitous US President from 24) is stumped as to what’s going on. The only one who’s stoked is Aubrey’s horn-dog boyfriend (Brian Geraghty), as Dakota is far more promiscuous than he remembers Aubrey being. And naturally the killer is still out there, inevitable soon armed with the knowledge that Aubrey got away, or there’s another one of her, or whatever is going on, which is somehow really obvious yet also crazily convoluted.

This film wants to be a lot of things and I admire its relentless can-do spirit in trying them all, but as I get to the last paragraph of my review I must concede that it’s kind of a fucking hot mess. As anyone who has dated a hot mess knows, however, they can be a lot of fun provided you get to the exits in time before the projector catches fire and luckily this thing doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and is never boring. It wants to do the sultry David Lynch luridly noir thing (there’s more blue roses on display than David ever used in Twin Peaks and watch for a cameo from the Mulholland Drive evil hobo who’s also The Nun), it strives for the shocking, stark gore and colour splashes of an Italian Giallo horror film and isn’t half bad at that, then it tries it’s luck at slinky Brian De Palma thriller territory, all the while struggling to retain a vastly uneven vibe of sexual madness, esoteric horror atmosphere, cryptic (then not so cryptic) mystery, stigmata subplots, saturated transitions that look like the cat walked across the colour timing keyboard and just… so much stuff crammed into one film that is supposedly ‘one of the worst films ever made.’ It’s certainly bad, both in quality and the kinky nature of its R rated content, but it’s in no way as terrible as you’ve been made to believe since it’s release in 2007, in the heyday of Lohan’s career meltdown. That just goes to show you how the public often look at any given film from the perspective of ‘celebrity star status’ and what’s going on in entertainment news rather than the work itself isolated from all that sensationalist bullshit, which is a shame really because there’s more than enough sensationalist shit in this film to go around without hounding Lohan about her personal life and addiction issues and deliberately damning a film that doesn’t deserve it, but that’s sadly the brainless, shallow nature of most of North America. Grisly B movie madness with a touch of something I can’t even explain and I bet the film itself couldn’t either, but that’s part of the loony charm.

-Nate Hill

Gaming with Nate: The Thing for PlayStation 2

Ever wonder what happens after the perfectly ambiguous ending to John Carpenter’s The Thing? I mean that film is pretty much perfect and never did really need a sequel, however.. in 2002 there was a follow up game for PS2 set directly after the film and its actually way goddamned better than it has any right to be, and miles better than that stagnant 2011 CGI turd. This is an appropriately atmospheric shooter that takes place almost immediately after the film as a battle hardened group of soldiers descends on US Outpost 31 to investigate what happened to RJ Macready and everyone in his team. You play as Captain Blake (Per Solli), a stressed out military man trying to stay in control of the situation as the Thing creatures begin to wake up and prey on his men one by one, just like they did with Macready’s people, and the Norwegians before them. There’s all kinds of gooey nastiness here, scuttling arachnid inspired beasties, giant glistening behemoths and evening disfigured humanoid cretins who unnervingly chase you around. This is a shooter so primarily it’s running and firefights so not quite as much delicious terror and suspense as the film but one cool thing is the level of distrust and unease they’ve injected into the gameplay in several different ways. Your comrades can turn on you at the drop of a hat and get hostile or suspicious, and likewise any one of them at any given time can be revealed as one of the things and fiercely attack you, so in that sense the dread from the film carries over nicely. It’s good stuff, it retains the hard, cold edge we remember from the film too and is exciting in spades. John Carpenter himself has a cameo too as a doctor and has gone on record saying this game is canon to The Thing mythology, which is pretty cool. Listen for William B. Davis (The Smoking Man from X Files) too as a Colonel with no time for anyone’s bullshit. Solid game and interesting chapter in this story.

-Nate Hill

Gaming with Nate: Larry Fessenden’s Until Dawn for PlayStation 4

Any fans of the classic 80’s slasher aesthetic will appreciate Until Dawn, a complex yet simplistic mystery horror game with some very unique twists on the medium. A group of young friends are in for quite the weekend when they decide to reunite one year after two of their friends disappeared mysteriously on remote, snowy Mount Washington. Ringleader Joshua (Rami Malek before he blew up big time) has a family chalet lodge up there, which is in rough shape with no power, and as they settle in for the night, bicker, hook up and deal with the kind of petty drama you only get at that age, someone else on the mountain starts to stalk and murder them, someone connected to their friends disappearing a year ago. The cool thing here is you don’t play as just one single character, but all of them and there’s at least like six from what I recall. As you rotate through their ranks you make many psychological choices as each character that affect not only your relationship to others, but your shelf life as a member of the team and even how your immediate environment changes over the course of the night. There’s curious talismans to pick up, each associated with a quick audio visual ‘clue clip’ that can be accessed in the menu anytime to decipher the mystery and find out what’s going on. Elsewhere in dreamy vignettes you’re sitting POV style as a mystery character while a very odd psychiatrist (Peter Stormare in full on kooky Peter Stormare mode) probes you for answers, his methods becoming increasingly bizarre with each new cutscene until it becomes apparent he’s probably not anything close to a licensed professional. The game is written and created by horror veteran Larry Fessenden (Wendigo, The Last Winter) so the wintry atmosphere is excellently, eerily done, plus he also plays a character called Flamethrower Guy who factors into the story in ways you might not expect. The visuals are breathtakingly gorgeous, from a stunning, dead quiet gondola ride up the mountain that sets a mood of desolation nicely to almost photorealistic motion capture work on the actors that is impressively lifelike. The technique allows each character to look identical to their respective actors so aside from spitting image versions of Malek and Stormare we get scene stealer Hayden Panetierre too as the tomboy of the group. Evocative setting, strong horror elements in terms of both gore and suspense, intricate innovation in design and gameplay that allows you to play through the game nearly a hundred different ways based on choice and consequence, a haunting rendition of Ralph Stanley’s O Death by Amy Van Roekel over the opening credits, this has a lot going for it and is one of the coolest horror games you can find out there.

-Nate Hill