Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 5

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Wrapping up the month with: The Serpent And The Rainbow, The Majorettes, The Flesh Eaters and The Ghoul.

 

The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988 – Wes Craven)
Thanks in part to Matt Price and his podcast “Let’s Scare Matthew Price To Death”, I’ve finally closed a huge gap in my horror knowledge by seeing – on screen no less – Craven’s enormously entertaining film. This past week Matt helped present Craven’s The Serpent And The Rainbow at The Royal cinema here in Toronto and then did a live on stage podcast directly after the film (inviting several other local podcasters to join him). I had started watching the film years ago, got 10 minutes in, tuned out and promised I’d get back to it one day – and thank goodness I did. I must’ve been in some weird zombi-fied state lo-those-many-years-ago not to have jumped head first into this movie. Granted, Bill Pullman is Bill Pullman in it and occasionally distracts from the more serious moments, but fortunately the film allows itself to play in that surreal middle ground between reality and dream and have a ball with it (that coffin scene is one for the ages). There’s also a wider view of how Haiti itself woke from their own political slumber (which is done surprisingly subtly) and a couple of proper jump scares – build-up, payoff and well-deserved audience reaction. That voodoo is gonna get ya!

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Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 4

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The bookends were terrific surprises as I didn’t even know they existed a week ago: Next Of Kin, Just Before Dawn, Deathdream and Don’t Deliver Us From Evil.

 

Next Of Kin (1982 – Tony Williams)
Psychological horror? Ghost story? Giallo? Slow burn thriller? Why yes, yes it is. This little known Australian flick about a woman who returns to run the family rest home after her mother passes away not only covers a variety of stylistic and thematic horror approaches, it does so wonderfully well through an extremely well-orchestrated story. Containing some lovely & creative shots, a fantastic score by Klaus Schulze (did my day ever brighten up when I saw his name in the credits) and some deft changes of pace, this is easily one of my best horror finds in a very long time.

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Toronto After Dark 2015 – A Preview

 

The 10th edition of the Toronto After Dark film festival kicks off later today and runs for a solid 9 days (Oct. 15-23). The fest seems to have settled into its niche – it doesn’t look to expand beyond its ~20 screenings per year and likely won’t compete for big World premieres, but year after year it puts together an interesting and eclectic lineup of solid genre fare. Granted, there are typically some odd choices and a rather insistent need to pick thematic pairings (I have to assume many people are getting slightly tired of the zombie double-bills every year – or is that just me?), but there’s little doubt that genre fans who don’t make the trip to Fantasia and Fantastic Fest are rabidly happy that TAD rolls in the numerous big genre titles of the year to the big screen here in Toronto. And many of us are also rabidly happy about the late night pub gatherings.

With the shift to the downtown Scotiabank location in recent years, the more anticipated screenings typically sell-out (several have already done that) so the fest has instituted some late night second screenings for the more popular titles. Consult the full lineup on the festival’s schedule page) which should include trailers for the films as well. Here’s a short run down of this year’s titles (with the proviso that I’ve not watched any trailers or read much about any of these films):

 

Thursday October 15th

 

Tales Of Halloween – Though my love for horror anthologies was challenged a few years ago when Trick R’ Treat was screened at After Dark (I seem to be in the minority in not liking that film though), I have higher hopes for this particular effort. The stories are shorter, the directors are more varied & interesting and there has already been some solid reviews of it. All the tales apparently take place on the same spooky evening, so we’ll see if they manage to do any crossover/merging of the stories or if they are all standalone. I’d love it if they could bring some of the feeling of the old Amicus anthologies from the 70s, but I think we’ll be in for a pretty rousing fest opener regardless.

The Hallow – To be honest, all I needed to see was that the film was from Ireland…Of late, there have been numerous really solid atmospheric horror films coming from that isle (or at least funded via their film fund) like Dorothy Mills, Citadel and the recent The Canal. Though there isn’t necessarily anything specifically in common between those films, there is an appreciation of atmosphere and a willingness not to rush to jump scares. Even though The Hallow is getting stuck with the “scariest film at the fest” moniker (which always sets expectations too high), I’m hopeful that it will tackle horror in my favourite way – the one that slowly envelops and squeezes the breath from you.

 

Friday October 16th

Synchronicity – Sci-fi can be a tricky bet at smaller festivals like this (especially when you hear them being compared to much larger budget and classic films like Blade Runner), but TAD has chosen a few good ones the last couple of years and with director Jacob Gentry’s track record of The Signal behind him, there’s at least some solid talent involved. Given the title and the knowledge that there are likely some time travel paradoxes involved, the film promises to be a head-scratcher in a good way. Also, Michael Ironside plays a baddie, so there’s always that.

Lazer Team – I’ll be honest…I have much less confidence that Lazer Team lives up to any of its billing. Goofy comedic sci-fi can be even more difficult to hit right especially when your protagonists are (apparently from the blurb) idiots. I’m not familiar with the filmmaking team’s web series (Rooster Teeth), so this one is a crap shoot.

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Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 3

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The Canadian Thanksgiving weekend provided one turkey and several tasty morsels: Leprechaun, The Canal, Tales That Witness Madness and Witchcraft.

 

Leprechaun (Mark Jones – 1993)
It didn’t really take me long to decide that the first film in the rather lengthy Leprechaun series (there’s six or seven of them in all I think) would be the end of the line for me. It’s not like I expected to be drawn into a series of horror-comedy films about an evil leprechaun, but nothing about this film gave me any reason to press forward. Everything is just mediocre. It’s not horrific or creepy or even suspenseful. And it was neither funny nor fun. That may be a subjective statement I suppose, but most of the humour is pretty basic and uninspired. Jennifer Aniston is actually pretty decent here in one of her earliest roles, but in the end I was simply bored. Warwick Davis is the titular little green guy, but his grotesque form just isn’t overly interesting after he cracks his first corny joke and gnashes his teeth. I guess there was an audience for this since they made more of them (apparently with different approaches and levels of comedy), but this particular one sure wasn’t made for me.

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Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 2

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The Paramount Vault releases make up the majority of this month’s first time watches: Grim Prairie Tales, The Sender, Shanks and Beneath.

 

Grim Prairie Tales (Wayne Coe – 1990)
An odd anthology film that spends more time with its wrap-around story than the 4 tales spun from it. Granted, when your wrap-around has James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif, I could see why you might want to give them the lion’s share – unless of course what they are given is 1) a fractured and weirdly paced arc and 2) really crappy direction for their line readings. Dourif plays a man riding back to Jacksonville Florida to see his wife (by horse across the prairies – the time period is likely late 1800s) when he encounters Jones after bunking down for the night in the great wide open. After much wide-eyed yelling at each other, they begin to swap stories. The stories – each one being more of a morality/immorality tale rather than anything horrific – are both interesting and kinda dull. Even though the individual tales are no longer than 10-15 minutes each, the pace is glacial…There’s a dryness to them that simply didn’t engage me. And yet, upon reflection, each one tackles its subject (intolerance, lust, hatred/fear, pride) in a fairly unique and non-obvious way. I have to give the film credit for a different approach. If only it were more entertaining…

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Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 1

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Once again, October is upon us and a film fan’s fancy’s turn to horror. Though I’ll watch scary/creepy films any time, I like to pack October full of first time horror watches. My first four consist of: The Taking Of Deborah Logan, V/H/S: Viral, Creep and The Nightmare.

 

The Taking Of Deborah Logan (Adam Robitel – 2014)
I thought I would start my viewing with several “found footage” style horror movies – mainly because they are just so damn plentiful these days. Though many people are sick of them at this stage, I can usually still find something appealing in them if they make an effort to build atmosphere and don’t simply go for the cheapo jump scares. Much of The Taking Of Deborah Logan does indeed do the former we watch a documentary film crew slowly realize that the Alzheimer’s patient they are capturing on camera is not quite afflicted with the standard form of the disease. As the titular character starts to descend more and more into seeming madness and the supernatural angle becomes more apparent, the film loses a bit of steam – it forgets the basic premise of setting up an unsettling environment and goes for back story and plot. Neither of those are anywhere near as disturbing as, say, a simple shadow or an old woman’s unexpected appearance in an attic. Still, the film has its moments if you can get past some of the inherent problems these films typically have (e.g. the necessity to fabricate reasons to keep a camera running or the shells of characters that do little more than complain).

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Occultober – Day 31 – The Exorcist

The Exorcist
What more can be said about the undisputed big-daddy of possession horror? The mega-hit that has endured decades, in fact it is still scary as hell; movie magic at its most fine. I won’t belabour the quality of the film, but if you haven’t seen it on the big screen with an audience, you should really get on that.

When young Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) starts behaving very, very oddly, her mother (Ellen Burstyn) enlists the help of a young priest (Jason Miller) and an old priest (Max Von Sydow) to do battle with the demon inside the child. Vomit is spewed, there is masturbation with a crucifix, rattling and levitating beds, near-subliminal devil-imagery, and anything else shocking that wunderkind filmmaker William Friedkin can throw out at the camera. For my money, the sequence where Regan gets a carotid angiography in the hospital, which is shot as realistic as possible, might be the most difficult to watch.

The legacy of The Exorcist is huge, not only the sequels, and lesser knock-offs, but also in terms of kickstarting (with help from Rosemary’s Baby) by way of the huge financial success, the entire occult subgenre in the 1970s, which more than likely planted the seeds in the cultural consciousness for the Satanic Panic hysterias of the 1980s and 1990s. Amongst other things, was an indirect cause behind the West Memphis 3 miscarriage of justice. It was the basis and the tipping point for this series which ran the entire month.

We hope you enjoyed.

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Occultober – Day 30 – The Omen

The Omen
T he ultimate film in the ‘demon seed’ subgenre, has the son of Satan being adopted by an American ambassador to Britain, played by a greying Gregory Peck. Even as a child, this baby-faced anti-christ is willing to exert supernatural influence to murder in the pursuit of grabbing power. The Omen was directed by Richard Donner, just prior to him landing the Superman gig and coming off decades churning out TV episodes in all genres. It was one of many films that made a play to ride the coattails of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Marginally less exploitive than Michael Winner’s gonzo freakshow, The Sentinel, but not afraid of graphic imagery, and disturbing juxtapositions; for instance a woman hangs herself at a children’s birthday party in one scene.

Shadowy satanist organizations, American political powers, and everyones favourite villain David Warner (here playing a shaggy haired photographer who figures out the truth), Rottweiler and Baboon attacks, the mark of the devil 666, and a creepy performance from child actor Harvey Spencer Stephens insured that The Omen was a huge success at the time. Even at the Oscars, it won prolific composer Jerry Goldsmith his only Oscar. The film spawned many sequels (bringing actor Sam Neill over from New Zealand to Hollywood in the process) and a 2006 remake, as well as a plethora of homages. including the church steeple kill in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz.

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Occultober – Day 29 – Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby
A film that has stood the test of time better than most, Roman Polanski’s second film focusing on a woman slowly devolving into hysteria (the first being Repulsion), the success of Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 is paramount in the rise of the modern incarnation occult film in the 1970s. This is patient, if not entirely subtle filmmaking that also mark the vibe of the decade to follow.

In the first few moments of the film, there are enough portent signs and signifiers and waiting for the eventual reveal is a painful kind of bliss with only the soothing balm of Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer’s performances, both goofy and slick (respectfully). I find it difficult to find fault with this rather unique approach, and the whole proceedings have a hell of a capstone.

But really, the first 15 minutes of the film is where it is at. That ‘seeking’ pan across the New York City skyline set to an off-kilter lullaby version of Que Sera Sera. Score rather than song is absent the lyrics and inspires dread rather than hope, but the question is nevertheless, “when I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what I would be…” The answer, is apparently the mother of Satan. If Doris Day can belt that song out in Hitchcock’s , surely it can be subverted here as an anthem for the woman who knew too little, too late.

I took a huge amount of pleasure in noir-staple character actor Elisha Cook Jr. fastidiously showing off the grand old apartment (of spook central) to the young married couple. His question – and the first actual line of dialogue in the film – is whether John Cassavetes’ character is a Doctor or an Actor. The film will feature many doctors (and more than a few midwives) who are indeed more actors than doctors. A stray scrap of paper is shown belonging to the former, quite deceased, owner of the apartment whose last act was to block a closet door on the thin shared wall of her creepy and nosy neighbors with a heavy wardrobe. It reads “I can no longer associate myself.” Perhaps a hint of Mia Farrow’s soon-to-be overwhelming paranoia and powerlessness. A magazine cover will later query, “Is God Dead?” Never has a film so front-loaded its purpose only to then draw out and tease the audience for nearly two hours as surely as Farrow’s body (and hairdo) slowly withers away. But then that kicker of a climax is as surprising as it is inevitable. This is Cinema of Masochism made with exquisite craft – and so many great Polanski films would follow.

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Occultober – Day 28 – The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror
There’s something about those 70s horror films – the steady creep, the look and feel of their surroundings and, as exemplified by the original The Amityville Horror, the pace. This particular film grabs you early and then ever so gradually reels you in with only a very few slow spots (e.g. that sex scene between James Brolin and Margot Kidder went on a bit longer than I was comfortable with…). And to be honest, not much happens for most of the movie…But it still manages to keep you just a little bit nervous throughout and always waiting for the next incident. It’s that compounded and built-up dread that is almost its own reward and forces an engagement with the story and characters. It also hopefully pays off towards the end…In this case, the ending sort of gets away from the film a bit and it sputters just when it should be vrooming, but when a movie can build the tension this well (and throw in a bleeding stairway too), that can be forgiven.

After its release, the movie became the largest grossing independent film ever and held the record for a good 4-5 years afterwards. Short of the lovely job it does in building up that fear throughout, the reasons are pretty obvious. The film (and its book) purport to be about a “true story” of a family living in a possessed house which tries to make them leave (“GET OUT!!”). The occult was certainly a trendy thing at the time and with a storyline that feels so relatable (big rambling old houses do seem rather spooky…), you can understand how word of mouth spread as many people wondered if their own house’s bumps and creaks during the night may be similarly attributable to restless spirits and demons.

I put off seeing this box office winner until just recently as I had always assumed it would be a fairly tedious affair with much mumbo-jumbo. Instead it’s quite intriguing…And though there certainly is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo spewed (with a whole lot of gusto from both Rod Steiger and Helen Shaver), just like many of the occult practices and beliefs, it’s all in service of tightening its grip on its audience. Not so great if that’s done to suck in unsuspecting people to believe in demonic acts, but perfect for a horror movie.

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Occultober – Day 27 – Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural

Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural
The full title of the film is the key to its real meaning (and is much more accurate than the straight up horror title Lady Dracula that it is also known as). The supernatural is certainly afoot in the movie, but this is a young girl’s viewpoint and it’s her own impression as to what the temptations and changes are that she is facing as she moves towards womanhood and how they manifest themselves. Though not quite as gorgeous and creative as something like the amazing Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders was in depicting a teenage girl’s whirlwind of life changes or as scary and bloody as that same aspect is depicted in Ginger Snaps, Lemora does bring a dreamlike, slightly off-kilter feel to the story of the very sheltered and religious 13 year-old Lila.

She leaves her hometown after receiving a cryptic letter from a woman named Lemora asking her to come see her sick father. He had recently run off without a trace after murdering his wife and her lover. On the way there, she experiences a creepy bus trip, sees ghoulish creatures chasing them and witnesses a battle between those ghouls and a group of cloaked dracula-like beings after the bus breaks down. After passing out, she ends up at Lemora’s house and winds up being kept in a cell. She is eventually welcomed inside the proper house after being told the cell was to protect her from what was outside – not to keep her inside. Lemora, though extremely pale and with dead eyes (possibly just a side-effect of her terribly wooden acting), claims that after a ceremony the following day she will be able to see her diseased father. Lila is swept up in the witch-like Lemora’s promises, but when she catches her sucking the blood from a young boy, the jig appears to be up…

The blood-like wine, the blue moonlit nights and the danger that seems to be everywhere around her all serve as stand-ins for Lila’s confusion over her changing body and the number of choices she now has as a growing young lady. Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith, who became quite the B-movie queen, is very good as the young Lila and perfectly captures that transition from innocence to awakening. The film ran afoul of many Catholic groups for its immoral attributes (a lecherous priest, implied lesbianism, Lila’s fall from grace, etc.), but seems to have found traction with many film fans. Go ahead and give in to the temptation…

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