And now we arrive at the final Hellraiser sequel, or the last one to star Doug Bradley as Pinhead anyways, so it may as well be a good a place as any to stop. Hellworld is the eighth, and silliest iteration of this story, a script that tries to properly usher the franchise into the cyber age with a sort of meta narrative that turns the Hellraiser characters and movies into an online game that college kids get hooked on. So with this one the movies exist, like this takes place outside the canon in a way, like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare took Freddy Krueger out of his own fictional narrative and placed him in the real world, except that it’s far less effective and properly utilized of a concept in this franchise. The main reason this one doesn’t fall into thorough mediocrity is Lance Henriksen, it doesn’t matter how shitty your sequel, threequel or eight-quel is in any given series, you cast him and immediately there’s a level of pedigree by default alone. He plays a mysterious rich dude who hosts a party at his remote, spooky mansion where players of the once popular online RPG game Hellworld can live out their gaming fantasies one more time. Of course, Pinhead and his buddies break the fabric of time, space and fiction to make their night a literal world of hell, facilitated by Henriksen’s treacherous collector/socialite. It’s a fun enough time, the actors who plays the teens are a silly bunch, but it was neat to see a very young Henry Cavill in their bunch. Decent kills too. One thing I did appreciate is that Henriksen’s character could have easily just been like, a nondescript cyber host type archetype or temporary avatar for Pinhead, as they sometimes do in these films. He’s a very real human character himself with his own fascinating arc and that at least gives the film some narrative fibre, as does his solid, creepy performance. Not the best, but also not the worst in this canon.
People really love to rag on Neil Blomkamp don’t they.. do you think it’s super fun being that miserable? Anyway he has a new horror film out this year called Demonic, his first feature since 2015’s Chappie. People are kind of tearing it apart in reviews, unreasonably so in my opinion because I had an absolute blast with it and one of the most fun time with a horror so far this year. It’s like this sort of odd, multi-genre amalgamation of different tones and ideas, so much so that one can’t really get a proper idea of it from trailers, posters or even word of mouth alone, which means you’re onto something already. It stars the excellent Carly Pope as a troubled woman who is dealing with residual pain of a mother who committed really, really horrible crimes when she was just a kid, and has been institutionalized in a coma ever since. She’s trying her best to forget, until two mysterious sleep tech researchers from a clandestine organization ask her help with a very strange experiment: be put under into REM sleep, enter the unconscious mind of her mother and establish communication within the dream world of both of their subconscious minds, linked via technology that feels simultaneously futuristic and sleek yet retro, analog and VHS themed as well. What are these researchers looking for, you may ask? Well that’s the fun, and that’s all I’ll say about the plot here, it’s a diabolically twisty game of horrors that spill out from the dream world into real life and this girl discovers much, much more about her mother’s state of mind, and whatever else may be in there with her. The film is not only shot but actually (for real this time, not just me stubbornly insisting so) set in and around Vancouver, with some of the story taking place near Kelowna on Lake Okanagan. I’m pretty sure that Blomkamp has seen Panos Cosmatos’s Beyond The Black Rainbow because one of the researchers is played by Vancouver actor Michael Rogers, who was the terrifying antagonist Dr. Barry Nyle in that and there are shades to his performance here that feel directly referential, which was a really nice touch. The film covers a LOT of ground in only 90 minutes, in terms of genre, and maybe it felt too rushed or hectic for some people but I just can’t wrap my head around the negative responses to it. It’s absolutely horrifying in some scenes, incredibly imaginative in an almost tongue in cheek way and stylistically so damn cool, it has the feel of a balls out, conceptually audacious type of horror SciFi flick you’d see in the 90’s. Picture something like The Cell meets The Exorcist meets Virtuosity meets Ghostbusters but still it’s own fiercely original creation. Great film, don’t listen to the haters, see it for yourself and form you own honest opinion. Mine is that it fucking rocks.
After the dreary disappointment that was Hellseeker, I’m excited to report that Hellraiser 7: Deader is a wonderful, wicked return to form and one of the strongest sequels in the canon so far, trying some bold new ideas on for size and going to some shockingly depraved new places in the universe. This one shifts the action over to the UK where an American journalist (Kari Wuhrur) is sent by her boss (Simon Kunz, the adorable butler from The Parent Trap) over to Romania to investigate a mysterious cult called the ‘Deaders’, who are rumoured to have certain abilities that transcend the boundaries between life and death, our world and others beyond. Not much sooner after stepping off the plane she starts getting into trouble after she’s led by chance to the evil puzzle box, whereupon Pinhead and his gang show up and she has to juggle them plus the dodgy cult leader who is out to get her too. This one has a neat spin, I liked the cult angle as it ties in succinctly to the Cenobite mythology and feels organically developed. This is the most fucked up of the sequels too, because of one sequence involving a rogue subway train that barrels through the Bucharest underground system, with newspapers plastering its windows. At one point she has to get on it to gain information from a sort of darkweb contact, and let me tell you the kind of bizarre, hedonistic, vomit inducing euro-trash rave taboo horrifying WTF shenanigans going on inside this thing aren’t images I’ll soon forget, and careful watching that sequence because it’s among the most disquieting things I’ve ever seen in a film and may cause the more sensitive viewers to get upset. That’s a testament to the film’s effectiveness though because so few horror sequels are able to successfully push the envelope beyond what the first film established and be scary in new, innovative ways, but this baby pulls it off spectacularly. I’ve always loved Kari Wuhrur, she’s in a lot of edgy, cult horror type stuff, is gorgeous and super charismatic with an angelic tomboy presence that I vibe with whenever she shows up, she’s great here. This is the strongest Hellraiser film since Bloodline (the fourth) and one that gets positively shocking, down n’ dirty and reworks the motifs for something fresh, unsettling and dark as fuck. Solid stuff.
You know in slasher flicks where the vacationing teens arrive in some godforsaken bumpkin-ville headed inevitably to slaughter and jokingly refer to the rural folk as ‘inbred’? Well most of the time they’re just mocking them but in the case of Just Before Dawn the pair of demented killers are legitimately inbred drooling simpletons, big lumbering… I’ll get in trouble if I use the ‘R word’ lol but… yeah. This is a creaky old horror flick from way back when that is surprisingly effective in creating atmosphere, suspense and some well placed gore. The story couldn’t be simpler: a bunch of teens on summer break drive their Winnebago a bit too far into a dense, remote Oregon mountain range mostly cut off from civilization and run afoul of two twin killers who hunt them down, with hilariously stealthy and tactical methods I might add, given their rotund stature and, uh, sunny dispositions. George Kennedy is fun as a salty old park ranger with a few quirks (he keeps bonsai trees) who saddles up his horse and goes looking for the teens once they don’t come back. The always awesome Gregg Henry gives a good early career turn as the ringleader of the group, so the cast has some pedigree to it. The film is shot on location in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon, so the lush, gorgeous, sprawling and overgrown PNW scenery is the strongest quality. Mighty rivers, thundering waterfalls, shadowy forests, deep ravines and treacherous mountain crests are the environment both the teens and the killers tread through here and it’s a terrifically rugged, high stakes setting for a slasher to take place in. I joke about the inbred thing because it’s funny, but I do feel like the film could have had another angle than just that, there’s not much imagination in the concept, but other than that this is a solid effort. Some thick, dreamy wildernesses atmosphere complete with eerie sound design that samples odd warps, warbles and spooky bird calls adds a lot too, with considerable suspense thanks to the elemental nature of the setting. Streaming now on Shudder.
The fifth Hellraiser sequel, Hellseeker, is nowhere near as fun or inspired as the fourth, sad to say. It’s hard to follow up a sequel that includes journeys into both French Revolution times and outer space, but even so this is a pretty dreary attempt other than the fact that it brings back Ashley Lawrence’s Kirsty from the first two films, albeit all too briefly. Most of the film focuses on her husband played by Dean Winters who seems out of place here and who I can never see as anyone else but the human personification of the OnStar navigation guide thing ever since he did those commercials. Kirsty is mostly out of the picture and he’s wandering listlessly through a drab desk job, a philandering lifestyle full of cheating and lying and strange memories of a hazy car accident where she apparently died, but he can’t quite get the facts or the recollections straight. Grisly murders start to happen in the city, crime scenes that he’s always conveniently around, and soon two suspicious detectives are on his trail, then slowly but surely Pinhead and his gang start to make themselves known. The first two thirds of the film are interminable, as it tries to be a noirish character study of this guy but I just. Didn’t. Care. He’s less than non-interesting and even a guy with Winters’s natural charisma just cannot bring him to life. Then the third act happens and there’s some sparks of life, with a twist that, although fascinating and unexpected, sort of negates the whole silly stream of events we see before with his character and kinda made me go WTF. This is by far the weakest story of the seven sequels I’ve seen so far. Not much in the way of memorable kills, gore, atmosphere or effects, a muddy, murky story, flatlined protagonist and a serious lack of screen time for Doug Bradley, who was all up in the fourth one like a scene stealing mad dog. This one can be avoided and skipped over for the sixth one, which is a fantastic return to form and I’ll get to reviewing tomorrow.
I love horror movies set on the road, it’s such a great breeding ground for paranoia, vehicular mayhem and fear of the great unknown. Setting out on a road trip is always an amazing feeling of freedom, but the vast interlacing network of desolate highways that lie just outside the structured, familiar peripheries of any big city ways have an innate, sleeping menace to them; anyone, or anything could be out there. Some of the best films in horror overall come from this idea, including Joyride, The Hitcher, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Tarantino’s Death Proof, Roadgames and so many more. I finally got a chance to check out Robert Harmon’s Highwaymen and I can’t believe I didn’t sooner because it’s an absolute banger, and one that has always gotten terrible reviews and buzz, which to me is inexplicable. This has the hazy, moody early 2000’s thriller feel, an atmospheric yarn about a terrifying serial killer (Colm Feore) who murders woman with his souped up, rampaging Cadillac El Dorado and the lone man (Jim Caviesel) whose wife once fell under his tires, has now made it his quest to bring the monster down. He spends his days attentively scanning CB radio stations and trawling the vast nebula of backroads looking for any sign of this guy resurfacing, and when he does rear his hood ornament once again, the chase is on. An innocent woman (Rhona Mitra) and her ill fated friend (Andrea Roth) find themselves in the crosshairs of his malicious intent and Caviesel takes full advantage of the situation to try and stop him, with the help of an intrepid rogue traffic authority officer (Frankie R. Faison). Feore is intense as ever as the truly vile killer but what makes the character so fascinating is that without his car he is useless; So many years of disastrous collisions have left him a mangled multiple amputee who is wheelchair bound and uses fearsome homemade steel appendages to operate steering wheel, pedals and gearshift, giving him the appearance of some demented crippled cyborg, it’s quite the character choice for a villain. Director Harmon also did the original 1986 Hitcher film which is a classic and while there are shades of his original vision at work here, this is a different beast altogether. It’s moody, shot in deep saturated colours to illustrate the dusty days and inky black nights that hover over the rural roadmap, has a dark, portentous score by Mark Isham (also composed for Hitcher’86), tons of atmospheric unrest and profoundly brutal, stunningly reckless car chases that constantly threaten to spin wildly out of control into outright carnage and keep the viewer on edge splendidly. Powerful horror film.
I recently binge watched all the Hellraiser sequels and man, they are one wild ride. One of my favourites is the fourth one, titled Bloodline, that traces a family lineage from French silly wig times where a toymaker first crafts the evil puzzle box for a dark magician, who initially conjures up Pinhead and his homies. The film traces this genesis into the 90’s art-world scene in a big city where the cube has been embedded into the architectural foundation of a skyscraper where it causes havoc, and then yet another timeline far, far into the future where a scientist on a massive deep space station experiments on the box, trying to put a stop to Pinhead and close the hellish portal for good. It’s an ambitious, wildly entertaining, boundlessly imaginative sequel that covers thousands of years and many characters including a sultry demon princess (Valentina Vargas) who is first summoned in French silly wig era by a very young Adam Scott, who wishes he never met her. She’s terrific and adds a sort of supernatural femme fatale aesthetic to the mythos. Doug Bradley is off the chain here and this is by far my favourite of his Pinhead turns in any of the films. He gets a whopping amount of screen time (often not the case in these sequels) and is a terrifying, antagonistic asshole who feels like an actual tangible threat here instead of his sometimes illusory, half-there half-not theatrical presence. I appreciate such ambition in horror sequels, where the same retread or motifs aren’t just tiredly recycled through new characters and settings, but actual innovation is employed and new lore is pioneered into the canon. The outer space stuff is a fucking blast, as the team of mercenaries played by recognizable faces (Christine Harnos & Pat Skipper are awesome) race against time to find the scientist before all hell breaks loose where no one can hear you scream. The finale is a jaw dropper and one of the most creative moments in the entire franchise as the space station becomes… something more, it’s a slow-clap moment of adrenaline pumping sound and fury and, in a way, the final narrative beat of the entire Hellraiser legacy, despite the fact that there are many more films to come. I would say this is tied with the second film, Hellbound, as my favourite in the series, it’s so well structured, gory as ever, creatively inspired and just so much fun. Oh yeah and there’s a Cenobite dog, too! So badass.
Lady In White is one in a handful of films I like to think of as the “child oriented yet still pretty terrifying live action horror” sub-genre, it sits alongside a few ones that Disney did like Watcher In The Woods, Something Wicked This Way Comes and the British produced Afraid Of The Dark. They’re geared towards younger audiences in a sense, but they still have dark, macabre, uncompromising themes and seriously spooky aspects. It’s taken me a long time to find this one but it was worth that wait as it’s pretty much the best of the bunch, a sensational ghost story/mystery/serial killer procedural with wonderful performances all across the board, some gorgeous upstate New York autumnal vibes and warmhearted Italian American family dynamics sold splendidly by all among the cast. As a grownup writer from the city (Frank LaLoggia, also the immensely talented writer/director) revisits his childhood home in the country, he recounts, in blessedly hushed campfire tones, a few years in his life as a boy (played by Lukas Haas) where he encountered several ghosts in a hair raising series of events. As an elusive child murderer plagued their township and the surrounding area eluding police for years, the boy is visited by the wandering spirit of one of his victims (Joelle Jacobi, unsettling and sympathetic in the same beat) who can’t find her way to the other side until her killer is caught. So begins a rousing tale of fright and menace as the murderer, lurking in plain sight, is slowly sought by the living and the dead alike in spectral collaboration. A lot of time is spent with the boy and his family, and one gets the sense of a realistic, loving, hectic atmosphere of growing up in that era. Alex Rocco from The Godfather is sensational as the boy’s father, who has a tough guy exterior but a very vulnerable heart underneath. The film exudes genuine warmth and affection between the human beings who are alive, truly authentic sadness and melancholic longing for those that are not and offers some of the most severely frightening ghost encounters I’ve seen in film, particularly a sequence where the boy observes a flashback in real time of the exact moment the girl was murdered that is soul shaking in its blunt, disturbing honesty and raw performance from the young actress. Lots of time passes in the story so not only do we get to see a chilly, bucolic Halloween pass by in this lovely little county, we also see Christmas come for some bonus holiday vibes. It’s a brilliant film, full of grand set pieces, down to earth characters, a sense of dark realism that doesn’t sugarcoat the more unpleasant realities in life, an absolutely horrifying villain, effective special effects for the ghosts, tons of shadowy, elemental, earthen atmosphere and a showstopper of a climax set atop windy bluffs overlooking stark, deadly cliffs high above the ocean below. About as close as you can come to a perfect spooky season film.
Ken Russell’s Gothic reminds me of one of those nights where you and a group of your friends all get hammered and take psychedelics together but accidentally forget to designate one amongst the group to stay sober and take care of the rest, so you all just kind of collectively lose it without a sane babysitter to steer you away from a bad trip. In this case the group of friends in question includes Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne), his doe-eyed concubine (Myriam Cyr), Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson), her poet husband (Julian Sands) and John Polidori (Timothy Spall), and if you’re even vaguely familiar with their real life literary works it wouldn’t even surprise me that the lot of them were out of their heads on all sorts of drugs. All metaphors aside this is a fantastic, warped, fever dream shock horror film that provides an abundance of perverse enjoyment, provided you have the strong stomach, deranged sensibilities and capacity for abstraction required to get perverse enjoyment out of what can only be described as really fucking weird shit. As the odd group engages in tantalizing swinger’s foreplay and picks each other’s brains, subtle supernatural things start to show up, then all hell breaks loose after they conduct an impromptu seance around a supposedly enchanted skull. This is my first Ken Russell film and I already love his work, the guy just likes to roll up his sleeves and get unapologetically bizarre for the sheer joy of it. Natasha Richardson’s Mary Shelley is the eventual main focal point of the group and both her wonderful, edgy performance and the night in question subtly suggests what past traumas and diabolical new inspirations led to the genesis idea for her iconic Frankenstein novel, while Byrne’s impossibly sleazy Byron hovers in the background, a hedonistic tornado of deviant sexual energy and debutant petulance that the actor, still early in his career, tears into with seething voracity. Russell himself is a wizard of hallucinatory panic, visual madness and disorienting, hair raising sound design, with a lot of help from a terrifically spine chilling score by the one and only Thomas Dolby. The experience is one of dementedly strange horror, with indescribable monsters lurking around every corner and edifice of Byron’s spooky mansion, a constant state of mental disarray, existential confusion and otherworldly anxiety inflicted both upon the characters and audience alike, a truly immersive realm of a film. It’s a shame this isn’t really more widely available, streaming, physical or otherwise because it’s essential for any horror fan. I watched it on YouTube with surprisingly decent picture and sound quality, I suppose that will have to do for now. Excellent film.
Netflix and filmmaker Patrick Brice (the effective DIY Creep films) try their hand at a classic slasher frolic with 80’s influences for There’s Someone Inside Your House, a surprisingly grisly horror that works, for the most part, when the script isn’t trying to be too contemporary and ‘of the minute’ with tiresome buzzwords. It concerns a group of teens from one of those football, cornfield, jock jacket Midwest towns where the local high school has all the regular archetypes, here written through a prism of updated millennial banter that probably should have been dialed down. Someone is going around ruthlessly murdering people, each victim with a terrible, life changing secret that gets exposed alongside their killing, the murderer wearing a 3D printed mask of their prey each and every time. It’s a cool idea; a killer who uses secrets as lethally as blunt objects or blades, and when they come for you, you see an unsettlingly pristine prosthetic mirror image of yourself staring back at you. The film’s third act and Scream-esque revelations based on the killer’s identity reveal feel a bit anticlimactic, while the setup and ferocious midsection boast some truly inspired and gruesome kills, the opening murder involving severed Achilles’ tendons will be enough to make even the most seasoned gore hound wince. Much use is made of the cornfield setting, the locations have a desolate, wide open feel to them and of course they fucking shot it in Vancouver and Chilliwack and tried to pass it off as the States because they’ve got no imagination. It’s the sort of mid level, not classic but still pretty enjoyable slasher flick you’d see in the 80’s and 90’s, something like a tribute to Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer that isn’t destined for greatness or franchise notoriety, yet still does the trick. The woke stuff could have been toned down though, it takes you right out of the era they’re trying to place you in as it’s so obviously shoehorned in. Good kills and atmosphere though, and just check out that gorgeous poster.