Tag Archives: spooky

Richard Stanley’s The Colour Out Of Space

I missed out on Richard Stanley’s Colour Out Of Space last year but I’m glad I caught up because wow what a trip into earthbound cosmic madness as only the mind of H.P. Lovecraft could dream up. When a weird meteor thing plummets into the backyard of Nic Cage and his average, slightly hippie family, things start to get strange in the surrounding area as a mysterious ‘colour’ from another part of the universe begins to transform everything around it into something else, sometimes just odd, sometimes beautiful and eventually downright terrifying. I love the idea of a meteor falling and being the setup for a horror film because there’s so much you can do with that concept in the realms of imagination. This film reminded me of Alex Garland’s Annihilation in a sense, but whereas the entity that came from a meteor in that used the genetic codes and biological structures of our planet to create something new, this Colour thing just shows up and begins fucking around with things on its own shocking, illogical terms, like any self respecting Lovecraft monster should. It’s a hoot watching this family slowly start to lose it, starting with Cage in one of his patented full on neurotic meltdowns filled to the brim with maniacal rants, grotesque physicality and pitch black humour. His wife is played by Joely Richardson who I haven’t seen in a while, since Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at least but I always love seeing her turn up. The cast is pretty darn eclectic too and includes the lovely Q’orianka Kilcher as the world’s bitchiest small town mayor and beloved Tommy Chong as a forest dwelling oddball with a cat he calls ‘G-Spot’ (*snicker*). The main draw for me here is the otherworldly, mystical horror elements and director Stanley pulls out all the stops in terms of atmosphere, visuals and things just going berserk. Everything turns pinky purple, the family loses their sense of coherence and time and eventually they begin to transform, and there’s one sequence in particular that is fucking miles beyond how horrific I thought they were gonna go with this film and is disturbing to the core. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out

It’s fitting when a film like this lives up to its title, and you really Better Watch Out for this ugly, pointless, infuriating, uncomfortable, sexist piece of wanton trash disguised as a Yuletide black comedy. It’s basically a home invasion fake-out where two sociopathic little brats, one a drooling simpleton (Ed Oxenbould) and the other a cold hearted monster (Levi Miller), kidnap their own babysitter (Olivia DeJonge) and subject her to humiliation, torture and intimidation for no other reason than they’re fucked in their little pea brained adolescent heads. There is no point to setting this film at Christmas time, the delicious irony found in other contradictory Christmas films about violence and misanthropy in a festive context (see The Ice Harvest, Black Christmas and The Ref for successful examples) lands with an ill favoured thud here and we’re left with an agonizing ninety minutes of pointless, anxiety inducing exploitative scumbaggery passing itself off as a movie. The one saving grace is Billy Hargrove from Stranger Things in an inspired cameo of comedic improv to himself in a rear-view mirror that is absolutely hilarious. Other than that, this is a bottom feeding piece of work. Even Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen look like they want to run for the hills and spend most of the film away from the action. There’s a scene that takes the paint can sequence from Home Alone to brutally realistic new heights and thinks it’s oh so clever and playful when really it’s unnecessary and sadistic. Miller does his best but the character is just such a horrific little snot-fuck I wanted to jump through the tv and cave his head in on the marble countertop, such is the level of mental distress, terrorization and abuse he inflicts on the babysitter it goes beyond gratuitous. Then there’s the ending. Don’t even get me started on how badly this movie cheats the viewer of an absolutely cathartic final resolution by being a cheeky shit and holding out on a finale it desperately needed to follow through on if it hoped to earn anything resembling redemption. It doesn’t seem to care about its characters, audience, story or the universe in general. Perhaps I’m being far too harsh and it just hit me the wrong way but whatever, every now and then I gotta have a ‘Roger Ebert emphatic intense rant review’ if something irks me and this one made me feel like shit all night after. Bah. Fucking. Humbug.

-Nate Hill

Janusz Kaminski’s Lost Souls

The rise of Satanic Panic in the 1990’s always seemed to permeate into Hollywood, as the collective fears of a decade often do. Devilish cinematic efforts ranged from excellent (End Of Days, Fallen, The Devil’s Advocate) to lukewarm (Stigmata, The Order) to mediocre (The Ninth Gate) but I can now say that the only one I would consider an absolutely terrible film is Janusz Kaminski’s Lost Souls. This thing is one of the murkiest, muddiest, laziest, most bizarre pieces of celluloid I’ve ever sat through shaking my head at and I found myself wondering how it got past the pitch phase with such a paper thin script like that. Here’s the ‘plot’ and the only reason I know is because I IMDb’d a synopsis, there’s no telling what’s going on by watching the actual film itself: a catholic school teacher (Winona Ryder) with an apparent personal history of demon possession is recruited by her former priest (John Hurt) and his associates to find the human avatar for the Antichrist, who will soon take earthly form. This particular human is a bumbling atheist true crime author (Ben Chaplin) who is more than a little confused at these implications. There’s also an inexplicable subplot involving a serial killer making media headlines, another rogue preacher (Phillip Baker Hall) and other dimly lit gobbledygook that makes little to no sense. Ryder is listless and meandering, Chaplin never makes a huge impression anyways. Hurt barely registers beyond looking vaguely worried and you know your film is in serious trouble when even usual scene stealer Elias Koteas is cast in an inconsequential bit part with no lasting impression. Director Kaminski is a well renowned cinematographer who has shot all kinds of prolific stuff but he probably should have stepped out of the director’s chair back into a DoP position because this looks like it was shot through a burlap sack filter. Mucky browns, grainy greys and tinny blues abound and not in a good way. The score sounds like an amplifier being dropped onto a marble floor (not in a good way either I might add) and every actor in this thing either looks like they have no grasp on the flow of the story (which is almost nonexistent) or would simply rather be somewhere else. How this thing ever got released is beyond me.

-Nate Hill

Carlos Brooks’s Burning Bright

Remember that poem ‘Tiger Tiger’ by William Blake? I always loved that one in school and Burning Bright, horror film that combines several high concepts for an odd but entertaining mix, isn’t quite as poetic enough to live up to the Blake piece but works well as a kind of low grade Grindhouse SyFy deal. How do you make your chamber piece/creature feature more scary these days, or any thriller at all for that matter? Set it during a hurricane, of course. I think I saw like three movies this year alone set during a typhoon and revolving around every other central threat you can think of from bank robberies to alligators to street gangs. Here it’s obviously a tiger and the hurricane only serves to delineate that the lead characters can’t simply leave the house to escape it. This is an especially vicious and ‘evil’ tiger, or so we’re informed early on by hammy circus boss Meat Loaf as he pawns it off to no-good stepfather and ‘safari ranch’ entrepreneur Garrett Dillahunt, a perennially sinister fellow who looks like he could be Will Forte’s evil twin. His stepdaughter (Briana Evigan) and autistic stepson (Charlie Tahan, so young here!) find themselves boarded up in the family home alone with this tiger while the hurricane rages on outside. How did this happen? I won’t spoil it but you can sorta kinda sus it out from what I’ve said already. This allows for a sweaty, impressively suspenseful battle of wills against the animal, as the daughter tries to protect both of them and shelter the boy because he doesn’t quite… grasp what’s going on. This is a fun, solid film that doesn’t take its premise too far into WTF-ville or overstay it’s welcome, and although a tad aloof and awkward in spots, the scenes in the house where they face off agains the tiger are very well done, thanks to use of actual tigers over CGI. The film almost doesn’t deserve a title based on property like Blake when the story overall is so… just regular. I’d have almost preferred a surreal, dark film that just started with the kids already stuck in the house with the tiger and no setup, hurricane or sidebars, a simplistic, dreamy art piece based on the single concept. What we got is decent enough, but man the title is so much more evocative.

-Nate Hill

Emma Tammi’s The Wind

Emma Tammi’s The Wind, which could also be called Little House Of Horrors On The Prairie, is a nicely atmospheric, sometimes effective but ultimately muddled and frustrating horror western (my fave sub genre!) that I really wanted to be a winner. Somewhere out there in all that desolation a homesteader couple (Caitlin Gerard & Ashley Zuckerman) are doing the best they can to survive off the land, when another couple (Julia Goldani Telles & Julian McTee) take up their own property an acre or two away, making them default neighbours, and this is where the trouble begins, or maybe it does, it’s hard to tell what’s happening when because the film jump as around in time a *lot* to the point where it feels needlessly discombobulating. Both girls seemingly have miscarriages and are traumatized by it, and in one timeline Gerard’s character is stuck alone in her cabin as a sinister supernatural presence menaces her. Or does it? Attempts at subtlety and misdirection unfortunately only added to the confusion, for my part. See the thing is, life out there on the plains is so distilled into simple form that the elaborate structure of flashback/flash-forward feels unwieldy and too tangled when it could have been a linear, crystalline tale. There are some genuinely spooky moments that are very well directed, acted and shot involving Gerard dealing with the malevolent forces surrounding her, garnished with a deliciously shrill violin score by Ben Lovett, a composition that frequently feels like it’s stabbing you in the ribs with quick, jarring strings cues. Credit where credit is due and all that but this choice to tell the story in fragmented, back and forth form cripples the ambience and isn’t done confidently or fluidly, as is the twist ending that when looked back upon, definitely raises some sagebrush eyebrows. An almost.

-Nate Hill

William Malone’s House On Haunted Hill

I kinda get the beef with William Malone’s House On Haunted Hill, I mean it’s essentially a lazy, paper thin story gussied up by a whole bunch of spooky visual effects and fancy, baroque production design, but I loved it anyhow. Malone is the same guy who made the infamous FearDotCom and such was also the case there: nonsensical narrative made entirely watchable by pure visual artistry alone. Maybe the guy has a yet to be discovered career in music videos ahead of him. Anyways, the plot revolves around a weird looking building sat on a cliff overlooking the sea, a place which was once a freaky asylum run by a mad surgeon (Jeffry Combs with nary a word of dialogue) who murdered his patients. Half a century later it’s owned by snarky amusement park guru Geoffrey Rush and his potty mouthed femme fatale wife (Famke Jannssen). They invite several bored LA types over for the night including a faded baseball star (Taye Diggs), a movie studio VP (Ali Larter), a smarmy hotshot Doctor (Peter Gallagher) and a tabloid journalist (Bridgette Wilson Sampras). The deal is, if you make it one night alive in this place Rush will pay you a cool million bucks. You can guess what happens next. This film is very short on story and a lot of it is just characters wandering through grimly lit corridors and getting haunted by unseen terrors. The characters are hilarious though and the cast is really having fun. Rush is a gnarled hoot as the misanthropic tycoon, with a pencil moustache as precariously thin as his threshold for having tantrums. The lovely Janssen is saddled with a trashy role that’s beneath her classy talents but she’s game and makes this chick one seriously bratty, scene stealing bitch. Chris Kattan also shows up as like… the butler or caretaker of this place I guess? I had an acting teacher once tell us that every performance you give should be modelled after the physicality and essence of one member of the animal kingdom. Chris heard that and apparently decided to base every role for the rest of his career on a squirrel with a serious meth habit, because that’s what I felt like I was watching when he was onscreen. I can understand why this film doesn’t get a lot of love, it’s a remake of a no doubt cherished 60’s horror film and that coupled with its lack of a real story… I get it. However, I really enjoyed it for the set design and very freaky visual horror creations. I think that director Malone missed his calling as a full blown, thoroughbred surrealist like Lynch or Merhige because he has a real gift with abstract, otherworldly makeup, editing and FX. Some of the berserk visual stuff later is right out of a post modern video collage installation and reminded me of like Jacob’s Ladder or Eraserhead. If Malone put that talent to work in a project that would allow him to fully be taken seriously as a filmmaker he’d be the stuff of Lynchian legends. But hey, this film is super fun too, if kinda slight. Rush and his merry band of fellow cast-mates are great, and like I said it gets genuinely fucking weird right near the end, and weird is always good. Oh also, bonus points for using Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams as a kind of theme song. Oh and also: this is like one in an unofficial trilogy with 13 Ghosts and Ghost Ship as early 2000’s ensemble piece gonzo horror with metal infused soundtracks, produced by the Dark Castle label, excessively opulent special effects and bad reputations, and I love all three to bits no matter what anyone says.

-Nate Hill

Blumhouse’s Freaky

Okay so imagine Freaky Friday but instead of teenage Lindsay Lohan swapping bodies with her mom played by Jamie Lee Curtis it’s teenage Kathryn Newton swapping places with a serial killer played by… Vince Vaughn, of all people. Also just take Friday out of the title and you’ve got Freaky, a super fun, super R rated, whip smartly written horror comedy that is one in a reliable assembly line of stuff being put out by Blumhouse lately. I don’t want to imply that this is just a horror knockoff of Freaky Friday because it’s fiercely it’s own film and has genuine innovation and creativity behind it, starting with casting Vaughn as someone who has to convincingly act like a flustered teenage girl for almost ninety minutes. Let’s just say he succeeds scarily, uncannily well at doing that. An idyllic small town has been home to serial killer The Butcher for years, and one night after infiltrating a Manor filled with ancient artifacts he pinches an old bone dagger with mystical Aztec powers. After stabbing shy high school girl Millie with it, they suddenly wake up in each other’s bodies unwittingly the next morning and cause quite the dose of confusion. Millie is stuck inside the hefty, 50+ year old body of Vaughn, while The Butcher is trapped in petite, blonde Newton and everyone else has no idea what the fuck is happening. It’s a wild concept and they milk it for all it’s worth and then some. The real draw is seeing Vaughn act like a flighty teen and he hits the mark squarely, giving some of his best comedic work in years and clearly having so much fun in the tole. Newton is great too, she gets to rework the Millie character in the killer’s eyes and do this ‘dangerous dark chick’ thing with her wardrobe and mannerisms and get proxy payback against some of the folks who make her high school existence hell including a horde of rapey jock douchebags, a yappy little gossip whore who spreads cunty rumours about her and the world’s most abusive and obnoxious woodwork teacher played by (!!!!) Alan Ruck, who was Ferris Bueller’s homie and I totally didn’t recognize until I looked up the cast just now. The tone of the film is kinda slight overall and never too serious but it doesn’t feel watered down, glossed over or too lame and PG like a lot of teen horror these days, this baby owns it’s hard-R rating loud and proud. There’s a galaxy of very clever and *severely* profane dialogue, some surprisingly mature, sweet and intuitive social satire and relationship dynamics as well as a bunch of extremely gory and downright impressive kills that involve an array of scenarios including table saws, chainsaws, spears, kitchen knives, and an entire *intact* wine bottle fully shoved down some poor bastards throat and *then* smashed, which is a new one for the genre. There’s also a Jason X shoutout kill involving a literal cryo-freezing chamber and I found myself wondering what the hell would would one of those things be doing in a high school, like.. is that some weird American thing? Anyways, if you like your horror fast, furious, super bloody, smart, a smidge self aware and have always had an innate desire to see Vince Vaughn as a hormonally hysterical teenage girl, this’ll be your bag. One of the coolest flicks this year.

-Nate Hill

Stephen King’s Misery

It took me a while to finally catch up with Stephen King’s Misery (as adapted by Rob Reiner) but what spectacularly unsettling horror film, mostly thanks to an almost unbearably intense Kathy Bates. I can picture King during the writing process of this book waking up in a cold clammy sweat from a trauma induced nightmare about some psycho stalker fan (I’m sure he’s had a few), feverishly grabbing pen and paper from his nightstand and scribbling off another chapter. Reiner & Co. capture the cold dread, deafening isolation and mounting hopelessness of the story wonderfully, as unlucky hotshot novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) finds himself injured, stranded and finally ‘rescued’ by super-fan Annie Wilkes (Bates), rushed off to her remote snowy cabin and nursed back to health.. and then some. The great thing about Bates’ performance is she doesn’t make Annie a complete outright monster, there are momentary flashes of something resembling humanity, albeit of a lonely, bitter, misshapen kind. She takes the maniacal behaviour to extreme heights by starting on a slow burn that has us *slightly* on edge and gradually turning the dial up to a deafening roar of obsessive behaviour, delusional fantasies and homicidal volatility. It’s a wicked sharp, playful, very somehow simultaneously in control and unhinged piece of acting, while Caan, in a difficult role, is bed ridden as he bears witness to and takes the full brunt of her tempestuous meltdown. The chilly winter setting is a huge plus, my cup of tea atmosphere indeed and the beautiful snowed in locations make for a splendid visual feast. We spend most of our time with Caan and Bates yet there is a curated supporting cast of memorable folks including Lauren Bacall, Frances Sternhagen, Reiner himself, the late great Richard Farnsworth as a charismatic local Sheriff and the also late great J.T. Walsh as the county’s most inept state trooper. I feel like King took the masochistic route here and heavily projected himself into the role of Paul, the trapped artist forced to plonk out new work on an aggressive timeline not of his own delineation. What trials and hardships is he trying to wrestle out of his mind by telling this story? The crushing doom of a publishing deadline? The vacuous, soul-eating doldrums of writer’s block? The no doubt nerve-wracking, paranoia laced burden of dealing with a fanbase of oddball horror nuts? Who can say. But this feels like a personal story for him, and it’s certainly a very well told, acted and produced film full of deeply shocking moments, icy tension and an antagonist for the ages served up by Bates who, to quote herself, is one ‘cockadoodie’ chick. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Adam Marcus’s Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday might be my favourite film in the Crystal Lake franchise on deliriously excessive shock value and purely deranged artistic inspiration alone; this thing is fucking lovably unhinged. There just comes a time in every franchise where the filmmakers feel the need to shake things up, throw a bit of seasoning into the stew that wasn’t there in previous incarnations (see the wonderful Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6) and the result is often a tributary effort like this where a simple, effective slasher motif has the doors of mythology blasted wide open and we get something really unique and striking. Jason Voorhees is blown to bloody smithereens in the first ten minutes of this film, and rendered all but deceased… or is he? Of course he isn’t, you ninnyhammer, that’s the golden rule of these things. It’s revealed that Jason’s essence, his very spirit itself transcends the physical flesh and can jump between hosts like a murderous parasite, which he does quite frequently on his journey from a big city morgue back to Crystal Lake to kill the sister and granddaughter he never knew he had, and quite frankly neither did we until this uncommonly elaborate script came into being. On his tail is gregarious bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams, also awesome in True Detective & The X Files), who believes he can end Jason’s recently esoteric reign of terror and stop the legacy of blood. Much of the Friday The 13th franchise exists as primitive narrative framework for sex, suspense, substance consumption and modest murder special effects with nary a whiff of any real storytelling, supernatural or swanky FX. Not this baby. There are countless super slimy gore effects here, starting with a weird turd/slug thing that Jason passes between hosts to control them and onto some *very* intense kills including a mid coitus, ‘split right down the middle’ machete Hail Mary execution that earns a sly slow clap from the viewer. Crystal Lake now has this bizarre little diner run by a a rampaging matriarchal bull hen called Joey B., played by the great and always under appreciated Rusty Schwimmer. At one point Jason lays siege on her establishment and she arms her inbred bumpkin clan with heavy artillery for a demented firefight that.. well, let’s just say I didn’t think I’d ever see anything like it from this franchise. While there is story, it’s naturally all over the place, kinda like Jason himself and when he does finally show up in his traditional form once again (played by the great Kane Hodder, of course) it’s a cheer out loud moment. The legendary homages to other franchises like Evil Dead and Nightmare On Elm Street are wonderful as ever, and overall this is just so much goddamn fun for any loving fan of the Friday films, provided you employ a healthy level of imagination and capacity for abstract thought so you can play on its level.

-Nate Hill

Remi Weekes’ His House

It’s always neat to see a haunted house film that isn’t just about your average middle class American partridge family moving into a spacious New England manor. Additionally it’s refreshing when said haunted house film doesn’t rely on the usual book of tricks, jump scares, possessions, furniture flying around in invisible tornadoes or the usual garble that clutters up story. Remi Weekes’ His House is a disarmingly masterful horror film that isn’t just horror for the sake of chills, it’s actually about something important on more than one level and it’s about as assured, well crafted and terrifying as a director’s debut in the genre could be. The film focuses on a Sudanese couple (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku) escaping their war torn country and arriving in the UK as refugees, ready to start a new life. They are appointed a slightly scatterbrained social worker (Matt Smith, better than he’s ever been) who sets them up in a spacious yet decrepit council housing unit in a hectic, labyrinthine outer district of London and its here they must adjust to their new circumstances, fit in and heal from the past. The past is key here, because this film is billed as a haunted house flick but there’s this slow realization that whatever is tormenting them isn’t something the home itself has to offer, but something that has followed them across the seas from Africa, a place where the age of reason hasn’t really dawned yet and those nameless fears the West has all but forgotten still abide in the collective unconscious of the people. Soon they hear voices from the perforated walls, whispers in the night, see feverish apparitions and are thoroughly haunted by many spirits, one in particular who knows a dark and dreadful secret from their past that has etched grooves into their already traumatized psyches until they both must face their demons accordingly. This is a terrifying film from a horror standpoint: the scares come fast, fresh and relentless until any minute spent in the house offers a new adrenal stab or potential heart attack inducing scene at any given moment. What really made this film special for me as a viewer was not just the scares, it was *how* this story is told from a narrative, editing, emotional, dream logic and shifting perspective aspect, and if that sounds a bit vague then it is because I don’t quite know how to describe some of the scenes I saw. Much of the film is set in this house but there are nightmarish flashbacks to Sudan and the stormy Mediterranean Sea that are handled in such a uniquely fluid, beautifully creative fashion they really took my breath away. There’s a moment where Dirisu sits alone at the kitchen table against a wall and quietly eats a meal. Then, almost imperceptibly at first, we pan out and as the colour grade slowly burgeons from dull grey to painful ochre red we notice that the kitchen is floating on the ocean… he is in fact dreaming. It’s one of the most wonderful, languid transitions I’ve seen in cinema recently and is alone enough to tell me that Weekes isn’t just a filmmaker to be watched at this point, but already one to be reckoned with. The performances from our two leads are also something special, and overall this film does a very clever, very personal and internal spin on the haunted house flick using dream logic, scintillating perspectives and cerebral fabric to tell a story that gives a voice to humans that often aren’t heard, felt or seen all the time in cinema. A masterwork, and one of the finest films you’ll see this year.

-Nate Hill