Sunday, October 29, 2017

#2,449. Hidden (2015)

Directed By: The Duffer Brothers

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Andrea Riseborough, Emily Alyn Lind

Tag line: "Fear will find you"

Trivia: The movie contains no credits at the start (just the title)

It isn’t long after 2015’s Hidden begins that we realize The Duffer Brothers (who wrote and directed the film) are setting us up for a major surprise.

For the last 301 days, Ray (Alexander Skarsgård), his wife Claire (Andrea Riseborough) and the couple’s daughter Zoe (Emily Alyn Lind), have been living in an underground bunker. Despite the tight conditions, Ray and Claire go out of their way to make things comfortable for Zoe, playing games with her and reading her stories, yet at the same time reminding the young girl to be as quiet as possible, so as not to alert the “Breathers” lurking above.

While dealing with an unwanted pest (a rat that had been digging its way into their canned goods), Ray and Claire inadvertently start a fire, then work frantically to hide all evidence of it, hoping that the Breathers took no notice of their unfortunate accident.

What happened to drive this small family underground, and who (or what) are the Breathers that are searching for them? The answers to these questions will eventually be revealed, setting up an ending that’s guaranteed to shock the hell out of you.

Yet as astonishing as the final ten minutes of Hidden are, it’s the time we spend with its three central characters, huddled together in the claustrophobic confines of their subterranean shelter, that draws us in and captures our attention. Ray, played so well by Alexander Skarsgård , has a special bond with his daughter, taking her side whenever a disagreement about dinner arises and playing a nightly game that reminds them all of the life they left behind. Andrea Riseborough’s Claire, on the other hand, is more grounded in the “here and now”, worrying about their food supply and coming up with a series of rules designed to keep Zoe’s mind off the Breathers (one of the main rules, in fact, is that they can no longer mention the Breathers by name).

Both Skarsgård and Riseborough are excellent in their respective roles, and Emily Alyn Lloyd proves to be one of the better child actors to come along in a while, conveying the fear, anxiety and frustration of being cut off from the world above, yet remaining hopeful that brighter days are ahead. Thanks to these three finely-realized characters, Hidden keeps us watching as we wait patiently for its big reveal.

The Duffer Brothers do drop a few hints (by way of flashbacks) as to what brought the family to this desperate state, and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that, even though we’re fully expecting a twist at the end, it still manages to surprise us once it rolls around.

Hidden may not be the most original movie, either in its storyline (1985's Day of the Dead was set primarily in an underground shelter, as were more recent movies like The Divide and Beneath) or its execution (Starting with his 1999 movie The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan has given us one twist ending after anoither), but because of the extraordinary performances turned in by its cast, we’re more than happy we went along for the ride.

Friday, October 27, 2017

#2,448. The Evil Within (2017)

Directed By: Andrew Getty

Starring: Frederick Koehler, Sean Patrick Flanery, Brianna Brown

Tag line: "You Can't Run From a Nightmare"

Trivia: Writer / director Andrew Getty funded the majority of this film on his own

I was about 3/4’s of the way through 2017’s The Evil Within when I received one hell of a surprise.

It happened as two of the film’s characters, John (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Lydia (Dina Meyer), were having lunch in a neighborhood restaurant. For most of the morning, the couple couldn’t shake the feeling that something strange was going on, mostly because they didn’t recognize anyone in town… a town they’d both lived in for years.

Suddenly, John lets out a sigh of relief; he thinks he spots his psychiatrist, Dr. Preston (Francis Guinan), at a nearby table. John walks over, says hello, and pats the doctor on the back. Only it isn’t Dr. Preston; it’s a large man, well over 7 feet tall, who is none too happy that his meal has been interrupted. The moment this man stood up and turned around, I recognized the actor playing him: it was Matthew McGrory, who had portrayed Tiny in Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects

Wait a minute… Matthew McGrory?!? 

It couldn’t be. McGrory died in 2005, shortly after shooting his scenes for The Devil’s Rejects (they even had a tribute to him on that film’s DVD, and I remember Shari Moon Zombie tearing up when she recalled how kind and gentle he was). 

But it was McGrory, no doubt about it. So, what was an actor who died in 2005 doing in a film released in 2017? 

As it turns out, The Evil Within has a production history that would make for an amazing movie in its own right! 

Financed by its writer / director, Andrew Getty (the grandson of billionaire industrialist J. Paul Getty), The Evil Within was shot sporadically between 2002 and 2008, starting and stopping several times due to funding issues, lawsuits, and problems with the cast and crew. Inspired by a series of disturbing dreams he had as a child, Getty - whose mansion served as the film’s main set piece - finally finished principle photography in 2008, then spent the next seven years meticulously editing the movie and creating his own special effects. 

Then, on March 31, 2015, at the age of 47, Andrew Getty died of an intestinal rupture, caused in part (according to the coroner) by his addiction to methamphetamines. The film’s producer, Michael Luceri, who had assisted with some of the editing, then stepped in and finished the movie. 

The Evil Within premiered in Portugal at the 2017 Fantasporto Film Festival, a whopping fifteen years after its very first scene was shot! 

Dennis Peterson (Frederick Koehler), a mentally challenged 30-year-old, lives in a spacious house with his older brother John (Flanery), who has been his caretaker for years. John’s tireless dedication to his brother has caused some friction in his own life. For one, John’s girlfriend Lydia (Meyer) is anxious to get married, but doesn’t want to live in the same house as Dennis. In addition, a nosy social worker (Kim Darby) has been poking around, trying to prove that John isn’t fit to care for a mentally disabled person. Still, John loves his brother, and will do everything in his power to give Dennis as good a life as he possibly can. 

One day, John finds a full-length mirror in the basement, and decides to store it in Dennis’s bedroom. Dennis is none too happy at first (the mirror frightens him), but reluctantly agrees to keep it for a few days. The moment he stares into this mirror, however, Dennis’s reflection begins to talk back to him, and over time it convinces the impressionable Dennis to do some very, very bad things. 

But is it really his reflection that's guiding him, or is it the demon that Dennis believes lives inside the mirror (portrayed by horror legend Michael Berryman)? 

So, the question I’m sure you’re asking is: what effect did the behind-the-scenes troubles that plagued The Evil Within have on the finished film? 

Well, for the first hour or so, The Evil Within is an incredibly tense horror film, a dark, brooding motion picture about a mentally disabled man who transforms into a serial killer before our very eyes (in an on-set interview featured on the DVD, director Getty summed his movie up with the following question: What if it really was a dog that told David Berkowitz, aka The Son of Sam, to go on a killing spree?). These early scenes feature wildly imaginative dream sequences (the one that opens the movie is truly extraordinary); superb performances by its main cast (especially Koehler as the central character); and moments that are guaranteed to shock and disturb you (Dennis’s reflection talks him into killing several neighborhood pets, then tries to coerce Dennis into “upping the ante” by murdering children). 

Alas, the promise displayed in the film’s first hour eventually fades away, resulting in a final 20 minutes or so that are a jumbled mess, with scenes that don’t make a lick of sense (the sequence I mentioned above, in which a confused John and Lydia travel around town, came out of left field) and characters that suddenly drop out of sight. As for the grand finale, it’s visually intriguing but felt rushed and incomplete, leaving the audience in the frustrating position of wanting more. 

How much of this disappointing ending can be attributed to the movie’s production woes is anybody’s guess, but I’m betting that, had Getty survived, we might have gotten a final cut that was damn near a masterpiece. At the pace he was going, it might have taken him until 2025 to finish the damn thing, but if Getty had stayed the course, matching the tone he set early on, The Evil Within could have been something quite special. 

Of course, we’ll never know for sure, and that’s a damn shame.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

#2,447. Siren (2016)

Directed By: Gregg Bishop

Starring: Chase Williamson, Hannah Fierman, Justin Welborn

Tag line: "No Man Can Resist Her. All Men Should"

Trivia: The film was shot in 18 days and edited in 4 weeks

One of the most popular (not to mention best) segments in the 2012 anthology V/H/S was writer / director David Bruckner’s Amateur Night, a creature feature-style horror tale in which some guys encounter a very unusual girl. With Siren, director Gregg Bishop has taken the basic premise of Amateur Night and expanded it into a full-length movie, but with Hannah Fierman once again on-hand to play the titular character and a setting that’s as intriguing as its monster, this 2016 horror / fantasy proved to be much more than a short film stretched out to eighty minutes.

In a week’s time, Jonah (Chase Williamson) will be married to the love of his life, Eva (Lindsey Garrett). Jonah’s brother Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan), wants the groom-to-be to experience one final night of freedom, and invites Jonah and his two closest friends, Rand (Hayes Mercure) and Elliott (Randy McDowell), out for what he guarantees will be a wild and crazy bachelor weekend. 

At the first strip joint they visit, Mac is approached by a stranger who offers to take the quartet to a place called “50n / 40w”, a gentlemen’s club well off the beaten path that he claims will be unlike anything they’ve experienced before.

Anxious to show his brother a good time, Mac convinces Jonah and the others to accompany him to 50n / 40w, where they are greeted by Mr. Nyx (Justin Wellborn), the club’s proprietor, who promptly leads Jonah into a back room. Once there, Jonah meets Lily (Fierman), an exotic beauty who, it turns out, can give any man pleasure simply by singing to him.

The moment their intense encounter is over, Jonah notices that Lily is being kept in a cage. Giving in to his chivalrous nature, he decides to break her free, but as Jonah will soon discover, Lily is no ordinary woman, and setting her loose on the world definitely has its consequences.

Taking a successful short and turning it into a feature length film can sometimes be tricky, but Bishop and his writers, Ben Collins and Luke Plotrowski, managed to do just that with Siren. First and foremost, we care about the characters (both Jonah and his best friend, Rand, prove to be stand-up guys, and do what they can to help Lily escape her predicament), but even more compelling is the 50n / 40w club, which is simultaneously fascinating and mysterious. Situated in the middle of nowhere, it is clearly more than just a popular nightspot (we’re given brief glimpses of what’s going on in a few of the club’s private rooms, and some of what we see is beyond bizarre). As for Mr. Nyx and his employees, they remain an enigma through much of the film, but from the little we do learn about them, it’s obvious they’re not to be trifled with (the bartender, Ash, played by Brittany S. Hall, has powers that rival those of Lily). Truth be told, you could make an entire movie about the 50n / 40w club, and I’m betting it would be pretty awesome.

That said, Siren is Lily’s show, and as it was with Amateur Night, she’s every bit as deadly as she is gorgeous (Lily often shifts from one extreme to the other within the same scene). Though definitely a monster (technically, she’s a succubus from hell), Lily also possesses a naiveté that makes her a sympathetic character (in the movie’s opening sequence, we learn that she was brought to this world against her will), and Hannah Fierman does a fine job conveying this duality. In addition, the creature effects (CGI and otherwise) are top-notch, and go a long way in transforming the often-demure Lily into a beast we wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley (or even a well-lit one, for that matter).

The entire cast and crew of Siren did such a good job expanding Lily’s story from short film to full-blown feature that I found myself wanting more. In fact, I’d love to see them make another film that centers on this very unique character. 

And if they throw the 50n / 40w club into the mix, they might even be able to turn it into a series.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

#2,446. Army of Frankensteins (2013)

Directed By: Ryan Bellgardt

Starring: Jordan Farris, Christian Bellgardt, John Ferguson

Tag line: "The North. The South. The Undead"

Trivia: Won the award for Best Feature at the 2014 San Antonio Horrific Film Festival

Hold onto your seats, because I have absolutely no idea how this review is going to end!

Directed by Ryan Bellgardt (who also co-wrote the script), 2013’s Army of Frankensteins (not to be confused with Frankenstein’s Army, also released in 2013) is not a good movie. It just isn’t. The performances are dreadful, the story is laughably complex, and the effects (CGI and otherwise) aren’t the least bit convincing. I might even go so far as to say Army of Frankensteins ranks as one of the worst movies, horror or otherwise, I’ve seen this year.

But there are moments within it that are so hilariously over-the-top - so jaw-droppingly unbelievable - that I can’t get them out of my head. Yes, Army of Frankensteins is a really bad film, but it is also a hell of a lot of fun, and given the chance, I would definitely watch it again.

Alan Jones (Jordan Farris) is in love with his girlfriend Ashley (Jami Harris Shine), and intends to ask her to marry him. Unfortunately, his plan to propose to her at the supermarket where she works falls apart when he spots Ashley kissing her boss Eugene (Gary Olinghouse) in the back room. As if this wasn’t enough to ruin his evening, Alan is then kidnapped and taken to the lab of Dr. Tanner Finski (John Ferguson), who, like Dr. Frankenstein before him, is building a "man" out of spare body parts. To put the finishing touches on his creation, Dr. Finski, with the help of his pre-teen assistant Igor (Christian Bellgardt), removes Alan’s right eye and implants it in the creature’s head.

Something goes very wrong, however, when the monster (played by Eric Gesecus) is finally brought to life. An overload in the doctor’s equipment inadvertently opens a doorway into the multiverse, throwing Alan, Igor, Dr Finski and his creature 150 years into the past, smack dab in n the middle of the American Civil War! What’s more, this rift created several copies of the monster, 100 to be exact, so that instead of contending with one ultra-powerful behemoth, the North and South find themselves besieged by an entire army of Frankensteins (I know that, technically, it should be Frankenstein’s monster, but in this movie they call the creature “Frankenstein”).

But that’s not all.

Soon after arriving in 1865, Alan runs into a Union soldier named Solomon Jones (Rett Terrell), who, coincidentally, is his 4th great grandfather. Solomon is in love with Virginia (Raychnelle McDonald), a former slave who now works as a nurse for the Union Army, and as a result of Alan’s unplanned trip to the past it’s quite possible that Solomon and Virginia won’t hook up, which means Alan might never be born (adding to the problem is the fact that Virginia develops feelings for Alan himself). 

Wait, there’s more!

During a melee between some Confederate soldiers and the Frankensteins, Igor accidentally loses a syringe containing a serum that will turn any living creature into a horrible monster. The syringe is retrieved by Lt. Swanson (Lucas Ross), who delivers it to his sadistic captain Robert E. Walton, played by Thomas Cunningham (the first time we see him, Captain Walton is sitting in his tent petting a cat, looking a lot like Blofeld from the James Bond series). After testing it on his cat (which subsequently becomes a bloodthirsty humanoid beast), Capt. Walton orders Lt. Swanson to inject himself with the serum, and within a few moments Swanson is a hulking, bad-tempered giant (portrayed by Billy Bean). Now that they have their own monster, Capt. Walton is convinced the Confederacy will win the war, but is one colossus really enough to defeat 100 Frankensteins?

Oh, and on top of everything else, both Abraham Lincoln (Donald Taylor) and John Wilkes Booth (Christopher Robinson) show up in the film’s final act.

So, obviously, Army of Frankensteins covers a lot of ground, and there are still more twists and turns that I haven’t even revealed. As mentioned above, this is one of the film’s biggest problems: it’s far too complex, and I had a hard time keeping track of its many subplots. And seeing as it is almost 110 minutes in length (way too long for a low-budget movie of this ilk), director Bellgardt could have easily cut at least 25-30 minutes (and a subplot or two) without sacrificing anything important. As for the special effects, some of the gore is done practically, but there are also plenty of CGI blood spatters (which never look good); and a scene towards the end of the film, set in an alley outside Ford’s Theater, features what may be the worst example of green screen technology I’ve ever experienced (the colors are constantly shifting, and from start to finish the entire set looks phony as hell).

What helps Army of Frankensteins rise above its own mediocrity is its plethora of “WTF” moments. There are so many, in fact, that it’s tough to select a favorite, but if I had to choose one, I’d say it’s the touching sequence in which Virginia, cornered by the monster, serenades it with a song she learned while still a slave, a tune so heartfelt that it not only calms the creature’s savage heart, but also convinces it to fight on the side of the Union army! That a scene like this even exists is cool enough, but the fact it takes place hundreds of feet in the air, while Virginia and the monster are riding in a hot-air balloon, raises it to a whole new level of awesome. And this is just one of many outlandish scenes scattered throughout Army of Frankensteins, each as perplexingly brilliant as the last. 

And now we come to the hard part: do I recommend you check out Army of Frankensteins, or avoid it entirely?

I honestly don’t know.

The movie is really quite awful (IMDb currently ranks it a 2.9 out of 10, and I guarantee there are those among you who, if you see the film, will think that’s a very generous rating), but it’s also an incredible amount of fun, with lines of dialogue so ridiculous that you can’t help but love them (“We’re from the future, and we’re here to kick some Frankenstein ass!”). A few scenes are so bad that they’re unintentionally hilarious (the big twist that occurs during the Ford’s theater sequence had me laughing out loud), yet some might argue this only adds to the film’s overall charm.

Ultimately, I’d say Army of Frankensteins is worth a rental, but only if you’re the kind of person who can overlook a film’s (many) shortcomings and enjoy it for what it is.

And under no circumstances should you go out and buy this movie! I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.

As for me, I’m glad I own Army of Frankensteins on Blu-Ray, so I can watch this glorious train wreck any time I want!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

#2,445. Carnage Park (2016)

Directed By: Mickey Keating

Starring: Ashley Bell, Pat Healy, James Landry Hébert

Tag line: "Out here, God don't pick no favorites"

Trivia: Was nominated for Best Horror Film at the 2017 iHorror Awards

Writer / director Mickey Keating’s Carnage Park is a throwback in more ways than one, fusing the flashy cinematic techniques of the Tarantino-esque ‘90s with a very ‘70s tale of terror. It’s a unique combination, but Keating somehow makes it work.

The year is 1978. Recent prison escapees Scorpion Joe Clay (James Landry Hebert) and Larry (Michael Villar) hold up a bank in a small California town. But the heist goes very, very wrong; Larry is shot in the gut, and to help them get away they take Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Bell) hostage, tossing her in the trunk of their car before speeding off.

To give the cops the slip, Scorpion Joe veers off the main road. Unfortunately, his little detour cuts straight through land owned by Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), a reclusive Vietnam veteran who, to put it mildly, does not take kindly to trespassers.

When the smoke clears, Vivian finds herself all alone in the middle of the desert. To make matters worse, she will have to somehow make her way across Wyatt's property if she's to have any chance of surviving this terrifying ordeal, knowing full well the psychotic Wyatt is watching her every step of the way.

There’s more to Carnage Park than the above synopsis would lead you to believe, and some notable stars turn up in supporting roles, including Alan Ruck (Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as Sheriff Moss, Wyatt’s brother, who is torn between duty and family loyalties; and Larry Fessenden as Travis, one of the many poor souls who wishes they had never wandered onto Wyatt’s land.

As for the main cast, James Landry Hebert delivers a bravura performance as the slightly deranged Scorpion Joe, and both Ashley Bell and Pat Healy are strong as the film’s two leads (Bell is especially good as Vivian, who, though an unwilling participant in the whole affair, proves time and again that she can take care of herself).

Stylistically, Carnage Park borrows heavily from Reservoir Dogs and (eventually) Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (Kudos to Horror Movie Podcast’s own Jay of the Dead, who pointed out this very connection on Episode 93). The Reservoir Dogs influence can be seen early on, when Scorpion Joe and his bank robbery take center stage. There’s even a scene set inside a car that is sure to remind you of a similar moment in Dogs. This, plus the flair that Keating brings to each and every scene (the non-linear structure, random slow-motion, snappy dialogue, over-the-top violence, etc), owes quite a bit to Tarantino’s debut feature.

Then, once the action shifts to Wyatt’s little corner of the desert, Carnage Park takes on a distinctively ‘70s vibe, with Vivian encountering one horrific sight after another as Wyatt watches her from afar (much like the mutated killers do to the Carter family in Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, which was released in 1977, a year before Carnage Park is set).

Taking into account its cinematic influences, as well as the straightforward nature of its story, one might argue that Carnage Park is an exercise in style over substance. But that style, which owes a great deal to the films and filmmakers that came before, is itself enough to make this movie a worthwhile experience.

Friday, October 20, 2017

#2,444. Digging Up the Marrow (2014)

Directed By: Adam Green

Starring: Ray Wise, Adam Green, Will Barratt

Tag line: "Just because you haven't seen them... doesn't mean they aren't there"

Trivia:  It took 5 years to complete this movie

Digging Up the Marrow may feature Adam Green (the creative mind behind Frozen and the Hatchet series) in the lead role, but it is only superficially about the writer/director making a new movie. At its heart, this 2014 faux documentary is about a lifelong fan of monsters (Green) trying to prove they actually exist, that the creatures he fell in love with as a child aren’t just figments of his imagination, and watching his quest unfold was enough to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Adam Green has received his share of fan mail over the years, but a package sent to him by a Mr. William Dekker (Ray Wise) contained something quite extraordinary. Dekker, a former private investigator from Boston, forwarded Green a notebook filled with drawings of strange creatures, all of which he claims are real and living in an underground society he calls “The Marrow”. 

Intrigued by the prospect of coming face-to-face with an honest-to-goodness monster, Green and his creative partner Will Barratt interview Dekker, believing that, even if his story doesn’t check out, he’ll at least be a great addition to their upcoming documentary.

Though definitely a bit odd, Dekker does, indeed, convince Green that he’s located the entrance to The Marrow. Alas, the rest of the world, including Barratt and Green’s wife Rileah (Vanderbilt), seems to think that Dekker is either insane or a skilled con man. But Green believes he’s telling the truth, and sets up hidden cameras around the Marrow’s entrance in the hopes they’ll capture some of the secrets this fascinating new world is surely hiding.

Though usually behind the camera, Green does a fine job as the star of Digging Up the Marrow, portraying an artist so fixated on what he’s deemed the discovery of a lifetime that he can’t concentrate on anything else (at one point, we sit in on a meeting where Sarah Elbert, the producer of the TV series Holliston, impatiently asks Green when he’ll be finished with the next season’s scripts, which he hasn’t started writing yet because he’s been too preoccupied with Dekker and his Marrow). Even the revelation that Dekker hasn’t been totally honest with him, which he discovers during a conversation with fellow director Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Fright Night) and writer Mick Garris (The Fly II, Hocus Pocus) at a horror convention, isn’t enough to damper Green’s enthusiasm, and his steadfast determination is what makes Digging Up the Marrow as engaging as it is.

There are some interesting cameos scattered throughout (Kane Hodder even shows up to view some of the footage that Barratt shot of the Marrow), and in those scenes when we do see them, the movie’s creatures (designed by Alex Pardee) are jarring, to say the least. 

But in the end, Digging Up the Marrow is a movie for horror fans by a horror fan. Having stirred the imaginations of thousands of people with his movies, Adam Green gets his stirred a bit in this film, and that is what makes Digging Up the Marrow such a satisfying experience.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

#2,443. The Devil Lives Here (2016)

Directed By: Rodrigo Gasparini, Dante Vescio

Starring: Pedro Caetano, Pedro Carvalho, Mariana Cortines

Trivia 1: Won the award for Best Villain at the 2016 Cinefantasy International Fantastic Cinema Festival

Trivia 2:  The movie was also released as The Fostering

Well over a hundred years ago, a ruthless Brazilian landowner / amateur beekeeper known as The Honey Baron (Ivo Müller) mistreated (and occasionally murdered) the slaves who worked on his estate. He was so cruel, in fact, that he even forced himself on the mother of his most trusted slave, Bento (Sidney Santiago), who soon after became pregnant with his child. 

But moments before giving birth, Bento’s mother, a master of the occult, murdered the Honey Baron and put a curse on his immortal soul. To strengthen this curse, Bento’s mother then sacrificed her newborn (the Honey Baron’s son) by driving a spike into its torso, thereby dooming both father and child to re-experience their own deaths for the rest of eternity.

Cut to modern day. The land once owned by the Honey Baron now belongs to Apolo (Pedro Carvalho) and his family, who nonetheless have agreed to vacate the premises one day every year so that Bento’s descendants can perform a ritual to keep the curse from fading away. 

This year, however, Apolo has vowed to stay put, and invites his best friend Jorge (Diego Goulart) to spend the weekend with him. Joined by his girlfriend Alexandra (Mariana Cortines) and cousin Maria Augusta (Clara Verdier), Jorge makes the long journey into the country, oblivious to the danger that will befall him and the others should the curse on the Honey Baron somehow expire.

Released in 2016, The Devil Lives Here is a Brazilian horror / fantasy that takes the time to build its own mythology; along with several flashback sequences of the Honey Baron and Bento (which play at random intervals throughout the film), directors Rodrigo Gasparini and Dante Vescio also follow Sebastião (Pedro Caetano) and Luciano (Felipe Frazão), two of Bento’s descendants, as they prepare for the yearly ritual, unaware that the property will still be occupied when they attempt to perform it.

In addition, Jorge’s girlfriend Alexandra is a clairvoyant, and the moment she sets foot in the house she hears voices coming from the basement, telling her to do whatever is necessary to sabotage the annual ceremony. Each one of these perspectives is interesting in its own right, but together they make the film’s central story of racism and the evil it breeds more poignant than it might otherwise have been.

The Devil Lives Here does begin to fall apart towards the end, when it plays fast and loose with its own rules (we’re never quite sure what actions are required to keep the Honey Baron from taking human form, and a late twist involving the supposed “reincarnation” of the baby doesn’t make a bit of sense). But for most of its 80-minute runtime The Devil Lives Here is a tense, atmospheric horror flick, and has me curious as to what other Brazilian genre films might be out there for the taking.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#2,442. Fear, Inc. (2016)

Directed By: Vincent Masciale

Starring: Lucas Neff, Caitlin Stasey, Chris Marquette

Tag line: "Making a killing one client at a time"

Trivia:  Based on a short film made by the same writer and director

Directed by Vincent Masciale, Fear, Inc. is an entertaining motion picture with a likable cast of characters and some nifty nods to the classic splatter films of yore. But with its ever-twisting story and preference for laughs over chills, there’s a good chance horror aficionados will walk away from this one disappointed.

Joe (Lucas Neff), an unemployed slacker who spends his days hanging out at the beautiful L.A. mansion owned by his Aussie girlfriend Lindsey (Caitlin Stasey), is a big-time fan of horror movies, and with the Halloween season in full swing he visits a number of haunted attractions in the hopes of finding one that will scare the living hell out of him. Unfortunately, they all fall short of his expectations. 

Then, one night, Joe is handed a card by a random stranger (played by Patrick Renna) advertising a company called “Fear, Inc.”, which guarantees its customers the most terrifying experience of their lives.

Joe’s best friend Ben (Chris Marquette), who recently arrived in town with his wife Ashleigh (Stephanie Drake), says that Fear, Inc. is bad news; rumor has it some of those who’ve called the service have never been heard from again. Intrigued by Ben’s warnings, Joe decides to give Fear, Inc. a try. 

But instead of a fun-filled evening of frights, Joe, Ben and the ladies are forced to play a deadly game of cat and mouse that could ultimately cost them their lives.

The entire cast of Fear, Inc. is strong (especially Chris Marquette, who was also good in both Infestation and Night of the Living Deb), but what makes it so much damn fun is Lucas Neff’s spirited turn as the naïve but hopeful Joe, a guy whose unbridled enthusiasm for all things horror lands him and his friends in some pretty hot water (to get the most out of his Fear, Inc. experience, Joe purposefully leaves a door unlocked so that a masked killer can walk right in; and he’s as giddy as a schoolboy when his neighbor Bill, played by Richard Riehle, is seemingly stabbed to death in the middle of the street, a murder that Joe believes was staged by the good people at Fear, Inc. Or was it?)

In addition, director Masciale and screenwriter Luke Barnett pack Fear Inc. with homages to the horror movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Along with sequences that hearken back to both Friday the 13th and Scream, the story owes quite a bit to David Fincher’s The Game, and at one point Ben, Joe and their significant others discuss their favorite horror film kill scenes (Ashleigh chooses Johnny Depp’s blood-soaked demise in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, while Ben is partial to the shower death in the original Final Destination).

Yet while moments such as these are sure to bring a smile to the face of any genre fan, Fear, Inc. features one too many plot twists for its own good (I was pleasantly surprised by the first, but could figure some of the others out well before their big reveals), leaving Joe (and the rest of us) to wonder if what he’s seeing is real, or part of an elaborate hoax. And while the movie was genuinely funny at times, it wasn’t as frightening as it should have been. In fact, the film gets less scary with each successive scene (though the finale does, admittedly, pack a wallop).

Still, despite its weaknesses, I had fun watching Fear, Inc., and if you ever find yourself in the mood for a horror / comedy that’s light on the horror, I recommend giving this one a whirl.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

#2,441. Ava's Possessions (2015)

Directed By: Jordan Galland

Starring: Louisa Krause, Whitney Able, Deborah Rush

Tag line: "She can handle her spirits"

Trivia: The film had its world premiere on April 26, 2015 at the Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival

This 2015 movie begins where most possession-themed horror films end: with an exorcism.

A priest (John Ventimiglia), standing at the foot of a bed, is grasping his prayer book, ordering a demon to leave it’s host as the relatives of the possessed girl, whose name is Ava (Louisa Krause), stand silently in the background. Strapped to her bed, Ava growls and thrashes uncontrollably as she drifts in and out of consciousness. 

The entire scene is shot POV, from Ava’s perspective, and moments before the priest banishes the evil entity back to hell, Ava (still under demonic control) turns to a mirror, smiles at her reflection, and says “Hello, gorgeous!

Along with setting up the story, this opening lets us know that writer / director Jordan Ballard’s Ava’s Possessions is going to be as much a comedy as it is a horror film.

Now that the demon inside of her has been vanquished, Ava is ready to get on with her life. But a lot happened during her 28-day possession, most of which she doesn’t remember. For example, as a result of her recent "erratic" behavior, Ava’s friends are convinced she’s the queen bitch, and want nothing to do with her. Neither does her longtime boyfriend, who apparently dumped her for hooking up with another guy in front of him, and seeing as nobody bothered to call her in sick, poor Ava is most likely unemployed.

Adding insult to injury, Ava is in trouble with the law. It seems she did some very bad things while under the influence of that demon, and could be looking at some serious jail time.

Her parents (Deborah Rush and William Sadler) tell Ava she should look at this whole possession episode as a “wake-up call”, while her sister Jillian (Whitney Able) and Jillian’s fiance Roger (Zachary Booth) do their best to support Ava in her time of need. 

J.J. Samson (Dan Fogler), the lawyer hired by her parents, tells Ava that, if she wants to stay out of prison, she’ll have to join a support group for the recently possessed, which meets at a local community center once a week and is run by a guy named Tony (Wass Stevens).

While cleaning her apartment one night, Ava finds a blood stain on her carpet, as well as a man’s watch, with a name engraved on it. To determine what might have happened (and whose blood it is), she gets in touch with Ben (Lou Taylor Pucci), an art dealer and the son of the watch’s owner. Alas, Ben has no idea where his father is, nor can he answer any of Ava’s questions.

Then, on top of everything else, the demon that possessed Ava is still hanging around, and doing everything in its power to “re-enter” her body. Can Eva fend off this evil spirit, or will she once again fall under its spell?

Ava’s Possessions is a clever, often funny look at what happens to the possessed after the demon has been expelled, and features a solid performance by Louisa Krause as the title character, who tries to put what happened behind her while at the same time realizing nothing will ever be the same again. In addition, the movie has a few laugh out loud moments (most of which come courtesy of the support group Ava joins); a perplexing mystery (to figure out what happened in her living room, Ava visits some seedy areas of town); and a few legitimate scares (one featuring a little girl on a staircase sent a shiver down my spine).

There’s even a scene in which Ava helps Hazel (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), a fellow member of her support group, get back in touch with the demon that once controlled her. Ever since her possession ended, Hazel has felt like something was missing form her life, and is convinced she and her malevolent spirit were meant to be together. By looking at demonic possession from many different sides, Ava’s Possessions manages to distinguish itself in a subgenre that has been done to death.

Alas, Ava’s Possessions ultimately bites off more than it can chew. Along with the comedy and horror, Ava has a brief romantic fling with Ben that just doesn't work, and by the time the end credits roll some of the film’s subplots are left unresolved. But as a unique spin on the possession subgenre, Ava’s Possessions has plenty to offer, and is guaranteed to entertain.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

#2,440. A Dark Song (2016)

Directed By: Liam Gavin

Starring: Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Nathan Vos

Tag line: "Not everything can be forgiven"

Trivia: Director Liam Gavin only had 20 days to film inside the house

A Dark Song, the 2016 horror / drama by writer / director Liam Gavin, is in no particular hurry to get around to its more horrific elements. Yet I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “slow burn”. That term suggests a movie that is gradually building towards something, which, in a way, this film is; a woman unable to deal with a tragic event from her past enlists the help of an occultist to bridge the gap between the living and the dead, all to ask a favor that only Gods or demons could possibly grant. As you might imagine, the ritual needed to accomplish this feat is quite involved, and takes months - as well as a decent portion of the movie - to complete.

But from its very first scene, director Gavin infuses the film with a sense of dread that remains constant throughout. So even while we’re waiting for the supernatural elements to come into play, A Dark Song still keeps us on the edge of our seats.

Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) is reeling from the death of her only son, and with the help of Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), a well-respected master of the occult, she is hoping the spirits will allow her to once again speak with her deceased child. Armed with a detailed list of specifications (which Solomon provided), Sophia rents a house in Wales and prepares herself, physically and emotionally, for a ceremony that, if successful, will grant her very unusual request.

Despite Solomon’s numerous warnings that the ritual will be long and unpleasant, and that they will be tampering with some very dark forces, Sophia remains steadfast in her determination to see it through to the end. But as the weeks drag on, Sophia begins to wonder if Solomon sold her a bill of goods, and is not able to contact the netherworld as promised. As for Solomon, he becomes increasingly convinced that Sophia’s true intentions are much more sinister than she is letting on.

For the majority of its runtime, A Dark Song is a two-person show, which means a lot was riding on the performances delivered by its stars. Both were up to the challenge. Walker is excellent as Sophia, the strong-willed woman who nonetheless turns herself over, body and soul, to a man she hardly knows; while Oram is pitch-perfect as the wise but ultimately flawed Solomon, an accomplished master of the dark arts who is also an alcoholic (something he admits might hinder his ability to complete the ritual).  At one point Solomon even lets his sexual urges get the better of him, resulting in what is undoubtedly the movie’s most uncomfortable scene. The love-hate relationship that develops between the two characters is fascinating, giving A Dark Song a dramatic flair you don’t find in many horror films.

In addition, the tonal score composed by Ray Harman helps build, then maintain the movie’s ominous mood; and once the ritual is in full-swing, A Dark Song takes a few unexpected, yet ultimately creepy turns, combining “traditional” supernatural elements (mysterious voices, doors opening on their own, etc) with a few that are quite unique.

The one issue I had with A Dark Song was its finale. I give writer/director Nevin points for creativity (it’s not a ending you’ll see coming), but when you take into account all that went before it, the climactic scenes felt just a bit too tidy.

Fortunately, they don't ruin what is an otherwise exceptional film, and thanks to the stellar performances delivered by its leads A Dark Song is one horror movie I’ll be anxious to watch again in the near future.

Monday, October 9, 2017

#2,439. Under the Shadow (2016)

Directed By: Babak Anvari

Starring: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi

Tagline: "Fear Will Find You"

Trivia: The film was actually shot in Jordan

I’m definitely a “list” guy. 

I love movie lists of all kinds, and am especially fond of yearly top 10 lists, where critics and fans alike clue us in on which films were their favorites for that particular year. 

Of course, there’s a downside to compiling such a list: odds are you missed a few of the movies released over the previous 12 months, and it’s possible that a film you hadn’t seen when you made the list might eventually crack your top 10. Such is the case with the 2016 horror flick Under the Shadow. Simply put, it is a tremendous motion picture, and had I caught up with it in time there’s no doubt it would have made my Top 10 Horror Films of that year.

In fact, Under the Shadow is so good that it may have landed a spot on my Overall Top-10 as well.

Tehran, 1988. The Iran-Iraq war rages on, and has now reached the city (Iraq pelts the Iranian capital with missiles on an almost daily basis). 

After being refused a chance to continue her medical training (due to her past political activism), Shideh (Narges Rashidi) slips into the role of housewife, and when her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) is drafted into the army, she and their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) find themselves alone in a spacious apartment (for their safety, Iraj begs his wife to take Dorsa and move in with his family in the country, but the stubborn Shideh refuses to abandon her home).

As the days pass, Dorsa begins to complain that she’s afraid, and doesn’t want to be left alone or sleep in her own bed at night. When Shideh asks her why, the young girl confesses that one of her playmates, the nephew of their landlord, told her that a Djinn, a malevolent spirit that haunts the living, has found its way into their building, and is looking for someone to torment. Shideh tries to calm her daughter’s fears by explaining that ghosts are a myth, but when Dorsa’s favorite doll goes missing, the poor girl is convinced it was taken by the Djinn.

Try as she might, Shideh cannot find the doll, and after a few creepy encounters of her own she begins to wonder if Dorsa’s Djinn is, in fact, make-believe, or very, very real.

Over the years, I’ve grown weary of jump scares, especially those combined with a dream sequence. Yet writer / director Babak Anvari has managed to incorporate both of these now-tired clichés into Under the Shadow and make them damn effective to boot (I jumped each and every time , and because the film’s overall style remains consistent throughout we’re never quite sure when Shideh is awake or when she is dreaming).

The war also plays an integral part in the story, bringing an added level of tension to what is ultimately a very intense situation. To escape the bombings, the building’s other residents temporarily moved away, leaving Shideh and her daughter to fend for themselves (Shideh has promised Dorsa they won’t leave until they’ve found her beloved doll). In addition, one of the film’s most memorable scenes involves an unexploded missile that crashes into the upstairs apartment, leaving a crack in Shideh’s ceiling that takes center stage once the supernatural thrills are in full swing.

Also worth noting is the film’s strong central character (wonderfully portrayed by Narges Rashidi), and when you take into account the setting and the time period in which this tale is set, the fact that the character is female is doubly impressive. I’m not sure if the laws have relaxed over the years, but in the ‘80s all Iranian women were required to wear a chador in public, and after a particularly harrowing encounter with the Djinn, Shideh grabs her daughter and rushes outside, only to be taken into custody by the military and threatened with a whipping (because she didn’t cover her head before leaving the apartment). The Djinn proves to be a formidable foe throughout Under the Shadow, but for progressive-minded women in 1980’s Iran, tradition and law were undoubtedly just as frightening.

That said, the most notable aspect of Under the Shadow is the entity that haunts both mother and daughter. Over the course of the film, we learn a little about the Djinn; according to legend, it moves with the wind, and there’s no telling where it will turn up or who it will bother. Also, Djinns supposedly steal a prized possession from the person or persons they’ve focused their attention on, and until that item is recovered the Djinn will be able to track its victim’s every move (it can follow them to the ends of the earth, if necessary). 

These bits of ghostly trivia aside, we know nothing about the specific spirit that has settled in Shideh’s apartment building, including what form it will take (mostly seen as a floating chador, it can also resemble people they know) or why it chose Shideh and Dorsa as its prime targets. From start to finish, the Djinn at the center of Under the Shadow remains an enigma, and this makes it all the more terrifying.

As we mentioned in our year-end show on Horror Movie Podcast, some truly excellent horror films were released in 2016, which made compiling a top-10 for that episode a bit of a challenge. Still, I have no doubt I could've found room for Under the Shadow on my list had I seen it in time.

My Overall Top 10, though (which includes all genres), is another matter entirely. 

Right now, The VVitch is resting comfortably in the 10 spot on my 2016 list, and while I really enjoyed Under the Shadow, I can’t say with any degree of certainty that I prefer it to director Robert Eggers’ indie sensation. 

One day in the near future, I hope to watch both The VVitch and Under the Shadow back-to-back, to decide once and for all which movie will claim that final spot on my 2016 list.

But regardless of which I ultimately choose, The VVitch is an extraordinary motion picture.

So, for that matter, is Under the Shadow.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

#2,438. Raw (2016)

Directed By: Julia Ducournau

Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

Tagline: "What are you hungry for?"

Trivia: Supposedly, over 30 people left the cinema when this movie was shown in Sweden. Two people fainted and a few others threw up

It’s been ten years since the release of Inside, and nine since Martyrs hit the scene, but with 2016’s Raw writer / director Julia Ducournau has proven the French still have an “appetite” for the extreme (pun intended… and my apologies).

Justine (Garance Marillier), a lifelong vegetarian, is one of many new students at a prestigious veterinary school, the very institution her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) now attends. At first, Justine, who is incredibly smart and a little shy, has a hard time fitting in; aside from her gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella), she hasn’t been able to make any friends. 

Then, during a freshman hazing ritual, Justine is forced to eat a raw rabbit liver. Having never consumed meat before, she has an allergic reaction and breaks out in a nasty rash. But this tiny piece of liver does more than make her itch; it changes her life. All at once, Justine develops a yearning for meat (mostly raw), and it isn’t long before her newfound appetite takes her down a disturbing path.

Is Justine truly a freak of nature (as she believes), or did she come by her bizarre new cravings honestly?

Raw is a visceral genre film of the highest order, a picture drenched in blood and dripping with carnage. But like Inside and Martyrs before it, Raw is much more than the sum of its gore sequences; whereas Inside was ultimately about dealing with loss, and Martyrs presented a search for a higher truth, Raw tells the story of a girl who has found her true self. Having escaped the strict regimen imposed on her by her vegetarian parents, Justine consumes meat for the first time, and it has an overwhelming effect on her.

Suddenly, Justine can’t get enough raw meat, whether human or otherwise (a scene involving a severed finger is arguably the most uncomfortable in the entire film). But it’s more than just the food she now eats. Justine’s personality also evolves; the withdrawn, demure girl who arrived at school gradually disappears, and an outgoing young woman exploring her own sexuality takes her place (Justine even manages to lure the openly gay Adrien into her bed). Eating meat hasn’t just expanded her dietary options; it’s unlocked her true potential, and as we will discover later in the film the cravings Justine now experiences have had a similar effect on others.

Ella Rumpf delivers a solid performance as Alexia, the elder sibling who tries (and more often than not fails) to take Justine under her wing, but it’s Garance Marillier’s turn as Justine, the frightened teenager forced to confront some unpleasant truths about herself, who steals the show. Early on, we sympathize with Justine, a brilliant but reserved student whose experience with raw meat sparks an emotional evolution within, transforming her from a girl into a young woman ready to face the world. Marillier perfectly conveys these two extremes of her character’s personality (introvert and self-confident party girl), and despite her abnormal “appetites” Justine remains, at all times, the film’s most sympathetic character.

Simultaneously savage and unflinching, Raw is guaranteed to give your gag reflex a workout. But it also relates what could very well be the most unique coming-of-age tale ever conceived, and this particular aspect of the movie will, I’m sure, prove every bit as memorable as the moments that will make you turn away in disgust.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

#2,437. The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015)

Directed By: Oz Perkins

Starring: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton

Tag line: "Abandoned as a child. Raised by the dark"

Trivia:  When co-star Emma Roberts read the script for the movie, she couldn't sleep afterwards because it scared her so much

We realize early on in The Blackcoat’s Daughter that something terrible is going to happen. From the word “go”, writer / director Osgood Perkins (son of Psycho’s Anthony Perkins) infuses his film with a sense of dread, yet also manages to pique our curiosity. A tragedy is about to rock the girl’s school at the center of this 2015 horror movie, and we are more than willing to sit patiently and watch it play out.

It’s the end of February, which means it is break time for the students at Bramford Academy, an all-girls Catholic boarding school situated in upstate New York. Most of the young ladies are picked up by their parents and head home to enjoy a week-long vacation, but when the last car pulls away, Rose (Lucy Boynton) and Kat (Kiernan Shipka) have been left behind.

The headmaster, Mr. Gordon (Peter James Haworth), is unable to contact the girls’ parents, and assumes they are either on their way or got the dates mixed up. So, until their families arrive, Rose and Kat must remain at Bramford, where Miss Drake (Heather Tod Mitchell) and Miss Prescott (Elana Krausz), two nuns who reside at the school, will look after them.

But their parents aren’t coming. Rose, it turns out, purposefully told her mother and father the wrong date, so she could break the news to her boyfriend Rick (Peter Grey) that she’s pregnant. As for Kat, she had a vivid dream of her parents being killed in a car accident, and is convinced they are no longer alive. Kat takes it all in stride, though, thanks to the new “friend” she's made at Bramford, an invisible entity that whispers in her ear, telling her to do very, very bad things.

Meanwhile, a girl named Joan (Emma Roberts) climbs off a bus and is immediately approached by the kindly Bill (James Remar), who offers her a ride. Bill informs her that he and his wife Linda (Lauren Holly) travel to the New York area every year around this time, and he would be more than happy to take Joan wherever she wants to go. Joan says she is heading to Portsmouth, but to get there, they will have to pass through Bramford…

With its dual storylines, The Blackcoat’s Daughter weaves a fairly perplexing mystery. Throughout the movie, we wonder how these two separate tales will intersect, and if Joan is somehow connected to either Kat or Rose. Perkins does eventually fill in some of the blanks (one major twist is revealed early on, perhaps a bit earlier than it should have been), but as with any good mystery, the filmmaker doesn’t lay all of his cards on the table until the very end. And trust me when I tell you, that final surprise is a doozy!

All three of the film’s young leads are excellent in their respective roles. Though her character remains an enigma through much of the movie, Emma Roberts manages to make us care about the obviously disturbed Joan (we’re led to believe she escaped from a mental facility). And while Lucy Boynton’s Rose is, at the start, a typical, self-obsessed teenager (ignoring Mr. Gordon’s instructions, she leaves Kat by herself one night to visit her boyfriend), she soon realizes something is very wrong with her young schoolmate, and becomes genuinely concerned for Kat’s well-being.

The standout performance, however, is delivered by Kiernan Shipka, whose character has made a pact with a frightening entity. From her very first scene, we sense that Kat can see things the others cannot. While meeting with the school’s resident priest (played by Greg Ellwand), she glances out the window and smiles, as if acknowledging a friend. But there is nobody there. 

At times an inquisitive teenager (she is intrigued when Rose repeats a rumor that Miss Drake and Miss Prescott were spotted one evening performing a satanic ritual), Kat is also the most frightening character in the film, a young girl who not only befriends an evil spirit, but happily invites it to possess her body. Though only 15 at the time, Shipka delivers a performance that would make any actress with 20+ years experience green with envy.

All this, combined with the film's wintry setting (the weather itself doesn’t figure prominently in the story, but there’s a general feeling of isolation that goes hand-in-hand with a snowy landscape) as well as some good music (provided by Elvis Perkins, Osgood’s brother) and several truly shocking scenes, do their part to make The Blackcoat’s Daughter one of the finest horror films of the year.

In fact, when we close the books on 2017, I'm damn certain that The Blackcoat’s Daughter will rank high on my top 10 list.

Friday, October 6, 2017

#2,436. Asmodexia (2014)

Directed By: James Rasin

Starring: Candy Darling, Andy Warhol, Holly Woodlawn

AKA: In Peru, the movie's title was changed to Disciples of Evil

Premiere: Premiered at the 2014 Brussels Festival of Fantastic Films

Asmodexia is a movie I happened upon by chance; the trailer for this Spanish horror film is one of several featured on the DVD for Inner Demons and played just before that 2014 movie started. Based on this preview alone, Asmodexia looked like it might offer a different spin on the possession subgenre, and I figured it was worth a watch.

Yet not even the trailer could prepare me for how unique this film truly is, and while I was definitely drawn into the movie and even blown away a little by the various twists and turns its story took, I ultimately admired Asmodexia more than I actually liked it.

Eloy (Lluís Marco) and his granddaughter Alba (Clàudia Pons) travel the countryside, helping those who have been possessed by malevolent spirits (While Eloy is definitely the driving force behind this mission of mercy, It’s Alba who dispels the unwanted entities). The two make their way from village to village, reuniting with many of Eloy’s former followers as they cleanse the possessed, while Ona (Irene Montalà), herself a past disciple of Eloy’s, rots away in a mental institution, where sinister forces have been making their presence known on an almost daily basis.

Eloy believes the sharp increase in supernatural activity (which coincides with the end of the Mayan calendar) signifies the beginning of what he calls a “New Resurrection”, one that is destined to change the world. But as this day of reckoning approaches, Eloy and Alba must confront a select few who have sworn to do everything in their power to prevent the “second coming” from ever happening.

Directed by Marc Carreté, Asmodexia is a movie that demands both your patience and your undivided attention as it pieces its rather complex story together. Soon after the opening sequence, during which a possessed woman gives birth, Asmodexia branches off in a number of different directions; along with Eloy’s and Alba’s exorcisms, the film dedicates a fair portion of its time to Ona and the spirits that have invaded her mental facility; and there’s another subplot involving Ona’s sister Diana (Marta Belmonte), a police inspector who, like Ona, once followed Eloy and is now trying to figure out what is happening, and why.

Each of these storylines unfolds slowly, so much so that by the time the movie reached the one-hour mark I still had more questions than I did answers (a video from several years earlier, which features Eloy, Ona and Diana, is shown at various intervals throughout the film, giving us hope that there is, indeed, a common thread connecting the movie’s characters while at the same time offering very few clues as to what might have transpired between them).

It isn’t until the last 10 minutes or so that Asmodexia finally ties everything together, and the finale definitely took me by surprise. Yet even as I sat there, marveling at how effectively the film had pulled the wool over my eyes, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the journey itself wasn’t as satisfying, and that director Carreté as well as his co-screenwriter Mike Hostench had guarded their secrets a bit too jealously early on, giving us just enough to keep us watching but not nearly enough to make us care about what was going on.

And that, I’m afraid, is how I felt once Asmodexia was over: I was impressed, but I didn’t really give a damn.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

#2,435. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Directed By: Ana Lily Amirpour

Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh

Tag line: "The first Iranian Vampire Western"

Trivia: Ana Lily Amirpour teamed up with Radco to develop a series of graphic novels to accompany the film

To call director Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2014 film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night “unique” is an understatement. Though shot in Northern California, the movie is set in Iran (all of the characters speak Farsi), and tells the story of a female vampire (decked out in an Iranian chador) who feeds on the male “undesirables” of Bad Town, an industrial community that, despite being a prime area for oil drilling, is home to some very poor people (the setting gives the film a western vibe, which explains why it has been described by some as an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western”). What’s more, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was shot in stunning black-and-white, and even features a romantic subplot (involving the vampire).

Oh, and there’s a scene where the chador-dressed vampire rides a skateboard… can’t forget that.

Its unusual qualities aside, however, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an engaging, often moving, and sometimes spooky film about two very lonely people who, though quite different (he is alive, she is undead), fall deeply in love with each other.

Arash (Arash Marandi) is a young, hardworking Iranian landscaper who can’t seem to catch a break. He lives in a desolate area of Bad Town with his heroin-addicted father Hossein (Marshall Manesh), who owes so much money to drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains) that poor Arash is forced to surrender his beloved car as payment for his father’s debts. Hoping to get his vehicle back, Arash steals a pair of diamond earrings from Shaydah (Rome Shadanloo), the daughter of the wealthy family that employs him, but when he goes to Saeed’s apartment to swap the earrings for his car he finds Saeed dead on the floor, blood dripping from an open wound in his neck.

Saeed, it turns out, was the latest victim of an attractive female vampire (Sheila Vand) who roams the streets of Bad Town at night, preying on criminals and lowlifes (the vampire marked Saeed for death after watching him physically assault Atti, a prostitute played by Mozhan Marno). 

Sensing an opportunity to make some serious money, Arash steals Saeed’s drug supply and starts selling it himself. At a night club, he even gets to impress Shaydah by giving her a complimentary ecstasy pill. But when she rejects his advances, a sullen Arash leaves the club and, during his long walk home, comes face-to-face with the vampire, who he falls in love with almost instantly. The vampire invites Arash back to her room, but finds she’s unable to turn the lovestruck young man into her next meal because she, too, has developed feelings for him!

In many ways, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is more like an arthouse film than it is a genre flick. Along with its exceptional black and white photography, the movie is deliberately paced; director Amirpour never rushes things, and even throws in a little slow-motion from time to time. The setting is equally as strong, and the often deserted streets of Bad Town perfectly emphasize the loneliness that plagues the film’s various characters. 

The cast also does a fine job, especially Sheila Vand as the vampire, who even when she’s not speaking is saying plenty with her eyes (when alone in her apartment with Arash, she stares for a moment at his exposed neck, and we immediately sense the conflict that is raging inside of her).

As for its more horrific elements, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is, first and foremost, a drama (with a touch of romance), but does feature a handful of frightening scenes (one in particular, where the vampire stalks a young boy played by Milad Eghbali through the darkened streets of Bad Town, is incredibly creepy). 

I also liked how the vampire could conceal her fangs until she absolutely needed them (seeing them “pop out” during the scene with Saeed was arguably the film’s coolest surprise), and throughout the movie we’re never quite sure when and where the vampire will attack, making the film a bit more suspenseful than it might otherwise have been.

In the end, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night may not be as scary as, say, Nosferatu or Salem’s Lot, but it is a wildly original motion picture, and horror fans would be doing themselves a disservice if they passed up a chance to see it.