Monday, December 10, 2018

Better Watch Out (2013)

I feel angry and gross after watching this. 

While Better Watch Out may scratch the seasonal itch of nasty home invasion for some, I don't ever see myself wanting to watch this again. 

Male director and male writer (check out this fucking charmer) bring us a toxic male lead you're gonna want to punch repeatedly in the face.

Streaming on Shudder now, if you want to put yourself through it.

The Borderlands / Final Prayer (2013)

2018 has been the year I don't quite understand what the fuss is about. See: Revenge, Hereditary (though that wasn't helped by a shitty viewing experience) and now that I've finally seen The Borderlands, this is the latest.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate or even dislike any of these movies. I just didn't seem to get from them what the vocal majority did. I know we're all allowed to have our own opinions, but it's pretty frustrating to be aware of a tidal wave of excitement over a movie that personally left you feeling more like "...that's it?".

So here we are at The Borderlands, or Final Prayer as it's been renamed for the US market. An English found footage flick and feature film directorial debut of Elliot Goldner (who also wrote it).

It follows a team of Vatican investigators as they set up camp in a small town to try and disprove a "miracle" that took place in the local church. The core group is made up of Deacon (Gordon Kennedy - always a pleasure to watch), Gray the tech guy (Robin Hill) and Mark, an uptight priest (Aidan McArdle).

They set up cameras all over the place and wear head-cams, so all of the footage we see is supposedly from these sources.

Which is fine... but the found footage aspect of this film seems more technique than theme, to be honest. There's no narrative book-ending or explanation as to how these cameras were found (a big question, given the denouement) or who edited it all together and/or what the purpose is of us watching it. I guess there doesn't always have to be a Blair Witch Project intro screen for these types of movies, but something to explain some context would be nice?

Nevertheless, we follow the investigations of these men as they scrutinise the church and hang out at their rented cottage. During the day there are weird happenings that Deacon and Mark, the most explicitly religious members of the group, are cynical of and try to explain away. Gray - who took this job purely for the money, and told a white lie about his faith - is way more spooked.

At night, more unsettling things happen, until ultimately the group find themselves performing a ceremony which doesn't exactly go to plan... culminating in a deeply uncomfortable final sequence. 

The main problem I had with this movie was that the gradual climb of the first two acts was too repetitive and slow. Despite definite moments of creepiness, the building of suspense just didn't hit the mark. The payoff here literally comes within the final few moments - rather than the entire film working as a whole in laying the groundwork, with an alarming finale as the cherry on top.

Perhaps on a re-watch I might feel differently?

Something The Borderlands did do successfully was make me miss the English countryside. We are shown a fair amount of it as the team drive around and traipse through fields. It gave me pangs!

I rented this one on Google Play, and I think it's available on Amazon, also. Give it a watch and tell me what I'm missing.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Slightly late October debrief!

So how are we all doing after October? I've been on a horror hiatus myself, as a month solid of the genre + election fever took its toll a bit. I'm feeling almost ready to get back into things though; I watched The Killing of a Sacred Deer last night (twice, actually) and loved it. More of a thriller, technically, but definitely on the darker side of things!

In any case, I just wanted to check in with a roundup of my October viewing. This was the first year that I went almost entirely off-road with what I ultimately decided to watch, so not a great deal of my list got much love, but I still had a lot of fun. If you want to see what my eyeballs looked at last month (and my thoughts, where applicable), I listed them on my Letterboxd here


Favourite new discovery: The Devil's Candy (reviewed here).

Other highlights: Saw the new Halloween at a drive-in, fresh from watching the original - a special moment!; Hounds of Love (reviewed here) was as good as I'd hoped; Hell House LLC had its moments and The Witch In The Window did a lot with little.

Least favourite: Sorority Row (reviewed here) was boring and gross (not in a good way) and Willow Creek was disappointing and boring until the final sequence.

I know a lot of people dived into Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House, so I'm looking forward to starting that soon. Did you discover anything good from your October watchlist? Do you have any recommendations or movies to avoid? Let me know! :)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Devil's Candy (2015)

The Devil's Candy was pretty much buried on Netflix, and it's only because I regularly make a pass through the horror section that its artwork caught my eye (see above - how could it not?). So I read the blurb, took a swift look at the IMDB and Letterboxd pages (more to see what its average user rating was than anything else) and that was enough. Onto the list it went.

This was written and directed by Sean Byrne, whose only other horror credit seems to be The Loved Ones. The plot revolves around a close family of three (mum, dad, daughter) moving into a new house and strange, dark forces at work both inside and out of their new home. 

Daughter and father metalheads 

The house seems to speak to those with an open enough mind to hear it, including dad Jesse (Ethan Embry - who has come a LONG way since Empire Records) and Raymond (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a troubled individual who used to live there.

Jesse is a struggling artist and takes over the garage/barn area of the new place to paint. However, even for a metal fan, what ends up being committed to his canvas in this new studio takes an extremely dark turn.

Going into rapture-like states to create these images, Jesse loses all track of time, painting solidly for hours on end and failing to pick up his daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) from school on more than one occasion.

The images he creates are frightening. The reason he's creating them, we learn eventually, is extremely tragic.

Taking place during an unnaturally hot Texas summer, this feels oppressive and intense. Jesse most of all is seen sweating and/or shirtless, a panicked and pained expression permanently on his face as he tries to make sense of what is threatening his family. 

He's no mask in a Halloween store, he's not what you see in the movies. He is an active, violent, anti-God personal reality. And as much as we refuse to admit it, he lives through us.
− TV Preacher

An "active, violent, anti-God personal reality" is a perfect description of the villain in this movie.

I could not shake how much Raymond looked like Harvey Weinstein, too. Just to add another layer of evil repulsiveness on top of an already detestable character.

It's not just in atmosphere that this film succeeds; stylistically too, The Devil's Candy knows what it's doing. Watch for the use of light in the final shot, and for the scene with cross-cutting between paint hitting the canvas and blood spilling from a murder. There really isn't much gore to be had in general here, with the more brutal stuff happening off camera, but the glimpses of a bathtub dismemberment are more than enough to unsettle. 

This one may be my favourite new discovery so far this month. Simple, satanic, stylish, and streaming on Netflix now. At 1hr19mins it's definitely worth the time commitment.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

As Above, So Below (2014)

Well this fits nicely next to Verónica, because writer/director John Erick Dowdle also directed Quarantine, the American remake of [Rec]. It all ties in!

Maybe because it was actually filmed in the Paris catacombs, or that there are some genuine moments of "oh fuuuck", or that I was reminded that it follows Dante's Inferno... and maybe all three, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this the second time around.

This found footage flick follows a group as they break into the intensely claustrophobic catacombs that lie beneath Paris. They're searching, we're shown in annoying scenes of exposition/set-up, for a mysterious ancient stone and possibly treasure, too. Lead character Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a tomb-raider style daredevil daughter of some old bloke who discovered the secrets of alchemy. Or something. I dunno, it's not really that important.

On their underground adventures, Scarlett and her accumulated crew (including Ben Feldman, "Ginsberg" from Mad Men) find both the desired stone and loot, but in the process, they also encounter cults, violent apparitions of their past, and maybe even Satan himself.

Honestly, the plot is kind of secondary to what Dowdle is trying to achieve (down) here. 

Rather than do the decent thing of just losing their minds with fright after the first cave-in, the group continues on as they become repeatedly trapped and blocked in their passage through the catacombs; journeying deeper, further, squeezing through tiny tunnels and dropping down bottomless-looking pits.

For an atheist, I do still find religious/blasphemous-tinged horror pretty unnerving when done correctly (just ask Baskin) and so as the weary travellers realised they may be descending into Hell, I definitely found it an unnerving experience. The imposing darkness and impossibly labyrinthine routes they take don't help to un-jangle the nerves, either.
According to mythology, that's the inscription over the gates of hell.
 − Scarlett.

As the group thins, we learn more about what this system of caves really represent, and how the remaining individuals might escape. The aspect of the narrative with the mystical stone is absurd, but at least it allows for some more scares.

Two impressive set pieces have always stuck in my mind from this film, even when I initially wasn't convinced of its merits. The burning car deep underground, and the manhole cover scene at the film's end. For all the irritation I felt at Scarlett & Co. at times, the inventiveness and audacity to conceive of and execute both of these ideas is something I must tip my hat to. 

As Above, So Below is an effective, imaginatively claustrophobic nightmare punctuated by solid scares. It must have played brilliantly in a cinema environment.

Ignore the earnest jabbering at the beginning and stick with it, it's streaming on Netflix now.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Verónica (2017)

There seems to have been an annoying tradition over the past couple of years, where a new horror film will come out to headlines of "This Is The Scariest Movie Ever!" or "Netflix Users Can't Finish This Movie!". As I recall, Verónica was one of the films that got this treatment.

And I get it. It creates a buzz around the new release and one way or another - through people seeking a scare, or to prove they can handle it, or just plain curious - it gets viewers. The problem I find though is that this buzz kind of infiltrates my brain and creates hype where there wasn't any (and wasn't any needed) before. It's like going to the cinema and right before going into the screen, someone tells you the film you're about to watch is the best film ever! How can it possibly live up to that?

Obvious observation time: Verónica is not the scariest film ever, and it's easy to get through it without having to turn off in fright. It kind of reminded me of [REC] which, I learned later, made perfect sense as it's from Paco Plaza, the same director. It's reminiscent in places, rather than in any way similar; way less visceral, more contemplative and creepy. It's the quieter teenage sibling of Plaza's breakout film.

Based on a true police report, this depicts the alarming supernatural occurrences that take place after Madrid teen Verónica (Sandra Escacena) and two schoolfriends dabble with a Ouija board during a solar eclipse.

This is not a standard tale of possession, rather, it's the pursuit of a young woman by dark forces that she never intended to invite into her life. Verónica was trying to contact her deceased father but instead is caught in a week-long struggle against faceless humanoid demon figures stalking her house, threatening to harm her and her three young siblings.

Apart from teachers and nuns, their lives are rather adult-less, with their single mother working hard at a bar every evening and weekend. Verónica as the oldest is caretaker to her sisters and brother, and every weekday is a repeat of the one before: getting everyone ready and walking to school (established early on as a responsibility she takes seriously, so when we see it gradually break down, we know that shit is going wrong).

It must be mentioned that the kids in this film are one of its strongest points; their acting is so natural and the bond between Verónica and her siblings is warm and very apparent. They are cute, good kids - which makes the looming shadow over their existence all the more worrying.

Likewise, Escacena is amazing as Verónica (or "Vero" as she's known), charting the decline from normal 15 year old - old beyond her years nonetheless, due to circumstance - complete with fickle and catty friends who very much reminded me of the pain of being that age; to a bruised, isolated and exhausted husk of her former self. 

There's a couple of really interesting scenes where Verónica watches a girl in an apartment across the way from her, and it's clear this girl is meant to be her mirror image, a representation of everything Vero is not. She's seen dancing carefree to music (at the same time Vero is loading a washing machine with urine-soaked bedding from her little brother), talking affectionately with her father and having a love life. Verónica has none of these things, and the likelihood of her ever getting them becomes slimmer as events progress.

It's been a while since I've seen [Rec], so I can't remember how artistic Plaza was able to get with that found footage nerve shredder, but this had several moments of creative touches I wasn't expecting, including an incredible transition as Vero gets out of bed and walks across her room that was so cool I had to rewind to see it again. Others are not quite as flawless, but still effective.

This probably isn't going to give genre fans sleepless nights, but it is a very decent telling of a very chilling, supernatural story. It's streaming on Netflix now.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Sorority Row (2009)

Shot with dark, grainy, frenetic abandon (like an early 2000's music video) and, a mere 9 years on, pretty fucking gross and insanely obvious in its male gaze, Sorority Row is a remake, based on the script for the 1983 horror film The House on Sorority Row. For a film supposedly about sisterhood, the directing and writing team were all men. And you can tell.

There's frequent, pointless lack of clothes from sorority sisters who looked so similar I had no idea who was dying and who was surviving; jokes about how it's okay to be roofied; questionable doctor/patient power dynamic sex in exchange for meds... Just, no. The kills were not good enough to redeem all this.

There's far better out there. Best thing about this entire mess was Carrie Fisher in a bit part. 

Hounds of Love (2016)

Content warning: Abduction, abuse, rape.

Hounds of Love is the debut feature from Australian writer/director Ben Young and another I'd heard whispers about from the festival circuit. It's been floating around on the edges of my radar ever since. There's a special kind of thrill when a movie you've had your eye on for a long while appears on a streaming service.


Supposedly based on several different true crime stories (I thought it echoed Fred and Rose West quite a lot) it most closely resembles the real-life experiences of Kate Moir, and her abduction and abuse by David and Catherine Birnie in Perth, Western Australia.

Like the Birnies, Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry) have a disturbing, mutually fucked up and co-dependent hobby of kidnapping, raping and murdering young girls. 

Their latest victim and the one whose story we see unfold in full is Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), who almost immediately spots the weaknesses in the White's relationship. John, a rapist and probable paedophile with a violent temper, needs Evelyn's help to abduct and deal with the girls; Evelyn, seemingly a victim of abuse from an early age herself, is damaged and manipulated to the point of believing these horrifying deeds count as acts of love. There's an awful lot of awful stuff going on behind the closed doors of this house.

Maybe it's my true crime obsession showing, or that my resistance to bleakness is pretty high, but I didn't find this as soul-crushing as others seemed to (want bleak Australian realism/nihilism? May I suggest The Snowtown Murders. Note "suggest" and not "recommend"). 

Hounds of Love is some of the worst of what humans are capable of, shown convincingly and without exploitation (at least in tone, as Kate Moir has gone on record as saying she was upset at the startling similarities). All three leads are incredibly strong, with a special mention for Cummings, who manages to convey so much when most of the time she's bound and gagged.

Young's vision for this is pretty spectacular, given it was shot in 20 days and was his first feature. He knows what to linger on: the stillness, hopelessness, the surrounding suburban normality; and what is going to be more upsetting to imply than outright show: the detritus left after a rape, the killing of a dog ☹. The cinematography (hat tip to Michael McDermott) is beautiful, dare I say it. It's as stunning as the subject matter is stomach-churning, looking almost fashion editorial/music video perfect in some moments.

It's not without a problematic cloud around it, but if you don't mind that and feeling like your heart is in your throat for 90mins, it's streaming on Hulu now.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Endless (2017)

I was THRILLED to see this one drop on Netflix recently.

It's absolutely apparent that The Endless comes from the same hearts, minds, and imaginations as Spring. This is another beautiful, thoughtful, funny horror from Moorhead and Benson, and I really loved it!

Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead)

It feels very shared universe (more on that later), displaying the same over-saturated, dusty, dreamy quality as their 2014 effort. There's also a similar feeling of this dream-like existence being on the cusp of something immense and threatening.

The Endless is a story of two brothers (played with warmth and humour by Benson and Moorhead themselves) visiting the supposed cult they grew up in, after several years trying to have normal lives out in the real world.

What is initially planned to be fleeting visit leads to some shocking discoveries once back within the folds of this group.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the Unknown.  
 H.P. Lovecraft. 

The "cult" members all seem perfectly nice, if a little weird; the oddness and inexplicable occurrences at their camp becoming more frequent and unsettling with a steady pace. From the get-go we know something is wrong, but Moorhead & Benson take their time giving the audience a breadcrumb trail of glimpses and moments as we discover the unbelievable truth along with the brothers.

It feels at once a cop-out and a courtesy to anyone interested in seeing this to speak as little as possible about its major plot points or themes, other than saying I was surprised how much heart it had, ultimately. And like Spring, they struck a beautiful balance here, making this tale at once so intimate and so astronomical.

So yes, if you liked Spring, definitely see this. If you haven't seen Spring then I heartily recommend both! I am really enjoying the work from this team and I must seek out their first film, Resolution, which somehow I'd missed. There is a very definite crossover narrative from that debut to The Endless, but the filmmakers themselves say you don't have to have seen either to enjoy both.

If you have seen The Endless already, may I recommend this podcast episode from The Evolution of Horror, talking to Benson and Moorhead themselves? They seem like such nice blokes, and they have some very interesting and entertaining stuff to say!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

31 days of horror: October 2018

This year's list! I started not knowing what to add to it, and have ended it with a tonne of extra choices. As ever, I'll no doubt shuffle, replace and update as mood and availability allow - and I'll attempt to review most of them throughout the month 💀

I think it's a nice mix of films I'm curious/actively excited about, ones that have languished on my list forever, and classics...

October 1st (Mon) - The Cabin In The Woods
October 2nd (Tue) - Hounds of LoveSorority Row
October 3rd (Wed) - Masters of Horror: The Damned Thing
October 4th (Thur) Verónica
October 5th (Fri) - [night off]
October 6th (Sat) - As Above/So Below
October 7th (Sun) - Masters of Horror: FamilyThe Conjuring
October 8th (Mon) - The Faculty
October 9th (Tue) - Creature from the Black Lagoon (big screen 3D)
October 10th (Wed) - Friday the 13th (big screen)
October 11th (Thur) - Let Us Prey
October 12th (my birthday!) - Upgrade
October 13th (Sat) - Stir of Echoes
October 15th (Mon)Hell House LLC
October 16th (Tue) - Ruin Me
October 17th (Wed) The Devil's Candy
October 18th (Thur) The Witch in the Window
October 19th (Fri) Halloween (1978)
October 20th (Sat) Halloween (2018)
October 21st (Sun) - Creep / Black Death (Christopher Smith double bill)
October 22nd (Mon) Willow Creek
October 23rd (Tue) - Doom
October 24th (Wed) - Incident In A Ghostland
October 25th (Thur) - Frontier(s)
October 26th (Fri) - The Devil's Advocate
October 27th (Sat) - Queen of the Damned
October 28th (Sun)Southbound / Summer of 84 / You're Next
October 29th (Mon) Trick 'r Treat
October 30th (Tue) Dog Soldiers
October 31st (Wed) - Would You RatherHalloween H20: 20 Years LaterHalloween: Resurrection

Substitute bench:
Halloween II (2009)
Digging Up The Marrow
Beyond The Black Rainbow
The First Purge
Little Deaths
The Interior
The Wailing
Ravenous (Les affamés) (2017)
Prom Night
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
The Eyes Of My Mother
The VVitch
Dawn of the Dead / Day of the Dead
Horror/horror movie themed documentaries (suggestions welcome)

If you're on Letterboxd, then you can see the pretty but-not-ordered version (and feel free to add me on there, too!) -

Roll on October! 

Monday, September 03, 2018

The Mutilator (1984)

Okay, I think I finally realised something. It's taken my entire history of watching horror movies for this to click, which is kind of embarrassing, but I think I just figured out that my approach to slasher films has been all wrong.

So my main complaint with a lot of these movies always seems to be the interminable downtime between the kills. For me to really enjoy a slasher film, there has to be something interesting happening to bridge the gaps between the blood being spilled. It doesn't have to be Citizen Kane over here, it just needs to hold my attention and, ideally, lay the groundwork for actually giving a shit about who survives and who doesn't. I don't necessarily mind a conveyor belt of victims steadily making their way toward death; I just want to care, just a little bit!

The Mutilator (original title: Fall Break) is a perfect example of the giddy highs and woefully bad lows of films like this.

Written and directed by first-timer Buddy Cooper - a film reviewer for a newspaper who wanted to make movies, so he did. I have to respect that! - this is part of what must have been a bloody cascade of films made after the success of Friday the 13th in 1980. In it, we see a group of college kids staying in a beach house and being murdered using a different weapon each time (hence that awesome tagline).

And the gore, courtesy of SFX man Mark Shostrom (Videodrome, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Evil Dead II, a couple of Phantasms) is really good, but the price of admission for it is TERRIBLE dialogue, DELIVERED TERRIBLY for extended amounts of time. 

At one point, we follow the worst character in the entire film (the "joker" of the friend group 😐) for fucking ages as he walks around looking for his mates. He cracks jokes and does voices and funny walks to no one in particular for soooo looooong until he's finally killed. There's no tension here at all, and just like in The Prowler, it gets boring and frustrating waiting through these slumps.

I found myself wishing I were a) more drunk, b) with a group of friends, or c) drunk with a group of friends. And that's when I realised that my sitting alone or with my husband just chilling and watching this stuff isn't how it was originally meant to be consumed. Stuff like this was meant to be drive-in fodder; where you're laughing and goofing around with friends and/or making out while the movie is playing. That's what passes the time while you're waiting for fucking Ralph to die. You're meant to be throwing popcorn, cracking open another beer or making snide comments - that's what makes this stuff bearable.

So, mental note for the next 80s stalk and slash that I suspect might be like this: cheap beer, funny friends are essential.

Unless you're coming to it armed with the above, I'd say The Mutilator is a "fast forward between the kills" kind of situation, as everything else is painful to sit through. The odd, melodramatic feel, the sluggish pacing, frankly insane theme song, the appalling acting... it's a lot.

Streaming on Shudder right now. What a waste of such an amazing tagline.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Dead End (2003)

If you'd have told me this was an episode from the 1995-2002 run of The Outer Limits series I would have totally believed you. 

That's not meant in any way to disrespect Dead End - for one, I loved The Outer Limits! - but it's just that in its 1hr25min runtime it's so simple in premise and so restrained, almost coy in its gruesomeness, reminiscent of such TV-friendly horror back in the day. And it feels delightfully nineties, too, mainly due to daughter Marion's style (those highlights and that lilac palette!) and a passing mention of Marilyn Manson.

Alexandra Holden, Ray Wise as daughter and dad, Marion and Frank.

However, Dead End is indeed its own movie. Written and directed by French natives Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa, it's technically a French movie, even though it was filmed in the US, and all dialogue spoken is in English by a majority American cast.

The plot: It's Christmas Eve, and the Harringtons are driving to visit family when dad Frank (Ray Wise, always a delight to watch) decides to take a shortcut. What they encounter as a result is actually the opposite of a "dead end" in the literal sense, as for the rest of the movie they find themselves on a seemingly neverending road through a forest.

In frightening succession, horrible, urban legend-worthy things start to happen: they pick up a woman in white, standing dazed at the roadside clutching her baby; Marion's boyfriend Brad is seen being driven off in a hearse (hammering at the rear window, clearly still very much alive and terrified); son/brother/horny brat Richard meets a sticky end, and they pass a sign for a town that seems perpetually unreachable. The road never turns - cue some really lovely shots of endless trees and their little station wagon trucking along - and yet they keep coming back to landmarks from earlier on.

When the family begins to get picked off, some of the remaining members have a hard time holding it together, and it's these scenes above anything else that I found unsettling. Genre pillar Lin Shaye as the mother makes your skin crawl as she grapples with what's going on, reverting to a childlike insanity that is at once so horrible and very darkly funny (see: eating an entire pie, saying she's fine and then a quick cut to her puking in the background of shot).

The moments of the Harringtons just struggling, arguing and trying to remain calm are written brilliantly. Coming from a family not without its own dysfunction, I really enjoyed the dynamic of underlying love with a sheen of passive aggressive and irritated attitude. Just because you are all facing certain death together doesn't mean you're all suddenly going to get along!

I want to call this one "quirky" but I mean that in the best way. It's so odd at times but it all works together to make a solid, dark, entertaining film, right through to its "shock" ending - which also feels quite television script-y. Again, not a complaint! 

It's streaming on Shudder right now so check it out - and make sure to watch to the end of the credits.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

(trailer) Hold The Dark

Exciting news! Jeremy Saulnier, of Murder Party, Blue Ruin and The Green Room has directed an intense looking Netflix movie, due to drop September 28.

Saulnier's long-term collaborator Macon Blair wrote the screenplay, too. 

I was intrigued by the premise, but knowing it's Saulnier makes me full-blown excited for this one. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Triangle (2009)

Triangle really keeps the audience on its toes; seeming to be one thing before becoming something else entirely.

Written and directed by Christopher Smith (the man who also brought us solid British horrors Severance and Creep) and starring Melissa George and Liam Hemsworth, this takes us on a journey from shore to sea and back again - and there's a palpable sense of unease and doom the entire time.

Mostly empty yet symmetrical shot compositions are my jam.

I went in knowing minimal details and that really was the best way, so I'm keeping this short and sweet. This one is confusing and curious, with several moments of breathtaking beauty and grimness (in a good way!). There's also some questionable CGI, but just go with it, trust me.

For fans of horror of the mind-bending variety. Streaming on Shudder now.

Monday, August 06, 2018

I ❤ U The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project hits Shudder US today! To celebrate, I thought I'd jot down a Zombie Cupcake "take" on the movie, since I never actually have. After a recent re-watch I've been having some feels about this one!

For years I felt kind of embarrassed admitting I loved this film, but not any more. Watching it through recently, and then again with the thoroughly entertaining and informative commentary track, it clarified that this is definitely one of my favourite horror films for a few reasons. Over the years I confess feeling a tinge of embarrassment whenever I've been asked to name the scariest film I've ever seen... because honestly, nothing has ever come close to terrifying me as much as this did when I saw it in '99.

Yes, it's been something of a divisive movie ever since its release. The "slowness" of the story; the shaky-cam; the "why are they still filming" aspect and Heather being a "bitch"... Ugh, I don't agree but I get it. Like I said in my Blair Witch review though, whatever your opinion of The Blair Witch Project, you have to admit it was a milestone in horror history. 

Coming out of nowhere, successfully creating mystery around itself - the cast’s IMDB profiles had the actors labeled as "missing, presumed dead" for a full year! - and using the internet in a way that was unheard of at the time. This shit went viral before viral even existed.

"Missing" poster as marketing for the film.

Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the movie is a beautifully crafted piece of cinema where the more you learn about it, the more impressed you'll become. 

Compiled, as it claims to be, from the footage taken by Heather, Mike and Josh (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard) The Blair Witch Project was mostly shot over six days as the actors camped and hiked in the woods, working off of personal "this is your motivation" prompt notes left by the crew. What we see today is thanks to intelligent guidance, expert editing (the Sundance screening apparently showed a different cut) and immersed, improvised acting. The breaking-point exhaustion we see as the film advances was real, and by the final days the three were only given bare minimum food rations to increase their irritability and encourage more anxiety and conflict on film.

Heather (Heather Donahue)

Heather Donahue's casting is called the single best decision of the entire project, and is a powerful but often maligned force of a character in this film. I always had a fondness for her, but my appreciation of the depiction of her has only grown as I've gotten older. Heather is something of a control freak, and she knows what she wants and how she wants it (umm, I can relate). The word "project" is right there in the film's title, and it's her project. Much of the movie is taken from her point of view as she's the one that insists on keeping her camera rolling, even after things take a sinister turn.

Mike (Michael C. Williams)

We meet Heather as a pitch perfect self-righteous film maker, and we leave her running through that house screaming - the audio accompanying her footage coming from Mike's camera making it all fantastically disjointed and unreal - and finally, she's on the floor of the basement. Fade to black.

Much we take for granted in this movie was actually a decision made by the actors (or a happy accident) as they were left to their own devices. If, after reviewing the day's footage Myrick and Sánchez thought someone needed guiding in a slightly different direction, then that was done. But generally they took what the actors gave them, discarded what they thought didn't work (much more, much nastier bickering between the men and Heather found its way to the cutting room floor in an effort to make the audience more sympathetic towards them) and then they spun indie horror movie gold with the rest.

Josh (Joshua Leonard) who lost that sick tooth necklace in the woods :(

Did you know that some of the townspeople at the start were real townspeople from the area? The actors presented themselves in-character so they got natural reactions from the public. Some were plants, too; actors hired and given a story to tell. The stand-out, the lady with the little kid who says "no!" was a real person who made her tale up on the spot (and had to be tracked down to sign a release form!).

Many clever shot set-ups were accidental or actor-driven, rather than anything suggested by the directors. Heather's iconic confession was self-scripted, and the framing of this shot was by mistake. The Blair Witch Project is a wonderful combination of glorious group effort and luck.

As for my personal reaction, marketing and trivia aside, it still creeps me out to this day. When I first saw it I don't remember necessarily thinking it was real, but I did get completely sucked in by the found-footage approach - and remain to this day a fan of imaginative found-footage movies. Whether I was just unaccustomed to horror (or this kind of horror) on the big screen or whatever the reason may have been, I was in full foetal position in my seat with a pounding heart by the end of the movie. Definitely one of those moments you love/hate and spend years trying to recapture!

Even watching the collection of alternative endings (spoiler: none of them work as well as the one they chose) spooked me. There's just something about that final sequence; the hysterical screaming, the house, that basement... I still find it frightening.

It's so cool that Shudder is adding this to their catalogue. But don't forget that there are some great extras on the Blu-ray if you feel like owning it permanently. There are so many amazing little details given in the commentary (the "taco" code word if anyone needed to break character; the stick-man affectionately named Chewbacca) so if you are a fan, it's an excellent investment.

The sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 also hits Shudder today. I remember not being wholly convinced when I saw it, thinking it felt too much like a studio cash-in. Kind of excited to watch it again and see if that still stands.

What's your opinion on the original, or even that 2000 sequel? Lover, hater? Let me know!

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Lake Nowhere (2014)

*kisses fingertips*

Coming in at a mere 50mins long (including the amazing fake trailers and ads at the start) Lake Nowhere is a small but perfectly formed homage to 80s slashers, complete with its own deliciously weird spin on things.

If you're old enough to be nostalgic about watching scary movies on VHS and all of the character-building little details it involved, like murky visuals, tracking lines and glitches, then this film is something you're going to want to check out.

Written by Ryan Scott Fitzgerald and Christopher Phelps, and directed by Phelps and Maxim Van Scoy, Lake Nowhere keeps it simple but strong in two important aspects.

Story. A group of friends (and a dog) arrive at a remote lakeside cabin for the weekend and set about merrily exploring, chopping wood, and settling down for a couple of days of fun. They drink, smoke some pot, have some sex - the usual.

What they don't anticipate is a masked killer lurking around outside (cue lots of cool POV peeping shots). To say any more would give too much away... but rather like a micro budget version of The House of the Devil, this largely sticks to well-worn horror paths. Where and how both elevate themselves above mere imitation and remain an actively enjoyable watch, is due to the fact they're so clearly made with a deep love and understanding of the genre.

Lake Nowhere gets so much, so right. Plus there's also enough of a twist in the tail to still shock.

One of my favourite shots.

Style. I've never had a movie so perfectly mimic the behaviour of VHS, to the point where ancient muscle memory kicked in and I almost found myself reaching for the remote to try and stabilise the playback.

To the haters on Amazon leaving bad reviews because of the picture quality: I truly pity your misunderstanding of this aspect of the movie! ️🤦

The titles and soundtrack/score too, are spot on. Bright red words glare at us over grainy shots of the shoreline, and the upbeat rock music played by the kids sits perfectly next to scuzzy atmospheric electro.

I debated showing the screenshot directly above, but want to draw attention to what a simple, eerie choice this was to have the killer's eyes upside down when shown. These shots are extremely creepy as they punctuate the film. Genius idea.

This is honestly the kind of horror movie that makes fans want to make movies. It took a little over a year from concept to screen; was funded by the makers themselves and an Indiegogo campaign, then shot in just 6 days at a last minute back-up location. Lake Nowhere is a solid gold example of creating something beautiful if you have the guts to go for it.

I wrote simply "YES" and the end of my notes for this.

Seriously considering buying one of the posters from their aptly dated looking official site.

See it, see it, see it!

I watched on Shudder but it's also available on Google Play, Amazon Prime and Vimeo.