Sunday, September 30, 2012

The October Country

That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.

--Ray Bradbury 

Happy October, everyone.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nothing like a little S&M for Halloween...

Target is selling the American Horror Story Rubber Man costume. Because that's not weird at all. 

"One Size Fits Most"!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Directed by Scott Derrickson

It's so hard to get horror right.

"Horror" is subjective. What scares one person won't always scare another. But there is a basic structure and format to good, effective horror that when it's done right, it can send chills up the spine of even the most cynical of fans.

SINISTER is the horror film to beat this year. The year isn't over yet, but I'll go out on a limb and say that SINISTER is the scariest film of 2012. The film is brought to us by producer Jason Blum, who also produces the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films and INSIDIOUS. He's pretty much got this thing down to a science at this point. He's even opening his own haunted house in California.

SINISTER, however, is on another level though. The PA films, and INSIDIOUS, while both containing scares, also have a level of fun silliness to them. They're like haunted houses at carnivals. You get a good scare or two, then you walk out laughing.

SINISTER isn't interested in giving you a chuckle. It wants you to leave the theater shaken. And it succeeds.

The story is about true crime writer Ellison, played by Ethan Hawke. Ten years ago he had a big hit with his true crime book "Kentucky Blood." However, ever since then, he's been chasing glory. His other books have failed, and one book even ended up helping a real killer go free.

Ellison desperately wants to recapture his fame and fortune, and he thinks he knows just how to do it. He moves his wife and children into a new house, and not just any house. As we see at the beginning of the film, in chilling detail, the house was the scene of a murder. A family was hung from a tree in the yard, and their daughter went missing. The crime was never solved.

Ellison doesn't tell his family they just moved into a murder house. He knows his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) will freak out--and rightfully so. So he keeps everyone in the dark as he goes about trying to solve the mystery.

However, the first night in the house, Ellison finds a box marked HOME MOVIES in the attic. The box contains film canisters as well as a Super 8 projector. He sets up a theater in his office and watches.

To his horror he discovers the films contain not only the murders of the family that lived in his house, but several other murders spread across the years. He does some digging and discovers that all the murders are similar in that they involve families killed, and one of the children missing.

This should be enough to freak anyone out, but Ellison also begins hearing strange bumps in the night. His son begins experiencing intense night terrors. His daughter draws pictures of dead girls. Scorpions, snakes and a mean looking dog invade his property. And then he notices a strange, ghoulish figure appearing in the snuff films. With the help of a local professor (played by Vincent D'Onofrio, who literally Skype's his performance in), he believes this figure might be an ancient deity named Bagul; a nasty monster who eats the souls of children.

There's a lot more going on here, but to tell you would spoil the fun. And by fun I mean dread and terror.

SINISTER is relentless in its goal to scare you. There are moments of levity here and there, but for the most part, SINISTER wants to make you uncomfortable. From its weird, jarring and haunting score to the brutal snuff films Ellison watches almost nightly, SINISTER takes hold of your nerves and pulls them in every direction possible.

Hawke does a great job carrying the film. His character, when you get right down to it, is kind of an asshole, but Hawke makes him likable and believable. His family could've been a bit more fleshed out, especially his wife, who spends most of the film either chastising Ellison or the children. But these are minor flaws and come nowhere close to derailing the story, as the film is really about Ellison and his own personal descent into terror and doubt.

Director Scott Derrickson, who has had a very spotty film career up till now, does his best work ever here. He's able to fill every angle, every shot with almost overwhelming dread. There's nothing outwardly scary about the house Ellison and his family move into, but with impenetrable darkness and shadows lurking at night, Derrickson is able to convey real unrest and unease.

The script, by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, is filled to the brim with creepy ideas. The writers know exactly what scares people, and they throw everything they can think of right at the audience.

SINISTER will be released wide on October 12th. It's a perfect movie for Halloween season. It's the type of horror movie that sticks with you; that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you watch it.

It's the type of horror movie that haunts you long after you've gone home from the theater, gotten into bed, and turned off all the lights.


Going to an advanced screening of SINISTER tonight. I'll be sure to review it after I see it. Hope it scares the BEJESUS out of me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: V/H/S

2012. Directed by: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence

The horror anthology film has always been a favorite of mine. And, unlike a lot of horror fans, I don’t mind the “found footage” genre of horror films. V/H/S combines both of these things and tries to breathe new life into both.

V/H/S has a fairly simply plotline: a group of Jackass-type thieves break into a spooky house to find a videotape. Instead, they find a dead old man and SEVERAL videotapes. One by one, our bumbling thieves watch a tape, each one revealing a different scary story.

Like most anthology films, it’s hit or miss. Despite being a fan of this particular subgenre, I don’t think I’ve seen a single anthology film where I’ve liked all of the stories told. So let’s break this baby down by its segments.

Adam Wingard’s TAPE 56 acts as the wrap-around story—the way we get to the mini-stories within. While it has a nice atmosphere, and some really subtle, creepy moments, it’s one of the weaker entries. I’m not sure the movie even needed a wrap-around story, and as it is, TAPE 56 doesn’t really do much else than set up the premise. Which tape are our thieves looking for? Why does this old (presumably dead) man have all these VHS tapes? Who is the mysterious person who hired our thieves? Why does the ring-leader have a mustache that makes him look like a 70’s porn star? None of these questions are answered. I don’t have a problem with ambiguity, but the open-ended nature of TAPE 56 leaves a lot to be desired.

David Bruckner’s AMATEUR NIGHT is our first “tape” and follows three frat-boy types as they go out on the town to look for girls. One of the guys sports a pair of glasses that contain a hidden video camera/microphone combo.

The guys eventually end up at a bar, where they encounter a few ladies, one of them being the very weird, mousy Lily. Lily is quiet and more than a little spooky, but she seems to have the hots for our camera-man.

Eventually the friends end up back at their motel room with Lily and another girl. The other girl eventually passes out, and soon the friends learn that Lily is more than she seems…

AMATEUR NIGHT is a nice starting point. It takes a little way to find its grove—the first half of the story is truly obnoxious, as we follow these giggling, repulsive guys on their quest to get laid. But once the mysterious Lily enters the picture, things really start to pick up. I wouldn’t call this segment scary, but it’s certainly disturbing, and it’s nice to see these three assholes get pretty much what’s coming to them.

Next up we have SECOND HONEYMOON, from director Ti West. West has already made quite a name for himself in the indie horror world, having directed THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE INNKEEPERS. He has a very deliberate, slow-burn style that some love and some hate. Personally I loved both of his previous movies, so I was looking forward to this entry.

SECOND HONEYMOON follows couple Sam and Stephanie as they go on a second honeymoon out west, with Stephanie filming the proceedings. Things seem rather mundane at first, but one night, there is a loud knock on their motel room door, and Sam goes to investigate.

When he comes back, he reports that the person who knocked was a strange and somewhat scary girl asking for a ride the next day. Sam of course turned her down, and the couple goes to bed.

While the couple sleep that night, the mysterious girl comes into their motel room and films them sleeping—and brandishes a switch-blade which she softly strokes against Stephanie’s flesh.

To say more would be spoiling the pretty shocking ending, but I will say this is one of the strongest entries in the film. It’s the only one that isn’t “supernatural”, but West has a real knack for “realistic” dialog. This really feels like the video-log of a real married couple, and the way he slowly builds the tension from mundane to disturbing is masterful.

TUESDAY THE 17th, from Glenn McQuaid, is hands-down the weakest entry in the film, and should have been cut entirely. It has a neat premise—a sort of satirical take on slasher films (thus the cheeky title), and also the premise of a “final girl” coming back for revenge against the killer.

But the end result is rather lame, and the acting is downright atrocious here. Our “final girl”, Wendy, is so unbelievably unsympathetic and annoying that there’s no possible way we can get on her side.

When the killer shows up, for some reason he doesn’t photograph on the video camera; rather, he’s just a bunch of blurry, staticy glitchies. This is a cool effect, but it leads the viewer to ask: Why? It seems like something that the filmmaker did because he thought it was cool for the sake of being cool, and didn’t put much thought into it.

While TUESDAY THE 17TH is the weakest entry here, SICK THING is the most disappointing.

Emily has skype-like chats with her boyfriend James. She’s just moved into a new apartment, and pretty soon she begins to suspect it’s haunted. Also, we learn that when she was younger she had problems with self-mutilation—a problem she seems to be picking up again.

SICK THING is very well directed and acted. The skype angle—which doesn’t really make sense in a film full of VHS tapes, but whatever—works wonderfully in bringing the scares, as James (and the audience) can spot things creeping in the dark behind Emily before she notices them.

However, when the “twist” is revealed, it’s like a bunch of hot air being let out of a balloon. It’s so incredibly lame and nonsensical that it downright made me mad. Director Joe Swanberg had a great thing going here, and then, for some strange reason, decided to sabotage it completely with an ending that is, to put it bluntly, fucking stupid.

As the saying goes, you save the best for last, and that is certainly true with our last story, 10/31/98, directed by a group of filmmakers known as Radio Silence.

Like AMATURE NIGHT, 10/31/98 is about a group of frat-boy types, but unlike AMATURE NIGHT, the guys in this segment are likeable and funny; we actually enjoy following them around.

It’s Halloween night, and four friends are trying to find a Halloween party they were invited to. They find what they THINK is the right house, but once inside, they discover it’s empty. Or is it?

10/31/98 is both amusing and scary. It has an almost “kitchen sink” approach to it, where the filmmakers throw every haunted house cliché in the book at you, and it all works incredibly well. I certainly hope Radio Silence tackles some more horror stuff in the future, because they have a real knack for knowing what makes horror fans tick.

With a little trimming here and there V/H/S could’ve been truly fantastic. As it is, we’ll just have to settle for a mix of pretty darn good and mediocre. As far as grading the entries, here’s how I’d do it:

TAPE 56: C-
10/31/98: A+

V/H/S is currently available On Demand and also via Amazon Streaming. It’ll also have a limited theatrical run sometime in October. It's not excellent, but it's worth watching maybe once. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


THE Four Gables Bed and Breakfast in Brattle, Vermont, was built in 1791 as a residence for Archibald Horton. Horton, a professional surveyor and an amateur occultist, achieved a small level of notoriety when he broke off from the Freemasons to form his own group, which he unimaginatively called the Hortonists.
            Horton and his Hortonists were obsessed with black magic, and they believed there were invisible portals all around us—portals to alternate realities where great old gods with terribly unpronounceable names dwelled. The Hortinists wanted to usher in a new era for mankind; an era where the ancient demon gods would liquefy human flesh and turn bone into ash. Despite their best efforts, the Hortinists never managed to achieve their goal. But they did pull off a bunch of other dark, nefarious stuff.
            One after another, the Hortonists died off in bloody, suspicious ways, until Horton himself was the only one left. Having lived to the extremely old age of 103, he committed suicide by cutting off his own head in a guillotine he had had shipped to America from France.
            Over the centuries the house passed from owner to owner—none of whom stayed very long. There was a long period of time when it was completely abandoned, but the historical society kept it from being demolished.
            Everything changed in 2001, when Beatrice Torgleson purchased the house with hopes of turning it into a bed and breakfast. She was recently widowed (under mysterious circumstances), as well as recently retired, and she thought this was a perfect way to spend her “golden years,” as people liked to call them.
            Bea shelled out a small fortune to restore the house, although it was hard to keep the same contractors working on the job. They would quit at an alarming rate, with no real reason given.
            Eventually Bea was able to get one of them to tell her that the house was haunted. The workers would hear strange things. Rooms would suddenly grow cold. The walls would bleed. Black ooze would leak up through the floorboards. Random animals were found skinned and decapitated all around the property.
            Bea was miserable. Her dream was dead before it began. How on earth could she open a B&B if it were haunted?
            The house was finished before winter came, and just in time. A blizzard came crashing in, smothering the landscape in snow. Bea was alone in the newly restored house, sitting by the fire, when Archibald Horton appeared. He stepped out of the fire, clutching his severed head in his arms.
            In her rocking chair, Bea sighed.
            “Are ye not afraid of me, woman?” Horton’s head asked.
            Bea shrugged. “What does it matter? My life’s dream is over. I killed my husband to inherit his fortune so I could open this bed and breakfast, and now it’s ruined.”
            “I understand not many of the words you have just spoken,” Horton said. He placed his head up onto the bloody stump of his neck and it rested there awkwardly. “I demand a sacrifice, woman.”
            “Go ahead, then,” Bea said. “Kill me and get it over with.”
            Horton laughed, and his laughter caused his head to fall off his neck and roll into the fire. Cursing, he reached into the flames and pulled the head out.
            “You are too old and ruined for the likes of me, woman,” Horton said. “The sacrifices must be of virgin blood.”
            “Well, you’re all out of luck,” Bea said, rising from her chair on creaking legs. “No virgins here.”
            She turned and headed for the stairs.
            “Where are you going?” Horton said. “I demand you come back and have an audience with me!”
            “Whatever,” Bea said and went upstairs to bed.
            That winter was spent interacting with the various dark forces that dwelled within the walls. Bea had planned to open the B&B in time for Christmas, but she gave up on that idea. She updated the B&B’s website to say Opening Delayed Indefinitely.
            Every morning as she woke and went to the bathroom, a shrieking female face stared back at her from the mirror, blood pouring from her eyes and spiders crawling from her mouth.
            Bea ignored it.
            When she took breakfast in the large, empty dining room, a headless, legless torso would crawl out from the heating vent and drag itself across the floor, leaving a trail of blood that would eventually evaporate.
            Bea ignored it.
            There were gigantic, hideous goat-like men in the attic, and two -headed rats in the basement. There were shrouded specters that floated from room to room, moaning and leaving a sticky residue of ectoplasm on the walls. There were a man and a woman, who were both nude and seemed to be composed entirely of blood, who would have violent, loud sex on the living room floor, before vanishing into mist. And of course there was Horton himself, always losing his head, screaming and chanting and demanding Bea bring him the sacrifices he desired.
            Bea ignored it all.
            Winter gave way to spring, and then summer, and soon autumn arrived. Bea took a trip into town. She needed to get out of that damned house for a while. She spent the day doing some light shopping and wandered into a Barnes and Noble.
            After perusing a few of the romance paperbacks, she was heading for the exit when she bumped into the corner of one of the display tables. The table was set up with various books for the upcoming Halloween season. Bea couldn’t believe her eyes. There were at least half a dozen books that acted as guides to various haunted locations. There was even an entire book devoted to haunted bed & breakfasts of New England.
            People apparently liked this sort of thing. They would pay good money to stay in a haunted hotel. Slowly, a plan began to materialize in Bea’s brain.
            She returned home. Horton floated up from the floor, clutching his head by the hair.
            “Tremble before my visage, woman!” he shouted. “For I am one with the Great Darkness!”
            “Yeah, whatever. Listen, I have an offer for you,” Bea said, setting her shopping bags down.
            “I do not make deals with the living,” Horton spat. He set his head down on a coffee table next to him.
            Bea smiled. “Oh, I think you’re going to like this one.”
            That Christmas, the Four Gables Bed and Breakfast finally opened, and seemingly overnight became renowned as one of the most haunted spots in New England. This brought in the tourists by the dozen, and the fact that Bea was a very good cook kept them coming back for more.
            Every day, a different person who was staying at the B&B would come up to Bea with a giddy look on his or her face, and tell of the horrifying sights he or she had seen during the night. Bea always smiled and nodded. She acted as if she didn’t really believe in that sort of thing, but that she would let the guests have their fun.
            And every few months, there would be reports from the surrounding towns of missing children; children seemingly snatched from their bedrooms late at night and never seen again. There were no leads, and no known motive.
            Of course, Bea knew the motive. She knew it because the basement was always off limits to guests, and she kept the key to the big padlock on her at all times. She knew it because she spent many nights washing the blood from her hands.
            But what did a little blood matter? After all, it was good for business.