Tag Archives: creepy

Scott Frank’s A Walk Among The Tombstones

These days when a film with Liam Neeson comes down the pipeline you can generally have a good idea what it’ll be about in our post-Taken era. Revenge, chases, gunfights, he’s usually in his old dude action pic groove but there’s the odd one that strays from the flock. Scott Frank’s A Walk Among The Tombstones, although encasing a few quick, breathless action scenes in its narrative, is far from the kind of film we’re used to seeing from Neeson and as a result is one of my favourites he’s done since Joe Carnahan’s The Grey.

Chilly, brutal, bloody, realistically violent and unrelentingly dark are the energies this thing traffics in. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a shambling ex cop turned private eye with some demons in his past that don’t quite hold a candle to the outright malevolence he must face this time round. He’s contacted by a shady mid level drug baron (Dan Stevens) whose wife has gone missing, and who chooses him over the cops because of their collective unique business ventures. This leads our antihero down an increasingly dangerous and suffocatingly scary on the hunt for two serial killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) who are the distilled definition of pure evil.

I’ll be frank and upfront here: this is not a pleasant viewing experience or an uplifting film, in fact it’s downright oppressive in tone and for the most part emotionally desolate. However, there’s a stark beauty to this tale and I wouldn’t let the darkness deter you from experiencing one of the best and most atmospheric and suspenseful crime thrillers in recent years. Neeson is grim, haunted and adept at doling out graphic bodily harm on anyone who prevents him from getting to the truth. The two killers, Harbour in particular, are unrepentant, sadistic monsters who you just pray will be stopped before committing another murder and making you sit through the specifics of it which the film does make you do in one instance. Stevens comes from a Downton Abbey background but there’s a fierce, implosive aura to him that works great in darker roles like this (check out his work in The Guest too). This is based on one in a series of books by Lawrence Block that all focus on Scudder’s character. Jeff Bridges played the role once back in the day in another adaptation too, but Neeson makes a fierce predator out of him, with a hidden humanity that comes forth in interactions with a street kid (Brian Bradley) who becomes his sidekick of sorts. A very overlooked film in Neeson’s filmography and just in general as well. Oh and how about those eerie, sinister opening credits for setting the tone ?

-Nate Hill

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John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars

Ghosts Of Mars, there’s a title that better get lived up to with the film therein. John Carpenter has stated himself that he never meant to make something for people to take seriously and one need only look at the title to surmise that brainpower won’t be mandatory here and you essentially get an escapist space opera set to bangin’ heavy metal music without much of a brain in its head. I feel like had this been made back in the 80’s when most of the filmmaker’s flagship stuff came out it would have been received better. I mean, all of his films have headline grabbing, B movie titles and are essentially genre driven entertainment, but this being released in 2001, maybe people expected something a little different. Anyways I had a ton of fun with it, I mean how can you not enjoy a flick called Ghosts Of Mars for fuck sake.

As a nearly deserted freight train rolls into the Martian city of Chryse, Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) is the only survivor and recalls in flashback how she and her team encountered something nasty out there that crawled out of a mining tunnel and wreaked havoc on the surrounding towns. After some trigger happy demolition work a door was opened to an ancient tomb, awakening a red cloud of what can only be called John Carpenter’s The Martian Fog. In it are evil, restless spirits who take over dead bodies and reanimate them with all the style and energy of something like Uruk Hai Orcs crosses with Cenobites by way of Rob Zombie fans. Hordes of self mutilated, angry goth punk undead storm the deserted mining camps and Ballard is forced to team up with convict Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) to survive. They’re joined by other Martian PD including Pam Grier, Jason Statham and rookie Clea Duvall who was one of my first crushes in cinema, is always low key awesome and always steals the show. Her playing a Martian Cop with uniform and gun is the height of cool and attractiveness for me and I suspect half the reason I have such a soft spot for this film.

Anyways, call it what you will but don’t expect serous entertainment here and if you do and end up disappointed you’re only letting yourself down and shouldn’t blame it on this blast of a flick. Henstridge and Sir Cube actually have pretty good chemistry whether running around blasting guns or taking a few moments of downtime. Statham gets an overwritten, goofy horn-dog role but his presence is enough to justify such hammy characterization. Grier isn’t around for long unfortunately but her very name in the credits alone is enough to land some cool points. This film has a score that sort of rips through your sound system like a bat out of hell and feels nothing like Carpenter’s usual brand of ominous, rhythmic synths. The director does do part of the composing but most of the work is delegated to NYC heavy metal band Anthrax and the result is a balls out composition that really accents the film with an edge and fits right in with the costume/set dec work, all spikes, nails, piercings and rusty sharpened melee weapons flung about. This film apparently caused Carpenter to shun the Hollywood vibe and go into exile until he made 2010’s The Ward. I wish audiences had had their heads a little less up their asses in going into it and remembered why Carpenter is so special and prolific in the first place. He makes high concept horror/action/SciFi for dedicated fans of all genres, and Ghosts Of Mars covers all bases just damn fine, no matter what years of bad press or Ice Cube himself had to say about it. It’s pretty rich for someone to go on record saying this is the worst film they’ve been involved with when they also did hot garbage like Are We There Yet, Ride Along, XXX 2, Torque and I could go on. Get real. Anyways I digress but as you can tell I love this scrappy little gem, consider it highly undervalued and would definitely recommend it. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are good buddies and have always sort of played on each other’s side of the fence in terms of creativity, collaborating here and there over the years on cool stuff, but my favourite tandem venture they ever did has to be From Dusk Till Dawn, a crime horror action schlock hybrid that has aged beautifully over the years, doesn’t fuck around in terms of packing a punch in all of the specific genres it works in and is a glowing testament to the powers of practical/prosthetic effects over CGI.

The first half of this thing is a classic Tarantino slow burn: George Clooney and Quentin himself are the Gecko brothers, a pair of murderous bank robbers in swanky suits, on the run from southern law following a bank robbery bloodbath (never actually seen a lá Reservoir Dogs) and causing violent trouble all over the rest of the state. After narrowly escaping Michael Parks’s immortal Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, they kidnap a retired preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) and make a beeline for the Mexican border and the sanctuary of an impossibly rowdy strip joint and trucker bar called… wait for it… The Titty Twister.

Once at the bar Rodriguez takes over the reins and in a split second we segue into horror most gory as our unconventional protagonists realize that this bar is actually a nest of Mexican vampires, and they’re ready to spring the trap. This includes an unbearably sexy dance from Salma Hayek’s vamp queen Santanico Pandemonium, a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini) with guns where his guns are, a literal army of hairy undead beasts, a giant rat, a human spinal column used as a saxophone, crossbows, more gallons of blood and various gore than I’ve ever seen amassed for one film and just too much else to mention.

For most folks, the first half of this film is the pay-dirt; Tarantino’s laconic, dangerous approach to the Gecko brothers’s rampage is no doubt one of the coolest things he’s written, particularly the sequence with Michael Parks and any dialogue between Keitel and Clooney, who gives probably the most fun and uninhibited performance of his career. Tarantino chomps at the bit and is downright terrifying as the worst kind of unstable psychopath, it’s the best acting work he’s ever done. I myself prefer the latter half with all the horror though.. the sheer amount of gooey lunacy, latex drenched creativity in design is something you don’t see anymore, unless it’s a deliberate throwback. The bar is populated by what seems like hundreds of varied and equally disgusting bloodsuckers until after a while and dozens of kills you get the sense that every character needs a good shower. Keitel brings a grizzled nobility to the priest, while Lewis tones down her usual bubbly mania for something decidedly more down to earth. Danny Trejo plays a grumpy vamp bartender, blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson shows up as a badass Nam vet and watch for cameos from John Hawkes, Greg Nicorato, Kelly Preston and 70’s icon John Saxon. Cheech Marin also shows up of course, in three obviously different roles because why the fuck not and has a monologue that would burn the ears off of any conservative viewer. Some will say this film is too much, and hey I’m not one to argue with them, but for me if it’s too much of anything, it’s a good thing. The horror is old school schlock-schploitation and the hard boiled crime yarn that comes before is equally stylistic and fun. It’s Quentin and Robert attuned to different wavelengths but somehow on the same frequency, and the result is a bloody, chaotic horror crime western classic.

-Nate Hill

Jordan Downey’s The Head Hunter

It’s amazing what you can do with a low budget, especially when all you’ve got to blow is thirty grand, but Jordan Downey works small scale magic with The Head Hunter, an inventive, atmospheric Viking era horror story that is one of the most creatively entertaining films I’ve seen so far this year.

In the vein of stuff like Willow and The 13th Warrior, here we see a misty, desolate Nordic landscape (actually Portugal) and the fearsome warrior (Christopher Rygh) who wanders through it in spectral, gaunt armour, always on the hunt for hordes of mythical ghosts, goblins and werewolves, a bounty hunter of sorts who displays the heads of his quarries as trophies on the wall of his forest abode. The only creature he hasn’t yet slain is the one that killed his young daughter (Cora Kaufman) years before, and it’s his brutal purpose in life to hunt this thing down over foggy mountains, through dark caves and have his vengeance. There’s an inspired sense of detail here and much of the first half we simply see his routine in studious fashion, going out to kill these beasts (mostly offscreen, as budget permits), coming home all shredded up (thank god for gooey prosthetic effects) and using a homemade magic potion to regenerative damaged tissue and heal himself. I’ve read reviews saying this is boring or slow or goes nowhere but those critics have their heads in the sand, because these extended sequences are terrific for setting up character, getting a sense for the space and time around him and treating ourselves to the lovingly handcrafted production design, from ancient manuscripts he studies to the varied heads piked up on his living room wall. When the action and horror does come later it all pays off because we’ve sat with this guy for a while, learnt his ways and are ready to see how he handles things when they go haywire. They do, but I won’t spoil the fun because there’s a few delicious twists, tons of creepy horror action and even a few genuinely poignant moments too.

This thing has an estimated budget of thirty grand, and runs for just over an hour, falling short of being an actual feature, but I know from experience just how tough it is to make a low budget work. My friends and I made a sweet horror film once that had a budget of 5 grand and the resulting product was only like eight minutes long, so I feel their pain. It’s especially apparent in horror because you need all these gory effects, costumes and exotic sets and whatnot, so it can be tough. The constraints are obvious here but I think that what Downey has accomplished with what he had is phenomenal. The setting looks beautifully eerie, atmospheric and well lit, the creature effects are earthy, elemental and refreshingly old school, the score by Nick Soole is most excellent in setting mood and the two actors playing the warrior and his daughter knock it out of the park. This was a bit less grimly serious than I pictured going in, more supernatural and fantastical than I anticipated, but once you adjust to the tone it works really well. Think more Army Of Darkness than Pathfinder but less silly and you’ll have some idea, but really this thing is fairly unique and on its own level. Plus, it isn’t a sequel, remake, reimagining or prequel, it’s an original script! How about that! Great stuff all in all, one of my favourites of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

Ari Aster’s Hereditary

Hereditary more like Herediterrifying. I know I’m late to the party but Ari Aster’s supremely disturbing chiller deserves all the hype and more, it’s a beautifully designed, aggressively scary bag of fun that walks a line between being deeply, psychologically upsetting as well as otherworldly, supernaturally haunting. It’s striking to find a debut this good from a first time director, but the guy handles all elements seemingly effortlessly and the result is an immersive, atmospheric, competently staged, elemental fright flick that will literally have you sleeping with the lights on after.

Toni Colette gives the performance of a lifetime as a wife and mother somewhat grieving the loss of her own mom, who was a secretive, difficult old goat in life. Her husband (Gabriel Byrne) is somewhat detached, her two kids (Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff) have their own issues. It isn’t until further tragedy strikes this family that we begin to see fissures crack in both their individual psyches and relationships as a group. Grief is a hell of a thing and it can turn a family dynamic ugly and venomous pretty quick, but there’s something else circling this clan, an intangible malevolence that I’ll shut up about right now because it’s a diabolical thrill piecing it together along the way. I will say pay attention to *every* frame though, as there are clues aplenty embedded in the visual scape. Colette displays several remarkably realistic meltdowns and I shudder to think of the personal process that led her to that level of mania because she’s downright unnerving. Byrne doesn’t do too many high profile films anymore but it’s always great to see him, he underplays it here but is no less unsettling as a guy who seems uncomfortable around his own family, one of the several taboos the film plays with. Shapiro doesn’t do much as the daughter but her unearthly presence alone is enough to get us squirming, she is one weird looking kid. Wolff, on the other hand, is quite excellent and has a couple scenes of heightened distress that are pretty staggering. A shout-out to character actress Ann Dowd too who, I’m happy to say, is getting more work than ever before these days and finally has a sizeable outlet for her talent.

One aspect that makes this such a freaky thing to sit through is that none of the family members, and no other characters in the film in fact, are really likeable characters. They’re somber, sullen, withdrawn weirdos who make heinous mistakes and harbour unthinkable secrets and when the horrors start coming for them it kind of feels warranted. There’s this blanket of mental unrest and familial turmoil that hangs over everything and provides the film with a canvas of unrest for the paranormal horror to gradually encroach on like fog on the horizon, and the mixture makes for an almost unbearable ride through hell that was the scariest viewing experience for me since 2014’s It Follows. It’s also darkly beautifully though, Aster mounts some detailed, artistic and pagan inspired production design that’s like eye candy, he lights the sets starkly and specifically and plays around with miniatures in transitions and shot compositions for a visual experience like no other. Don’t even get me started on the score by Colin Stetson that plays like a nightmare brought to life, as does this masterpiece of a horror classic.

-Nate Hill

AMC’s The Terror – Season 1

AMC surprised me with The Terror, their long form adaptation of Dan Simmons’s horror novel. This is a horror story, but it’s also so much more, an entire world of storytelling woven into ten episodes that feel almost like real time, or at least that’s how invested I was. I also binged the whole thing in one sitting yesterday (don’t judge) so that probably helped to make it an immersive experience as well. This is flat out fantastic work on every level and probably the best thing the network has done, or at least my favourite.

The time period is the mid 1800’s, as the two real life Royal Navy ships the H.M.S. Eberus and H.M.S. Terror wind their way through the arctic, trying to find a Northwest Passage. Now anyone who knows their history ahead of time (I didn’t) recalls that these two vessels infamously disappeared out there, and all one hundred twenty nine of their crew were sadly never heard from again. This story blends fact, fiction, Inuit mythology and esoteric aspects to envision what might have befallen them, and the result is mesmerizing. Captained by Sir John Franklin (the great Ciaran Hinds) and Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), their situation becomes dire when the ships are moored in impenetrable ice and stuck for literal years. They face just about as many hardships as you can throw at a poor band of marooned sailors including dwindling food supplies, madness, mutiny and the elements but there’s also something else out there, something big, mean, savage and out to hunt or maul anyone who strays too far onto the tundra. Hinds does a stellar job as the brave but unsteady Captain, while Harris blasts into the stratosphere with a role that will probably define his career and serve as a glowing example of how to embody a brilliantly written character arc. Game Of Thrones’s Tobias Menzies is superb as Fitjames, their fussy third in command who learns some hard lessons. The cast are all absolutely on fire and there’s too many performances to praise here but standouts are Ian ‘Professor Quirrell’ Hart as the resilient badass Mr. Blanky, Christos Lawton as conflicted senior officer Hodgson and Paul Ready as Goodsir, a compassionate, thoughtful doctor. My favourite performance/character is that of Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen), an Inuit woman who crosses their paths and must tangle with the creature alongside them, she plays the fear well while holding her own in scenes that require careful internal intuition.

This show gets severely bloody and realistic in depiction of the monster attacks and all the other horrors that befall these poor souls. It’s violent, disturbing on a soul level, unrelentingly bleak at times and the depraved human behaviour on display is chilling. But despite all that, there’s a warmth, a fellowship among these men and you really come to care about them as much as they care for and try to help each other through an unimaginable ordeal. The environment around them is brutally indifferent to their plight, but there’s a sombre beauty as well and though much of it is CGI, it’s always breathtaking. Ice caps, frozen inlets and desolate plains open up to greet them, it’s a lonely place inhabited only by Inuit and the beast that hunts them. The original music by Marcus Fjellström is beautifully haunting and makes this journey all the more atmospheric. I’ve heard that AMC plans to make this an anthology and kick off season two with a different setting and story. If it’s anywhere close to as top quality as this, I’ll be there. One of the best season of television I’ve seen in a while.

-Nate Hill

Neil Labute’s The Wicker Man

You know the funny thing about The Wicker Man is that I actually found it really scary and disturbing. This was when I saw it at a younger age and the film has now since become a legend among legends among bad movies, something people use for meme stock, draw examples from on how to make a wretched flick or put on simply to laugh and throw rotting produce at. But there was just something about helpless Nic Cage stuck on Bowen Island (lol) with a bunch of creepy cult chicks who resent a man being on their turf and some fucked up rituals that he gets to witness first hand that. The isolation and hopelessness of this scenario really got to me but I’m not sure if it would still have the same effect, it’s been over a decade. In any case this is a shit film, full of bizarre performances and not even just Cage either. He plays a cop looking for an alleged missing girl on the island, on which his ex wife (Kate Beahan) coincidently also lives. There’s obviously some foul play around and he becomes consistently more frustrated, freaked out and lets his inner Cage come out to play. Ellen Burstyn must have not had her reading glasses on when passed the script because she’s actually trying here as the affable but slightly sinister matriarch of these neo-pagan kooks. Others are played by solid actresses like Leelee Sobieski, Frances Conroy, Mary Black and Molly Parker but none make impressions beyond caricature. I’ll tell you who I do remember though is James Franco and Aaron Eckhart in virtual walk on bits, it’s bizarre seeing them in roles so tiny, Aaron as a random diner patron and James as some off duty Sheriff. Wonder what the story behind the scenes is there, maybe they both had a multi picture deal, both saw the dumpster fire on the horizon and loopholed their way into inconspicuous participation. This film is a mess and ends in an unpleasant, bloody cascade of ugliness and violence, but it’s also hilarious in how heavy handed and tone deaf Cage’s performance is. He spends much of it simply running around the island in a suit yelling at people. Everyone always goes on about the “not the bees!!” scene and it is admittedly gold, but my favourite moment has to be when Cage, finally good and fed up with everything, calmly marches into a room, stares one of the sisters straight in the eye and spectacularly one punches her out cold. It’s an out of left field moment of volcanic hilarity worth a few rewinds or immortalization in GIF format.

-Nate Hill