Tag Archives: spooky

Ghost Stories

It’s always hard to find a horror flick these days that’s actually genuinely scary, not to mention fun as well. You have your endless found footage stuff, a consistent parade of ghost/exorcism fare, various creature features, and in the columns of hit or miss, unfortunately the latter weighs heavier. But once in a while there’s that terrifying ruckus of a haunted house flick that comes along and knows how to assault you on all sides with the creep factor, the laugh cannon and be a smart, well told and unexpected tale too. Ghost Stories is just that, a gleeful throwback to the BBC anthology horror of the 80’s that pulls the rug right out from you and frightens in a big way.

Set up in three distinct segments plus a kicker of a final fourth act, it follows a paranormal debunker (Andy Nyman) as he revisits three decades old spooky cases that have never been solved and haunt the afflicted to this day. The first and scariest sees a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) on shift at an abandoned asylum who’s plagued by a restless spirit. In the second, a young boy (Alex Lawther) is harassed by a devilish creature as he drives through a forest in a stolen car. Lastly, father to be Martin Freeman is terrorized by a poltergeist in his home. These stories work great on their own but they really serve as a tapestry of clues to what’s really going on, and later down the line there’s some chilling revelations that are far more disturbing than any ghost going bump in the night. This is like the best, strongest points of Twilight Zone, Tales From The Crypt and Goosebumps done right with just a flourish of Black Mirror on the side. Freeman gives the best work, becoming cheerfully psychotic later and injecting delirious amounts of extremely dark humour into every mirthful grimace and off the wall mannerism. This is what horror should be.

-Nate Hill

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John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place

John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place surprised me by investing more in its fright flick concept than just shrieking banshee monsters and a flurry of hastily shot chase action/close calls. For a film that focuses so much on hearing and an auditory mood-scape, Krasinski is an excellent visual storyteller and as far as first time directors go, should be very proud. Not to mention the fact that he tells a human story amongst the horror, one that actually gets us feeling closer to the characters until we really give a shit when they’re being hunted by the screamers. It doesn’t hurt that he and real life wife Emily Blunt give two breathlessly alive performances that paint a dual portrait of parents who will stop at nothing to protect their children. Sometime in a desolate future, vicious predators of unknown origin (could the brief shot of a newspaper clipping claiming “meteorite hits in Mexico” have anything to do with them?) invade the world and slaughter humans en masse. They’ve got mutant ear drums that can hear a wood-bug sneezing from sixty miles out, but they’re also blinder than Stevie Wonder. Using your inside voice, or no voice at all if possible, is an imperative mantra for Krasinski and clan, as they must exist in monk worthy silence for fear of being run down by these things. The trailers tend to spoil a lot of things, and I guess marketers think that just because a sequence is in the prologue that people wouldn’t want it to still be left a surprise, but oh well. Early on there’s a tragedy that causes kind of a rift in the family, particularly between Krasinski and his deaf daughter (Millicent Simmonds, brilliant work). Flash forward a year or so and he’s built an impressive rural stronghold for his family on an abandoned farm, complete with grain silo watchtowers and a homemade electric light alarm system. It’s this innovative and careful design that sets it apart from other horror flicks that just go for the throat without and character development or world building to draw you in. Eventually the screamers do come for them, in one long extended night from hell that plays out like the most stressful chain reaction of mishaps you could imagine, with enough suspense to bring on a heart attack. I call them screamers, and I read one review on Facebook whining that they’re the same CGI clicking beasts in every other horror flick these days, but I think that’s an unfair assessment. They’re neatly rendered and have a clearly visible biology to explain their uncanny sense of sound, and I never once tuned out or felt removed from the atmosphere while watching them. The human element is well done and treated with care here, and while I can’t quite understand why they would decide to have a baby, which are notoriously loud individuals, in a world that’s gone so badly to shit (maybe they couldn’t find condoms when scavenging abandoned towns), they’re resilience and love for their children are brought fiercely to life by the two actors, who knock it well out of the park. You gotta love Marco Beltrami’s original score too, which is shadowy and ominous in one instance and switches gears quickly to orchestral catharsis when needed. A real surprise out of horror-town, this one was, and one of the best I’ve seen so far this year. Oh, and try to find a more badass, adrenaline soaked ending scene to a film so far this year, I dare ya.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Furnace

A haunted Furnace that starts murdering convicts in the cluttered boiler rooms of a maximum security prison. Who thinks this shit up. It’s actually not as inept as it looks both on paper though, and does in fact get its act together for a few earned scares. It doesn’t hurt to have actors like Danny Trejo, Tom Sizemore and Michael Paré around either, who boost the quality. There really isn’t much to it other than a furnace eating people though, which leaves not much expository filler to pad the review. Ja Rule plays the head honcho convict who realizes something is up pretty quick, Sizemore is the violent, corrupt captain of the guard, Trejo is a short lived inmate who shouldn’t have gone looking down that ominous corridor, and Paré is a detective brought in to investigate the deaths. There’s a backstory to the supernatural aspect involving a pervy Warden from the building’s past and his unfortunate granddaughter (you get the picture there). The real magic with this flick has to do with the DVD though, and it’s extensive behind the scenes interviews. There’s all kinds of stuff with the actors, and you get a sense of just how crazy Sizemore can be in real life sometimes by his incoherent ramblings, gloriously unedited. The film itself is run of the mill grindhouse type stuff, done with enough flair, gore and gusto. But get that DVD and watch the extras, they’re unreal. Plus the cover art is straight out of the 70’s man, fuckin love it.

-Nate Hill

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