Tag Archives: horror

Forgotten Gems: Avery Crounse’s Eyes Of Fire

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.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

Joel Schumacher’s Blood Creek


A Joel Schumacher helmed horror flick starring Michael Fassbender as a deranged, occult obsessed Nazi zombie vampire, hunted by Lincoln Burrows from Prison Break. Sounds like a flick from an alternate dimension that doesn’t exist, right? Well it’s out there, tough to find as it was somehow buried around it’s 2009 release, and relegated to a relic before it was even a decade old. Shame, because it’s a ton of warped, bloody fun. Officially titled ‘Blood Creek’ on iTunes, it can also be found as ‘Town Creek’ or simply ‘Runes’ elsewhere, but like they say, a rose by any other name. Fassbender is all kinds of scary in a black and white prologue as a Nazi occult agent who shows up at a rural American farm to study ancient Nordic runes which may hold the key to resurrection of the dead. His chilling work initially is nothing compared to the balls-out, gory makeup covered incarnation he gets to prance around in later though. In present day, two brothers race into the foggy backwaters to stamp out this evil, and they’re played by an intense Dominic Purcell, as well as Superman himself, Henry Cavill. Not a whole lot of time is spent on character development for all involved, the film choosing instead to jump headlong into a notably gory free for all, banding together with the poor German family who has had to deal with this psycho for almost a generation on their farm. At a crisp ninety minutes, there ain’t much time for anything but action and gore, with a few scarcely scattered, breathless moments of exposition that were already made clear in that prologue, the one interlude of the film that isn’t soaked in adrenaline. Hats off to Fassbender under all that chatty, gooey makeup, his physicality is really menacing, and who else gets to play a Nazi vampire zombie who pounds a metal stake into his own forehead to make room for an emerging third eye? Truly a villain for the ages, had the film been allowed to gain any notoriety. And what other film can boast a sequence in which Purcell eagerly blasts zombified, rabid horses with a shotgun, chunks flying all over the barn? Such are the levels of disturbed imagination on parade. Poor Schumacher though, really. This would’ve been his first good film in awhile back then, and the studio goes in for the kill on every single marketing front, not even giving it decent room to breathe on DVD. At least it’s still floating about on iTunes, where any horror fan would be rewarded with a rental.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness 


Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness is a tricky one to pin down or feed readers a review that will point in either direction. Parts of it are sleek, beautiful, scary beyond words and terrifically staged. Others are bombastic, out of left field and completely unwarranted. During the head scratching climax I found myself wondering aloud, ‘how did we get from where the film started off to… *this*??!’. It’s senseless, meandering and probably a bit too long as well, but despite all that, I kind of loved the damn thing, eels and all. When you see the name ‘Gore Verbinski’ as director, you know that the film you’re about to see is going to have a few distinct qualities: lengthy, ambitious, stuffed with ideas both visual and auditory, offbeat and usually in no way similar to the last film he did. He’s the king of variety, I love his work a ton and think he’s one of the most under appreciated directors out there. This is his stab at a grand old horror picture, and while he admittedly doesn’t get everything right, there’s much wonder to behold and keep the viewer mesmerized. I don’t believe I’ve seen a more visually sumptuous horror flick since Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. This largely takes place in the Swiss Alps, and shot after shot is just cold beauty and immersive vistas, a beautiful terrain surrounding the facility where a young businessman (Dane DeHaan, who I’ve never really been a fan of, but his weird spindly goblin aura suits the material here) ends up, trying to extricate a senior member of his company back to New York for a life and death merger. Life and death are also key components of this establishment, or more-so the latter, as he will find. The place is an eerily calm self help retreat run by icy, devilishly charming Director Volmer (Jason Isaacs eating up scenery with ferociously measured relish). There’s foul play afoot, which is glaringly obvious from the moment the young man steps through the front door. That’s the thing about this film, or much of it anyways, there’s no surprises or unpredictability to be had. We know the sinister path of these types of shockers quite well, and it all seems so familiar. Then when the third act rolls around, we wish we didn’t hope for something deviating from that path, because the narrative pretty much sets the path on fire, runs off the map into it’s own deranged subplot that will shock, if not awe. The film has some truly icky moments, one involving eels and a dubious looking plastic tube that’s a squirmer for sure, and the sickly atmosphere in the air all about this hellhole in the heavenly mountains. There’s fine acting to be seen, not just from terrific Isaacs but also ethereal looking Mia Goth as a creepy young waif who’s presence the plot hinges on later. The end ramps up for something that ditches the clinical body horror and heads right into old school, Hammer Films style horror a la Frankenstein or something kinkier, and while jarring, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained or giving it the aghast slow clap of sheepish approval simply because the film had the balls to *go* there, without a care spent on whether we wanted to see such absurdities or not. I admire such brazenness in film. A curiosity of a flick, seemingly cobbled together from ideas that don’t always quite mesh, but are still fun to bear witness to. A mess, but a hot one, and a damn good looking one too, if all over the place. 

-Nate Hill

Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo


Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo is a film that has stuck with me since I saw it years ago, a glowing textbook example on how to create chilly, effective and engrossing horror on a minimal budget, to maximum creepy effect. Set in the snowy drifts of Upstate New York in the dead of winter, a stressed out family heads up to a remote cottage for a rest. Following an accident, a dead deer and the subsequent altercations with angry locals, things take a turn for the supernatural as some dark force takes up residence on the cottage grounds, shaking the family to their collective core. There’s an old legend out there about a spirit called Wendigo, a vengeful ghost that latches onto traumatic events, haunting those involved often right to their graves. These poor people awakened it, and it won’t go away. Jake Weber, Patricia Clarkson and Dewey from Malcolm In The Middle are great as these folks, compelling in their sense of confusion and dread. The creature is rarely seen, save for a single stark image that I haven’t forgotten since: after the car accident, the child looks a ways up the road and sees it standing there, a freaky spectre, all shadows, antlers and such. Spooky stuff. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Surgeon aka Exquisite Tenderness


The Surgeon is an overlooked little hospital horror chiller that’s worth the price of admission just for the opening scene alone, a spooky black and white prologue in which a young boy witnesses a surgery gone horribly wrong, all set to that cheery ‘Lollipop Lollipop’ song, quite a memorable way to kick your film off. After that it’s fairly standard, as he grows up to be a scalpel wielding slasher who roams the wards of a huge hospital, killing patients, doctors and undergrads at leisure. Two intrepid doctors in training played by Isabel Glasser and James Remar are onto this beast and gradually begin to realize there’s foul play afoot, and the demented surgeon, played by Sean Haberle, continues his stealthy rampage throughout the halls. Malcolm McDowell is also there for a bit, sorely underused as an arrogant, short lived doctor who likes to trial weird drugs on chimpanzees in the basement. Peter Boyle chews scenery as a bumbling detective, Charles Dance has a fun bit and it all hurtles along like the B movie it is. That opening though, quite a well accented bit with the song, and an eerie setup for the schlock to follow. The film’s actual title on IMDB is Exquisite Tenderness, which was rebranded for DVD release as The Surgeon, which is slightly less.. European of them than the original one, but it does suit the low grade silliness. Decent stuff, for what it is. 

-Nate Hill

Alan Parker’s Angel Heart 


No other film has the seething elemental power of Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, a detective story propelled by a murder mystery, all the while cradled in the sweaty, unnerving blanket of a satanic horror story. Get the extended unrated cut if you can, as it cheerfully amps up both the queasy gore and kinky sex in spades. The time is postwar 1940’s, the setting New York, or at first anyways. Shabby private detective Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by sinister clandestine gentleman Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a missing lounge crooner named Johnny Favourite, for nasty reasons shrouded in thinly veiled threats. Harry is stalled at every turn, kept just out of the loop on every plot twist and soon seems to be a magnet for violence, troubling hallucinations and all the eerie hallmarks of a case he should have stayed far away from. The grisly clues lead him from Brooklyn to the smoky ghettos of Harlem, then south to voodoo soaked swamps of Louisiana and beyond, chasing illusory information and feeling more like the hunted than the hunter with each step. The film feels at times like a shrinking steel cage of unease and dread, a trap that closes in on both Harry and the viewer until the soul crushing revelations of the final act have been laid bare. This is hands down the best work Rourke has ever done, and it’s priceless listening to him try and to downplay it on the DVD commentary, classic ice cool Mickey. De Niro is the kind of quietly dangerous that leaves a deadly vacuum in the air of each scene, underplaying evil expertly and laying down more mystic mood by simply peeling a boiled egg than most actors could with a twenty page monologue. Ex Cosby Show darling Lisa Bonet sauces up her image here as a Bayou voodoo princess with ties to the mystery, and the steamy, no holds barred sex romp she has with Rourke has since become the stuff of legend, a feverish cascade of blood and other bodily fluid that almost gave the MPAA a coronary. The one area this film excels at most is atmosphere; there’s something intangibly wild about everything we see, hear and feel on Harry’s journey, from the supernatural tinged, noirish hues of Michael Seresin’s cinematography to the haunted, hollow tones of Trevor Jones’s baroque, restless original score, everything contributes to forging a world in which we feel enveloped in and can’t quite shake after, like a bad dream that creeps out into waking life for a while after the night. Angel Heart is a horror classic, a blood red gem amongst genre fare and one in an elite group of films that are pretty much as close to perfect as can be. 

-Nate Hill

Christian Alvert’s Antibodies

Christian Alvert is a wicked sharp German director who has quietly been making terrific films for years that have somehow slipped past the nets of notoriety (his SciFi horror Pandorum is one of the most underrated films of the decade). If you haven’t seen his highly disturbing, Silence of the Lambs esque psycho shocker Antibodies, you’re in for a treat. Perverted, intelligent, psychological, skin crawlingly freaky, the story unwinds in uncomfortable revelations following a gruesome discovery in an apartment by a Berlin police officer, who curiously enough, is played by a silent Norman Reedus. This turns into a raid in which prolific serial killer Gabriel Engel (a bone chilling portrayal by André Hennicke) is finally captured. After sometime, top cop Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring) runs into a series of murders that bear similarity to Engel’s Crimes, and brings the killer into the fold in consultation capacity. From there it’s a devilish madhouse of deception, sickening mind games and one cracker of a suspenseful ending. I’ll warn you: this shit ain’t pretty. There’s a lot of seriously dark stuff, thematic matter that blasts through the western taboos we find in films over here, and buckets of clinical, shudder inducing gore. If you enjoy smart horror that piles on thought provoking notions in with the carnage and asks questions along the way, you’ll dig this. 

-Nate Hill