The Shed is as simple a concept as they come: a teenage boy lives with his horribly abusive grandpa and suffers nasty high school bullies all the time until he one day discovers that a vicious vampire lives in the shed out back of his house, a creature that’s bound to stay in there but will happily devour anyone that’s tricked or convinced into wandering in. The young boy is a reasonably well balanced lad who isn’t too inclined to send people to their deaths and reacts with shock to the situation, but the problem is he has a buddy who is far more traumatized from the bullies, doesn’t have quite the mental fortitude of his friend and will happily abandon all moral compass and send anyone who looks at him wrong into the shed to be mauled by this thing. It’s a neat little flick with some great gore and although the performances sometimes reach a volume and intensity that’s a fever pitch beyond what was needed, they’re still enthusiastic, written with humour and performed with style and charisma. You barely ever see the vamp but he’s played by Frank Whaley from stuff like Pulp Fiction and Vacancy, he’s a good veteran talent who’s been around forever and makes the creature stand out. The poster font, synth score and teen vs monster vibe is blessedly reminiscent of the 80’s without being too heavy-handed in paying homage to its influences. It’s nothing special or too memorable, but if you’re looking for a retro feeling flick with practical effects about a vampire who lives in a shed out back, well this is your ticket. Streaming now on Shudder.
What’s something you can find on a nazi warship that’s worse than nazis themselves? Well a group of allied castaways find out exactly what when they drift into the path of a deserted one in Blood Vessel (amazing title) a super fun, super old school, kinda low budget but enthusiastic B horror flick that I really enjoyed. As a stranded life raft from a torpedoed sub approaches a giant derelict boat, the survivors are seemingly saved until they board the craft, find it curiously deserted and discover what is lurking deep below deck, waiting to hunt them. It seems the nazis were transporting several caskets from Romania containing immortal creatures known as Strigoi, which are basically vampires with a lot more snazzy magic powers backed up by a lot more specific backstory lore. The minute these things wake up it’s game on as they discover these new people in their vicinity and begin to viciously take them out. The allied group is a surprisingly varied bunch including a cowardly Brit, an enthusiast Aussie, an American battle surgeon and an Eastern European badass who has survived all kinds of gnarly stuff and has the scars to prove it. They are all very well acted, written and have distinct, unique anthropological personas and angles which isn’t something you find in every horror flick about a bunch of folks who are essentially cannon fodder for vampires. The creatures themselves are very cool, designed with practical prosthetic effects, all exaggerated ears, accentuated fangs and acted with snarling vivacity by those under all that awesome makeup. What’s more is they aren’t just an animalistic horde either, they’re an ancient, evil aristocratic family complete with a young daughter Strigoi who is just as deadly as mom and dad, it’s a cool family dynamic. There’s gory showdowns, subtle sociopolitical banter amongst the human characters, well drawn arcs and loads of spooky, smoky, eerie abandoned boat atmosphere full of beautifully saturated Argento-esque lighting and gorgeous frames filled with gothic eye candy. A solid horror, streaming now on Shudder.
Trust Ireland to give us what for me now stands as the scariest film I’ve seen since Ari Aster’s Hereditary. I realize that is the boldest of claims and before anyone chimes in with the obligatory “welL HEridiTARy didntT scAre me And wasNT evEn thAT GOoD”, just keep in mind there are many of us who were scared piss-less by it and keep your edginess to yourself. Damian McCarthy’s Caveat is a brand new addition from Shudder, an Irish mood piece with some unique ideas, atmosphere so thick you could choke on it and some of the most skin crawling, sleep with the lights on moments of sheer terror I’ve seen in many a moon. I didn’t say it was a perfect film and the plot, such as it is, is kind of a murky one in areas but best I could surmise it is: a shady English dude (Ben Caplan) hires an also somewhat shady Irish dude (Jonathan French) with amnesia to babysit his adult niece on an isolated island cabin. The girl has some form of schizophrenia of schizo-affective disorder and is out of it most of the time, but one of the conditions of this well paid for agreement is that Irish dude must wear a leather harness attached to a chain that prevents him from entering certain areas of the house, to make the disturbed girl feel safer… I guess? It’s a premise with so many loaded questions attached that you just kind of have to surrender to the atmosphere and experience, and it’s here that the film not only shines but unearths something almost profoundly spooky. There are ghosts in the film, and they are so scary you’ll wish I’d never recommended this to you. You know that special feeling after you’ve watched a film that genuinely, tangibly provoked real fear in you and you have immediate, dread soaked regret that you ever watched it? Yeah I got that from this one, which is rare for me these days and it may not hit for everyone like that but for me it was effective in that elemental, hair raising way. There is an actual plot to the film and although I wasn’t entirely clear on all the ins, outs and beats it did feel like it was trying to impart a discernible narrative while still being a decidedly arthouse mood-board experience. There’s also a creepy little toy rabbit, as you can see by the poster, and he serves as both a mascot of sorts and also a proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ device, as he seems to beat his little drums with relative sentience whenever it feels like malevolent forces are near. The eerie score, suffocating abandoned house atmosphere and deliberately spatial camera movements all place you right in the front seat of terror and apprehension as you wander the mildewed halls and decrepit rooms of this broken down house and encounter things you really could have done without seeing at 2am when you’re alone in your own house and the cat is making noise somewhere. It’s a staggeringly well made film for a first time director and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Terrifying, immersive, hypnotically unsettling, a fully realized horror experience that will fuel the darkest of nightmares. Streaming now on Shudder.
I mean how amazing could a horror movie about a haunted windmill be? The Windmill Massacre is not bad as far as cheap thrill slashers go and actually gets together an effort to tell a decent story here and there amidst the carnage. Several tourists, runaways and drifters take a guided windmill tour in Holland throughout the countryside one weekend, and when their bus breaks down near a spooky old windmill that doesn’t seem to be on any of their maps, weird shit starts happening. It turns out this particular structure is owned and operated by a miller who once sold his soul to the devil for snazzy witchcraft powers and has been doing naughty things in the several centuries since including using the bones of corpses to grind through his mill and recently, hunting and brutally butchering these poor stranded folks with his scythe thingie. But are they all really just innocent victims? There’s a cool spin on the story where every tourist potentially has a dark past and this miller isn’t just some unhinged clog wearing maniac but serves as a sort of reaper who collects these souls based on their sins. Even our good hearted Australian protagonist (Charlotte Beaumont) has a dark, unfortunate and violent secret in her past that the miller preys upon. The gore is decently vicious, the miller is a threatening enough presence with a neat Leatherface facial aesthetic and all the actors range from good to decent. An entertaining enough time killer now streaming on Shudder, worth it alone just for those two hysterical tag-lines on the two posters. “This isn’t hell, this is Holland!” Ffs lol.
I love a great horror anthology, and while Shudder’s new original Deadhouse Dark may not be a great one it’s certainly a good one and definitely worth checking out, if it doesn’t become your thing then hey, at least the six modest episodes all clock in at under fifteen minutes for you rambunctious kids in the aisle. There’s something so delicious about the concept of anthology: each chapter is a new story, a new setting and a new narrative to devour, you get to check in with previous ones if there’s connective tissue or thematic resonance that bridges them and it all feels very… ‘fun’, in the best possible way. This is an Australian produced series and the stories vary greatly, from two sisters having a bloody encounter on the way home from a Halloween tailgate party all captured on their dash-cam to an elderly gentleman contending with a fearsome rodent problem in his home to a teenage athlete going that extra dangerous mile to win to an underground bunker with a horrific being lurking inside to a terminally ill hoarder with more than just stockpiled junk hiding in her house. They’re somewhat connected by a mysterious woman in an opulently decorated, Kubrickian mansion who receives strange boxes from the dark-web, each with a clue to a story we’ve seen unfold. I would have liked more cohesion and development in this segment because I wasn’t clear just how her presence or actions were the lynchpin of all these happenings, even though it felt like the show was assuredly trying to convince me of the fact. But how? And why? Ambiguity is welcome but I felt the need to know more, or to absorb what was there with more clarity, but it’s a relatively small quibble. The show has some fantastically creepy moments that range from jump scares to terrific suspense to leering monsters both seen and unseen to well orchestrated moments of encroaching dread. It’s well worth a look, the entire miniseries only takes up about an hour and a half of your time and can be binged swiftly on the greatest streaming app currently serving the population, Shudder.
I struggled with Lucky, a new horror film billed as innovative and groundbreaking and yes it’s well made, yes it’s themes are incredibly important but you have to fashion a story that makes sense and draws you in around said themes or all you’re left with is abstraction without any proper narrative tissue to cling to. This is written by and stars Brea Grant, an actress whose work I loved in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and some of the later seasons of NBC’s Heroes, where she played the Quicksilver proxy. Here she plays a suburban woman who is attacked one night in her own home by a masked man. She wounds the guy and he runs off, but the next night he shows up again. And the next night again. And again, and so on. When she tells her husband he more or less shrugs it off with a non-reaction. Her friends and the police seems to have the same lukewarm indifference so she’s stuck in this surreal twilight zone where she’s the only person who finds it concerning that the same intruder comes back night after night to torment her, no one in her life properly believes, listens or takes her seriously and she feels alienated and outmatched by both her attacker as well as the people and support systems in her life that are supposed to care. See where this is going? It’s a fabulous concept for a film and the fear, panic and paranoia is well executed on top of a terrific performance from Grant… however… the script does absolutely *nothing* to explain this concept from a story/script point of view beyond “she’s attacked every night by the same dude, no one really believes her and she’s basically on her own in fighting back.” Then, it starts happening on a mass scale all throughout the city like some kind of violent epidemic and everyone who is not the attacker or the victim seems to just carry on like nothing much of anything’s happening. The film makes absolutely zero effort to explain this beyond simply showing it happening, and as a result it completely tanks itself, and doesn’t work whatsoever as anything close to a coherent narrative. Now, this is a tricky one to review because of the subject matter itself so let me spell it out clearly: there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that these themes are incredibly important, that violence/assault towards women is a very serious matter that needs to be addressed both in art or society, and so too the endemic indifference and non-believing nature of others in their lives who either turn a blind eye or don’t care. It’s so important. However: these filmmakers made their story *purely* from an abstract, allegorical point of view and didn’t mesh in a storytelling device or proper narrative to support it, and that to me felt lazy, incomplete and incoherent, and I disliked the film. Anyone out there hollering “you just didn’t get it because you’re a man and this film wasn’t made *for* you” into the echo chamber can stop right there. I succinctly and pristinely understood these themes, and understand how important they are, but that doesn’t change the fact that the film itself, as a piece of art, was not a successful endeavour and my saying so in a review doesn’t immediately imply that I’m discrediting anyone’s experiences or these social issues overall. I shouldn’t have to explain this so in depth but some people out there really seem to struggle with it, so there it is. Well made film from a technical standpoint, an absolute knockout of an original score by Jeremy Zuckerman, fantastic performance by Brea Grant and very important themes… but ultimately it falls flat on its face.
So Shudder just added a Mexican horror film called The Untamed about an alien that literally has sex with people and you know what it’s actually pretty good. When I say that I don’t mean metaphorically, allegorically or any other vague or illusory way to present the concept, I just quite bluntly mean that a slimy tentacled alien emerges from a crashed meteor and has slimy alien intercourse with any female body that gets close to it. Now as stark and upfront as the premise is presented, it is also subtly used as metaphor for what’s going on in the lives of several troubled individuals in small town Mexico, the extraterrestrial itself viewed as an arbiter for sexual dysfunction, closet homosexuality in a conservative setting, clandestine adultery and other interpersonal shenanigans of the like. Nor does the film present its subject matter as anything close to schlock or exploitative in nature and at times doesn’t even feel like an abject horror film, but rather a tense, eerie, melodramatic tragedy that just happens to have an extended cameo by a sex monster from outer space. The effects on the creature itself are tangible, tactile and terrific, the performances from the human actors all most excellent and elicit sympathy, show complexity and emotional range while being sufficiently creepy when under the sultry influence of the alien’s potent, seductive and very weird pheromone like spell, almost like a cosmic drug trance that is translated excellently into the screen by these artists, none of whom I’ve seen in anything else before. Word of warning with this one though: it’s not a prudish North American studio film and as such doesn’t beat around the bush with explicit sexuality, which is totally normal and fine if it weren’t for the fact that said sexuality includes a multi-tentacled being from space and you see *everything* when this thing is copulating with women, which may be too much for some. It’s not done in a violent, perverse or shameful way and the scenes have a sort of almost bizarre tranquility to them, but it is a *very* disquieting form of intercourse to absorb and experience onscreen and some may be uncomfortable. Very unique and challenging film overall.