Tag Archives: spooky

Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse

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.

-Nate Hill

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Bob Gale’s Black Christmas

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.

-Nate Hill

Brad Anderson’s Vanishing On 7th Street

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.

-Nate Hill

John Carpenter’s The Fog

John Carpenter’s The Fog is such a great campfire ghost story that it literally starts off with a campfire of its own, told by wistful sea captain John Houseman in a role that feels like it was meant for Donald Pleasance. He spookily regales a bunch of youngsters one cold coastal night: Long ago, a mysterious schooner crashed against the rocky landscape of Antonio Bay in a dense fog, for reasons slowly made clear. A century or so later, the fog returns, and those onboard come with it seeking revenge. Speaking of the coast, that vast, gorgeous California shoreline is a perfect backdrop and character all it’s own in Carpenter’s tale, the title credit appears over a picturesque beach, setting the ambience of the seaside region perfectly. Carpenter always values atmosphere and suspense above all else, his films have some of the most delicious slow burn setups out there, and the ethereal first act before the fog even shows up is one of the best extended sequences he’s ever done. As far as plot and character goes, the film has a cool Robert Altman vibe to its ensemble, from Hal Holbrook’s nervous priest, Jamie Lee Curtis’s plucky hitchhiking artist, Adrienne Barbeau’s sultry radio DJ and more, they all work in round-table fashion to get their stories across. They and others find themselves suddenly stranded in the approaching haze and hunted by silent, sword wielding zombie pirates who are more than a little pissed off that their boat crashed. The real treasure here is Carpenter’s original score, one in a long line of brilliant compositions. The main theme is a restless, jangly electronic cadence that feels both melodic and laced with doom, while quieter synth chords are infused with church bell cues elsewhere to bring the soundscape alive as only Carpenter can. This is a brilliant horror film, my third favourite Carpenter after Halloween and The Thing, and never fails to be as effective, chilling or beautiful to behold with each revisit as it was the first time I saw it.

-Nate Hill

The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell

The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell is one one of the most opulently stylish horror films out there, and despite being a bit melodramatic in areas, it boasts a grim, severely menacing atmosphere which is mandatory considering it focuses on the Jack The Ripper murders in Victorian era London. Based on a drab graphic novel by the great Alan Moore, The Hughes have amped up both suspense and passion and could be accused of Hollywood-izing Moore’s work too much, but the guy just doesn’t write very adaptable material and some liberties have to be taken to make watchable films. This one works better on its own terms, a dark, blood soaked detective story starring Johnny Depp as Frederick Abberline, a brilliant opium addicted Scotland Yard inspector out to nab the Ripper, with the help of his trusty boss Sgt. Godley, played by a scene stealing Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane. As we all know, the Ripper murders were never really solved, so naturally here a fictitious conspiracy is whipped up, full of intrigue and corruption, but as many cluttered subplots there are flying about, the film’s strength lies in the eerie murders carried out in nocturnal London, and Depp’s very strong performance as the drugged out cop who won’t quit. Supporting work comes from lovely Heather Graham as prostitute and love interest Mary Kelly, Ian Holm as London’s top medical consultant as well as Jason Flemyng, Ian Richardson, Katrin Cartlidge, Ian McNeice, Sophia Myles, Dominic Cooper and scene stealer David Schofield as an evil East End pimp. Some of the fat could have been trimmed here to make this a shorter, more streamlined experience, but the visual element is so damn good that at the same time one can’t get enough of the lavish production design. This one succeeds in creating a lived in London with dimension and scope, as well as staging a very effective sense of dread and danger lurking around every corner of every cobblestone alleyway, the atmosphere is just unreal, as well as the supremely graphic gore that lets us plainly know that the Ripper wasn’t just messing about, he was an actual monster. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs

You think you know what fucked up and disturbing is until you’ve seen Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs, and then you damn well for sure do, on top of wishing that you didn’t go looking because the experience is not one so easily shaken. This is a punishing, relentlessly cruel and violent film that will leave the viewer emotionally barren, but it’s also a very intelligent piece, with a wholly unpredictable, very thought provoking story that arrives on an avenue somewhere truly different than the one it set out on. It’s a sort of extreme existential shocker, which is an intriguing description but doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the dark psychological netherworld it bravely troops into. Lucie (Myléne Jampanoï) remembers being brutally tortured and held captive years ago when she was very young, and with the help of her friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) who was also abused as a child, she sets a bloody quest in motion to hunt down and slaughter those responsible. Haunted by a grim, shrieking spectre (Isabelle Chasse) that may or not be real and met with curveballs in her plan at every turn, she discovers that her traumatizing experiences as a child are but the tip of a very large, very sinister iceberg and pretty soon she finds out way more than she ever set out to. I’m being purposely vague here because the diabolical fun lies in figuring this hell-house of a story out for yourself, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for treat. Your jaw will hit the floor, your pulse will race, it will sicken, amaze, provoke heated debates and generally just cause extreme reactions all across the board. What’s important to understand is that Laugier never strays into realms of exploitation or torture porn for its own sake; yes, the scenes and situations here are incredibly, almost unbearably violent and gruesome, but they do service a narrative that has questions to ask and points to prove. Just buckle up getting there and pay close attention, because trust me this is not a trip you’re going to want to take twice. Oh, and one more thing, careful that you don’t accidentally watch the recent remake which is unnecessary garbage, Laugier’s original is the only version of this story. Good luck!

-Nate Hill

Stuart Gordon’s ReAnimator

Stuart Gordon’s ReAnimator is a healthy dose of schlocktastic fun, taking a page out of the silly splatter book of Sam Raimi, and although not quite as fun as some of the stuff it draws inspiration from, it does the trick. I know this film has a massive cult fanbase and while I can’t say that I loved it quite as much as some no doubt do, I always have some love for gory practical effects, and the ones on display here are pretty impressive. Jeffrey Combs is funny (if not exactly the definition of subtle throughout his whole career) as Dr. Herbert West, a loony fuckin quack who has stumbled upon an ectoplasmic looking serum that brings dead corpses back to life, albeit with a side of extreme retardation. Things go riotously awry when a jealous rival (David Gale) literally loses his head and steals it, prompting a gruesome comedy of errors in which heads, limbs, blood and entrails are hurled about the screen in a feverish celebration of all things gory and grisly. You can’t exactly call them zombies, I mean I suppose they are but they’re given a modicum more sentience than your average shambling Romero flesh-eater, but the actors get to have fun with their zany side, as the formula sort of plays havoc with their cognitive functions, a hilarious touch. There’s a sexually icky part that was even a bit in bad taste for my lax sensibilities (poor Barbara Crampton is a trooper and better have gotten paid hefty fucking overtime), but I suppose that trash is sort of the name of the game here. The 80’s was a very formative decade for the horror genre, and its fascinating to see how not only was this inspired by earlier stuff like Raimi, but would itself go on to rouse other filmmakers and give them ideas, as Hollywood progresses in symbiosis. A fun, freaky time.

-Nate Hill