Oct 24, 2014

24 of 31: The Sacrament (2013)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, directed by Ti West

Another found-footage horror flick. I know...yawn. Been there, done that, re-wound that piece of footage. I'm not hater, but it's getting to the point where there has to be something special about the film for me to show an even rudimentary interest. Like with Willow Creek earlier this month. That was a movie I really wanted to see because of the director involved. Same this with this film. My interest is directly tied to the filmmaker.

Ti West is probably my favorite recent director in the genre. The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, his segment in V/H/S. All great stuff. And I wasn't too interested in a found-footage film that mirrored many of the events of the Jonestown Massacre, but when I found out that Ti West was involved I knew I was all in. I have high hopes.

Here we have a fashion photographer whose sister is a recovering drug addict. She joined a religious community in the South someplace as a part of her recovery. After not hearing from her from quite a while, he receives a letter from him stating that all is well and hoping he could come visit her. The letter included a contact telephone number. When he calls, he's told by the man who answers that his sister had moved out of the country with the rest of the community and that she could only be reached, mysteriously, by helicopter. VICE magazine convinces him to let them accompany him on his trip to document the adventure, and the game is afoot.

They arrived at a commune named Eden Parish only to be met by armed guards who are perturbed at the appearance of a film crew. After some initial tense moments, they are allowed through the gates where they are greeted by the man's sister who shows them around the place. Have you read or seen anything about Jonestown? Yeah...it looks like that. Have your read or seen anything about Jim Jones? Yeah...that's the guy who runs this commune. A older Southern gentlemen who everyone refers to as "Father".

At first, of course, the commune appears to be a true Utopia. It's a beautiful place and everyone seems to be genuinely at peace, but the journalists can't help but feel uneasy about the whole situation. Father treated them well and with respect, but he also dominated them with the power of his charisma. His message to them had an undertone of real danger. Then a young mute girl hands one of the journalists a note that says "Please save us". And the facade begins to crumble.

It's ever bit as disturbing, violent and tragic as what we might imagine to have happened that day  in 1978 when a charismatic cult leader decided that mass murder was the final solution. There are some truly difficult scenes toward the end of the film. Hard to watch. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Verdant Dude Rating: 4 out of 5 pumpkin ales

Oct 23, 2014

23 of 31: Last Light: An Irish Ghost Story (2011)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Amazon Prime on Roku
Starring: Some Irish folks

I haven't found too much written about this film, but what I have found has been slightly positive. Even though the film was supposedly made for around £200, that's British pounds. Might be the lowest-budget film I've ever heard of. The writer/director, George Clarke, wrote the screenplay in 3 days and filmed it in 12. Mostly with his family and friends. Set in real abandoned mansion in Northern Ireland that had been a hospital in WWII, and then a nursing home for the elderly. The townsfolk hire a handyman to board off the historical site to keep the local kids from breaking in and destroying the place that had already fallen into disrepair.

Here's the deal. This is an actual, well supposed, haunted mansion. The cast and crew allegedly encountered numerous instances of paranormal phenomena. George Clarke spent the three days writing the film at the mansion with a team of paranormal investigators and a psychic. Nearly everything that happens in the film is based on those events. Kinda cool.

The tiny budget in the film is a palpable thing. The only non-natural lighting used in the dark mansion is from a flashlight, a Zippo lighter and some matches. That's it. And since there was very little budget for special effects, the ghosts are played by actual people, giving a real physicality to their presence in the film. The handyman has a whole series of "Holy shit, get the fuck out!" experiences almost immediately, although he somehow convinces himself that it's just a bunch of local kids fucking with him. Pissed at that thought, he becomes determined to finish the job of sealing off all the doors and windows in the house.

But the ghosts and spirits don't want to be sealed in. So, while they've avoided him for his first couple of weeks at the house, they become angry and violent and very grabby as he prepares to finish the job. You can probably guess where this is all headed. Things do not go well for our intrepid handyman. Even though he had ample opportunities to go running home to his wife. Who, while being very skeptical, comes to get rescue him at the desperate urging of her sister.

I've seen haunted house films made on much, much larger budgets that weren't nearly as effective as this one was. Not saying that it's a great film or anything. But it was atmospheric and fun, and that's about all I need when it comes to paranormal horror. Give it a try. Absolutely amazing for how much was spent on the film.

Verdant Dude Rating: 3 out of 5 pumpkin ales

Oct 22, 2014

22 of 31: The Lords of Salem (2012)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Starz on cable
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison

Rob Zombie loves horror films. I'll give him that. Occasionally he will turn that love into something brilliant like The Devil's Rejects. Sometimes he's like a hulking barbarian, wielding that love like a giant two-handed sword. Sloppily cleaving through the torsos of the horror icons before him, like he did with the Halloween franchise reboot. He's done serial killer families, cannibalism, unstoppable killing machines and with The Lords of Salem he is ready to take a hack at witchcraft. Not nature-loving Wiccans, but demon-worshiping witches.

Right away, I'm impressed. Taking a tip from the success of The Devil's Rejects, this film feels like it could have been made in the 1960's or early 1970's. Exactly what the subject matter requires, in my opinion. There isn't one digital effect in the film. Very cool. Odd camera angles, characters just walking off-screen on occasion, that certain graininess that permeated all those old great horror movies. It's about as old-school as it gets when it comes to the genre.

Sheri Moon Zombie and her naked butt play a DJ working in Salem, Massachusetts. You know...the place with the witches. After one show, an old recording is left for her at the station by someone called the Lords. It's some spooky mumbo-jumbo, incantations and the like. The recording gives the visions and the heebies to our heroine.

There's other creepiness afoot at the old boarding house where she lives. She keeps seeing a mystery tenant near a room that is supposedly empty. And she keeps NOT seeing some naked scary ghosts that inhabit the place as well. Plus there's the landlady and her "sisters"...a freaky, ahem, coven of odd birds. Zombie visualized the witches of Salem as Manson-esque hippies, a pretty cool concept.

This is a scary, visually exciting horror flick. Perfect for a cold, rainy, Autumn day like we've had here in the Northeast for the past few days. It also is a whole lot of fun as Zombie doesn't take it all so seriously. There may also be a much longer director's cut sometime in our future, as roles played by Sid Haig, Clint Howard, Udo Kier and many, many others wound up on he editing room floor. Probably a good idea. House of 1,000 Corpses could have used a stronger editing hand. A tidy hour and 42 minutes feels just about right for this one.

Unfortunately, for me, the film fell apart in the last act. All that restraint that Zombie showed in the first 2/3 of the film was gone. I think he sometimes forgets that the unknown is scarier than the known, that it's sometimes better to keep the audience in the dark. And he has that tendency to go over the top. For
2/3 of the film he was able to reign it in, but he finally had to let loose the hulking barbarian with the two-handed sword. Because he is who he is.

It's still worth watching, though. Even with the crap ending.

Verdant Dude Rating: 3 out of 5 pumpkin ales

Oct 21, 2014

21 of 31: Evil Dead (2013)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Starz on cable
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez

In what would amount to pure heresy amongst horror film fans, I'm here to admit that I'm not a fan of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead from 1981. I thought it was okay, but nothing on the level that most cultists feel. I liked the second movie a lot, and I LOVED the third film. But at that point they had moved on from horror to almost pure comedy. And Bruce Campbell is just the absolute grooviest. But that first film? Meh.

In the 2013 remake/reboot, instead of the tired "five college students vacation in a cabin in the woods" trope, we have what amounts to a voluntary intervention. Mia's brother and her friends go to the cabin to help her recover from her heroin addiction. She's a damaged kid who had to deal with her mother going to an insane asylum by herself because her brother bailed on the situation. He's trying to repair the damage he's done to her and reconnect with their friends.

Things start to go bad when they discover a cellar filled with animal corpses and ye olde evil book. One of them reads some shit out loud that he was warned not to read, and that's when the demons be possessing people. Mia is the first to be possessed, but one by one they all fall. All based on the prophecies written in ye olde evil book. Five souls needed to awaken something called the Abomination. Not. Good.

There's a lot more backstory in this remake. Both involving the characters and the demonic stuff going on at the cabin. There's also a hell of a lot more gore and violence. Just an absolute gore-fest of a film. I've read the original film used 50 gallons of blood. This filmed used over 70,000 gallons. Wow. It got a little too"torture porn-y" at times for my taste, but demonic possession will cause that. I'm guessing here. Nothing in my own personal history can confirm that. Ahem.

There are a whole mess o' winks, nods and loving references to the original film in this remake, including a post-credits cameo from Bruce Almighty himself. Groovy. And don't worry, the chainsaw makes an appearance. And a "holy fucking shit!" appearance at that. I know that a sequel is in the works for this one. And Sam Raimi has mentioned a fourth film in the original series. And then possibly another film bringing the two story-lines together. That would be interesting. For now, enjoy this fun gore-fest. It's about as entertaining as these things get.

Verdant Dude Rating: 3.5 out of 5 pumpkin ales.

Oct 20, 2014

20 of 31: Train (2008)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: HBO Go on Roku
Starring: Thora Birch

Here's a weird concept. A group of American college wrestlers, male and female, are participating in tournament somewhere in Eastern Europe. After one of the matches, a few of them sneak out to go to a local rave/sex party that they were invited to by one of their opponents. They wind up missing their train with the rest of the team the following morning and they accept the offer of a strange woman to ride another train that will get them to Odessa with their coaches so they can meet up with the rest of the team. Seems sketchy, at best.

What follows can basically be summed up by calling this Hostel on a train. There are some vicious, sadistic fucks who operate the train, and they prey upon unsuspecting tourists like our wrestling team. You see, one of the cars on the train is a fucked-up torture chamber. I always check to make sure my train doesn't have one of those when I travel the rails. One by one, our intrepid wrestlers get snatched up and tortured by the train crazies. I'm not sure I understand the point of it all. Organ harvesting is the idea, but it's really poorly executed. Seems like a bit much, if you ask me.

I had read that this was originally going to be a straight remake of Terror Train from 1980 starring Jamie Lee Curtis. THAT was a fun horror flick. Lone psychopath out for revenge during a costume party hosted on a train. But the studio decided to go with torture porn, which was all the rage last decade. Bad choice. Fucking horrendous choice.

Hardly anything in this movie makes any sense. It's poorly written, plotted, paced, directed and acted. Do yourself a favor and skip this turd of a film. Easily one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen.

Verdant Dude Rating: 0 out of 5 pumpkin ales. 

Oct 19, 2014

19 of 31: The New Daughter (2009)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Showtime on regular cable
Starring: Kevin Costner

I had no idea that Kevin Costner ever made a horror film. Just doesn't seem to be part of his oeuvre, if you know what I mean. And if you know what I mean, I'm glad. Because I'm not sure I'm using that word correctly. Bottom line...horror doesn't seem to be his bag. Baseball, rom-coms, grumpy action hero joints...sure. Just not horror.

In this one he plays a recently divorced man with a teenaged daughter and a younger son who moves them to a remote house in the country. Local rumors abound about the place, including tales of a woman who went missing around there. Plus there is a giant burial mound on the grounds of the property. Not good. Then the family cat goes missing and is found the next day mutilated. Already I'm pissed. No need to kill the family cat.

More freaky shit starts happening. The girl is oddly attracted by the burial ground, she winds up covered in mud and blood, Costner keeps finding an odd straw doll and the house seems to be infested by spiders. His daughter is becoming more and more unstable, and we soon see she has some weird scarring on her back and neck. Something to do with that burial mound. Possibly an old Native American burial ground.

Two tropes of horror films you should never mess with. 1) Don't move your family into an old creepy house in the middle of nowhere. 2) Stay far away from ancient Native American burial grounds. So Costner fucks up twice in this one. He discovers that the same stuff happening to his family happened to the previous owners. A young girl seemingly became obsessed/possessed by something in the burial ground, and bad shit began happening to the family.

History is going to repeat itself.

As has been a theme here on the Dude this month, this film is nothing new in the horror genre. But it offers some decent frights and good production values. And those are two things that can make even a bad horror film a whole lot more watchable. 

Verdant Dude Rating: 2.5 out of 5 pumpkin ales.

Oct 18, 2014

18 of 31: Willow Creek (2014)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Rented on Amazon for Roku
Starring: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson

If you had told me several decades ago that Bobcat Goldthwait would be a respected director, Hell if you had told me he wouldn't be working on Police Academy 13: Zed's Dead Baby*, well...I would have been pretty skeptical. I've seen several of his dark comedies and enjoyed them, even if I refuse to watch World's Greatest Dad, mostly just to piss off a friend of mine. I'm a dick like that. Willow Creek is his first stab at horror, and a pretty fun ride if you are in the mood for this kind of thing.

A young couple are off to the remote area of Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California. The dude is a Bigfoot enthusiast who has been dreaming of visiting the site of the infamous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film that we've all seen countless times in our lives. She is a skeptic, someone who feels like the odds of discovering Bigfoot are roughly equal to those of discovering leprechauns.

Goldthwait seems to be a fan of the Bigfoot legends, as am I. He decided to make a straight-forward found footage film documenting this couple as they explore the town of Willow Creek and meet the eccentric locals. Their barely-contained glee at how serious some of the townfolk take the legends quickly turns to terror as they head out alone into the woods near Bluff Creek...the site of the Patterson-Gimlin footage.

The film doesn't break any new ground in either the genre nor the legend of Bigfoot. The big reveal toward the end has been the subject of previous Bigfoot films and fiction. But it's still a whole lot of fun. My favorite thing about the film is that there were hardly any moments where you wanted to scream "put the camera down and RUN, idiots!" That's a breath of fresh air.

I don't know if there are Bigfoots, er, Bigfeet running around there. I do know that two hipsters headed out into the remote woods of the Pacific Northwest with only the thin vinyl of a pop-tent to protect them is a pretty scary proposition. With or without giant bipeds running around.

Verdant Dude Rating: 3.5 out of 5 pumpkin ales

*There's a lesson in the importance of punctuation in there somewhere. Is the subtitle an homage to Pulp Fiction and Butch's famous line about the previous owner of the chopper? Or is it about Zed's dead child? I'd watch either film, frankly.