Past Midnight describes the cable time slot that disposable psycho thrillers like this are relegated to for all time, soaked in by weary, often inebriated viewers in the haunted wee hours and oft remembered as a hazy dream or recollection. This one stars the late great Natasha Richardson and Rutger Hauer, who is one of the reigning sultans of B Movies among actors out there. He plays a man who is recently released from prison for allegedly stabbing his wife to death a decade before. Natasha is the social worker who falls in love with him and gradually begins to believe that not only is he innocent, but the real killer is still lurking out there somewhere. It’s taut psycho-suspense done pretty well, and there’s certainly enough menacing atmosphere and evocative rural locations to spare. Hauer, even when playing the most saintly heroes, just always puts off a dangerous, disquieted vibe so it’s only fitting for him to play this guy we’re kind of not sure about until the third act revelations come along, he really nails it the whole way. Richardson, who tragically passed away a few years back, was always magnetic no matter what (I’ll always fondly remember her as Lindsay Logan’s mom in The Parent Trap), and the burgeoning love, compassion and curiosity to get to the truth is nicely cultivated by the actress. The legendary Clancy Brown shows up as well as a potential suspect, filmmakers tend to throw in his presence to ratchet intensity but he’s fairly relaxed here. Watch for an early career glimpse of Paul Giamatti too. This one doesn’t break new ground or go down in history as anything new, but as far as chiller thrillers go it ain’t half bad at all, and definitely benefits a bunch from having Hauer and Richardson on the frontline.
Avery Crounse’s Eyes Of Fire is so rare and forgotten that it’s only available on YouTube, as far as I could tell, which is saying a lot because my net of sources stretches pretty far these days. It’s truly something special and who knows how long that video will be up for. Belonging to one of my favourite sub genres, the horror western, I’m almost convinced it largely inspired 2014’s celebrated horror flick The VVitch, as well as a few others over the years. It’s a bit of a heartbreak that it isn’t more widely recognized or even available (a DVD release seems to be nonexistent). On the American frontier in the 1700’s, a creepy minister (Dennis Lipscomb) is banished from a settlement for suspected adultery and witchcraft. The man and his followers venture out into a mysterious, little traversed valley and find themselves preyed upon by… something. The region is haunted by nature spirits who have imprisoned deceased Natives, now phantom spectres who stalk through the trees consuming souls of the living, also controlled by what the clan’s children call a ‘devil witch’. There’s various plot threads involving women in the group, one of whom has a mountain man ex husband (Guy Boyd) who has been living in the wilderness and has intuitive knowledge about the forces there, imparted in a well written, spooky campfire monologue. There’s also a Celtic witch (Karlene Crockett) who acts as a force of good against the dark magic. Once the folk start encountering all this though, plot takes a backseat to a spectacular array of very surreal and thoroughly scary special effects, colour filters, hallucinatory nightmares, unnerving musical sound design and all mannered spook-house atmospherics. It’s hectic as all hell and the acting sometimes gets super melodramatic, but what wonders of practical effects they’ve used here, a showcase of prosthetics, eerie photo-negative filters, Wiccan lore, earth magic and terrifying phantasms. Trees have faces, weird charcoal demons plague everyone, all set to a wonderfully warped score that uses experimental white noise, Gaelic thrums, ethereal tones and elemental cues to chill the spine. A hopelessly forgotten gem, but one of incredible value to any fan of unconventional horror.