Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse blends elements of horror, romance, grief and mystery beautifully, it’s a small film with a big emotional core, some genuinely scary ghostly occurrences and a fantastic rare lead performance from character actor Ciaran Hinds. Set in a small seaside town on the Irish coast, he plays an artist who is mourning the death of a family member while trying to steer his two young children through the grieving process. It doesn’t help matters when he starts to see frightening apparitions and hear things going bump in the night around his creaky old house, beginning to question what’s real and what’s brought on by stress. When a novelist (Iben Hjejle) comes to town for a writer’s convention, sparks fly between them and a tender romantic angle is introduced, becoming something of a triangle thanks to another far more obnoxious author (Aiden Quinn) who just barges in to make things difficult. The supernatural elements are very subtle and always serve to mirror the mental climate of Hinds’s character, an arc he handles with grace, geniality and gravitas, he is truly a talent and I wish he’d get more starring roles. Ambiguity and uncertainty cement a decidedly European vibe here vs that of many in-your-face, obvious North American horror films which is always welcome too. An undiscovered gem.
Bob Gale’s Black Christmas predates Carpenter’s Halloween by four years as the first slasher film, they both take place on a festive holiday night where a shadowy killer stalks people in quiet suburbia and they *both* open with an eerie POV tracking shot, and while Halloween is the more polished and notorious film, Black Christmas is definitely my favourite. Halloween opened up suburbia wide and had the boogeyman roam free in daylight while this one keeps it tight, dark and constrained to the shadows, attics and resoundingly atmospheric hallways of a giant Tudor mansion where a group of sorority sisters are celebrating Christmas. Extremely obscene phone calls herald the arrival of Billy, possibly the scariest slasher villain ever thanks to the hair raising voices on the other end of the line, provided by Canadian acting legend Nick Mancuso in one of his first gigs. Billy more or less kills like your average, well adjusted horror villain, but he vocalizes like a disturbed demon straight out of hell and it contributes to the freaky atmosphere so much. Olivia Hussey makes an absolutely gorgeous beauty of a scream queen as the proverbial ‘final girl’ Jess, her melodramatic, theatrical approach to the role only makes me love her more and gives the character flourish. Margot Kidder is hysterical in a lengthy cameo as another sorority sister with a huge potty mouth who seriously gets her Christmas drank on, as does curmudgeonly house mother Marian Waldman, who has an extended solo traipse through the dimly lit house that’s a fine example of physical comedy and inspired improv. Legendary John Saxon, who also headlined yet another iconic horror franchise, plays the intrepid police captain who tries to trace the calls and capture Billy, he always provides tough guy charisma. There is just so much to enjoy about this film; the quiet, ambient Yuletide stillness of the mansion in which you just know that even though no creature is stirring, not even a mouse, Billy is in there somewhere waiting and chuckling maniacally to himself, which makes my skin crawl to this day. The nervous score by Carl Zittrer includes objects like forks and combs tied to string instruments, giving them a warped, spooky timbre. The production design, or maybe it was simply a lucky find with the house as it was, is so beautifully mid 70’s and filled with colour, decorations, garish wallpaper, strange artwork and knick knacks, it feels lived in and authentic, as does the easy breezy camaraderie between the sorority sisters and the police banter, all part of a believable atmosphere. The lighting, or partial lack thereof, is something to behold, every few metres holds an army of shadows and murky artifices for Billy to hide in, and the camera drinks it all in slowly for maximum effect. I could go on all day about how much I love this film and what it means to me, but you get the idea. It’s everything a slasher should be and more: funny, morbidly scary, terminally weird at times, visually audacious, sexy, bizarre, festive and packed with atmosphere. Another interesting thing is that although this gathered the steam of a cult classic like other famous horror films, it never generated any sequels which makes it feel kind of special in the genre, like a sacred mile marker. Having said that, there is a remake out there that is absolute fucking festering garbage, it’s worth zero interest and only stands as en example of what not to do in service of a bona fide, enduring classic like this.
Brad Anderson’s Vanishing On 7th Street pulled a vanishing act of its own almost immediately following release, sinking into the background with little acclaim or celebration. I really love its slow, atmospheric and ambiguous take on the post apocalyptic chiller. Anderson has two brilliant thrillers under his belt (Session 9, The Machinist) another two great but flawed ones (The Call, Transsiberian), but this is up there with his best for me, and definitely his most overlooked. Anakin Skywalker plays a Detroit news anchor who wakes up to something sinister: people are disappearing into the long, gaunt shadows that have started to amass here and there, especially at night where light sources are scarcer. By disappearing I mean just that; the dark hits them and suddenly there’s just a pile of clothes where they were standing, it’s quite jarring. He forms a band of desperate survivors including plucky Thandie Newton, her son (Jacob Latimore), an orphaned girl they find (Tyler Groothius) and custodian John Leguizamo, excellent as that one guy who won’t go down without a fight. It’s a dim, dark and depressing film that slowly drains the hope and light from the corners of each frame, but I love that primal terror one gets from it. Usually when we are scared of the dark we can keep the fear at bay by staying away from it, but here the darkness has a life of its own and comes for you, a chilling premise that Anderson really makes the most out of. Top tier horror for me. Oh and watch for a subtle tie in to a popular mystery in American history right at the end, implying all sorts of origins for this phenomena that Anderson wisely leaves unexplained.
Brian Helgeland’s The Order is a strange, mercurial supernatural thriller that sees a restless Heath Ledger play a young priest investigating corruption in the highest echelons of the Catholic Church, but I’ll say right off the bat that it’s not the kind of controversy you’re thinking of. Ledger is probing the death of his sect’s leader, and when you consider the sort of obscure splinter group of the church he hails from, there’s clearly something going on under the surface, starting with Peter Weller as a dodgy cardinal whose mannerisms don’t exactly suggest benignity. Ledger discovers vague connections to what they call a ‘Sin Eater’, a rogue spiritualist who offers unsanctioned salvation outside the church’s jurisdiction, and teams up with his walking comic relief priest buddy (Mark Addy) and a woman he once performed an exorcism on (Shannon Sossamyn) to go on a merry renegade priest hunt. This film has a low rating on every site you’ll find and reviews have never been kind, but I really enjoyed it. There’s a grim, atmospheric blanket of fascinating visual effects and esoteric, near occult level mysticism at play that kept me engaged, I also really like the Sin Eater concept and German actor Benno Fürmann is darkly charismatic as the guy, playing him as just south of a real human being. Ledger postures a bit but ultimately nails it in a more subdued role, while Weller, although only briefly seen, exudes otherworldly menace with his trademark candidly flippant tone. The film is billed as a horror which isn’t quite the case, and that could have been the problem with reception. It’s more a moody mystery drama with subtle supernatural undertones, and works really well as such.
Roger Donaldson’s Species is a trash infused Sci Fi horror yarn that’s clearly inspired by stuff like Alien and Body Snatchers right down to the scaly, jagged title font, but oh man did they ever take the silly, run of the mill route here. Scientists including Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley have successfully moulded human and extraterrestrial DNA sequences to create a hybrid creature called Sil, but as in any film like this it soon becomes apparent how ill advised such an experiment will come to be. Sil, played by an excellent Michelle Williams at preteen level and later by eye catching supermodel Natasha Henstridge, is an endlessly fascinating character with so much potential, but this being nothing more than a Schlocky B flick elevated oh so slightly by the presence of an ensemble cast with considerable pedigree, she is sadly relegated to pedestrian movie monster archetype, and the premise falls short of fruition as a result. Using the seductive powers of her human form (Henstridge is a babe) she evades recapture and seeks an earthling mate to perpetuate her species and probably cause a full scale invasion via systemic procreation, while the doctors and a team of experts including zoological guru Forest Whitaker and big game hunters Michael Madsen and Marg Helgenberger pursue her all over a metropolitan area while she looks for Mr. Perfect to make slimy babies with. Sex is treated in a very lurid, shallow and unpleasant way here, like with the budget and firepower behind a film this big you’d expect a modicum of maturity and respect for the female form, but they’ve thoroughly exploited the concept to sickening levels that probably looked fun on paper, but don’t translate very nicely on screen. Worth it for Sil, for both Williams’ and Henstridge’s take on the character and to think about what might have been had they written her character with more class, care and depth, but other than that this is just cheeseball slime without a brain or heartbeat. Followed by two sequels that pretty much go the same route of disappointment.
Steven Seagal, eh. The guy has had one rocky road of a career ranging from great stuff to wilful self parody to full on lazy garbage, but The Glimmer Man has to be one of my favourites, and one that doesn’t get mentioned too often. A spooky urban buddy cop flick, it sees Seagal as an esoteric NYC detective and Keenan Ivory Wayans as his more traditionalist partner, the two of them hunting down a ruthless serial killer nicknamed The Family Man. After they arrest and gun down a disturbed suspect (Stephen Tobolowsky is creepy as fuck) who seems like a surefire culprit, the case goes deeper and they uncover a net of corruption, cover ups and further villains including Johnny Strong, Bob Gunton and a smarmy Brian Cox, naturally named Mr. Smith. The dynamic between Seagal and Wayans works well enough, but what I really like is that this is less centred on constant action as with many Seagal flicks, and rather has a slower, sort of horror/thriller pace instead, with a neat ‘big city thriller meets big time killer’ vibe like Seven. The atmosphere is dark, hellish and free of any heavy camp too, just focused on producing a twisted, gory tale. Love Seagal’s jacket by the way, looks like he stole drapes from an old age home and stitched them up for new threads.
It was weird sitting down and watching Return of the Killer Shrews. My wife and I were not far in when I paused the movie and said, “Hang on, I’ve seen this before.” I jumped up from the chair and went to the library. Removing row upon row of DVDs, I soon came across it. I took out the disc, popped it in the player and “yes”, right I was – I had seen the movie before – under the guise of a re-titled release called MEGA RATS.
But I kept on. In part because I love the flick and the genre it is a part of. Also because I have such fond memories of watching the 1959 original on a rainy day with my grandmother on her big plushy green couch, with a huge bowl of warm, buttery popcorn and the open fire’s glow dancing against our faces. Truth is she loved monster flicks. THEM, JAWS, DARK AGE, ANACONDA, even BIG ASS SPIDER was one of the last she saw and enjoyed.
Me personally, it hits the right notes just like pictures of its ilk like PRIMAL FORCE, PIRANHACONDA, HOUSE OF THE DEAD(because yeah, I’m a stickler for Dr. Boll alright – I get a giggle out of it), and SCREAMERS (not to be confused with the Christian Duguay film, but the Sergio Martino film also known as Island of the Fishmen).
Steve Latshaw directs James Best, returning after 53 years to take on those nasty, blood-ravenous shrews with a little help from a couple of the Dukes of Hazard. A reality TV crew, in the midst of an island paradise, soon find they are no match for the four-legged terrors that are stalking them at the behest, it would seem, of the deliciously villainous Bruce Davison (who is clearly relishing his part). ROTKS is as delightful, endearing and just as loaded with double, B-movie-cheesy-goodness as the original. It’s streaming NOW, so jump on the couch and grab a bite and thrill at those killer shrews, while enjoying that buttery popcorn you’ll chew.
My guests are a couple of the men behind the shrews. Director/screenwriter extraordinaire, Steve Latshaw, and special effects maestro, Jeff Farley. Have a listen and gain some insights on the careers this pair of amazing cinematic artists and how they came together to try and tame those killer shrews…
Born in Decatur, Illinois, Steve began his film career in a distinctly Corman-esque style, directing a string of successful B movies in Florida in the early 90s. These included the home video/cable hits Dark Universe (1993) and Jack-O (1995), as well as the cult classic Vampire Trailer Park (1991). Relocating to Los Angeles, Steve continued his career as both writer and director, though on markedly larger budgeted projects. With a filmography well into the double digits, Steve’s recent screenwriting credits have included the family adventure _American Black Beauty (2005), starring Dean Stockwell and the upcoming Sci Fi Channel superhero adventure, _Stan Lee’s Lightspeed (2006).