Tag Archives: scary

B Movie Glory: The Vault

I miss films like The Vault, and it’s refreshing to see there’s still artists out there who care enough to make them. You see, in today’s hyper meta, incredibly self aware age of remakes, redos, reimagining and reboots, everything has to be bigger, better, have cutthroat innovation and just be… more. Neglect often rises in terms of making good old, straight up, no bullshit genre flicks, the kind we fell in love with in the first place, the kind which without, we’d have none of the throwbacks of our era. I suppose you could in fact call this one a throwback because these days the lines of definition are impossibly blurred, but there’s just something so earnest, endearing and straightforward to it’s formula that reads as effortless and totally in it’s groove. Picture this: bank robbers unwittingly siege a branch that turns out to be haunted. It’s obviously more complicated, but come on man.. a haunted bank! The concept alone gets one giddy. During a hectic warehouse fire that conveniently gridlocks a whole city block, a roughneck crew of outlaws take hostages, led by sisters Francesca Eastwood and Taryn Manning, who have bad blood for each other right out of the gate. Outside, a wearily sarcastic Detective (Clifton Collins Jr) tries to keep the peace, clueless of the crime in progress a few doors down. Inside the bank, all hell breaks loose, literally and figuratively, as the perps slowly discover that beneath the building’s modern veneer, deep in the old abandoned vault, something evil has awoken. It’s a neat premise, and both the crime and horror aspects are handled well enough to keep one glued to the screen. Manning is an actress I haven’t seen in a while, but I’ve always enjoyed her scrappy tomboy style, and she’s a hyperactive gong show here. Eastwood has quietly been putting out great work for some time now (check out her brief but affecting cameo in Twin Peaks), she does the tough but sexy turn really nicely. Q’orianka Kilcher has been all across the board since she came onto the scene playing Pocahontas in The New World, showing up in the least expected places, like a cool bank teller role here. James Franco has a solid supporting turn as the bank’s strange assistant manager as well. Much of the film is a hyper kinetic, pulsating thrill ride with stranglehold pacing, eventual pauses coming for the schlocky elements to breathe and the scare tactics to effectively come forth, a great mixture. This one is simplicity itself in terms of genre, with no cheeky pretence or smirking, meta undercurrent, just a good old school horror hybrid, and a damn enjoyable one too.

-Nate Hill


B Movie Glory: Hellions

It’s always frustrating when a horror flick ‘almost’ gets there, like it has a handful of real cool qualities that just sort of get buried by a heap of shitty cliches and and a middle section that drags like a chain. Hellions is such a film, a low budget, atmospheric shocker that I feel would have been better suited to a twenty minute short film format that the usual ninety minute time slot that feature horrors sit in. There’s just not enough of what’s there to go around and a lot of it ends up feeling thin and sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread (seewhatididthere). The film focuses on a teenager (Chloe Rose) who is forced to fight through a Halloween night from hell when something takes over the town, something accompanied by a gauzy, unsettling mauve colour filter and an impressive original score filled with eerie hooting and wailing. Atmosphere is key here, there’s loads of it and they’ve done a fantastic job with it, to their credit. It’s just everything else that goes off the rails or doesn’t seem to fit: Chloe is hunted by weird little munchkins in Halloween costumes, there’s hellish intonations of a pregnancy gone wrong tied into the town’s plight, and a bunch of such mumbo jumbo, with a noisy climax that is only discernible as excessive commotion. Too much is too much, a pearl of wisdom these filmmakers could have heeded better. Grizzled veteran Robert Patrick helps her shoot her way out of the situation as the local Sheriff, a film always gets brownie points for simply having him there. It’s sad because what does work here, really works. The score is truly bone chilling, and the visual palette once dark forces show up is dreamy, unsettling and very creative. The opening shot of future Chloe walking up to the window of a maternity ward in a quiet panic, music on cue, is something incredible, and I wish the whole film could have followed suit. There just needed to be less running about, less chirping demonic midgets, less nonsensical hallucinatory gore, for as everyone knows, less is often more.

-Nate Hill

The Collector

The Collector is a booby trap rigged horror flick that not only gives Saw a run for it’s money, but outdoes it in the atmosphere department. This is one seriously spooky film, made so by it’s eerie, claustrophobia ridden single-location setting, elaborate and maximum pain inflicting terror traps and burnished, browned out cinematography that gives it it’s own aesthetic. In a creaky old heritage mansion, a cat burglar leads his team from room to room, robbing the place to pay back a hefty debt owing to his ex-wife. Only problem is, they’re not alone in there. Stalking through the shadows is a silent, mask wearing phantom with a fucked up bag of tricks and a disconcerting leather face mask. Each new hallway or edifice finds them falling into one of his gory, well staged snares, from razor wire to full on bear traps and every gnarly device in between. It’s never really clear who he is or why he’s there save for a minuscule expository scene that you’ll miss if you blink, but it’s scarier that way in most cases, he could be robbing the place too for all they know and he’s just getting territorial. The film is a shadow laced game of spider and fly, as each individual finally realizes they’re no match for this fiend. Terrifically well made horror outing, but avoid the sequel (unimaginably called The Collection), as it takes everything that works so well here and shines a silly, noisy spotlight on it. This one will work you over and spit you out a clammy, nervous mess after it’s 90 minute stranglehold has had it’s way with you.

-Nate Hill

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit

I’ve seen M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit several times now and it gets funnier with every viewing. Funny in a good way, and scary too as it’s a great little fright flick, but there’s just something about demented old people who aren’t right in the head that shunts the deranged part of my funny bone into overdrive (I must’ve subconsciously picked that up from David Lynch). It’s first and foremost a dark comedy for me, and seems like it wants to be that anyways when you consider how it’s shot, edited and lit, but the horror just happens naturally through this very weird set of circumstances, which I found neat. There’s also an unexpected emotional gravitas running through the plot line, which is impressive when you consider how short and fast paced the film is and that it actually had time to throw some real drama in there. In true Hansel and Gretel allegorical form, a brother (Ed Oxenbould, quite irritating and the only weak link in the cast, especially when he ‘raps’) and sister (Olivia DeJonge, radiating talent both beyond her years and what her character is written as, hope to see more of her) head out into the sticks to visit the grandparents they’ve never met, whilst their single mother (Kathryn Hahn) heads off on a cruise with her beau to be. The kids are at first quite taken with their Nana (Deanna Dunegan) and Pop Pop (Daredevil’s Peter McRobbie), but, as any trailer will show, gradually they start to act in a way that would put the word strange in the understatement zone. There’s something terminally off with these two sweet old codgers, as the kids discover hour by hour of their visit, from Pop Pop hoarding up soiled diapers in the shed to Nana scuttling about the house naked at night like a geriatric Emily Rose. Are they possessed? Dementia ridden? High on bath salts? It’s best you figure out the nasty little surprises of Shyamalan’s narrative for yourself, and squirm at every delicious little bit of unpleasantness along the way. McRobbie and Dunegan offer a staggering number of both bone chilling and riotously funny moments in two performances that they should be proud of, for both scaring our socks off and providing endless off colour comedic moments. Now as for the found footage camera aspect, that’s usually something I hate these days, but given how well it works with the subject matter and tone here, plus how non intrusive it is, I can’t bash it too much. This is a neat little departure for Shyamalan, whose usual somber, bleak and airily atmospheric tone definitely needed a little shaking up, and what better new avenue to explore than darkly comic, hyperactive horror?

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Silent Night

Santa is an axe wielding mass murderer! In Silent Night he is anyway, a slick, excessively gory remake of an obscure 80’s slasher called Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I’ve still yet to see. This new version is a heavy handed, knowingly silly affair, as a small town Sheriff’s department races to find a heinous killer who dresses like the red guy and has been wantonly slaughtering townsfolk all morning. A timid deputy (Sin City’s Jaime King) is the front runner to head him off at the pass, joined by the cantankerous, mouthy Sheriff, played by a hammy Malcolm McDowell with attitude to spare. The murders are so over the top it seems like the filmmakers wanted to outdo each and every slasher film out there, an impossible task, but they throw Paint at the wall furiously anyway. Electrocution by Christmas lights, high powered flamethrower, a souped up stun gun used to skewer an annoying 14 year old chick, but my favourite has to be the naked stripper fed through a giant wood chipper in a scene that would have Fargo covering it’s eyes. That’s the kind of flick it is, sleazed out to the max, tongue firmly in it’s cheek and never too serious. Problem is, a few of the actors (I’m looking at you,

priest dude) take it way too far into camp territory and ruin whole sequences with their wannabe satirical blathering. McDowell gets the tone right though, and is a right treat as the world’s most sarcastic lawman. Donal Logue also fares well as a bad tempered grinch of a mall Santa who eventually tangles with the murderer in a fiery police station set piece. Maybe I was just tired, but when the origin of the killer is finally revealed, which I waited for the whole time, it seemed like kind of a confusing letdown, a bit less of a surprise than it should have been. Worth it for the kills and a couple entertaining performances, but ultimately not much.

-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

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