Cinematic Nightmare Candy: The Hole in The Ground & Friend of the World

Welcome to Cinematic Nightmare Candy. Providing your horror sweet tooth its (hopefully) terrifying fix.

This time I am back with two new delightfully twisted, thought-provoking horrors.

The Hole in the Ground (Lee Cronin)

source: Shudder

Anchoring some of the Invasion of the Body Snatcher’s vibe, The Hole in the Ground is an Irish-born retelling with narrative nuances and an eeriness all its own.

Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) move away to a small rural area of Ireland. As a single parent, she’s got a lot of maternal, realistic concerns without the horror that awaits her.

After Chris gets lost in the woods one night, he seems to be changed. His personality, eating habits, and distinct memories have shifted. When one of her neighbors, (a woman known for her distrust of a child that led to a child’s perishing) dies horribly, Sarah is even more concerned.

It’s a genuinely creepy experience, luckily, and it makes for a slow burn discomforting exhibition. Seána Kerslake is terrific straddling that element of “who to believe” as everyone considers her unstable, with the clear victim of an unexpected and scary precipice. Is her son, her son? Wouldn’t a mother know? That instinctual motherly awareness is a big part of the film. Chris is acting differently, and it’s something the audience automatically sees, but how does one prove that?

With some genuinely terrifying imagery and set design and moments that definitely speak to our mental fragility and awareness of who we think we know best, The Hole in the Ground strikes a nerve. It’s a hidden gem.

Friend of the World (Brian Patrick Butler)

source: Troma Entertainment

Friend of the world is a quick, 50 minutes of surreal, talkative black-and-white curiosity of a film.

At its start, Keaton (Alexandra Slade) is in a room full of corpses. She carefully treks by them looking for a way out. What’s happened? Why are they dead? The answers are few in this film, but the intrigue never wavers.

Soon she encounters Gore (Nick Young) who seems like a John Goodman from 10 Cloverfield Lane type as if he’s been expecting whatever has happened to come to fruition. He has a lot of ideas and claims to be a general, and perhaps, these are the last two to survive in this world.

The movie is sometimes infuriating because of its very remote locale and indistinct direction. While purposeful, I’m sure, it begs the pondering, what are we saying here? By its end, you get more of a distinction, and definitely an appreciation for the artistic value, but still feel like you’re clinging to the shadows.

We do discern details like Keaton is a filmmaker, and she was here accounting footage. But, the why, is eluded. Gore says there’s a cure for what’s occurring to people, and with some terrific effects, especially for a low-budget film, that combines body horror and suspense, it makes for a tantalizing play. Those gnarlier shots were especially a high point.

I will say, it’s not easy to sustain a film with two characters, let alone continue to keep the audience’s suspicions and attention sufficiently. Brian Patrick Butler writes, directs, and produces this genre flick with ample intention, even if it sometimes feels uncertain.

As the film continues there are some intriguing twists and turns, and I love the direction it goes in, as well as its eventual compelling finality. Even if Friend of the World sometimes meanders, the captivating performances, gnarly practical effects, and intelligent direction make the most of its limited screen time and show Brian Patrick Butler is a force in the genre film world.

Cinematic Nightmare Candy: Benny Loves You, New Year, New You, & Barbarians

Welcome to Cinematic Nightmare Candy. Providing your horror sweet tooth its (hopefully) terrifying fix.

I watch a lot of horrors. What’s new this past week for me? Stick with me and we’ll see what awaits.

This time I was welcomed to some bizarre offbeat horrors that meandered more comedic, but at least two kept a steady hand at being exactly what they intended. A breath of fresh (or is it disturbing?) air. *wink* Overall, not the most effective in everything, yet still this version of the column finds the highlights even when they are streaming, bloody, red.

source: Dread

Benny Loves You (Karl Holt)

This British comedy-horror is exactly what you’d expect from a film with a premise about a doll that comes to life with murderous results. This concept is not quite Chucky but not entirely without its inspiration. Instead, Benny looks to protect his beloved bestie, whether from friend or foe, often confusing those with good intentions and mirroring jealousy and obsession with love. It’s a strange comedy horror, that manages to hit all of the right notes.

Written, directed, and starring Karl Holt, Benny Loves You is one of those rare achievements where ridiculousness isn’t synonymous with “bad.” Instead, it is just plain fun. Holt also manages to make our lead character incredibly sympathetic. And, I’ll be honest, even the doll, as psychotic as it was, imbued some sympathy too.

Jack (Karl Holt) is a production designer at a toy company. He lives with his parents until his unfortunate 35th birthday when they unexpectedly perish under strange circumstances. Magically, his childhood toy, Benny, gets empowered with vicious and supernatural abilities, all aimed at protecting his best friend, at any costs. Even, if it means murder.

This is a self-aware comedy that makes the most of its limited budget and hilarious output. There were so many times I laughed at Benny’s positions and decisions as maniacal as they were because the actions and visuals warranted it so. Sometimes, even something as simple as Benny on top of a car, wielding a knife, as the unsuspected victim cranks rock music, is quite memorable. Or, when he slices up an unexpected office break room. It’s all on par with a jolt of comedic timing and the perpetual massacre to come.

It’s partly a love for the past, the power where our childhood lingers on, and where our adulthood wonders when we have to let go. But when it is safe to do that? This is especially pertinent when our childhood buddy is a psychotic murderer. Luckily, most don’t have to consider such an idea.

Yet. *Smirk*.

There are a lot of scenes in Benny Loves You that feel borderline cheesy, but often, they settle in the terrain of lovingly horrific. It’s that strange place between what we want, what we need, and what we are terrified of having. We all want success, but at what cost? How much can we let go of our childish inclinations?

Benny Loves You is a blast; it’s funny and it’s disgustingly gory. A horror-comedy treasure with just enough heart, that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

source: Hulu

New Year, New You (Sophia Takal)

This venture in Into the Dark was quite different than the first, and a much more entertaining bit. Who doesn’t like a group of young women ruminating on past teenagers’ pain with “friends” who they haven’t connected with in a while? Sounds like a mouthful, but it’s a very straightforward conceit.

I’m sure many of us have had bad exchanges or confrontations because of things that happened in our past, but New Year, New You takes this to a treacherous degree.

Let’s set the stage.

The players: it is New Year’s Eve, and what better way to celebrate when your family home is being sold than to invite your high school besties over? For some, it has been a while, especially one in particular, who has grown to massive social media success. Alexis (Suki Waterhouse) invites friends Kaela (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) Chloe (Melissa Bergland) and long distanced friend, Danielle (Carly Chaikin) whose clear stardom has made her detached from the onset.

Unbeknownst to Danielle, there’s a setup involved. Something less celebratory is afoot, and these girls have an idea of how to ring in the new year: by acknowledging a past sin. Vengeance for her behavior and stored resentment are bubbling over the glasses of champagne but, who will ring honest and victorious?

While this is a step-up from a previous Into the Dark, there are still moments that don’t feel as potent as others. Still, New Year, New You, emphasizes its lean runtime with adequate tension, and plenty of build-ups that makes viewers wonder, are they are being fooled. Who is the bully, and who is the victim? Ironically, this was also a theme in the previous column.

New Year, New You takes a crumb and turns it into a nasty, suspenseful holiday cake. One which they will all undoubtedly choke on. All these girls are on edge, many with their own regrets and insecurities, making for a perceptible suspense amid the festivities. In the end, we see the “truth” and it is ugly. But, it’s also relative to our current obsession with social media, online personalities, and perceptions (and misconceptions). It starts and ends with a similar shot, but with very different, satirical, and interesting, meanings. We all want to be heard, yeah? But what is truth?

By no means does this film breakthrough where its predecessors were at a standstill, but it does provide an engaging enough premise to satisfy most who are looking for this sort of revenge-fueled-small set narrative.

Despite its downfalls, Sophia Takal brings us New Year, New You, which is simultaneously emotionally erratic and smartly snide with its perception of relationships, vengeance, and the horror of piecing truths together.

New Year, New You is currently available on Hulu

Barbarians (Charles Dorfman)

I can’t deny that when you see a character portrayed as effectively as someone like Ramsey Snow/Bolton in an epic like Game of Thrones, it can be hard to see them differently. And honestly, it’s a compliment, because it means they nailed it; they have convinced you. I have seen many of the show’s cast members in other roles, but this is the first for me with Iwan Rheon and he (and the rest of the cast) does this film justice. Where is it lacking? Patience and practice. And believe me, you’ll need an appreciation of both to get through the experience of Barbarians.

There is a lot under the surface in this film that isn’t fully explored, it’s like we get the lean cut instead of the meaty one, one which would have fulfilled much more had it been served. I’d also say there’s a lot of misdirection as much as there are obvious nods to what will come. It becomes a bit confusing, but early on there is an indication of areas that don’t ever fully get explored.

But let’s back up.

It’s a new home; a dinner party and friends unite for a meal and a (purposed) good catch-up sesh. The table is set: Adam (Rheon) and Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno) are the first tenants in a new development. They decide to have over Lucas (Tom Cullen) who is the proprietor of the property, and his girlfriend Chloe (Inès Spiridonov) on Adam’s birthday, but also to celebrate their new digs.

From the onset of Barbarians, there’s a sense of dread, an inescapable lingering sign of what will undoubtedly be an awkward and unfulfilling meal. There are secrets and uncertainties lingering under the surface, some brimming from how Lucas acquired this land, and others related to what he intends to do with it.

Purposefully frustrating, the characters are a bit sniveling, lost in their own greed or self-service to really ever give us a basis to connect to. The satire ends up being tiresome, and the positives (the original setup, the central locale, and the cast) become lost in what equals to a mismatched narrative.

It doesn’t elevate to its full potential by the time it reaches its home invasion phase, which makes the trite bickering seem rather futile, and makes what could have been some of the more intriguing aspects of the film come too late (or too early?) I’m not really sure.

Barbarians constructs a level of keen curiosity but eventually fades into the familiar. And, unfortunately, an unimpressive final showdown. I wanted to like this much more than I did, and I believe the bones for success were there, if not for a miscalibration of (skeletal) pieces. I was still hungry for more.

Barbarians is currently available to rent.

Until next time beasties!

Cinematic Nightmare Candy: Coming Home in the Dark, They Come Knocking, All My Friends Hate Me & Sweetheart

Welcome to Cinematic Nightmare Candy. Providing your horror sweet tooth its (hopefully) terrifying fix.

I watch an ample amount of horror, sometimes more often than others, so why not recollect my recent foray into the genre? In the last week or so, I’ve seen 4 different kinds of the genre, and some were unexpectedly great, and others disappointedly so. Some were very different than what I expected, and while sometimes the surprise is wonderful, sometimes…not. Let’s recount, shall we?

Coming Home in the Dark (James Ashcroft)

source: Dark Sky Films

This was a film I had looked forward to since missing it at Sundance last year. With some recent horror bangers at recent film festivals, I was excited to see this available on streaming (Netflix) and finally able to dive into this blindspot.

What came of my movie-going experience was mixed, to say the least. What starts off as a lovely picnic among family Hank, AKA Hoaggie (Erik Thomson), Jill (Miriama McDowell), and their two sons rapidly turns into a tale of some of the family being captive, and then… a turn into vengeance. While it begins in the countryside, a lot takes place within a vehicle, mulling through overextended conversation. These are bad guys that are in no hurry to dismiss any little detail, and then it becomes wider in scope, more advanced, reaching back to a place of childhood agony, that then spawns the rest of the film.

What is their motive?

I will say that Coming Home in the Dark doesn’t pull its punches early, with an opening act that feels genuinely terrifying. I had an “oh shit!” moment of surprise that made me instantly curious about where this was going. It was quite the bold position to levy so early on, but I admired the choice because it had me visibly shocked for a while after.

As the plot continued, it wavered between intrigue and tedium. There was a sense of continual tension that had this peculiar story ensuring I was wondering what would happen next. However, I was also wondering if I’d be fulfilled by its final stance. It’s a dichotomy that I wasn’t quite hoping for because it made the overall experience latent with ups and downs.

I will say that I respect the direction that our creators went in, and the cast was all for it, making this uncomfortable, drawn our affair, always uneasy. By its end, I still had questions, and I had my own contemplations of victim versus captor. It reflects on morality, coming head-to-head with your mistakes, and overcoming past trauma. In that way, Coming Home in the Dark hits its mark. The execution has some flaws, but overall nothing that will be too much for many viewers to overcome. In a way, it’s like the film lights a match, but holds it too long until it burns your fingers. Yeah, it was fire, but it also burnt out.

James Ashcroft‘s film has some interesting “bad guys” in the especially menacing Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and more stoic Tubs (Matthias Luafutu). Gillies does a terrific job of keeping the narrative stretched out, and taut, conveying the feeling that at any moment, things are going to snap.

In the end, Coming Home in the Dark provides enough intellectual stimuli with adequate gritty, tension to chew on, even if it isn’t entirely persuasive in its intent.

Currently streaming on Netflix

They Come Knocking (Adam Mason)

source: Hulu

They Come Knocking is part of the “In the Dark” anthology series on Hulu, something I can assure you, I will be exploring more. As my first, it didn’t necessarily strike the loudest chord, but it had its moments.

This movie plays with limited surroundings (reminding me of the Hill Has Eyes at times) with a family in an RV in the middle of nowhere. However, this film dives deep into grief, having our father and daughters reaching this point of a meaningful location, to discard of the matriarch Jill’s ashes. This, unfortunately, played out a bit like a TV movie, in a way that the acting waned sentimentally, with the scares secondary. Grief has long been known to take a lot of forms within this genre, often being a catalyst for our character’s eventual nightmare.

Haven’t they suffered enough?

The two sisters argue frequently and don’t make it easy on their father who is just trying to keep things together. Before they are able to lay their loved one’s ashes to rest, what seems to be young children appear outside, knocking and pleading for them to come out. When it doesn’t work they mess up their vehicle, making the family unable to leave, and also (dumb, dumb, dumb) split up.

Adam Mason‘s film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It sometimes engages us with a setup for what could be a well-executed thriller, but it also hands out doses of supernatural and psychological elements, making it a mixed bag of intentions.

There are some creepy-looking “kids” outside, with valid intrigue at large, making this family’s conundrum feel genuinely eerie. However, the stakes, aren’t as high. Also, there are a lot of those moments where you wonder…”why?” The whole idea of yelling at the TV screen while watching horror isn’t new; it’s basically embedded in its history, as poor decisions and a lack of awareness often spell death. They Come Knocking tests this tradition out.

The familial elements hit an emotional point, but also lean into melodramatic at times, which can cause a hiccup in connection. I had empathy for these characters, but I also wondered what was the inevitable outcome. Was this horror going to conclude in a way that made these details worth it?

Well, the ending was both somehow, unsuccessful and successful that couldn’t really please all of the varied horror audiences. Now, of course, no movie is probably aiming to do all of that, but as someone who is a fan of all the subgenres, I couldn’t find myself really feeling satiated in any department.

I liked the message, but the not the telling. With some creepy moments and some reasonably apt images of horror, They Come Knocking just struck short of being entirely compelling.

I assure you, I was as disappointed as the rest.

Currently streaming on Hulu

All My Friends Hate Me (Andrew Gaynord)

source: Super LTD

All My Friends Hate Me plays pretty fast and loose with its portrayal of what we generally refer to horror as, making the discomfort evident, even if it’s not quite what you think going in.

It’s Pete’s (Tom Stourton) birthday, and to celebrate, he’s meeting up with a group of college friends that he hasn’t seen in a while. Right from his initial drive in to the countryside, things don’t go as planned. He has to get directions, arrives alone to an empty house, and when everyone finally comes back, there’s the first inkling of this film’s thorny presence. Pete is proud of where he is in life, and often feels as if he’s trying to share that with his posh group of friends, but is being overshadowed in some capacity.

Archie (Graham Dickson), George (Joshua McGuire) Fig (Georgina Campbell), and Claire (Antonia Clarke) come back from the pub with a new addition, Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) whose demeanor and intentions are so aloof, while his personality is so brash, that it is hard to get a read on what he’s doing. This spikes paranoia in Pete as well, making this a complicated cocktail of agonizing mixers.

It isn’t a normal horror by any means, but who wants to be in this kind of situation? Social anxiety becomes the monster here, creeping slowly into each exchange and permeating every scene until its firecracker end. The film purposely unnerves and doesn’t make any of the characters, including our protagonist, particularly likeable.

The overall snicker in All My Friends Hate Me is maintained, wedging the audience somewhere in between hilarity and stress. You know that sensation when you’re watching a character and somehow you feel embarrassment for them, as if you’re transported into that very situation yourself? This is a movie that does it masterfully through its direction and the entirely-up-for-anything cast. As a film that’s reliant on the dialogue snapping, and the camera on its stars with each reaction to a shift in energy, it achieves its satiric ability at full force. As the story unfolds, you start to really believe that everyone is out to get Pete, and Tom Stourton (who co-wrote with Tom Palmer) sells Pete’s behavior and perceptible unease aptly.

While this isn’t your average horror, it transcends that title by feeding into the potential fear and worst-case social situations that can arise daily. It gives us that discomforting moment of realization that maybe you aren’t who you thought you were, or maybe, your friends aren’t. But who has truly changed? This story dissects so many of the general awkward moments, making each scream to a degree that can challenge the viewer. In this way, All My Friends Hate Me is quite fluid and successful, giving a new (and yet familiar) perspective on what it means to be situationally horrified.

Currently available on VOD

Sweetheart (J.D. Dillard)

source: Netflix

This sci-fi horror was one of the most positive surprises as of late. Sometimes, less is more. This is one of those cases. It’s a limited setting, with a lead that’s courageous and sympathetic, even if you don’t know the backstory. She’s alone, and she’s trying. That’s all that matters.

Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) washes up on an isolated island. She’s one of the survivors of a shipwreck (a story not shown or talked about) with a fellow friend/crewmember fatally injured on the shore. Clemons is magnetic, portraying a strong female character that jumps into action as soon as she acknowledges what exactly has happened. We see her explore the island for other survivors and any supplies (some leftover from a previous inhabitant) and food, as well as build a fire. It’s terrifying enough being isolated, the loneliness and pressure of survival building, but she’s not alone. At night, there’s a creature that comes ashore, and after it digs up her friend’s perished corpse, she knows she’s in serious danger.

Clemons holds the film into a place of reality even when the science-fiction element of the story soars. Her fight and her fear are in equal parts present, making her performance and this limited locale all that was really needed for such a lean film. The creature design is terrific, especially its slow reveal, in carefully curated doses. There are often just glimpses or disturbing sounds, expertly giving us just enough, as we’re hiding in a log with Jenn, closing our eyes tightly in fear as we hear it approach, not sure what’s going to happen, or what is truly lurking in the night.

A couple of others eventually come on a lifeboat, but at this point they’re starving, exhausted, and Jenn’s account of the events seems more like the rant of someone who was pushed too far in a horrifying situation. If most people spoke of a monster from the sea, and a black hole residing in the ocean, what would be your response?

While some eventual aspects may be predictable, it finds new ways to craft an inventive spin on the mixed genres, and with an excellent central performance, it is easy to be caught up in its mystery. And, bonus, it’s also hella fun! JD Dillard takes his mostly solo star and finds ways to make this lost island seem large and inescapable, and yet somehow also growing smaller by the minute. Limited on dialogue, but heavy on suspense and expanse: does it flaunt stylistically? No. Does it need to? Absolutely not. Sometimes the adventure and terror are perceived most vividly by what the audience isn’t shown. Sweetheart also shows that even the most beautiful of locales can have an underlying terror.

In many ways, Sweetheart is a very simple but effective story; a gorgeously shot creature-feature-survival-horror that does a lot with a little, elevates the genre, while also building sustainable tension. The little thriller that could.

And man, was I rooting for Jenn to kick this sea-monster’s ass.

Currently streaming on Netflix

Until next time my lovelies…

Unfortunately Weird: Wild Mountain Thyme (2020)

Unfortunately Weird is a column for the kind of film that ends up being memorably weird, but in all the wrong ways.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I watched the film Wild Mountain Thyme, and it still hasn’t left my brain. This isn’t a fond experience I’m recollecting, a meaningful film-viewing, no. It is because my brain is still unable to process what it is I saw.

If you’re asking yourself “what am I watching?” with the frequency that I was, you know something isn’t right.

source: Lionsgate

For anyone out there who adores this film and finds it delightful I say- I am happy for you, enjoy what you enjoy, but, also, you’re probably not going to like what I say next.

What the hell?

This is one of the worst, most bizarre movie-watching experiences that I have had in a long time. However, I am still glad I did. This is for many reasons I won’t all divulge, but mostly because curiosity demanded that I do. You know what happened to the cat though, right?

Before I begin to explain (what is even explainable) about this film and what is unequivocally wrong here, I shall attempt to discern the plot. Thereby, bring some clarity to an otherwise strangely structured, confusingly off, motion picture.

We open to beautiful Ireland, narrated by Christopher Walken as Tom Reilly, the patriarch of one the two families at the heart of this “magical” story. We’re introduced to two of the most depressed kids ever, on nearby farms, before quickly moving to them as adults.

One is Rosemary (Emily Blunt) and the other is Walken‘s son, Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan). The two stars of the film have a clear affection for one another but are hindered by…something. Stubbornness? A strange experience when they were kids when one pushed the other? One might wonder, with this cast- along with the film’s writer/director John Patrick Shanley (Yes, director of Doubt, writer of Moonstruck, maybe go watch one of those) how bad could it be?

I haven’t even told you yet that Jon Hamm is in it.

Eye roll, sigh, head tilt… huh?

source: Lionsgate

So, these two bourgeoning romantic partners spend a lot of time throughout this film speaking in fast paced dialogue that borders on the unintelligible, and crosses into completely bonkers, while taking the longest route to an admission of love that I can recall. The plot wobbles awkwardly like a three-legged chair, and its as uncomfortable and ridiculous as one too.

What’s worse is that, despite having this strange desire to describe what I saw, I find it hard to completely convey the oddity that is Wild Mountain Thyme. There are so many moments throughout that are truly head scratching. If I was to compile a list of emotions felt while watching this movie the majority would fall under the confused, conflated and confounded side, and yes, I realize those are all synonyms of the same word, yet somehow this film adds layers to the meaning. Did you know you could be perplexed with such nuance?

I’m a romantic at heart, so I am always hoping that a film fulfills its intentions. I find no pleasure in saying that Wild Mountain Thyme does not.

There is so much talent involved here (both in front and behind the camera) that when the credits came I found myself slack jawed in awe that this was produced. In theory, maybe, this had a roadmap for success, in execution, however, it stumbles into meandering nonsense, hurried and ineffective.

A sweet Thyme, it was not.

Appreciation Review: Planet Terror

Appreciation Review: Planet Terror (2007)

An appreciation review is for a film that I love that I feel hasn’t received its due! All in the spirit of giving films the spotlight they deserve! (According to me). Because film is subjective of course, but I hope to change your minds.

Disclaimer: Ironically, this also ties into Wonderfully Weird, because, let’s be honest, this isn’t a universally “got” film.

There are so many quotes from this film that I spew on a daily basis, so apologies (sorry- not sorry) if that happens often during this review. It’s just the ideal amalgamation of horror, comedy, and outright randomness that makes Planet Terror iconic.

Appreciation Review: Planet Terror
source: Dimension Films

A zombie (not really zombie, but zombie) government invented disease ravages local residents. Have we seen this before? Perhaps. In this delectably bizarre/hilarious way?

Helllll no.

“That Boy’s Got the Devil in Him”

Thank you Robert Rodriguez for this, and for a few others I might throw into the mix, to be continued) even if there’s plenty of his that I’m not as sold on. This first shot in the grindhouse combo unleashed a mess of guts, a random testicle storing/obsession (by the wonderful Naveen Andrews) of his victims, to Freddy Rodriguez’s honed “notorious” ability to kick ass as “El Wray” it is a ride. Not to mention an assortment of other acting gems like Michael Beihn (his on-going rivalry with brother Jeff Fahey’s for the ultimate BBQ recipe) and Rose McGowan with a machine gun/rocket launcher leg. To name a few. All of this may seem chaotic, and potentially not real, but it all really happens. It fits like a perfectly attached wooden appendage during an apocalyptic event when you need a leg.

Yeah, that’s Planet Terror.

This movie transcended a lot of previously used (sometimes abused) themes and made it original. At a time when one might wonder: how is this possible? Well, through a sense of obscurity, originality, and also, a healthy dose of throwback. The grindhouse appeal is a selling point, but the movie excels beyond the aesthetic, nostalgic touch. In simplest terms, it’s campy horror fun, with an assortment forced to come together (some overcoming their sordid pasts) to prevail over the evil looming here. 

“I’m Going to Eat Your Brains, and Gain Your Knowledge.”

One of my favorite aspects of Planet Terror, other than the humor that sneaks into every scene, some hilarious one-liners, is the style. If you’ve seen a lot of Rodriguez’s filmography, you know he’s got this in spades, but Planet Terror brings it to another level. It’s soaked in its grindhouse vibe, much like the other within the film duo, Death Proof. Another being The Machete movies, which came out of the wonderfully ridiculous trailers between the two films. Whether it be the gore or the sparks of the explosions, the effects and visuals pop. Also, props to the badass choreographed scene of Freddy Rodriguez‘s character fighting his way through a hospital ward and Josh Brolin’s creepy doctor. It’s exploitation, it’s throw-back horror, it is embracing the campiness with a wide-toothed, bloody grin. 

What do you think? Let me know!

Appreciation Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Appreciation Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Recently, during our #BlindspotPodcast for Film Inquiry, Jake Tropila recommended a movie I had been meaning to watch for a long time: Only Lovers Left Alive. Why had I missed this? Who knows…life, time…all of the things considered in this newfound cinematic love.

This was a movie even referred to by my co-host as a “Kristy” film, which is exactly why I am taking the time to talk about how amazing it indeed is.

A vampire film, an existential contemplation on meaning and immortality, a funny, yet intellectual foray into the minds of humans (and our supernatural counterparts)= lovely cinema. There’s a lot to adore with Jim Jarmusch’s film, in a way you may not expect. I left the film satisfied and imbued with emotion, deep in thought, and self-reflection.

How’s that for a genre piece?

Tom Hiddleston (Adam) and Tilda Swinton (Eve) are amazing as the two leads. There’s a chemistry and yet a disconnect (in the most beautiful of ways) and I mean that in the sense that these two have been apart, and yet can be reunited with instant fire; it’s magnetic. A love story for many, many, ages. When Eve discovers that Adam is having a difficult time she immediately goes to his side. They’re forever entwined.

Appreciation Review: Only Lovers Left Alive
source: Soda Pictures, Pandora Film Verleih

There are other terrific supporting roles from the likes of the tragically lost talent of Anton Yelchin to the amazing versatile Mia Wasikowska, to the incredible John Hurt. But, the real passion of this film comes from our leads and an imaginative almost lyrically profound story that is unlike anything that has come before. There’s a real appreciation for cinema, while also emphasizing on the admiration of the human experience.

Anytime someone can introduce a new facet to the “vampire“ sub-genre, I’m thrilled. It’s moody, it’s prolific, with the usual deadpan humor one can expect from this director’s cache, and Jim Jarmusch truly excels here, crafting an interesting character study that is also a blast to enjoy. While there’s a richness here within the narrative, there’s also an overall sweetness that prevails.

Jim Jarmusch weaves a lovely story here that mixes humor and sadness, highlighting intricacies while examining the simple moments of our daily existence. This is complete with music (some from Jarmusch’s band: SQURL) that truly sweep you off your feet. In fact, there are many times I felt like I was floating through this film, elevated by how artfully in tune it is. I believe this to be his best work, and it’s atmospherically encompassing. An intellectually inviting, endearing, and wonderful movie. And yes, there are vampires too.

Bonus!

What is your take? Let me know!

Appreciation Review: It Follows (2014)

Appreciation Review: It Follows (2014)

An appreciation review is for a film that I love that I feel hasn’t received its due! All in the spirit of giving films the spotlight they deserve! (According to me). Because film is subjective of course, but I hope to change your minds.

In the last decade of filmmaking few films have hit me as high (picture a carnival hammer hitting the top bell) on the horror scale as much as It Follows. I have suggested this movie to more people than I can count and the reasoning is simple: it’s one of the best, most original, and long-lasting cinematic encounters of the genre. Especially in recent history.

Appreciation Review: It Follows (2014)

Some might classify this in its barest form (undeservingly so) as a thriller about youngsters spreading a curse through sex. Yes, if you want it to be defined in the most generic way, perhaps, but that’s part of the excellency here, it exceeds this notion, and while it may be a metaphor for unprotected sex and transmitted diseases, its nature is a much more prolific and terrifying one.

After Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with her new boyfriend, a haunting reality is passed onto her. Her only way out is to continue the process, further spreading the “virus.”

Apart from some of the creepiest imagery in recent movies, David Robert Mitchell‘s It Follows enlivens multiple horrific elements: being stalked (obviously), feeling alone and unbelieved, as well as internally deeply attacked, and the inevitable suffering. Though in this tale, our main protagonist has a support system, and while the others can’t always see the ghoulish followers, they sense (and sometimes see) the effect. What’s seen is truly chilling. Some of my favorite displays on-screen of fear incarnate.

It’s a gut-punch of a horror, of course, in a great way. Whenever I have shown this to someone I get giddy in their reactions. That’s because it is visceral and completely overwhelming. Exactly what you strive for in a film like this. It’s also shot with beautiful cinematography coupled with a score and feel that echoes more classic, retro horror. Monroe’s terror is thoroughly perceptible, a bona fide horror queen (soon to come another love of mine The Guest) where she’s also sensational.

For any fan of this particular genre: this is a must-see. One of the best, stylish, more recent horrors you’ll discover. It will creep up on you, and won’t let go.

What are your thoughts? Let me know!

Wonderfully Weird: Freaked (1993)

Wonderfully Weird: Freaked (1993)

Wonderfully Weird is a column that asks, how weird is it? Does it pay off? And sometimes- what the hell just happened? The wonder of film revolves around its ability to vary in perspective from one person to the next. This column is all about the asking- and by extension me, answering with my take. What’s yours?

Occasionally, I have random memories of a film I saw when I was younger. It was odd, obnoxious, had Bobcat Goldthwait as a sock puppet. (If you haven’t seen it, this is real.)

Of course, I’m talking about the 1993 bonkers, Freaked, directed by Alex Winter and Tom Stern, and written by Tim Burns, Tom Stern, Alex Winter.

The Premise?

Celebrity Ricky Coogin (Alex Winter) is hired as a spokesperson for an obviously seedy company. When he’s traveling to South America for said organization, his friend Ernie (Michael Stoyanov) and newly met Julie (Megan Ward) stumble upon what, some might say, is the worst kind of “Freakshow” roadside attraction you can imagine.

Wonderfully Weird: Freaked (1993)
Freaked (1993)- source: 20th Century Fox

Headed by Randy Quaid, what they fall prey to is a place that tests this chemical on people, creating them into an assortment of body horror mixed with some interesting practical effects, which has an array of stars as different attractions. They are all prisoners in this fever dream of a film. There are a lot of cameos, including Keanu Reeves and Mr. T, all in their various characters.

There’s no easy way to describe Freaked. Part dark-comedy, part low-budget horror, part… *brain is having trouble with a word that can describe*- at times the film borders on so outrageous that it makes you wonder if it should have ever been made. Then, there are situations where the feature ventures on a level of incohesive-ness that’s actually fun, and you find yourself laughing out loud. Some of the makeup and practical effects are pretty impressive, and some of the humor (when it isn’t only odd for the sake of being so) is quite clever. 

Is it amazing? No. Is it weird? Ah… hell yeah. Alex Winter as the arrogant actor who ends up quite actually getting a taste of his own medicine is just the jumping-off point for the narrative that unfolds. There’s a lot within the story that is nonsense, but it is entertaining and zany for a reason. If you can get past the intense tonal injection, and just let it roll over you- you might just have a good time. 

Regardless of your final take, Freaked, (and this could be because of some nostalgia-glasses my child self is still wearing) is a movie that is most definitely hard to forget. 

Appreciation Review: The Thing (1982)

Appreciation Review: The Thing (1982)

This is an opportunity to appreciate the more horrific things in life, especially when it comes to my favorite platform: movies.

How could I not start off this column with one of my favorite horror movies of all time? While this is hardly ever an easy thing to answer (in any genre) John Carpenter’s The Thing, always makes it to my lips. This movie not only left a cinematic impression, I felt it.

To this day, it is rare for a film to be as instrumental in my love for the genre as much as this movie. It’s one that I can watch repetitively, and believe me I do, and still find new things I adore each time. Isn’t this the gift of great cinema?

When you are approaching a remake it’s difficult to elevate yourself from the source in a way that brings in new fans and satisfies old alike. Carpenter managed to excel at this, taking the 1950’s version and making it scarier, tenser, and somehow even more memorable.

This is, The Thing.

The Thing (1982) source: Universal Pictures

One of my favorite elements in horror films, be it psychological, a creature-feature, slasher- what have you, is when the story takes place in a limited, if not a singular primary setting. There’s something inherently eerie about the isolation of this group of men in Antarctica, trapped by both weather and circumstance, forced to question their sanity and…ultimately, one another.

It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers but there’s an even smaller group potentially “infected”. How do you know if this… “thing” has gotten the others? How can you trust your friend, your co-worker, if it’s possible it’s some alien/entity trying to consume you (and I mean CONSUME, in some of the best practical effects/body horror/make up ever). It’s what all horror connoisseurs crave; a mysterious and evocative beginning, a steady burgeoning of tension, and enough left unexplained leveled with the right amount of terror shown.

Another element that The Thing has going for it is the casting. While Kurt Russell is a pretty household name, here, as pilot R.J. MacReady, complete with long hair and one of my favorite on-screen beards, he’s incredible. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the genius of Ennio Morricone‘s score. It’s a beautifully strange combination that matches the mixing of sci-fi and horror. It’s synth, it’s subtle, and yet it’s bone-chillingly apt. In fact, there’s nothing ineffective about the making of The Thing.

In my opinion, it’s a masterpiece of filmmaking, of suspense building and maintaining, and one of the most iconic horror movies you’ll ever see.