Nia DeCosta’s Candyman

Urban legends have a way of living on decades after the actual events that inspired them, like ghosts of the past doomed to linger as long as the collective human consciousness remembers what happened, and spreads it by word of mouth. The original 1992 Candyman film is a minted horror classic that has only gotten better with age and still holds up in every respect to this day, a terrifying supernatural parable that covers classism, racism, the power of myth and the passing on of stories in a ritualistic fashion. So how does Nia DeCosta’s Candyman, a ‘spiritual’ sequel and decades later follow up compare to its inspiration? Well naturally it’s not quite as good, but it was never going to be, and it was also never going to be the exact same thing because the world has changed and along with it so has the grim Chicago project housing neighbourhood of Cabrini Green, once a derelict death trap and now a hilariously partially gentrified (we see a rundown laundromat sitting snug right next to an artisanal ‘roastery’) overrun with art world types, the horrors that befell it over twenty years ago now almost forgotten. Not quite though, as we see struggling artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) catch wind of the Candyman events, now little more than a campfire story, and decide to investigate further in order to gain inspiration during an artistic dry spell where his successful girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) is supporting him financially. Naturally the more he learns the more his life unravels and pretty soon people are saying those magic words five times into mirrors and being viciously murdered by Candyman, albeit a different incarnation than Tony Todd’s iconic and darkly tragic Daniel Robitaille. He’s called Sherman Fields this time (played excellently by Michael Hargrove) and I gotta hand it to the guy, he’s pretty damn scary, in less baroque, theatrical fashion than Todd and instead a more animalistic, unstable way. The idea here is that Robitaille pioneered the dark necromancy that keeps the Candyman legend alive but there are also others, each with an appropriately unfortunate backstory, who fill the position. It’s a neat expansion into the mythos even if Todd himself gets sadly little to do here. The callbacks to the first are integrated well enough into this version of today so that it feels psychically linked to it without having outright sequel syndrome, which I suppose is what they mean by ‘spiritual sequel.’ Nia Decosta is a filmmaker to watch out for, she meticulously blocks actors and stages the killing scenes in ingeniously innovative ways using space, movement and reflection for some truly trippy and original sequences invoking settings like mirrored elevators, high rise apartments, high school washrooms and cavernous holes in dilapidated drywall. There’s also some beautiful shadow puppetry that fills in for flashbacks instead of ripping actual footage right from the 1992 version, which adds an elemental flourish and a terrific musical score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Love that echoes Phillip Glass’s achingly gorgeous original composition without aping it. There’s even some startlingly gruesome body horror thrown in that breaks new prosthetic ground and is… quite something to look at, or look away from depending on your tolerance. It ain’t the 1992 version and let’s face it, nothing will be. But it’s hell of a good horror film and a damn fine shoutout to a classic that’s in its own time capsule now, it illustrates how myth, legend and superstition live on no matter who forgets, dark forces like that have a way of finding their way home to the hallowed grounds where they were birthed, and this incarnation of Candyman is every bit as chilling and atmospheric as the first, albeit in different, fresh ways.

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s The Rock

Who loves Michael Bay’s The Rock? I think a better question is who doesn’t. It was one of my first introductions to the action genre as a kid and I sat there in Saturday morning disbelief at just what was possible in the realms of cinema. Alcatraz Island, nuclear warheads filled with horrific poison gas, Nicolas Cage in charismatic goofball mode, Sean Connery basically reprising his 007 role one last time, a rogues gallery of gnarly character actors all hamming it up to high heaven, a score from Hans Zimmer that soars and invoked both emotion and adrenaline, what’s there not to fall in love with.

The plot here is besides the point: angry rogue military general Ed Harris takes Alcatraz hostage, threatens to launch warheads across harbour into crowded San Fran. Chemistry guru Nic Cage, ex MI6 super-spy Sean Connery and a team of Navy Seals covertly lead a siege on the rock to stop him. Many guns are fired, a lot of shit blows up and endless one liners are uttered. That’s the nutshell version though, the actual experience is something blissful and perfectly pitched in terms of the recipe for a great action film. Connery is intense yet somehow laid back and steals the show as the pissed off, blacklisted agent who really doesn’t care about the threat towards the city, or at least pretends not to. Cage, whether strumming his guitar, banging his super hot Italian American wife (Vanessa Marcel) or referencing Elton John right before killing a bad guy, is comic dynamite and a source of desperate, scenery chewing energy that somehow works despite how ridiculous his performance is (it’s like the antithesis of his work in Con Air, the sister film to this). What I love about Harris’s villain here is that, unlike many huge budget action flicks, you actually care about this guy and what he wants, despite the extreme measures he’s gone to get them. He’s calm, resolute and sorrowful and not much about his performance suggests an antagonist except for the situation the character is written into and it’s an interesting, thoughtful choice for the film’s baddie. The real nasty characters are the mercenaries he hires to carry out his mission, who include the more subdued likes of David Morse and John C. McGinley, the less subdued Bokeem Woodbine and Gregory Sorlader and the positively psychotic Tony Todd as Captain Darrow, the last guy you’d want on either side of the moral fence as his seems to be absent. On the other side of the action we get John Spencer as a cranky FBI bigwig, legendary Michael Biehn as the Seal commando, always awesome William Forsythe as the one FBI agent with a brain in his head and cameos from Pat Skipper, Claire Forlani, Danny Nucci, Tom Towles, Jim Caviesel, Stanley Anderson, Raymond Cruz, Xander Berkeley, Philip Baker Hall and Stuart Wilson.

From the moment Harris’s team steals the rockets to the explosive sequence where Cage flags down the military in a sly Platoon reference, this thing fires with everything it’s got. Connery’s escape and car chase through the streets of San Fran goes on needlessly long and exists only for the purpose of an action sequence, making it all the more awesome. Harris and Biehn’s utterly badass stare down and frantic chicken fight over who will order a stand-down first always gets me. It’s such a well made action film that even the Bay haters sound like ignoramuses when they bash it. Roger Ebert, who has routinely torn Bay new assholes over the years in his reviews, loved it. Zimmer’s theme is the perfect symphony for fighter jets, commandos, yellow hummers’ (“You shtole my humvee!”), trolley cars, assault weapons and high powered rockets to thunder across the harbour in spectacular fashion. The Rock rocks.

-Nate Hill

Clive Barker’s Candyman

Clive Barker’s Candyman is bar none one of the best horror films ever made. Many factors can take credit for that, but the two chief among them are Tony Todd’s performance as Daniel Robitaille, the hook handed, honey voiced spectre that haunts even the frames he doesn’t appear in, and Philip Glass’s beautiful yet terrifying electronic score that rips through the story like a rogue orchestral piece with a life of its own. Production design and locations are also key here, as they filmed in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini Green Project for real, and it makes all the difference. Candyman is one of those urban legends, the angry ghost of an ex slave who was murdered, and now gets resurrected to raise hell whenever someone says his name in a mirror five times. That someone here happens to be college professor Virginia Madsen, who has heard whispered rumours among the locals and decides to research it a little too closely. Before she knows it she’s seeing Robitaille everywhere, dead bodies are starting to pile up and she begins to look an awful lot like the culprit. With the help of her boyfriend (Xander Berkeley) and colleague (Kasi Lemmons, always fantastic) she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery but Candyman is a tough curse to shake, and the killing doesn’t stop. Many of the actors here are genuine residents of the Green, providing both authenticity and a very human quality to the film. Todd is now something of a household name and has achieved cult status for this role, it pretty much set him up for good in the horror genre and it’s no wonder, he’s a hypnotic dark angel as Robitaille, with both seething menace and a crazy calm lurking behind those eyes. There’s moments of real fright that hold up to this day as truly chilling shockers, such as a kid getting ambushed off camera by Candyman in a park restroom and the horrific aftermath of a dog’s murder coupled with a missing baby, brought to life by Vanessa Williams’s vivid, heartbreaking performance as the mother. This is how you create an effective horror film, by balancing gore with story and character, creating an atmosphere in which we feel both lulled by the sights and sounds but always unsafe as to what could be lurking through that bathroom medicine cabinet or dark, graffiti scrawled hallway. A classic. There’s two sequels that aren’t too awful thanks solely to Todd’s presence, but they come nowhere close to this one.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: iMurders

iMurders. Just let that title sink in. It’s worse than it sounds. A movie about a series of murders related to an online internet chat room should at least have the trashy decency of something like Pulse or One Missed Call, but this thing plays like a soap opera that got cancelled after the pilot. Cheap, lazy and ridiculous, the only saving grace is the comforting presence of a few character actors to brighten your day. It’s a roundtable whodunit with a series of characters, all who might be the killer stalking them via ‘cutting edge’ technology that resembles nothing Apple has actually ever put out. There’s a tragic shooting from years before that has somehow spurred this lunatic to torment a MySpace group like this, but honestly it’s all a bunch of narrative mud. There’s a scandalous college professor (the great William Forsythe), Gabrielle Anwar (who honestly deserves better than this) as a girl with a few skeletons in her closet, a detective (Frank Grillo) with some personal ties to the case, and more. The one decent strand sees a mysterious psychiatrist (Charles Durning) interviewing a girl (Miranda Kwok), and the two appear to be in some weird other dimension, probably one where the horror films are better than stuff like this. Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd shows up as a sarcastic FBI agent. The whole thing has a silly Fisher Price feel to it and we never buy anything as legit, and even on the standards set by B Movies this is shameless, and that’s all I have to say. Oh and Billy Dee Williams is apparently in it too, but I’ll be fucked if I remember who he is.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Minotaur 

If you ever find yourself in conversation with Tom Hardy at some cocktail party (one can dream), Minotaur is the film you bring up to both flabbergast and embarrass him, if only for your own amusement. It’s one of those low budget sword & sorcery schlock-fests that the SyFy channel used to broadcast at two in the morning on sleepy Saturday nights, to serve as background noise for whatever hedonistic shenanigans are going on in the living room. It’s Tom’s first ever starring role, and therefore should never be forgotten, like those old camcorder tapes of kids learning to ride sans training wheels for the first time. The story borrows from the legend, adding its own lurid, t&a soaked flair that only SyFy can get just right. Tom plays the son of a Viking chieftain (a brief Rutger Hauer), who goes looking for his true love, one among a few of the village’s youngsters who get kidnapped every year by a freaky pseudo African tribe of weirdos who sacrifice youths to the mythical Minotaur, residing in rocky catacombs beneath their city’s surface. Led by supreme weirdo Deucalion (Candyman’s Tony Todd, hamming up every scene), who fervently wants to impregnate his own hot sister (chill, dude), and oversees this theatrical occult ritual with obscene relish. This is one of those creature features where you barely see the beast for the first two thirds of the film, save for a quick snaggle of fur or fang rushing by in the shadows, and suspiciously looking like a bearskin rug cello taped to antlers and a hobby horse. Hardy does get an eventual confrontation with the Minotaur late in the game and deep in the maze, providing a few schlocky moments that are worth the ride, but it’s silly stuff most of the time, scraping the bottom of a barrel that does lower than the maze of the bull. Totally tagging Tom in thee blog post though in hopes that he sees this and it brightens his day just a bit. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory With Nate: Dark Reel

Dark Reel is severely damaged goods no matter how you look at it. It sucks because there’s some good ideas trying their best to flourish beneath a mountain of sludge, but nothing of any value can breech the surface of this purely shitty B movie with scant traces of a decent outing. It starts off with a black and white prologue that looks like the only part of the film that wasn’t shot with an etch-a-sketch. Scarlett, a young aspiring actress, is lured into a dark abandoned set warehouse under the pretence of an audition, and brutally murdered. Fast forward about six decades, where a young groupie (Edward Furlong, looking like a sack of shit warmed over) wins a walk on role in a sickeningly trashy B movie monstrosity, starring a legendary scream queen (Tiffany Shepis, also a legendary scream queen in real life). It’s not long before so,done with ties to the murder in the prologue starts skulking around the set after hours and hacking people to pieces in ways that are as tasteless as they are cheap looking. The film has one redeeming quality, if you are a fan: Lance Henriksen. He plays Connor Pritchett, schlock movie producer and general whacko. Lance seriously plays the part like he has no idea what the script is, making up verbal diarrhea on the fly, undergoing titanic mood swings and displaying the coherency of someone with serious issues. It’s fun to watch him crash and burn, and even in the most awful poop material like this, he still shines, as batshit crazy as he is. There’s also a cop played by Tony Todd who acts just as unstable as Lance, and Todd rides the wave of his awfully written dialogue and poor direction like a sheepish pro. This is literally one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and the funny thing is that it didn’t have to be. The premise itself is great, and even on the couch change budget it was stuck with, they could have at least tried. But no, they threw in the bloody towel and instead of a gem or even an admirable failure we get this monumental piece of festering garbage instead. I had to keep myself occupied in any scenes without Henriksen by hitting half speed fast forward so the characters sound like chipmunks. It says a lot about a flick when you have to do that. Avoid at any cost.

Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder: A Review by Nate Hill


Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder is a completely awesome little horror flick that has gathered copious amounts of dust since it’s mid 90’s release. Forgotten and forsaken, it should have spawned an epic frachise in the vein of stuff like Wishmaster, but oh well, we’ve still got the original beloved entry. Now, just exactly how much of what we see in the film is based on actual Bram Stoker work is up for debate and a little beyond the scant research that I have done, but it’s a tidy little concept that’s executed with B-movie earnestness and a love for the spooky corner of cinema. The plot concerns a priest named Father Vassey, played by genre titan Michael Rooker. Vassey is probing the rural Midwestern belt of the US looking for an ancient demon that’s something like a shapeshifter who deeds on both darkness and human souls, which resembles a cloud of dust reflected through hundreds of chrystal prisms, from what i remember. He’s not your garden variety preacher, sporting two laser sighted semi automatic handguns which come handy in tight shadowy corners, and the jaded will to kick some supernatural ass, not so much in the name of the Lord (he doesn’t believe in god anymore) but more for a dark and personal crusade against the Shadowbuilder. The demon hovers around a young boy, hungering for a soul within that has the potential to both become a saint and also open a doorway to hell in one stroke. Vassey is a determind and resourceful badass, relying on nearby townsfolk for help and support, and Rooker sells the schlocky tone with remarkable gravity that is his trademark. He almost always plays extreme characters in tense narratives and keeps up the energy like clockwork. There’s a hilarious turn from a dread lock adorned Tony Todd (Candyman)  as Evert Covey, a backwoods eccentric with a penchent for rastafarian speech and a part to play in the drama once we realize he isn’t there solely for comic relief. This one is hard to find and almost no one has seen it, but I’m hoping my review will change that, because it’s it’s a little treasure and a fantasy horror classic for me.