Tag Archives: creepy

Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse

I don’t really have a clever lead-in line to Roger Egger’s The Lighthouse for this review, partly because I’m still not sure just what the fuck I watched and partly because I’m processing the giddy traumas this thing inflicts on a viewer. One thing I’m sure of is the sheer elemental wonder of this film, it’s an intimate experience of immense power, a loving ode to black and white films overall, a pulverizing experience in off the wall horror, a terrific dose of briny black comedy, a dual character study for the ages, a gooey Lovecraft homage and one of the most hysterically intense viewing experiences of the year and perhaps ever.

From the moment Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake and Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow set foot on the rock that is to be their home for months, there is an oppressive maritime aura like no other, made so by several key factors. The haunting black and white photography by Jarin Blaschke is at once chilly, gorgeous and all encompassing, the creaky original score by Mark Korven has retro sensibilities and practically leaks dread off the screen and Eggers chooses to frame his story in the 1.19:1 aspect ratio used by early B&W filmmakers like F.W. Murnau. These aspects combined craft one unforgettable, deeply disquieting package, and I haven’t even raved about the performances yet. Dafoe and Pattinson give the kind of towering, monumental, thunderous turns that make you scared for them and want to yell cut before they’re lost to the maelstrom of their own mania. Dafoe is a creepy, crusty, brittle old salt who bellows, farts, berates and abuses Pattinson’s Winslow, a greenhorn who quickly loses his keen edge to the drink and the intangible, perhaps supernatural forces surrounding them. It’s a macabre treat watching these two poor sods race each other headlong towards madness helped by copious amounts of rum, the gnawing reality of isolation and the ever present wailing of seagulls which, as Dafoe makes clear, are bad luck to kill.

Word of warning with this one though: this is very much a bizarre, knowingly fucked up arthouse film and worlds apart from Egger’s hailed previous effort ‘The Witch,’ which for all its insanity actually had a coherent and decipherable story. With The Lighthouse he strives more for abstract, surreal and often impenetrable imagery and has no interest in providing concrete reasons or resolution for what’s seen, heard and felt. I myself prefer this style much more than conventional storytelling but it’s not for everyone and for better or worse there will be no viewer, however thick-skinned, left undisturbed. In any case this is one unique and impressive piece of work; Dafoe and Pattinson howl their way through impossibly long and intricate monologues (cue the original script and acting Oscars), the wind shrieks through the gorgeously designed set, a beautiful but terrifying mermaid (Valeriia Karamen) screams like a banshee out on the barnacle stained rocks and the ever present beam of the lighthouse (sometimes seeming eerily similar to the projector beam within the cinema itself) pierces the New England fog and sees all. A masterpiece and one of the very best films of the year thus far.

-Nate Hill

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Eduardo Sanchez & Daniel Myrick’s The Blair Witch Project

Ask me what the scariest movie I’ve ever seen is and time after time I’ll answer The Blair Witch Project. Sure it has it’s skeptics, cynics and badasses who aren’t phased but they’re the houseflies of the genre, constantly buzzing to one up each other. It’s much more fun to embrace when something scares the shit out of you and give it credit where it’s due. The most interesting thing about this film is the sheer amount of money made versus spent, it’s the ultimate minimalist experiment that swept the nation, landscaped the horror genre for decades to come and scared the fucking piss out of millions of people, myself included. So why is it so scary? Nothing completely descriptive happens, you never even see the witch and the ending is opaque.. but it’s exactly those reasons that make it so effective. Picture yourself in the woods at night; you’re already scared by the threatening elemental magic that only forests at night can offer, then you hear something in the trees, something overtly and obviously creepy. But you never see it. If a werewolf, witch, goblin or politician came barreling out of the woods then that once nameless fear is now right in front of you, and you are now faced with the prospect of overcoming it, the unknown element vanished. All this film gives you is that unknown element, for the entire 85 runtime, and ends on an ambiguously pitched note. It’s the withholding of what exactly is out there, along with other aspects, that makes this so haunting and a point that most horror movies inexplicably can’t seem to grasp. From the moment that documentary crew sets out there’s a cursed feeling because you know they’re headed for no good, then when they get hopelessly lost you feel the same panic they do. As the night wears on and they are forced to set up camp, they can hear eerie noises down by the river, babies crying and discover weird occult stick figures placed around their vicinity. This is when the true blood freezing terror sets in because now they are they so lost they’re not even sure what county they’re in anymore and whatever’s following them gets in their faces with increasing regularity and terrifying methods of approach. Much of the film happens at night, shot on shaky home video (this is bar one for found footage horror, the best there is) and the three actors playing these doomed guerilla auteurs are fantastically believable in their descent into panic, dread and mania. The final five minutes have since become legend and rightly so but the whole package is an impossibly terrifying nightmare from which it feels like there is no escape, and indeed for these poor people there ultimately is not. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2

Rob Zombie was always going to make the jump from musician to filmmaker, you could just feel it in the air and it also felt apparent that he’d be a successful one too, unlike a few of his compadres (poor Dee Snider). The term shock rock has been applied to his work and that can be said of his films too; he’s always been about brash, crass stylistic choices and as such it shocks *me* when people are appalled at his films and their off putting nature, I mean this is Rob Zombie the heavy metal guy we’re talking about here, not someone innocuous like Barry Levinson. What consistently surprises me about his work in film is that along with all the appropriately trashy, nasty imagery and visual grotesquerie there is a strong drive to explore themes, cultivate mature, realistic characters and build worlds that feel like our our own to tell his scary stories in. This is all apparent in his Halloween 2 which I feel is an overlooked, misunderstood piece of horror madness and brilliance.

Being a huge fan of his original Halloween reboot I was surprised and curious at his decision to follow it up, because the first stands on its own and wraps up very nicely in the final moments, in its own way and as a calling card to Carpenter’s original. But he and the Myers name made Dimension Films a big pile of money and this film went ahead, which I’m grateful for. His vision of H2 is a spectacularly terrifying, relentlessly bleak and disarmingly psychological one, worlds away from his first outing and while it still bears the profane, yokel brand of his dialogue writing in spots, this is some of the most down to earth filmmaking he’s done. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) is a mess following events past, and understandably so. She lives with her friend Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris, a perennial totem of the franchise) and Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif), barely coping with constant nightmares, waking dreams and hallucinations from her trauma and sees a psychiatrist (the great Margot Kidder) who doesn’t prove to be all that effective. Malcolm McDowell’s once helpful and compassionate Dr. Loomis has fought his own trauma by drinking hard and becoming a cynical, nasty media whore who cruelly makes it public that Laurie is in fact Michael’s baby sister, which doesn’t help her mental climate much. Add to this the fact that Michael did indeed survive that fateful Halloween night and is slowly making his way back to Haddonfield for round two and you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm.

This film is horror to its core but I also love how Zombie dutifully explores Post traumatic stress disorder in brutally realistic fashion, something that none of the other films in the series bothered to look at, seriously anyways. Compton is fantastic in a picture of hell as Laurie here, disheveled and dissociated to dangerous levels and damaged by Michael’s evil beyond repair. Michael (Tyler Mane) is different too, spending much of the film without his mask and followed by ethereal visions of his long dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and otherworldly, surreal demonic figures who spur him on in haunting dream sequences. Dourif is emotionally devastating as Brackett and people sometimes forget just what kind of dramatic heavy lifting this guy is capable of. He plays a nice, kind man who only ever tried to protect his daughter and Laurie both and when they collectively pass through the event horizon of being able to heal from the horror, the anguish and heartbreak in his performance shakes you to the bone. Zombie populated his supporting ranks with a trademark bunch of forgotten genre faces like Daniel Roebuck, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Richard Rhiele, Howard Hesseman, Mark Boone Jr, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Duane Whitaker and Sean Whalen and new talent like Brea Grant, Nancy Birdsong, Octavia Spencer, Angela Trimbur and, uh… Weird Al Yankovic too. Michael spends much of the film on his journey back to Haddonfield here after escaping a percussive ambulance crash (perhaps of his own elemental making) and as such many of the shots we get are him on the moors, farmlands and eerie fields of the neighbouring counties, haunting the land like some restless spirit until it comes time to kill once again. The atmosphere is one of dread and abstract mental unrest as we see each character, including Michael himself, begin to lose it. It all culminates in a horrifying, darkly poetic confrontation complete with a hectic police chopper and all the careening madness we can expect from Zombie’s vision of this world. Then he decides to give this legacy a disquieting send off that works sadly and beautifully by bringing back the song Love Hurts, this time crooned softly by Nan Vernon instead of a raucous strip bar sound system. Whether you’re attuned to Zombie’s aesthetic or not, there’s just no denying his artistic style, commitment to world building and brave openness in reinvention and experimentation within an established mythos. Great film.

-Nate Hill

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows

Have sex with the wrong person and It will follow you around, until It kills you. ‘It’ is very obviously a metaphor for STI’s but also could be seen as many different things. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a high concept, slow burn, atmosphere smoked, synth saturated piece of sheer simultaneous beauty and terror, one of the finest and most influential pieces of horror filmmaking of the last few decades. The concept here is like some urban legend you’d hear at a house party: teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with a strange boy from a neighbouring county, after which he ties her up and informs her that something, which can look like anyone, will follow her around relentlessly until it kills her, then resume following him and go back down the chain of sleeping around to whoever pissed it off in the first place. It only walks, mind you, but that’s almost worse because it comes across as more nightmarish and only prolongs the inevitable. Along with her sister (Lili Sepe) and some friends they form a makeshift posse to both outrun, outwit or simply beat the shit out of It until it leaves her alone.

This film works wonders for many different reasons other than the horror, which is chillingly effective. The concept alone works to stir up the kind of fear you don’t cultivate with gore, jump scares or cheap ghoulish tricks. This is the kind of horror that creeps up and sits down beside you during the film until you are uneasy beyond words, then gets up and follows you home when the credits roll. There are several practical set pieces involving this thing stalking them that should be used as textbook examples on how to raise hell within the genre. The performances are fantastic as well, particularly Monroe and Sepe, making these kids feel vaguely 80’s, kind of contemporary but always in a kind of dreamy, faraway laidback state that slips right in with the atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, one of the key elements here is the unnerving original score from Disasterpeace. It’s sometimes melodic and aerial, sometimes jagged and abrasive but always serves the scene and provides an auditory dreamscape for character and audience alike, giving a voice to the mute fiend that hunts them and lacing the dereliction of the Detroit setting with dread. The monster itself is representative of STD’s and that’s the main theme to read but there’s deeper linings to it as well. Her sister remarks at one point how when she was younger their parents wouldn’t let them stray past 8 Mile and how she didn’t understand why. It can almost be seen as a spectral manifestation of the unseen, unmapped, wilder areas of our urban sprawl, the mounting decay in any given city and the forces that govern it and perhaps eventually follow us back to the sanctuary of home. Whatever you choose to read into it, this is one fine example of what can be done in the horror genre and a brilliant slice of spook pie. Hell, the five minute prologue alone is already something else.

-Nate Hill

Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale vs Evil

What if those creepy backwoods rednecks in every other horror flick aren’t creepy or homicidal at all but simply nice fellas on the wrong end of a colossal situational misunderstanding? That’s the running gag in Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil and it’s one of the flat out funniest films I’ve ever seen. Sweet, good natured Tucker & Dale (Alan Tudyuk and Tyler Labine) are two steadfast buddies who just wanna head out to their cabin for a chilled out weekend of fishing, having beers and enjoying nature. A gaggle of tiresome big city college kids have other plans though, and from the moment they blunder into their secluded rural enclave, chaos ensues. The comedy here is all a matter of perspective, prejudgment and mindset: These kids have watched too many of the kind of horror films that this one spoofs and naturally assume that any rugged looking country boy in the sticks simply must be an inbred serial murderer. As for Tucker & Dale, they just can’t figure out why a group of kids would be terrified of two unassuming, obviously affable gents like themselves and become increasingly confused when each new attempt to be nice ends in them running for the hills. It’s a hysterical premise and probably the funniest horror satire ever made, with Tudyuk and Labine giving it their all and making these two dudes not just the funniest bumpkins this side of the Ozarks but actual sweet, well developed human characters too. My personal favourite bit is Tudyuk taking care of an old tree stump with his chainsaw and not realizing he’s about to cut into a wasp’s nest. The next shot is a perfect example of the levels of misperception that goes on here: He comes screaming out of the woods followed by a cloud of angry wasps, chainsaw still roaring away in his hand, terrified of being stung. A few yards away the group of kids sees this and obviously thinks he’s a maniac about to chop them up. It doesn’t get much better than that with this clever, ragingly funny, on point horror comedy.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Eternal aka Trance

What do Christopher Walken and Celtic druids have in common? Well something, according to this film but I’m still not sure what I watched or how to make heads or tails out of it. Sharing the alternate titles of ‘Trance’ and ‘The Eternal’ depending on which DVD or streaming version you find, this is a kind of inexplicably odd, low key B movie about a troubled American couple (Alison Elliot and Jared Harris) who travel to rural Ireland with their young son in order to quit the sauce. Why they picked a perennially pickled country like that to come down off of booze is their business, but anyways. They end up staying with her wacky uncle Bill (Walken) who apparently is Irish but Walken makes no effort to hide his trademark accent and idiosyncratic vernacular which actually gives this thing some ironic charm. He spends his time in the basement trying to resurrect some ancient druid mummy thing and needs her help because of their bloodline or something and they spend their days arguing, listlessly parenting the kid and making every effort not to get sloshed at every turn. I don’t know what to say other than this general summary, it’s a weird little flick. Walken has found himself in the UK in cinema before playing a kooky mortician (seek out Plots With A View if you can, it’s a gem) but here I’m not really sure what or who he is supposed to be because the film has no idea where it’s going and takes it’s time not getting there. He’s always watchable no matter what though so it has that going for it I guess. Just not much in the way of a clear vision.

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror

Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror reminds me of a raucous house party where everyone shows up in costume ready to fuck shit up; there’s a huge ensemble of partygoers, some true blue old friends you haven’t seen in years, some fresh new faces and even some people outside the gaggle of usual suspects you’d usually find at this type of thing. Everyone involved ditches their professional personas and gets down n’ dirty for change, inhibitions gone and ready to not take anything too seriously for a bit. In paying loving tribute to the 70’s Grindhouse exploitation they grew up with Rodriguez and pal Tarantino produced decidedly different tales on the aesthetic for their double feature and although Quentin’s is probably the better film when you look at the big picture, Robert’s is arguably the more entertaining one.

This is a zombie flick of sorts, employing the simple premise of a US county afflicted by a killer virus accidentally unleashed by Sayid from LOST, here playing a weirdo scientist who collects dude’s testicles in a jar. Pretty soon the horrifically gooey infection spreads into the nearby towns and causes the kind of wanton, disorganized chaos that only the best B movies have to offer. Rose McGowan (before she went all psycho feminist on us) is killer good and super hot as Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer who doesn’t let the loss of her leg stop her from being an absolute badass, hooking up a high powered machine gun to assist in killing zombies. She’s joined by many including badass gunslinger El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), the grizzled local Sheriff (Michael Biehn), a BBQ slinging old salt (Jeff Fahey), the local doctor (Marley Shelton) Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks), Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas and more. The framework of the film is essentially just a loose blueprint for bloody mayhem to ensue and the huge cast to all get their moments of inspired insanity. Bruce Willis has a deranged cameo as an army lieutenant who claims to have killed Bin Laden before swelling into a gargantuan behemoth zombie and exploding, so there’s that. Tarantino himself shows up as ‘Rapist #1’ and almost gets to live up to that name before his junk literally melts off in the film’s most inspired gross out moment. My favourite aside from Biehn and Fahey (who are epic) might be Josh Brolin, poised right before his legendary Hollywood comeback and playing the psychotic Doc Block here, an initial family man who loses it and becomes a raving lunatic before he’s even bitten by a zombie. This is pure aged cheddar through and through, and unrepentant bloodbath that finds the cheap vibe it’s going for in paying tribute to the old Grindhouse flicks of yore.

-Nate Hill