Trailer: The Witch

As February theatrical release of The Witch edges closer, A24 has cut a tight, dread-laced new trailer with an eye for showing off the “R” rated films exceptional production design and commitment to period storytelling. It is disturbing in the same way old photos can be disturbing. When you consider the period language of America in the 17th Century, the off-kilter dynamics of a family being crushed under the anxiety of superstitions and isolation in the New World, and director Robert Egger’s particular knack for shooting animal husbandry in the creepiest way possible – all of these things key strengths of the actual film – you’ve got an exceptional piece of honest marketing.

New England, 1630. Upon threat of banishment by the church, an English farmer leaves his colonial plantation, relocating his wife and five children to a remote plot of land on the edge of an ominous forest – within which lurks an unknown evil. Strange and unsettling things begin to happen almost immediately – animals turn malevolent, crops fail, and one child disappears as another becomes seemingly possessed by an evil spirit. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, family members accuse teenage daughter Thomasin of witchcraft, charges she adamantly denies. As circumstances grow more treacherous, each family member’s faith, loyalty and love become tested in shocking and unforgettable ways.

Trailer: The Witch

Sundance hit, The Witch, offers up a very intense, quite disturbing trailer. The self-labelled, “New England Folktale” from director Robert Eggers is not so much about viscera or ritual or the usual witch cliches, but the power of superstition, fear, and family values imploding under immense survival pressures and religious beliefs in the New World in the 17th century. It is unrelenting grey and grim, almost black and white in colour palette, and I kind of wish this was released on American Thanksgiving. As the film continues on the festival circuit (next stop: TIFF), it will not be getting a commercial release until 2016.

New England, 1630: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life, homesteading on the edge of an impassible wilderness, with five children. When their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops fail, the family begins to turn on one another.

Occultober – Day 10 – Häxan

Häxan, aka Witchcraft Through The Ages, is a Swedish-Danish documentary made in 1922 that is super-stylized, often hysterically theatrical, and a fascinating curio of its era. Director Benjamin Christensen gives an overview on demons and witches in Medieval times, not often (to me, anyway) clear in his distinction between fact and fiction, such that Häxan feels less like a documentary (admittedly the form was young, Nanook of the North having come out in the same year) and more like a horror-fantasia. Satan and witches and other assorted demons prance around in front of the static camera with varying colour tints applied to the Black & White footage and lots of special effects which evoke the pioneer of the form, Georges Méliès. The director himself plays Satan in the film, an image and performance that is difficult to forget. (He also plays Jesus Christ and simply himself in the film.) And the film has a field day with Inquisitor torture devices and other acts of human barbarism in medieval times.

The final product is surprisingly entertaining, gruesome, grotesque, and frankly, well ahead of its time; albeit it is difficult to put yourself into the mindset of an audience, either domestic or foreign, taking it upon its initial release. However, it is certainly enough that The Criterion Collection obtained the film and did a full restoration in 2001.

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Occultober – Day 8 – The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project
Having hit the 15 year milestone in the last few days, The Blair Witch Project remains a curious bit of pioneering cinema responsible for kicking off the modern found footage craze.

“In October 1994, three students disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary… A year later, their footage was found.” A couple of 16mm cameras and some willing young actors, and you’ve got yourself a flash in the pan cultural phenomenon.

The film also was pioneering for its use of the world wide web as a marketing force the further create backstory and mythology in advance of its commercial release. The hype and conjecture swirling around the film in the spring and summer of 1999 was directly responsible for priming massive public awareness which went on to make it a huge hit.

Does it have rewatch value? The last few minutes of the film are absolutely riveting stuff, but it takes a long, often uneven, stretch of film to get there. The found footage genre is so ubiquitous, that it mainly induces yawns and eye-rolls at this point, but there are some genuine chills and thrills smattered about The Blair Witch Project to make the film not only of its time and place, but also kind of timeless. If nothing else, it speaks, on the edge of the 21st century of hubris, when the three students find themselves surprisingly lost in the woods with the assumption: Because this is America! We’ve exhausted all of our natural resources! Occult or no occult goings on, nature herself is scary and unforgiving enough.

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Occultober – Day 2 – The Believers

The Believers
Oscar winning director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) comes to the Satanic Panic party way late in the game, albeit there was a bit of a mini-revival in 1987 (Jacob’s Ladder, Angel Heart, and two others that will come up later on this month.)

The Believers has a shocker of an opening involving a coffee pot and a puddle of milk which makes Martin Sheen a widow and his son, motherless. While trying to rebuild his life as a police psychologist, they are persecuted by conspiracy and cults in New York City as he gets into a deep investigation into Latin America’s brujerías, or witches. Lurid, panicky and sweaty, as is right for this kind of film, Schlesinger pulls no punches, which may not exactly class up the joint, but makes for an pretty effective 80s horror outside of the ubiquitous teen sex and slashers glut.
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Toronto After Dark 2011: Monster Brawl Review

This review for the first Toronto After Dark Movie, Monster Brawl will likely be a fairly short review as I was not a fan of the movie and I feel that it really plays less like a movie and more like a pay per view event – the entire film is told in the language of character profiles, sports statistics and eventual the actual tournament matches with play by play commentary. I know this was what director Jesse T. Cook was going for, the film is an experiment as much as anything else, but I really felt the result was a tad hollow as a movie. We have announcers, Dave Foley and Art Hindle who are the high point for the film introducing and commentating each match. Prior to each match we get a short clip that details a bit of history about each of the monsters and that is it.

Lets first look at some of the good points of the movie. The costume design is extremely well done. Each of the monsters look perfect. The costumes are all done with practical effects and everyone from The Mummy to Frankenstein act, move and look like they should. Secondly, there are a few good jokes and puns throughout the movie. Most of these come from Hindle and Foley but there are a few jokes from the introduction clips and also the smack-down hyperbolic speeches that the monsters give that are quite funny, particularly if you grew up on the cartoonish rhetoric of the WWF. Third, there are a few good kills and having Lance Henrikson doing the Mortal Kombat FATAL-VICTORY voice was more amusing than it ought to be and puts Monster Brawl in as much territory as a Arcade up-right fighting game as it is mired in sports language. Somehow without being actually present on-screen Henrikson (in all his gravelly glory) is one of the films chief assets. Finally, while I have my complaints about the lack of an audience at the pay per view the wrestling set the graveyard is quite well done.

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Raimi and Long Can Drag Me to Hell Anytime

It’s been a good few years since Sam Raimi has dabbled in directing horror (though he’s been a busy producer) but the director who both gained love and hate for his work on the Spider-Man franchise is finally returning to his roots.

When Drag Me to Hell was originally announced, I was pretty excited but everyone’s been pretty tight-lipped about the production and outside of a few images, we hadn’t seen anything from the upcoming horror film which is premiering at SXSW. With the film’s first screening only a few days away and a May release on the horizon, it was only a matter of time before the trailer hit. And here it is.

It’s not awesome but it is reminiscent of the cheesy 70s and 80s horror films. Add in the dooming orchestral score of the trailer and the aesthetic is totally working for me. Bloody hell, they’ve got Justin Long in there; I’ll be there opening night.

If you’re not going to SXSW, worry not. Drag Me to Hell opens on May 29th.