Occultober – Day 24 – Hellraiser

Hellraiser
Clive Barker’s original 1987 film Hellraiser trades in extreme images of sadomasochism and gore. A man discovers a puzzle-box, and upon solving it, opens a gateway to some kind of hell, where the locals (colloquially known as the Cenobites) seem to get off on having human flesh rended by fishing hooks on long linked chains. The film is one of extreme pain, and extreme sexual desire, but it is neither erotic, nor particularly scary. It’s a odd duck, really, one more of vulgarity masquerading as terror. In that regard, it has aged particularly well.

Part Twilight Zone, part Grand Guignol, Hellraiser’s chief images are its mascot, “Pinhead” and his fellow angels of pain, all of which have meticulous and interesting costume design and make-up, but fall just short of being actually scary. More compelling is the man with the puzzle-box who uses his ex-girlfriend to bring him flesh to rebuild his corporeal body and escape from hell. This offers again, some pretty spectacular make-up that is as much ‘anatomy class’ as it is icky.

The film has spawned countless sequels, graphic novels and other ancillary media, but still has never achieved any kind of mainstream success beyond the gore hounds and other curators of 1980s eccentricities. Those who like it, seem to like it a lot, for me the experience is simply baffling.

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Occultober – Day 23 – The Serpent And The Rainbow

The Serpent And The Rainbow
“Don’t let them bury me…I’m not dead!” Who does get a slight chill when they consider the idea of being though dead and put into the earth still conscious? Wes Craven delivers a lot of exotic-sploitation in the 1988 voodoo-psychological horror picture, The Serpent And The Rainbow. The film is loosely based on the exploits of ethnobotanist Wade Davis, a man who by his own account was ‘turned into a zombie’ and recovered from the experience.

Looking for a ‘natural anesthesia’ for big Pharma, Dennis Alan bounces around in the Amazon jungle, eventually landing in Haiti, where he tries to buy a potent powder from a voodoo priest. Instead he is captured by the paramilitary officers and tortured before being kicked out of the country. But his persistence gets himself back into Port au Prince, for the ‘full experience’ of the powder, which culminates in a trip into his own madness.

Craven layers on a plethora of WTF moments and crazy imagery, mainly because portions of the film take place in Alan’s nightmares — coming off A Nightmare On Elm Street, it becomes clear why Wes got the directing job from Universal Studios after Peter Weir passed on it. In the full Sam Raimi sense, it certainly tortures the hell out of a very game Bill Pullman who is very convincing in the Indiana Jones-esque lead role. In a hollywood kind of co-incidence, Pullman also played a Han Solo character in Mel Brooks Spaceballs which came out within the year of the release of The Serpent And The Rainbow, but of course, has a much less scary vibe join on.

Far from perfect, there is enough going on in The Serpent And The Rainbow to fuel more than a few nightmares for those who discover this forgotten, slightly-unpolished gem.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Time Lapse

 

Opening with a shot of swirling red paint, which then has tiny flecks of white thrown into the mixture to disturb the surface and complicate the image, Bradley King and B.P. Cooper’s Time Lapse shows just how bloody far you can go with a tiny budget, a great prop and two locations. The script here is a beauty, that finds new ways to look at time travel causality (or rather the dangers of perceived causality) along with the good old genre standby of the ‘big bag of money’ landing in your lap. To prove they are the real deal, the film also diligently delves into trust-issues that develop amongst friends when a morally questionable opportunity in life presents itself.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Predestination

 

Never do yesterday what you should do tomorrow, reads a sign in the early minutes of The Spierig Brothers’ delightfully loopy new film. Another reads, If at last you don’t succeed never try again. There are many of these twisted bon-mots lifted verbatim from Robert Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies” and scattered throughout its film adaptation, Predestination. Here is the thing about time travel movies: much time is in fact spent waiting around for things to catch up, even if it is only for that moment when Doc Brown sends his dog Einstein 60 seconds into the future. It leaves plenty of time to read the signs.

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Occultober – Day 22 – Witching And Bitching

Witching And Bitching
Indulge me with Álex de la Iglesia’s gender warfare picture, Witching and Bitching. A coven of witches captures a gang of robbers and proceeds to emasculate them in their lair. The film leans far more towards comedy than any sort of occult terror, but the devil is in the detailsl

The film features the small town of Zugarramurdi, world famous as one of the central European hubs of Witchcraft, and judging by the local bar in the film, the townsfolk are none to shy about hiding things. The key witches are played three generations established actresses who, besides being semi-regulars for this director, often appear in Pedro Almodovar films. The film is batshit crazy and shows not an ounce of restraint, anywhere, but man oh man, it’s worth it for the opening heist involving a silver painted Jesus with a shotgun and a compact getaway car.

The real Basque-region locals are all extras in the big action-set piece climax which might be a tad heavy on CGI (at times resembling the Matrix sequels with all its complex wire-work) but makes wonderful use of Zugarramurdi’s spectacular witch-caves (“The Devil has no tail, but his pussy is like a cave”) and features enough practical location work to evoke everything from Peter Jackson’s Braindead to Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances. Like those films, there is a manic energy on display co-existing with a reverence for the tiniest details in any given scene. The sense of escalation achieved is a marvellous thing.

It’s a lark, but don’t let that stop you.

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Occultober – Day 21 – The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead
Bound in human flesh and inked in human blood, the iconic Necronomicon – The Book of the Dead – is the source of releasing some sort of demon from hell in the debut film from Sam Raimi in 1981.

Not as overtly occult as some of the others on this list, nevertheless, the original ‘cabin in the woods’ picture has become a sub-genre of sorts, spawned a few sequels and a soulless glossy remake, influenced horror culture and video games alike. A bunch of 20-somethings rent a remote cabin, read a a demonic text, and are picked off and possessed by the aggressive spirits in the woods that look a lot like a POV from a camera mounted on a dirt bike. Innovative camera work aside, do not underestimate the purity of The Evil Dead. It scratched an itch that needed to be scratched in the early 1980s coming off a rash of drive-in satanism horror films, and against all odds got a theatrical release that launched a pretty formidable career in hollywood, from Dark Man to Spider Man to A Simple Plan. And the lead actor with the memorable chin, Bruce Campbell, became a cult genre icon who has published several books and regularly tours the Comic-con circuit.

Goopy, goofy, and kind of groty, the film stands up pretty well today, barring the shockingly vulgar tree-rape in the middle. It’s always worth a look, even if the more overtly hilarious sequel, 1984’s Evil Dead II, is a wee bit more satisfying.

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Occultober – Day 20 – Santa Sangre

Santa Sangre
Circuses, swimming pools of blood, mind control and amputee-ism are but a few of the striking elements on display in Alejandro Jodorowski’s late 1980s picture, Santa Sangre. Of course, many of those elements figure into his previous pictures, all of which have healthy doses of surreal and religious imagery (and amputees).

Because the film doesn’t offer itself to easy synopsis, I refer to Wikipedia for the first five minutes of the film:

Concha is the leader of a religious cult that considers, as its patron saint, a little girl who was raped and had her arms cut off by two brothers. Their church is about to be bulldozed at the behest of the owner of the land, and the followers make one last stand against the police and the bulldozers. A Roman Catholic monsignor drives into the conflict, saying that he will prevent its demolition, but after he enters the temple to inspect it he deems it blasphemous and unworthy (the girl worshipped is no saint, he says, and the supposed pool of “holy blood” at the center of the edifice contains just red paint), so the demolition is carried out. Fenix leads Concha back to the circus, where she finds out about Orgo’s affair, but Orgo, being also a hypnotist, puts Concha in a trance and has sex with her.

Suffice it to say, Santa Sangre is dense but carries itself with a sense of large-scale filmmaking and wonderful production design. It is unabashedly vulgar and full of human oddities (being only a hairs-breadth less exploitive than yesterday’s The Sentinel) and is cast with a veritable host of the director’s offspring. There are lots of arms severed, and the most morbid take on the old comedy-gag of having one person stand behind another and be their ‘arms.’ I cannot say much more, just go out and watch it, because, in its own fashion, this is Jodorowski’s most accessible film.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Hellmouth

 

Ubiquitous character actor Stephen McHattie is always a pleasure to see up on the big screen. From supporting roles in Hollywood films like The Fountain, Watchmen and A History of Violence, to central performances in indie Canadian productions like the criminally underrated Pontypool, and now John Geddes’ Hellmouth. At 67, there are entire lifetimes written on his face, even as the rest of him remains lean and spry. McHattie is a conundrum, seemingly young and ancient at the same time, and is perfect here as the reluctant Charlie Baker, caretaker of his own personal abyss. Given more than three quarters of the script to himself in the film, his quivering yet authoritative gravelly voice is beyond reproach. If all of the artifice in the green screen CGI around him, is not entirely as engrossing as the man standing in front of it, it mostly is in service of the lead character, and that is miracle enough these days.

“Keep this box within 10 feet of you, at all times.” An instruction that several characters keep giving Charlie Baker, but it is more of a state of mind than a direct order. Having worked all of his life as a grave digger and maintenance man in a remote (and digital-backlot stylized) cemetery, Baker is minutes from retirement and still worried about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s regarding the local vandals might be moving around the tombstones in the cemetery. The ensuing countdown is wrought with both humiliation and diffidence that the film might be also called “About Soavi” (that is, for fans of Dellamorte Dellamore). The box is given to him by his overbearing employer, as he browbeats Baker into ‘one more job.’ As much as it is a literal object, the box is his lonely trapped career, his spent life and impending death.

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Occultober – Day 19 – The Sentinel

The Sentinel
Clearly designed as a studio knock-off with the intent of ‘raising-the-bar’ on the horror of both The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, with Death Wish helmer Micheal Winner bringing a puerile trash-factor to the proceedings, The Sentinel is not lacking in crazy moments. From being over-cast to the point of ludicrousness (characters played by Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Jose Ferrer, Eli Wallach, and Jerry Orbach add very little to the story considering their star power), to dress-up parties for cats, to graphic onscreen masturbation, to using bonafide disfigured people to represent the minions of satan. The film has it all if you are looking for an exploitive bit of insensitivity to just about, well, everyone.

Allison Parker (Cristina Raines), a young fashion model looking for her own apartment in New York City, stumbles across the best deal in town, an spacious, fully furnished brownstone in Brooklyn with a wicked view. A gracefully aging Ava Gardner is her realtor in a small role.

In short order, Allison discovers the place has some of the craziest inhabitants in the city, including a ghoulish priest that does nothing but stare out the window, some crazy ballerinas and a chatty old fellow (Burgess Meredith, fantastic) who is never seen without a bird on his shoulder, and a pussy cat in his arms. These downsides she discovers over the course of a punishing several weeks culminate in an increasing series of feinting spells, flashbacks to her suicidal teenage years, and hallucinations of naked old men wandering into her bedroom. As they pile up, her lawyer boyfriend (Chris Sarandon) not only seems useless at helping her cope, but might even be in league with all of the crazy people. Everyone in her current state of reality seems hell-bent (literally) on terrorizing her, except a younger priest (John Carradine) who looks over the elderly priest in the attic, and has some longterm plans for Alison.

The Sentinel culminates in a whopper of a climax, that is as nutty as anything ever put on film in the 1970s, and that is saying something. In other words, the film is never boring.
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