Category Archives: Horror Films

Pet Sematary-2019

Pet Sematary-2019

Director-Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starring-Jason Clarke, John Lithgow

Scott’s Review #923

Reviewed July 26, 2019

Grade: B

In the age of the movie remake, especially within the horror genre, it was only a matter of time before Pet Sematary, first made in 1989, would resurface with its fangs bared. Paramount Pictures offers up Pet Sematary (2019), a by the numbers affair perfect for viewing on a late Saturday night. It is an improvement over the disappointing ’89 version but hardly recreates the genre, feeling more like a remake than offering much in the way of new story-telling or frightening effects. The conclusion is rather disappointing offering a hybrid of slasher meets zombie.

To compare either film to the chilling and suspenseful page-turner written by esteemed novelist Stephen King would be ridiculous. The book is a quick read that will leave its reader breathless and scared, perhaps even fearing their own pets, so the bar is set way too high for a cinematic offering to match up with. The book delves much more into the feelings and emotions of all the principle characters, something that is severely limited with the film.

The Creed family, Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and children Ellie and Gage, move from bustling Boston, Massachusetts, to rural Maine to allow Louis the opportunity to practice medicine at a university hospital. Their friendly neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) befriends Ellie after she stumbles across a funeral procession of children taking a deceased dog to a cemetery called Pet Sematary. He warns she and Rachel that the woods are dangerous. When tragedy strikes the family, the cemetery unleashes a supernatural force contained in an ancient burial ground that sits beside it.

The first half of the film is superior to the second as the build-up offers more perilous moments than when all hell breaks loose. Mysterious is when an accident victim in Louis’s care dies and begins to show up in his visions warning him of something sinister. The victim is mangled and bloody and quite frightening are these foreboding scenes. When a curious Ellie traipses throughout the woods with curious wonderment the audience is nervous about what (or who) she might stumble upon.

The film also gets props for the suspenseful birthday party scene that ends in a grisly death. The scene begins in a cheery way with lively party music and festive balloons amid a warm afternoon in summery Maine. In a clear example of foreshadowing, earlier in the film Louis curses the truck drivers that drive at reckless speed past his house. Excitedly running after their cat named Church, Ellie and Gage pay no attention to the looming truck with the texting driver until it is too late. The scene drips with good terror.

After one family member is struck down by the speeding tractor trailer the predictability surfaces. Jud has already warned Louis that “sometimes dead is better”, but we know Louis will surrender to temptation out of desperation and tempt the bad spirits. When the once dead character returns with a droopy eye and calm deviousness, the film becomes a standard slasher film and is not as compelling.

The final thirty minutes feels very rushed as if the careful pacing of the buildup is all for naught. As in most horror films, now deemed a cliche, the last sequence allows for a sequel if box-office profits are hefty enough. I do not recall a similar ending in the chilling novel or any reference to the family living out their days as a family of the undead. The obvious attempt at a zombie reference was unsatisfying and much different from what I expected.

From a casting point of view Jason Clarke (usually cast in supporting roles) gives a strong performance as the main character. He is a good father figure and provides charisma to the film. Well-mannered but also somewhat outdoorsy and a “regular joe” he is intelligent and humorous with the kids. The child actors are fine but hardly the main attraction and Seimetz as the mother, Rachel, is not the best casting choice. She plays the challenging role much too brooding and angry for my taste, especially given she is written as the most sympathetic of all the characters.

Pet Sematary (2019) is a satisfactory horror offering with a solid first half that teeters into difficult to believe territory rather quickly. A stalwart veteran like Lithgow helps immensely, giving the film some respectability, and a child actor cast in a pivotal role is enough and doesn’t ruin the experience. There is little reason to see the film a second time but advisable is to snuggle with the King novel for some good scares.

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Director-Georges Franju

Starring-Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli

Scott’s Review #922

Reviewed July 23, 2019

Grade: A

Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a macabre and twisted French-Italian horror film co-written and directed by Georges Franju based on a novel of the same name by Jean Redon. The film cover art (see above) is flawless and terrifying, inducing the creeps by only giving it a glimpse causing the recipient curiosity, attempting to analyze what the meaning behind it could possibly be. The film is nestled into a short one hour and thirty-minute package but that is more than enough time to scare the audience to death with many fantastic and gruesome elements, severely limiting the gore, which only adds to the horrific nature.

The film was highly controversial when released in 1960 because of the subject matter at hand and was subsequently either loved or reviled among its audiences. What makes Eyes Without a Face, so riveting is the empathy for the characters and the measures gone to right wrongs, despite the main character being undeniably crazy. The complex emotions of guilt and obsession are commonalities making it a layered and complex horror film appearing on many Top Ten genre lists. The film is not for the faint of heart.

Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brassier) is a brilliant and successful physician who specializes in plastic surgery. After a vicious car accident that he is to blame for he attempts to repair the ruined face of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), a victim of the wreck. But his plan to give his daughter her looks back involves kidnapping young girls and removing their faces. He is aided in his machinations by his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), who kidnaps the young women and helps him in the laboratory acting as a surrogate mother to Christiane. Louise aids Génessier partly because of his help in restoring her damaged face in events that happened before the film begins.

Scob is the stand-out character, containing an innocent and quietly melancholy existence as she is the clear victim of the story. Her defeated posture while resiliently hopeful and demure is complex for an actress to carry and she defines grace and poise. Brasseur and Valli, the villains of the film, each deliver the goods in different ways. Valli, haunting in her best horror effort, Suspiria (1977), is mesmerized by her doctor and savior so that the relationship is almost cult-like. Brasseur, while devious, is strangely heroic too, as he steals lives to save other lives, so his character is extraordinarily complex.

The surgery scenes are chilling featuring white, starchy uniforms worn by doctor, assistant and victim. The scenes could almost be mechanical tutorials offered to first-rate medical students with scholarly intentions if this were not a horror film, the look is so documentary style. Genessier calmly cuts an entire circular length of his victim as a hint of blood slowly oozes down the sides of her face in almost tender fashion. The film is not the 1980’s slasher film image that encompasses non-horror film-goer’s preconceptions and, made in 1960, contains a somber yet gorgeous texture.

The best scene occurs when one of Genessier’s victims, lying on a gurney, comes to and gazes at a figure leaning close to her. The camera turns to the figure revealing a blurry but nonetheless recognizable image of Christiane, sans the face-like mask she usually wears throughout the film. As the victim shrieks in horror, Christiane slowly backs away from her amid a sunken feeling of pain and heartbreak, remembering how much of a freak she must appear to others. The scene is sad and grotesque at the same time.

Horror films often get bad raps, but poetic and stylized horror films are a diamond in the rough. Eyes Without a Face (1960) achieves its place in the cinematic archives with brilliant black and white cinematography entrenched in a Gothic, chilling story with characters whose motivations can be dissected and studied long after the film ends. This is a type of film that keeps the viewer thinking and deserves repeated viewings to fully capture all the plentiful gems that it offers.

Witchfinder General-1968

Witchfinder General-1968

Director-Michael Reeves

Starring-Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer

Scott’s Review #904

Reviewed May 31, 2019

Grade: B+

Witchfinder General (1968) is a macabre horror film that provides enormous atmosphere amid a gruesome story centering around the theme of witch hunting. By the late 1960’s violence and bloodletting in cinema had become more lenient and acceptable so the film takes full advantage of the timing with an unusual amount of torture, cruelty and brutality. The mid-seventeenth century English period is highly effective as is the ghastly religious angle, making for effective film making.

Vincent Price is delicious in any film he appears in, having amassed over one-hundred cinematic credits alone, to say nothing of his television appearances. Practically trademarking his over-the-top comic wittiness and campy performances, his role in Witchfinder General may be his best yet as he plays the character straight and deadly serious. This succeeds in making his character chilling and may be the best role of his career despite numerous disputes with director, Michael Reeves, over motivation.

During the English Civil War, Mathew Hopkins (Price) takes advantage of the unrest in the land, profiting from witch hunting. He travels from town to town accusing the unfortunate of witchcraft until they are mercilessly executed after which he is paid handsomely. Matthew is assisted in the accusations and torments by John Stearne (Robert Russell) a man his equal in brutality. The knowledge that these two men were real-life historic figures makes the action even more difficult to watch.

When he arrests and tortures Father Lowes (Rupert Davies), Lowes’s niece’s fiancé (Ian Ogilvy) decides to put an end to Hopkins’s sleazy practices and goes on a quest to seek vengeance. The mixture of a romantic love story as Richard Marshall (Ogilvy) and Sara (Hilary Dwyer) marry and a revenge tale as Marshall vows to destroy Hopkins is a nice combination as are the numerous outdoor scenes. Witchfinder General has much going on and the pieces all come together.

The most horrific moments of the film come during the death scenes as the victims, who logical viewers can ascertain are innocent. The characters are merely perceived as peculiar, therefore deemed to be up to witchcraft, and do not stand much of a chance despite their endless pleas and cries. Before they are murdered they are typically tortured until they ultimately confess to crimes out of desperation and perceived relief. The common mode of death is either hanging or burning to death.

In one sickening scene, victims are assumed to be witches if they can swim and then are subsequently burned at the stake; if they drown they are innocent, but of course die anyway. One unfortunate victim has her hands and legs bound and obviously drowns, followed by one of the witch hunters profess how her death was unfortunate because she was innocent all along.

In horror films, the most frightening situations are the ones that can conceivably occur in real-life whether it be a home-invasion, a psycho with a knife, or burning at the stake in the 1600’s. The fact that witch hunting did happen is shocking and resoundingly makes Witchfinder General creepier especially given most scenes take place in the daytime. Anyone can create a studio monster, but the realism of the events is the key to the film’s power.

As an aside, while watching the film I was keen to keep in mind how many countries still treat certain classes and groups of people differently, or even oppress them in the name of God. Food for thought and an additional component that makes Witchfinder General relevant.

The story and the screenplay are not brilliant, nor do they necessarily need to be given the treasures existing among the elements. The writing is your basic villain’s getting their comeuppance with a love story thrown in- standard fare and adequate. While pointing out some negatives is “Witchfinder General” the best title that Reeves could come up with, or anyone else for that matter? The title does not exactly roll off the tongue nor does the renamed United States release, The Conqueror Worm sound much better.

Witchfinder General (1968) is not an easy watch and the faint of heart may want to avoid this one, but the realism and the rich atmosphere make it a success. From the lit candles, an old castle, potent red and blue costumes, and one of the greatest horror legends of all time, make this a must watch among horror fans.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger-1960

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger-1960

Director-Cyril Frankel

Starring-Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford

Scott’s Review #900

Reviewed May 17, 2019

Grade: A

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (modified to Never Take Candy from a Stranger in the US for marketing purposes) is a 1960 British film, directed by Cyril Frankel and released by Hammer Film Productions. The film contains brilliant cinematography, a cerebral quality, and is quite daring for the time made. It combines a story of pedophilia with manipulations of the legal system allowing those to get away with this most heinous crime because of their status. Despite the production company name and marketed as horror the film is more left of center than the traditional genre film.

The locale is a small, sleepy lakefront Canadian town, seemingly like an everyday US town. The Carter family (Peter, Sally and 9-year-old daughter Jean) have just moved to allow Peter a fantastic job opportunity as school principal. Jean confides to her parents that while playing in the woods, she and her friend, Lucille, went into the house of an elderly man who asked them to remove their clothes and dance naked for him in return for some candy, which they did.  Peter and Sally are appalled and decide to file a complaint. The elderly man is one of the wealthiest and most influential in the town, the respected Clarence Olderberry, Sr.

Surprisingly, Jean’s experience is downplayed, and the Carter family largely shunned by the town. As a trial against Olderberry commences, Jean is ridiculed on the stand and her story ripped to shreds by attorneys. After Olderberry is acquitted he pursues Jean and Lucille in the woods eventually catching the girls during a harrowing lake front chase and murders Lucille. Jean escapes and the truth is revealed to the shocked and devastated town.

The cast of Never Take Sweets from a Stranger are not household names, but each gives a fine performance. Patrick Allen and Gwen Watford as the parents are well-cast and believable. They are upstanding people but strangers in the town, wanting to protect their daughter without smothering. Felix Aylmer as old-man Olderberry plays the role not as dastardly or menacing but providing glimpses of pain and sympathy. The audience is unclear whether the man suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps not even knowing what he has done.

The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, surreal and tremendously effective. With ghostly tones the film gets off to a mysterious and prominent start as we see Jean and Lucille casually playing in the woods, startled to glance up at a menacing mansion (perfect for a Hammer production) to see elderly Olderberry leering at them with binoculars. The lakefront sequences and the chase through the woods are among the best at providing superior camera angles.

As it’s Lucille who talks Jean into entering Oldberry’s house we presume she has done this type of thing before. She knows Oldberry will provide the girls with candy, but does she understand this comes at a price? Immediately there is a shred of doubt placed on the children’s innocence- ever so quickly. This decision by the film along with the representation of Oldberry is pivotal to casting even the slightest doubt on the main characters motivations or decisions.

Comparisons to the brilliant The Night of the Hunter (1955) must be made. Themes of child abuse, young children in front and center roles, a creepy lake with a prominent boat, and macabre adults are prevalent, at least to some degree, in both films. Additionally, both films were shunned at the time of release, misunderstood, and later rediscovered, subsequently seen as treasures of brilliant film making.  Measuring both films as tragedies is also obvious; each result in pain and sadness for the children involved.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) is a film released decades ahead of its time that has taken years for its brilliance to be recognized and appreciated, adding nuances that are admirable and thought-provoking to the viewer. The subtle qualities make this film in a world of its own.

Sadly, the very best of films are often overlooked, marinating the flavorful juices rather than a sudden bombastic reaction. In 1960 the world was not ready for this film but is now poised to be remembered as a brave, disturbing, and relevant film offering.

Scream and Scream Again-1969

Scream and Scream Again-1969

Director-Gordon Hessler

Starring-Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #899

Reviewed May 16, 2019

Grade: B+

Any film that features horror heavyweights and great actors like Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing is well worth the price of admission for the name status alone. Each is a mainstay attraction in his own right and combined, results in an orgy of riches. Scream and Scream Again (1969) sputters by limiting the on-screen interaction between the actors but after a reflective pause I realize the picture is to be revered for its creativity and use of intersecting plot lines into a thrashing crescendo of a surprise ending.

The audience is offered three segments of story, each periodically revisited as stand-alone segments that culminate into overlapping components. An athletic runner trots along the streets of London suddenly suffering from an attack only to awaken in the hospital with no legs. Elsewhere, a deadly intelligence operative reports back to his repressed Eastern European country only to murder his commanding officer with a deadly paralyzing hold. Finally, a London detective investigates the brutal deaths of several young women in metropolitan nightclubs.

Cushing, reduced to merely a cameo sized role as the ill-fated officer, is barely worth mentioning and adds little to the film besides appearing in it. Lee, as Fremont, the head of Britain’s intelligence agency, plays a straight role with not much zest. Price, with the meatiest role as a mysterious doctor specializing in limb replacement, can give anyone the creeps with his scowling and eerie mannerisms, but the film strikes out by wasting the talents of the other legendary actors.

The film is not at all what a fan of Hammer horror will expect especially based on the horror familiar cast and the gory sounding title. Heaping buckets of blood or ghoulish vampires are what was on the anticipated menu but that does not mean the film fails to deliver. It may not please a fan of traditional horror films since the genres of political espionage and science-fiction come heavily into play. The fantastic and peculiar nightclub serial killer story line will satisfy fans eager for a good kill or two.

My initial reaction to Scream and Scream Again was that of over-complicated writing and too much going on simultaneously especially for a film of said horror genre. After the film concludes and the surprise ending is revealed I realized that the numerous tidbits are necessary to achieve the desired result and events will make the viewer ponder when the film ends.  Not to ruin the big reveal but the film makers borrow a healthy dose of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) in a more macabre way, naturally.

Fans of the 1960’s British television series The Avengers will be pleased with Scream and Scream Again as a similar tone exists with both. The distinctive musical soundtrack, trendy for the 1960’s time-period works well, and the nightclub sequences and some of the detectives feel reminiscent of the show. The feel of the film is not limited to an episodic television story but contains a similar style. High British 1960’s fashion is also prevalent and pleasing to the eye.

A couple of supporting characters strike a fascination in small and almost entirely non-verbal performances. A sexy red-headed hospital nurse with superhuman powers and a penchant for removing limbs, combined with a brooding and mysterious serial killer provide dubious intrigue as to who the true characters are. What is their motivation? Do they work for someone or something sinister? Questions like these will keep the viewer occupied and thirsty for an explanation.

In bizarre fashion, British film and television director Gordon Hessler crafts an implausible yet fascinating story that keeps the viewer guessing. Featuring horror superstars Price, Cushing, and Lee would seem like an assured horror masterpiece but due to the stars limited time on-screen brings the overall project down a notch. Scream and Scream Again (1969) still achieves a good measure of worthy entertainment.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1956

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1956

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter

Scott’s Review #895

Reviewed May 8, 2019

Grade: B+

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), released during the mid-1950’s, a time of post War World II unity and prosperity in America where neighborhoods snuggled cheerily by the fireplaces with nary a care in the world, sought to make the public paranoid and it worked. Thanks to a foreboding premise audiences got to ponder the possibilities of pod people cloning human beings and invading the planet, scaring the daylights out of the masses and resonating with critics.

Playing like an extended episode of the Twilight Zone, and to the film’s credit it preceded the television series, at a brief one hour and twenty-minute running time the film is successful at achieving thought-provoking post film dialogue and has been crowned with cult-classic status along with similar creepy themed genre films that blossomed during the 1950’s.

Set in the fictional sunny California town of Santa Mira, the film gets off to an exciting start as we witness a screaming man in an emergency room attempting to be calmed by staff. The harried man claims to be a doctor and recounts, via flashbacks, the events leading up to present day. Our main character, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and his ex-girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) team up after several of his patients report relatives acting robotic and downright strange.

When half created bodies in pods are soon discovered, Miles and Becky know there is something amiss in their town and race to figure out the mystery of the “pod people” while most of the town turns into emotionless human-like beings. The big revelation is that the epidemic is caused by an extraterrestrial life form. Their intention they explain, is for humanity to lose all emotions and sense of individuality, creating a simplistic, stress-free world.

An interesting facet of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is how time has changed the reaction to the film. In 1956 the thought of aliens taking over the world seemed plausible and frightening since man had not yet walked on the moon and astronomy was a just new venture. The peaceful tranquility of the United States of America was in danger of being overtaken, the film exclaimed, and viewers fell for the scare tactics. Clearly the film was created to be a political allegory and boy did this sure work.

Decades later, the vibe of the United States is more integrated and flourished with more diversity and acceptance for other cultures and beings. The country is also more chaotic, so the invasion of the “pod people” is less scary and perhaps even more embraced to those living in malcontent. Invasion of the Body Snatchers therefore suffers from some poor aging and a message rethink and teeters on feeling dated.

The acting is marginally good if not spectacular, but it does not need to be Oscar-worthy to have the desired effect. The actors deliver their lines with a dramatic gusto successful in providing the troubled paranoia of the suburban American to audiences sure to be on the edge of their seats as the drama unfolds. The characters never think outside the box; only in straightforward terms so the motivations are earnest.

The black and white cinematography is palpable yet subdued, the lack of colors providing mystique that was ample for the times. The 1950’s while a wonderful time for film was also a less edgy time for cinema. The 1960’s brought less restrictions and therefore more shocking elements but Invasion of the Body Snatchers is compartmentalized, feeling more like a long episodic television thriller.

Double-billed with the equally frightening The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) would make for delicious 1950’s science-fiction viewing. I remain partial to the stunning vibrantly colored 1978 remake, superior film-making and more layered production values, but the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers holds its own and is a recommended watch.

Us-2019

Us-2019

Director-Jordan Peele

Starring-Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke

Scott’s Review #882

Reviewed April 1, 2019

Grade: A

Hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed and shockingly Oscar-nominated horror film Get Out (2017) Jordan Peele does it again with an even more thought-provoking creation. Us (2019) combines classic horror elements with macabre and insightful qualities, crafting an ambitious project that can be dissected and discussed at length following the climactic and psychologically perplexing ending. One thing is for sure; Peele has earned his spot among the most influential and elite directors circling Hollywood.

The film begins in 1986 as an event entitled Hands Across America- a publicity campaign encouraging people to holds hands to create a human chain to fight hunger and poverty- gripped the United States. Nine-year-old Adelaide Thomas goes on vacation to Santa Cruz, California with her parents only to wander off into a deserted house of mirrors. When she meets her doppelganger, she is terrified beyond comprehension and requires therapy to resume a normal life.

Events return to present day as Adelaide (now played by Lupita Nyong’o) is married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) with two young children, Zora and Jason. Coaxed into a weekend getaway to none other than Santa Cruz to visit their wealthy friends Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss), Adelaide is apprehensive about the trip with a dreading sensation that her doppelganger is returning to get her. When a strange family dressed in red jumpsuits appear on the Wilson’s driveway the plot transforms into a bizarre direction especially since the family look exactly like the Wilson’s.

Us is extremely layered and reminiscent of the expression “peeling back the onion” in analysis and discussion possibilities. For starters, a character thought to be one person is really another causing the audience to spin into confusion and not know who they were rooting for or not rooting for all along. The astounding questions are endless and in Peele’s brilliant fashion can be asked at different times during the film. Why do the doppelgangers exist? What do they want? What does Hands Across America have to do with anything? What do the rabbits symbolize?

One gruesome scene and a favorite is the barbaric scene when the Tyler’s are suddenly attacked by their doppelgangers- home invasion style. Reminiscent of the infamous Charles Manson murders, the family is slain quickly and mercilessly as the audience is left agape at the brutal slaughter. So much happens in this scene, first and foremost is the realization that there are more doppelgangers than we originally thought. To lighten the mood a bit, Peele adds morbid comic relief as the family’s voice-controlled Siri system misunderstands the dying victim’s plea to call for police and mistakenly plays “F#@$ the Police” by N.W.A. instead.

Nyong’o clearly has the most opportunities to showcase her acting ability by tackling two very different types of roles. As Adelaide she is kind, capable, and your typical suburban Mom but as her doppelganger Red she is grizzled and desperate with a dry, throaty voice filled with pain and defeat. At first thought a villain the audience eventually learns her complexities of Red’s story clearer and the Oscar winner delivers both parts with exceptional grace.

The supporting actors fill their characters with gusto with mention going to Duke and Moss. Duke’s character of Gabe contains inept humor coming across as slightly incompetent and the typical goof ball dad type character. Moss takes her one-note character of Kitty, a spoiled, never made it as an actress whiner with a rich husband and infuses naughty passion into her doppelganger. As she playfully applies lipstick while coquettishly watching herself in the mirror she soon gives the term “plastic surgery” a new definition as she curiously carves her own face.

Peele delivers a treasure with Us (2019) and I salivate at the thought of the film being only the novice director’s second attempt. Not suffering from the dreaded sophomore slump, he is becoming a modern director whose works are more like events than simply released films. Quentin Tarantino is a director who has also achieved this status though the director’s styles are vastly different. I cannot wait to feast on Peele’s next attempt.

Diabolique-1955

Diabolique-1955

Director-Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring-Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meuisse

Scott’s Review #878

Reviewed March 16, 2019

Grade: A

Diabolique (1955) is a masterful French thriller that is as compelling as it is frightening and offers insurmountable influence in years to come. Shamefully remade and Americanized in 1996 starring Sharon Stone, a waste of time if you ask me, the original is the one to discover and salivate over. With a perfect blend of psychological intrigue, never ending suspense, even a good mix of horror that Hitchcock would find impressive (more about him later), the film is brilliant in its pacing and frequent twists and turns.

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Les Diaboliques is set in a crumbling boarding school in the metropolis of Paris. Sadistic headmaster Michel Delassalle (Paul Meuisse) runs a tight ship but works for his Venezuelan wife, Christina (Vera Clouzot), who owns the school. Michel is immersed in a torrid affair with schoolteacher, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) and regularly abuses both women as well as his students. The two women embark on a plot to kill Michel, but when they succeed in their plan, Michel’s body goes missing.

In a bit of fun trivia, director Clouzot, right after finishing making Wages of Fear (1953), optioned the screenplay rights, preventing Hitchcock from making the film. This movie helped inspire Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Robert Bloch himself, the author of the novel version of Psycho, has stated in an interview that his all-time favorite horror film is Diabolique. If the film displays nuances incorporated in Psycho, this is undoubtedly the reason. Clouzot also directs his wife Vera in the prominent role of Christina.

The brilliance of the film is that it could have been made by Hitchcock as the entire experience has his stamp and influence written all over even though his best works lay ahead of him in 1955. Still, from the Gothic mood to the “can’t believe your eyes” twisted, blood curdling ending, the director immediately comes to mind every time I watch the film. The “shock” ending only exceeds expectations with fantastic delivery.

The film takes an unusual stance in the dynamic between the two women, Christina and Nicole. Rather than take a traditional route and make the women rivals for the man’s affections, Clouzot chooses to make the pair co-conspirators. This only deepens their relationship as events unfold and takes a darker and more dire turn. They rely on each other as teammates rather than despise each other over their love for another man. Intelligently, they spend their energy on making sure the insipid man gets his just comeuppance for his dirty deeds. Nicole clearly leads Christina in the direction she needs to go.

The black and white cinematography is highly influential to the mood of the film. With each unexpected twist or scene of peril the lighting is perfect in radiating the suspense. The camera juxtapositions the frequent glowing of the white against the dark black that exudes a frightening, ghost-like presentation. The entire setting of the school is laden with dark corners that provide good elements of foreboding and sinister moments to come.

As the women become more and more unnerved by the limitless possibilities that the missing body presents, many questions are asked but are impossible to answer. “Where is the body?”, “Could Michel be alive?”, “If he is alive is he hell bent on revenge?” The viewer will also be asking these questions throughout most of the final half of the film. When an unknown person begins to call the women and other clues take form the questions begin to multiply.

Clouzet uses frequent shots of objects to enhance the tension even further. Closeups of a dripping bathtub, a typewriter with a man’s hat and gloves, a woman’s feet as she removes her shoes, and a woman running in terror through the corridors of the school. These facets only enhance the overall experience as the suspense and the terror begin to mount.

Diabolique (1955) is considered one of the greatest thrillers of all time and I concur mightily with this assessment. A French version of Psycho (1960), that combines an acclaimed director’s ingenious subtle ideas into a giant web of delicious film making. The viewer will never see the surprise ending coming even if they think they have the plot figured out. This point alone is reason enough to see the film and salivate in the greatness of it.

Suspiria-2018

Suspiria-2018

Director- Luca Guadagnino

Starring-Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton

Scott’s Review #864

Reviewed February 7, 2019

Grade: B-

Dario Argento’s 1977 creative masterpiece is the original Suspiria, an orgy of style and visual spectacles carefully immersed within a standard slasher film appropriate for the times. To attempt at a remake might be deemed foolhardy by some. Argento’s film contains comprehensive and defined story elements whilst the new Suspiria (2018) changes course with a brazen attempt at achieving the same mystique as the original but falling short instead offering a plodding and mundane story that is almost nonsense and does not work. Thankfully, a bloody and macabre finale brings the film above mediocrity.

Director Luca Guadagnino fresh off the Italian and LGBT themed Call Me by Your Name (2017), a bright film peppered with melancholy romance and lifestyle conflict could not be more of a departure from Suspiria. The respected director parlays into the horror genre with two of Hollywood’s top talents in tow, Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson, and a nice nod to the original film with a small appearance by leading lady Jessica Harper.

The premise of Suspiria remains intact as the time-period once again is 1977 and the location stays as Berlin, Germany. Susie Bannion (Johnson) is a gifted American dancer who joins the prestigious Tanz dance academy run by a coven of witches where she unearths demonic tendencies. Coinciding with her arrival is the disappearance of another student, Patricia Hingle, and the revelation that her psychotherapist Josef Klemperer (Swinton) is in possession of Patricia’s journals chronicling details of the dastardly coven.

From an acting perspective Swinton impresses the most as she tackles three distinctive roles: an elderly and troubled psychotherapist, artistic director Madame Blanc, and Mother Marko, an aging witch. Each character is vastly different from the rest and allows the talented actress to immerse herself into the different characters. So convincing is she that I did not realize while watching the film that she played the psychotherapist or that the character was played by a female.

Admittedly not a fan of Dakota Johnson for perceptively using her Hollywood royalty to rise the ranks to film stardom or her lackluster film roles thus far- think Fifty Shades of Grey or the innumerable sequels- she does not do much for me in the central role of Susie. The miscast is more palpable in comparison to Harper’s rendition of the role decades earlier. Johnson is predictably wooden and quite painful to watch especially matched against a stalwart like Swinton in many scenes. Lithe and statuesque the young actress does contain the physical qualities of a dancer, so there is that.

As a stand-alone film my evaluation of Suspiria might be less harsh, but the original Suspiria is held at such lofty heights that this is impossible. The problem is with the screenplay as compelling writing is sparse. Much of the plot makes little sense and does nothing to engage the viewer in the moment. Slow moving and meandering and lacking a spark or an abrupt plot break through, I quickly lost interest in what was going on. The interminable running time of over two and a half hours is unnecessary and unsuccessful.

Before I completely rake Suspiria across the coals my cumulative rating increases with the astounding and garish final sequence which features a plethora of blood and dismemberment in a sickening witches’ sabbath. As Klemperer lies incapacitated after being ambushed by the witches one girl is disemboweled followed by a decapitation as the bold use of red is blended into the lengthy sequence. As the withered and bloated Mother Markos relinquishes her title an incarnation of Death is summoned, and heads explode. The finale plays out like a horrible dance sequence.

To add to the above point the visuals and the cinematography are its highlights. By using mirrors and possessing a dream-like quality the film looks great and harbors an eerie and stylistic deathly crimson hue. The resulting project is one of spectacle and intrigue rather than a sum of its parts. Rather than approaching the film with an introspective or cerebral motif simply going with the flow and letting it fester is recommended.

Guadagnino deserves credit for bravely attempting to undertake the creation of such a masterpiece and bringing it to audiences in 2018. Suspiria (2018) suffers from a lack of plot or pacing and is clearly second runner up to the original.  The story is not worth attempting to make heads or tails of since it is not interesting enough to warrant the effort. Ultimately skip this version and stick to the brilliance of the Argento effort or better yet do not compare the two films at all.

The Transfiguration-2017

The Transfiguration-2017

Director-Michael O’Shea

Starring-Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine

Scott’s Review #853

Reviewed January 7, 2019

Grade: B+

The Transfiguration (2017) is a quiet horror film and resoundingly peculiar vampire tale borrowing elements of similar genre pieces but adding fresh nuances to its story. Some may feel the film is too slow paced, but with patience there comes a terrific payoff and tremendous conclusion. Of the independent horror field and with a limited budget, the underlying message of teen loneliness and alienation comes through loud and clear.  The film wisely adds tidbits of classic film history which is a special treat for horror buffs.

Fourteen-year-old Milo (Eric Ruffin) has been through much trauma in his young life. His father has died, and his mother has recently committed suicide. Milo resides in a crummy Brooklyn high-rise with his older brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten), a depressed military veteran. Milo has a horrific secret- he is convinced he is a vampire and habitually kills strangers drinking their blood. When he meets troubled teen Sophie (Chloe Levine), the pair are inseparable, but Milo’s secret is threatened to be uncovered.

The bevy of neighborhood Brooklyn exterior shots are pleasing for those familiar with New York City locales. Similar in style to Beach Rats (2017) another recent coming-of-age story shot in Brooklyn springs to mind. Many scenes of Milo and Chloe wandering around their neighborhood or riding the subway are featured making the overall package feel authentic and not overly produced. The Brooklyn beaches and skylines make frequent appearances.

The most compelling, and frightening, aspect of The Transfiguration is how convinced Milo is of his being a vampire leading me to think the writer is providing a mental health learning. The audience immediately knows he is delusional, but he truly believes. Terrifying is this reality as via flashback we see Milo discovering his mother’s body, her wrists slit. As he gruesomely tastes her blood a sense of wonderment we wonder if this is his vampire discovery moment. Surely a defense mechanism, it is nonetheless extreme behavior.

The character of Sophie is also worthy of discussion. With both of her parents deceased she is sent to live with her abusive grandfather who lives in the same building as Milo. We never see the character but know that he is vile. In one scene Sophie appears to be raped by a group of boys and she yearns for a friend in Milo. As she slowly realizes his secret, but incorrectly assumes he is writing a book not killing people, she is able to look past this to belong. Milo and Sophie desperately need each other.

Despite the macabre characterizations outlined above the film is not quite a downer. In the middle of the vampire story is a sweet and likable young romance between the two leads. There is a charisma and charm between the two that is genuine and heartfelt and even the simplest conversations sparkle with appeal. The final sacrifice that one makes for the other is riddled with kindness.

Fans of classic horror will be delighted with clips of the 1922 film Nosferatu as well as other gory cult classic films that Milo is obsessed with. In a cute and innocent way, he attempts to broaden Sophie’s exposure to vampire films- she thinks the Twilight films are masterpieces much to Milo’s chagrin. This fun banter balances the dreadful main story plot.

Does Milo have rooting power? Despite a history of animal torture and human killings he is a remarkably nice kid. He is tempted to kill both Sophie and a young boy in the park but resists this urge. In the end he also saves Sophie ensuring she will have a better fate than he. The character is complex and a large part of the success of The Transfiguration.

Writer and director Michael O’Shea cleverly uses a side story of a gang of bullies to incorporate a dramatic and shocking conclusion with a wonderful twist. Milo, though tragic and flawed, proves himself a hero as he uses an opportunity to punish and exact revenge on enemies, while saving the life of another character. In this way he will undoubtedly gain sympathy from the audience.

The Transfiguration (2017) is a unique film that infuses character development and a romance with a blend of horrific blood curdling moments, especially during “kill” scenes. I hope that this very small film with no advertising budget receives enough word of mouth to gather a following or at the very least garner recognition for the up and coming director (O’Shea).

Hereditary-2018

Hereditary-2018

Director-Ari Aster

Starring-Toni Colette, Alex Wolff

Scott’s Review #837

Reviewed December 6, 2018

Grade: B+

Hereditary (2018) is a horror film that provides quite an unsettling feeling long after the credits have rolled, which is always a positive in my book. Moreover, the film contains more than a handful of effectively chilling moments and a breathtakingly good performance by its star Toni Colette, who delivers the goods in spades. The film is the debut project by writer and director Ari Aster, who certainly has a bright future ahead of him.

We meet the Graham family- artist Annie (Colette) and husband Steve, along with sixteen-year-old Peter (Alex Wolff) and thirteen-year-old Charlie as they mourn the death of Annie’s mother. As Annie sees an apparition of her mother in her workshop, the mother’s grave is desecrated prompting her to attend a support group to deal with her problems. When Charlie then tragically dies in a gruesome accident, Annie begins to teeter over the edge putting her remaining loved ones at risk.

The story that Aster writes is tremendously hard to follow leaving many perplexities and assured questions about the plot. Was fellow support group attendee Joan (Ann Dowd) a sinister cultist along with Annie’s mother or merely a kindly friend trying to help? Did Annie kill her family or were their deaths fated, a result of an unstoppable force hence the “hereditary” title? A post- film synopsis will need to be read by many viewers (myself included) for clarity.

Frightful sequences resonated with me for days following my viewing of Hereditary, so much so that a second viewing may very well be required. The decapitation of Charlie is one of the creepiest scenes I have ever witnessed as well as tidbits such as Annie furiously pounding her head on the attic door, clearly not herself. Not to be outdone, Steve bursting into flames and Annie slowly beheading herself with piano wire while coven members look on may lead to nightmares for days.

Shot in a style that makes the film feel claustrophobic and contained, props must be given to the camera crew for creating a dollhouse aesthetic. Enhancing this point is artist Annie’s clay dollhouse, mirroring the families. The viewer sees a mock version of the real family and when Annie decides to create a mimic of Charlie’s headless body to express herself the results are dire.

The best part of Hereditary, though, is Colette’s performance. Flawless as the haggard mother in The Sixth Sense (1999), her role as Annie takes the actress to even greater heights. The woman slowly teeters to the brink of insanity as she awakens one morning to find the headless corpse of her daughter lying in the back seat of her car. Aster wisely has her discovery and reactions appear off camera giving the sequence a high element of anticipatory horror. From this point we know that Annie will steamroll further into insanity as she realizes the death of her daughter was caused by her own son.

Horror films involving witchcraft or other demonic supernatural elements do not always work for me as I find realistic situations more effective, but Hereditary is atmospheric and effective. The film possesses this element throughout the entire run so that we know bad things will happen, we just do not know when.

To further explain, many scenes involve closeups of character’s seemingly deep in thought or shrouded in mystery. Evidence of this is when Peter sits in a classroom hearing the clicking of teeth, a habit of Charlie’s. When a trance-like Peter returns to reality, he is confused and slams his head against his desk breaking his own nose.

Aster might have been wise to write a more concrete screenplay instead of leaving the audience unable to add up the parts. Interpretation is a fine thing, but in the case of Hereditary the sum may have been greater than the parts. Meaning, a more satisfying, though not less frightening, ending would be encouraged for his next picture.

Hereditary (2018) is a demonic horror film that offers a perplexing plot of a family’s hereditary curse and ultimate doom. Thanks to brilliant acting and some of the most disturbing scenes ever witnessed, the film is a breath of fresh air in the over-saturated horror genre and a welcome debut from an upstart director.

Goodnight Mommy-2015

Goodnight Mommy-2015

Director-Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Starring-Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz

Scott’s Review #833

Reviewed November 21, 2018

Grade: B

Goodnight Mommy (2015) is an Austrian film that is not for the faint of heart nor for the squeamish. Being a seasoned viewer in diverse, bizarre, and otherwise unpleasant cinematic experiences, the film was nonetheless a tough watch for me. Universally lauded and even submitted as Austria’s Foreign Language entry for the Academy Awards, I found the film at times pointless and gratuitous in its torture scenes. Still, the film stayed with me days later and that is always a positive.

In a peculiar and unclear story opening, we witness a mother (Severin Fiala) and nine-year-old twin sons (Lukas and Elias Schwarz), residing in a remote lakeside location surrounded by cornfields and nature. The mother (character unnamed) is disfigured and wrapped in bandages with only her eyes and mouth revealed, a haunting and grotesque image. The twins, Elias and Lukas, are very disturbed by her appearance and concerned when she begins acting strangely, ignoring Lukas entirely and chastising Elias repeatedly.

Through a game that the mother and twins play, the audience learns that the woman is a television personality- has she had a face lift by her own choosing or has she been in an accident? As she acts cruelly and selfishly towards the twins they begin to question whether the woman is really their mother or a fake. They become determined to find out at all costs, turning the tables on the mother, resorting to tortuous methods to get the truth out of her.

A few positives for me in Goodnight Mommy are as follows. The Austrian setting and language are huge strengths in adding to the mystique of the overall film. The unfamiliar (to me) speech and the remote modern home that the mother uses as a sanctuary work very well.  In this way loneliness and isolation are infused into the film giving a measure of dread. The way the plot continues to un-fold and the circumstances are slowly revealed is a good thing. The how’s and the why’s of the mother’s surgery come to fruition and allegiances switch from the boys to the mothers over the course of the film, which I found interesting.

The major negatives are the motivations of the twins and the big reveal at the end of the film- a reveal easily figured out within the first portion of the running time. Though not shocking, the revelation only complicates said motivations and questions abound. Is one of the twins just plain crazy? Who is the woman in the photo with the mother dressed exactly like her? If this is a red herring, no wonder the twins think this woman is impersonating their mother. The mother not being able to escape the twins clutches is a bit hard to swallow- remember they are old nine-years-old!

The torture scenes are brutal for the audience to endure. As Elias and Lukas tie their mother to her bedpost and demand she reveal she is not their mother the methods they resort to are devious and cringe-worthy. Prolonged in nature so that the viewer feels they are also being tortured, when the twins burn her face with a magnifying glass, the process is slow and excruciating. Later, they decide to super glue her mouth shut and when they realize she cannot eat, they sever the glue with scissors leading to a bloody mess. These scenes are tough to take.

The point of Goodnight Mommy (2018) seems rather, well, pointless. Torture for the sake of torture and many plot holes or story dictated plot devices- who did not think that the Red Cross would fail in rescuing the mother? Nonetheless, the film does contain a mystique and an unnerving, haunting quality.  The viewer will undoubtedly be kept thinking about the subject matter and the ending, specifically the final still-frame.

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Director-James Whale

Starring-Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester

Scott’s Review #825

Reviewed October 31, 2018

Grade: A-

After four long years director James Whale finally agreed to follow-up, and resurrect, his character of The Monster. Fortunately, Boris Karloff also returned to the role he made famous. In this installment he meets a mate played by the gorgeous Elsa Manchester. Critics argue that the sequel is superior to the original, but I am not so sure of that, slightly preferring Frankenstein. Still, the aptly titled Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a fantastic effort and a memorable classic in and of itself.

The plot picks up where the original Frankenstein ended and includes a sub-plot from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel. Having learned his lesson about the drawbacks of creating life, Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is coerced into creating a female mate for the Monster. Much of the action follows the Monster, who is on the run from hunters as he encounters both devious and kindly individuals. In clever form, Manchester plays both the “Bride” and Mary Shelley, who is heralded for her masterful writing.

The main difference between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is that the Monster is more developed from a character perspective. Even more empathetic and now uttering some dialogue, the pained character contains deeper moments and a damaged quality. Karloff reportedly despised this aspect preferring that his character be more ambivalent, using grunts and facial expressions more than words, but to me the development works well.

As the Monster traverses the forest looking for shelter while being pursued witch hunt style, a lovely sequence occurs between the Monster and a lonely blind man. Attracted by the gorgeous sounds of a violin playing “Ave Maria”, the blind hermit befriends the Monster and teaches him a few words like “friend”. Harboring no ill-will towards the creature, the old hermit instead feels blessed and thanks god for sending him a friend. The tender moment is then shattered when a fire burns down the cottage.

Continuing what Frankenstein did and more in line with Shelley’s novel is the constant theme of loneliness and despair. The Creature is a tortured soul, yearning for love and affection, yet suffering from a temper. He is childlike and struggles to know the difference between right and wrong.

Like Frankenstein, the sequel contains high quality special effects and ambiance. With a storm raging (naturally), the thunder and lightning qualities add so much to a horror film such as this, filling it with suspense and a certain science fiction element. When the Bride is hoisted to the sky and struck by lightning, the scene is both campy and terrifying.

How delicious a character is Manchester as The Monster’s Bride? With her statuesque seven-foot height (the actress used stilts), white streaked hairdo, macabre white gown, and jerky, animal-like head movements, the character is forever recognizable in pop culture. Timeless in characterization, the beautiful woman possesses a macabre yet humorous quality. When she becomes alert, sees the Monster, and shrieks, it is a memorable moment in film history.

Throughout cinematic history, few sequels ever live up to their predecessors, but Bride comes close. Easily able to be watched in tandem with Frankenstein, and in fact perfect for a bit of Saturday afternoon nostalgia, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a wonderful trip down memory lane to a time when horror was as thrilling in simple black and white as it is with all the frills added. Thanks to Whale’s brilliant direction, both films are legendary in their inspiration and achievements.

Halloween-2018

Halloween-2018

Director-David Gordon Green

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer

Scott’s Review #823

Reviewed October 23, 2018

Grade: B+

Let’s be honest- nobody will ever be able to either top or recreate the iconic 1978 masterpiece Halloween- so any real attempt is a moot point. Throughout the subsequent decades many sequels or remakes have emerged and have largely disappointed or turned the franchise into camp. With the latest incarnation of Halloween (2018), director David Gordon Green gets it right by creating a follow-up to the original, skipping all the other films. Scoring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie is a major win along with seemingly dozens of neat references to the original gem.

Set forty years to the day (Halloween Eve and Halloween, naturally!), the audience is first given a summary of killer Michael Meyer’s (Nick Castle) time spent in Smith Grove Sanitarium once captured following the 1978 Haddonfield killing spree. Two journalists visit Meyers in captivity and attempt to make him speak after forty years of silence by mentioning the name Laurie Strode and showing him his notorious Halloween mask. Conveniently, he is scheduled to be transferred to a maximum-security prison the following day. We just know that Meyers will escape.

Meanwhile, Laurie has been living with post-traumatic stress disorder since her attack and lives in a constant state of paranoia. With two failed marriages and a daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who is traumatized by her mother’s anxiety, Laurie’s life has not been easy. As an aside, I just love how Laurie dons the same hairstyle she had at age seventeen. While she awaits the inevitable return of Michael, her secluded house is peppered with traps and guns allowing her to be at the ready at any moment. Despite her problems Laurie is very close with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak).

When the inevitable happens and Michael escapes by presumably causing a bus accident off-screen, the action truly begins. The coincidence of this happening on Halloween night is to be expected and embraced.

Audiences who see the film certainly are not new to the genre. The target audience is the crowd who either grew up with the original or generations who followed and were introduced to the original. Therefore, the film is wise to not try and reinvent the wheel- giving fans what they expect. To this point the opening graphics (the eerie orange writing and the glowing jack-o-lantern) are intact as well as the “introducing” credit for its heroin star- in this case Matichak.

There are several certainties with a horror film like Halloween. We know there will be “kills”, we know there will be an inevitable showdown between Laurie and Michael Myers to conclude the film. The fun is in the trip we take to get there. Who will be offed and how? A butcher-knife? other Halloween delights? Since there are arguably three female leads and three generations of Strode’s, will the film make one of them feel Michael’s deadly wrath?

Halloween really works, and a large reason for this are countless nods to its past. Many scenes pay homage to attention-paying fans resulting in riches and nostalgic memories. Allyson’s boyfriend’s father’s name is Lonnie- undoubtedly the kid who Dr. Loomis scared away from the Meyers house forty years ago.  Then there is a neighbor woman wearing curlers and slicing a sandwich with a butcher knife, who Michael steals the knife from. Finally, as Allyson sits in the back of her class and glances out the window she sees not Michael, but Laurie standing across the street staring at her. These gems are in large part thanks to clever writing and study.

There are a couple of negatives to mention. I am not crazy about the casting of Judy Greer as Jamie Lee Curtis’s daughter. The actresses look nothing alike nor does Curtis seem old enough to be Greer’s mother. Furthermore, attempts to add some comic relief moments, two bumbling police officer’s talking about brownies, Allyson’s goofy father, and the salty tongue of the kid one of the baby-sitters sits for does not really work.

How great would it have been to include P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, or even Kyle Richards in cameos? Since Curtis and Castle returned I wanted more familiar faces.

In wise form Gordon Green leaves the window wide open for a potential sequel, so be sure to stay for the end credits. My personal wish would be for this to parlay to the aftereffects of the killings on the same night, which Halloween II (1981) did so successfully. If the box office returns are strong enough and with Curtis on board for another installment, the possibilities are endless.

Frankenstein-1931

Frankenstein-1931

Director-James Whale

Starring-Colin Clive, Boris Karloff

Scott’s Review #822

Reviewed October 22, 2018

Grade: A

For those of us who treasure cinematic brilliance in films of the past need to look no further than Frankenstein (1931), a masterpiece in the horror genre. In fact, considered by some to be the greatest horror film ever made, the still frightening work is based on the legendary 1818 Mary Shelley novel. Highly influential to later groupings of horror film sub-genres, the importance of this film must never be forgotten.

In a small European village, a scientist named Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is determined to create human life by way of stealing fresh body parts from cemeteries and using electrical shock as part of his creation. He convinces his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), to steal a human brain from a former professor’s laboratory. Due to a clumsy mistake, Fritz must steal the brain of a criminal rather than a “normal” human being, the result being dire when Frankenstein’s monster is created.

The creation of the monster (and no, the monster’s name is not actually Frankenstein as some might assume) is astounding, especially given the time-period of the early 1930’s. With a flattop, heavy eyelids, protruding neck terminals, and his hulking physique, he is a frightening figure, but with a yearning, childlike nature. The monster’s innocence makes him so tragic. A compelling scene occurs when the audience first sees the monster turn around and face the camera.

What separates Frankenstein from many other horror films is the underlying sadness and empathy that we feel towards the monster. As a general-rule, the “villain” in most horror films is clearly defined, but who is the villain in Frankenstein? How can it be the monster when he, unaware of his own strength, drowns a young child? We root for the monster when he hangs the dastardly dwarf and we hate the town of peasants who seek revenge on the monster. The complexities in this film are endless.

The main character is an interesting study. Title billed, the character is a genius while also teetering on the brink of madness- he is not the hero of the film nor is he entirely sympathetic. He is the ruin of a monster who has feelings and a sadness to him. Frankenstein’s fiancee, Elizabeth (Mae Clark) is concerned for him, which adds a nurturing element to the dynamic. The intent is for the audience not to despise Frankenstein, but to be enthralled with his complexities.

The term “monster film” can conjure up feelings of silliness or over-the-top acting, but Frankenstein is more artistic than goofy. The famous line of “It’s alive!” was paid tribute to in later years, but an equally spectacular horror film, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) when Rosemary feels her haunted baby kick. To say nothing of the tribute Mel Brook’s classic Young Frankenstein (1974) paid to the original.

Given the film was made in 1931 the effects and lighting techniques are beyond impressive. The overall tone of the film is stylistic with a prevalent fairy-tale beauty unlike any films made at the time, save for perhaps Dracula, the 1931 horror-vampire masterpiece. In fact, both Frankenstein and Dracula would make a delicious double-feature on a Saturday evening. Director James Whale creates a magical environment that astounds, holding up well generation after generation, never seeming dated.

Frankenstein (1931) was followed by numerous sequels, the best of which is Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Undoubtedly, the film influenced campy yet important monster films to follow- most notably the “Hammer Horror films” of the same tone. Despite teetering on the one-hundred-year-old mark, the brilliant film is timeless and must be introduced to young film makers everywhere (especially in the horror genre).

The Nun-2018

The Nun-2018

Director-Corin Hardy

Starring-Taissa Farmiga, Demian Bichir 

Scott’s Review #812

Reviewed September 19, 2018

Grade: B-

A film such as The Nun (2018) is best described as a genre horror film strong on atmosphere, scares, and effect, but weak when it comes to story, dialogue, or weaving much of the other films together that it supposedly relates to in a satisfying way. To stress, the set pieces and foreboding convent where most events take place are tremendously thought out adding to the stylistic filming, but the story stinks, making the overall result barely above mediocre.

Said to be connected to The Conjuring (2013) and Annabelle (2014), this story point is all but laughable. In theory a prequel since the film is set in 1952, the only connection is a super quick sequence of a scene in later years. Ed and Lorraine Warren use a character in The Nun as a case study for their audiences. Admittedly, I have not seen The Conjuring 2 (2016), but from what I can surmise, what remains of The Nun is really a stand-alone film. Was the demonic nun in The Conjuring 2? This may make more sense.

The creepy setting is Romania- a superb choice given the association with Transylvania and Dracula. The film begins with the suicide of a Roman Catholic nun in a gloomy and largely abandoned Monastery. Having been visited by an unseen force who kills another nun, a vicious demon appearing in the form of a nun looks on menacingly. Father Burke (Demian Birchir) from the Vatican arrives with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate, where they meet flirtatious local, Frenchy.

The atmosphere used throughout almost the entirety of the film is spot on and highly effective. Most of the scenes are set at night time (naturally!) and in or around the vicinity of the spooky, gothic monastery. To double, a gorgeous castle in Romania was used. From the dark and narrow hallways, to the crucifixes and obvious religious decor, the props and set design really shine through. The best scenes occur within the grounds of the statuesque building as dozens of graves can be seen- when bells from the graves begin to ring on their own and spirits can be seen lurking, the audience is in for a good scare.

Even the scenes in daylight hours are fraught with creepy tension. When Frenchy comes upon the nun, dead for days, she dangles from the monastery, eyes gouged and covered with feasting crows, as her blood drips onto the front porch. The camera closeup of the shot is highly effective as are others involving the typical jolts and creaky floors that have become cliche in horror films somehow feel fresh and invigorating in The Nun. And the demonic nun, a grimacing Marilyn Manson type ghoulish figure, is downright scary.

Unfortunately, along with praise must come some criticisms. The story and the logic really do not make too much sense and I stopped trying to figure out the plot points halfway through. Why the Father and Sister are chosen to go alone to investigate is implausible as is a silly, brief mention of a Duke in the old days evoking a curse in the monastery that was “conjured” up during World War II and must be contained again is hardly compelling story.

The clearly plot driven device (and frankly done to death at this point) attempt to forge a romantic connection between Irene and Frenchy never works. How many times in film have we seen a handsome, young man try to woo a pretty nun away from her calling? Film makers may have added this for humor and (hopefully) the intentional or not religious exclamations by the characters of “Oh My God!” or “Mother of God!” are laugh out loud silly.

At the end of the day, with a film such as The Nun (2018), riveting writing is not top of the wish list- great atmosphere and effects are. In this way the film delivers some excellent content and makes for an enjoyable experience with some good thrills and scares. Thankfully, for the horror genre, the film is rated a solid “R” and not watered down for PG-13 audiences. Just be prepared for some hokey writing.

The Blair Witch Project-1999

The Blair Witch Project-1999

Director-Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Starring-Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael Williams

Scott’s Review #761

Reviewed May 22, 2018

Grade: A

When a horror film “scares the viewer to death” than that film has superseded what is has intended to do since horror films are really a dime a dozen these days. Fondly remembering sitting in a crowded and very dark movie theater to see The Blair Witch Project (1999), I was left both mesmerized and clutching my seat for dear life. This film had an enormous impact on me.

The film wisely uses hand-held cameras (black and white 16mm film) and Hi-8 video, manipulating the audience into using their imaginations leading to terrifying results making the film one of the scariest horror films of the 1990’s. Sometimes what you don’t see is much more frightening than what is seen on screen.

In 1994 three college aged amateur film makers (Heather, Michael, and Joshua) decide to hike to Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a legend known as the “Blair Witch”.  The witch is reportedly responsible for mysterious deaths and disappearances over the past two hundred years. They interview, wander, and joke around with each other as a sense of dread begins to develop.

According to the film the trio themselves disappear, but a year later their equipment is uncovered fully intact with the film footage able to be viewed. The 1999 film is professed to be the footage left behind by the group. Throughout the film we watch the individuals conduct interviews with the townspeople and eventually get lost in the woods at nightfall, forced to stay the night as a mysterious entity terrorizes them. Numerous creepy noises and rustlings scare the group.

In retrospect, with more insight and knowledge about the film, it may be easy for critics to dismiss The Blair Witch Project as either a hoax or a complete manipulation, but in 1999 audiences flocked to the theaters in droves as word of mouth spread. In fact, I myself saw the film twice on the big screen and was frightened equally with each viewing. More importantly, with the onset of the reality television craze the film was clever in capitalizing on this trend, so it is to be championed. Timing is everything!

In the film genre, The Blair Witch Project used buzz and word of mouth to elicit interest before the film was even released- and then the craze began. The film was highly influential to subsequent releases that also chose to utilize camcorders as their method of storytelling- think 2007’s Paranormal Activity and 2008’s Cloverfield.

Additionally, The Blair Witch Project is similar in tone to older masterpieces such as 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 1968’s Night of the Living Dead- independent releases made on a shoe-string budget that became enormously successful. As with these films the camerawork was tremendously important in eliciting necessary realism.

What makes The Blair Witch Project enormously authentic is the tricks used not only on the audience, but on the cast. Reportedly the film was almost entirely improvised including dialogue and situations that the characters faced. The actors began to feel as if events they were supposed to act were actually happening- their map disappeared and noises were created to frighten them. This clever approach to Method acting elicited the perfect responses from all involved- especially as they got colder and hungrier and more desperate.

My concern is how well 1999’s The Blair Witch Project will hold up as the years pass. Phenomenally effective and tremendously profitable at the time, dozens of imitations have arisen since the films idea was novel. So much so that it makes the original idea seem dated. One thing remains true- the film gave the horror genre a much needed breathe of fresh air and influenced many films to come.

A Quiet Place-2018

A Quiet Place-2018

Director-John Krasinski

Starring-Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

Scott’s Review #751

Reviewed May 1, 2018

Grade: B+

A clever modern horror film, A Quiet Place (2018) offers a unique premise and novel use of sound to elicit a compelling, edge of your seat story. With a science fiction slant and a “quiet” sensibility, the film is a good offering with ample jumps and frights that fit with the story rather than being added unnecessarily. Actor turned director, John Krasinski shines in this film to say nothing of the raw talents of Emily Blunt and the two child actors involved. Only the four principles exist in the story which is a benefit.

In the year 2020 most of the human population has been decimated by vicious creatures called “Death Angels”, who have hypersensitive hearing- they cannot see but pounce on their prey at every sound made. Thus the survives must either whisper or communicate non-verbally. An intelligent couple, Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbott (Blunt), he an engineer and she a doctor, have managed to survive with their two children, Regan and Marcus, their youngest son Beau having been killed after his toy rocket accidentally goes off. The family exists on a farm in upstate New York having created intricate ways to ward off the creatures, but live in constant fear of impending doom.

As Evelyn is now pregnant and due to give birth any day, in addition to Regan’s deafness, Lee attempt to create a mock ear to enable her to hear. One evening he decides to take Marcus out to hunt while Regan visits Beau’s grave.  When Evelyn goes into labor she steps on a sharp nail, dropping a picture which alerts a nearby creature. The remainder of the film (only ninety minutes in length) is spent with Evelyn alone in peril as the rest of the family makes efforts to save her with some eventual dire results, both before and after baby is born.

A Quiet Place immediately stands out as a unique film- especially for horror- by using sign language and sub-titles to show not only the characters communicating with each other, but also to the audience. This tactic is successful at immediately getting the viewer absorbed in the Abbott’s world and the hurdles they face. This unconventional approach gives the film more depth than a standard horror film would normally have and is tremendously effective.

Such a marvel are Blunt and Krasinski as the protective and clever parents that I fell in love with both characters almost immediately and bought them as a palpable couple. This is no stretch considering the two stars are dating in real life, but alas their chemistry works well in the film and they make a believable team.

Both Lee and Evelyn will do whatever it takes to protect their brood, and after a lovely day of foraging for supplies in an abandoned grocery store, we feel heartbreak when their youngest is annihilated by the savage creature. Lee, and Krasinski looking perfectly hunky in his beard and muscles, falls into the hero/Dad role nicely while Blunt, gives an emotional bravado performance worthy almost of an Oscar nomination if this were a different genre.

Not to be usurped by more seasoned actors, both child actors are wonderfully cast and hold their own. Millicent Simmonds, an unknown, flawlessly portrays Regan as the young actress is herself deaf which translated well onto the large screen. And Noah Jupe plays sensitive yet brave to the hilt. Both assuredly have bright acting futures ahead of them.

The “creature” is a strong element of the film, but suffers some misses as well.  Careful not to be too amateurish looking or too obviously heavy on the CGI effects, the fastness and ferocious nature is effective. However, no apparent motivation is ever given nor an explanation of how they came to exist is mentioned. Perhaps a sequel will give more depth? Regardless, I wanted to know more about the backstory of the creature. And how did the Abbott’s hold out so long when no others did?

A Quiet Place succeeds as a frightful film with depth and intelligence. Perhaps working better as an independent film  (it could have been edgier) with more grit and less polish from the creature, the film was released by Paramount Pictures. Nonetheless, Krasinski is off to a great start as a director and leading man with an impressive horror effort containing nice scares and little gore.

Friday the 13th: Part III: 1982

Friday the 13th: Part III: 1982

Director-Steve Miner

Starring-Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka

Scott’s Review #743

Reviewed April 17, 2018

Grade: A-

By 1982 the Friday the 13th installments were becoming an almost annual event, which would continue until the late 1980’s. Still popular and fresh at the time (the novelty would soon wear thin), Part III has the distinction of being released in 3-D, a highly novel concept and just perfect for a slasher film, including sharp weapons to shove at the camera at every turn. Directed once again by Steve Miner, who also directed Part II,  the film charters familiar territory that will certainly please fans of the genre. The horror gem still feels fresh to me decades after its original release.

The plot originally was intended to copy 1981’s successful Halloween II and capitalize on the return of one central character, Ginny (Amy Steel), and continue her night of terror as she is whisked away to a local hospital following her ordeal at Camp Crystal Lake. While this plot seems laden with good, gruesome “kill” possibilities (think syringes, scalpels, and other neat medical objects), unfortunately this was not to be after Steel balked at a return appearance.

Directly following the bloody events the night before, a new batch of teenagers- oblivious to the recent killings- except for tortured Chris (Dana Kimmell), who once was attacked by the crazed killer, travel to Camp Crystal Lake for a weekend of fun and partying. As Chris teeters between imagining sounds and shadows, traumatized by her past, Jason lurks nearby waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims. In this installment, Chris is most certainly the “final girl”, a fact that is obvious with the immediate backstory. The other characters fall in line with traditional slasher stereotypes- the lovelorn couple, the prankster, and a stoner couple. Also, a rival biker gang is thrown in for added drama as they vow revenge on the group following an incident at a convenience store.

A few main differences between Part III and Parts I and II follow:  Part III incorporates less “point of view” camera shots from Jason’s perspective, and more from the viewpoint of the victims. The result is neither better nor worse- just different. This is the first installment in which Jason dons his trademark hockey mask giving the film a slicker feel, and more identity, than Part II did, where Jason mostly wore a burlap sack. In clever fashion, Jason steals the hockey mask from one of his victims. Finally, as evidenced by the soundtrack, Part III adds a disco/techno beat to the famous “chi chi chi” sounds, giving the music a distinct 1980’s feel that the two preceding installments do not have- those feel more like 1970’s films.

Memorable slayings include a knife shoved through a victims chest while resting on a hammock, an electrocution via a basement fuse box,  and death via a shooting spear gun. The main draw to the kills and thus the film itself is the clever use of the 3-D technology, which makes the audience feel like the center of the action. What a treat to see the implements used in the killings coming right at me!

Credit must be given to the added diversity Friday the 13th: Part III incorporates. For the first time (a glorified black extra in Part II does not count) minority characters are featured. Bikers Fox (Hispanic) and Ali (Black) as well as pretty Vera Sanchez are included giving the film more of an inclusive feel- though each of these characters is killed off.

Enjoyable also is the inclusion of a quick recap of Part II, similar to what Part II did with the original, so that the climax of the preceding film gives the viewer a good glimpse of how the action left off.  The screenwriters add a few comical characters, admittedly offed rather quickly into the mix. I would have loved to have seen a bit more of junk food eating Harold and his nagging wife Edna, for example, before they meet their maker.

Hardly high art, Friday the 13th: Part III is mostly remembered for some cool, innovative technology, a tiny bit of camp that does not overwhelm the straight-forward horror flavor, and for still seeming fresh before the franchise got old, stale, and tired. Part III, along with I and II, make for a wonderful trio in one of horror’s finest franchises.

Friday the 13th: Part II: 1981

Friday the 13th: Part II: 1981

Director-Steve Miner

Starring-Amy Steel, John Furey

Scott’s Review #742

Reviewed April 15, 2018

Grade: A-

Hot on the heels of the surprising success of the low-budget slasher film, Friday the 13th, a sequel to the 1980 film was immediately ordered. The film was released merely a year later and is nearly as good as its predecessor, but not quite to the level of that horror masterpiece. Part II is a well above average sequel with a fun style all its own while wisely keeping facets that made the first Friday adored by horror fans everywhere.

Gushing fans must have undoubtedly been chomping at the bit for a follow-up film and with an opening sequence that is quite lengthy.  The heroine of the first Friday, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King), takes center stage, eliciting a clever twist that must have shocked fans as she is offed less than fifteen minutes into the film- think the sequence with Drew Barrymore in 1996’s Scream for comparison. Regardless of the reasons King would not be the films star (money demands or a rumored stalker), the fact of the matter is this improves the overall film adding an immediate surprise.

After this compelling opening number, things become much more familiar and predictable as the viewer is enshrined in the antics of young and horny camp counselors rushing to sunny Camp Crystal Lake (or in this installment, a neighboring camp) to setup for the impending arrival of kids. The young adults are all very good-looking, fresh-faced, and ready to be sliced to ribbons or dismembered in some fashion as the case may be. As any horror aficionado knows, this is a major part of the appeal of slasher films and Friday the 13th: Part II follows a familiar formula.

Paul (John Furey) and Ginny (Amy Steel) are the lead counselors- a bit more adult and responsible than the others, thus they ignore the authorities warnings not to re-open the camp since it has only been five years since the original massacres. As the day turns into evening, Paul teases the group with the story of the legend of Jason and how he survived his drowning only to live in the woods fending for himself and avenging the death of his mother. Little do they know that the legend is reality and Jason is lurking among the trees ready to off the group one by one.

Besides Paul and Ginny, the supporting characters include sexy Terry, known to wear skimpy attire, sly Scott, who has designs on Terry, wheelchair-bound Mark, sweet and  innocent, Vickie, jokester Ted, and, finally, madly in love, Jeff and Sandra, who are curious about the history of Camp Crystal Lake. Delightfully, the character of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), the comic relief of the original film, makes a heralded return to warn the youths of impending doom and gloom.

Friday the 13th: Part II mixes pranks and flirtations among many of the characters, but the audience knows full well what is in store for each of them- save for the honorable “final girl”, prevalent in these types of films. With Ginny receiving this title the others meet their fates in bloody style with interesting kills such as a throat slit by a machete while in a rope trap, a duo impaled with a spear as they engage in sex, and bludgeoning with a kitchen knife.

The final twenty minutes is quite engaging as Ginny must flee from the camp while enduring repeated obstacles preventing her safety such as a run through the woods, tripping and falling, and a failed barricade in a cabin. A wonderful touch within this sequence is the return of Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees) in a cameo appearance as Jason sees a vision of his mother. This move successfully creates a tie in to the original that works quite nicely as coupled with the opening sequence. The final “jump out of your seat” moment is highly effective as Jason, thought to be bested, leaps through a window for one final attack.

Interesting to note is what appear to be identical camera angles through much of the film, as the camera uses the point of view of the killer numerous times to elicit scares and the viewer serving as the killer- reminiscent of the first film. Additionally, camera shots of the peaceful, sunny camp and lake during the daytime are used, in contrast to the violence occurring at night.  Even the approaching vehicle the counselors drive (a truck) are shot the same way as we see them arriving at the camp in full anticipation of a fun time.

Friday the 13th: Part II is a fun follow-up to one of the most celebrated horror films of the slasher generation and is a perfect counterpart to the original. A perfect viewing tip is to watch both films in sequence on perhaps a late night horror extravaganza. Subsequently followed by a slew of not so great sequels as the franchise became dated by the late 1980’s, Part 2 serves as an excellent follow-up to the original using a similar style that will please fans.

The Lure-2015

The Lure-2015

Director-Agnieszka Smoczynska

Starring-Michalina Olszanska, Marta Mazurek

Scott’s Review #741

Reviewed April 12, 2018

Grade: B

2015’s The Lure is as odd a film as one can imagine- dreamlike and sometimes even absurd. The story mixes a strange blend of the horror genre with musical numbers, but for the sake of classification purposes, I would teeter to the side of gothic horror. Oddly enough, some of the choreography numbers are reminiscent of 2016’s La La Land, but that is where the comparisons between those films end as the former musical numbers dark and the latter cheery. A tough film to review, The Lure is rather disjointed, but kudos for creativity and unpredictability.

Bravely directed by a female (more kudos!),  Agnieszka Smoczynska, a Polish film-maker, the story is a cross between an autobiography of her troubled youth, and a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. Besides the obvious Polish language content the film does not appear overly Polish- it might have been nice to be exposed to some of the culture.

The film immediately gets off to a mysterious start as two teenage girls- later revealed to be mermaids/vampires named Silver and Golden- emerge from the water and follow a rock band back to a tacky nightclub where the band regular performs for patrons there for the strippers- it is sometime in the 1980’s. The girls perform music and strip, becoming an act called “The Lure”. While Golden continues to thirst for blood, Silver falls in love with a bassist causing her to yearn to be a real girl and subsequently has surgery to remove her tail and grow real-girl legs. As part of the fairy tale, if her intended marries someone else Silver will turn into sea foam and die.

The story is completely perplexing and a difficult follow, yet there is something mesmerizing and escapist about it. My wonder is if Smoczynska intended the film to make total sense or left it open to a bit of interpretation- after all the film is a mix of fairy tale and real-life experience. Some portions appear to be rather dream-like, for example the nightclub singer has thoughts or visions involving Silver and Golden, but what is unclear is whether she is experiencing reality or imagination.

Props must be given to The Lure for originality alone. The film is successful at stirring up multiple genres and creating something truly unique. In particular, the characters of Silver and Golden are transfixing- at times they are sweet and kindly, but then their fangs come out at a moments notice revealing evil and a carnivorous blood thirst revealing a grotesque, haunting countenance. The way in which Smoczynska created these characters is rather awe-inspiring and the up and coming director must have a wealth of imagination deep within.

On the other hand, the plot never really comes together enough to grab hold of the viewer in a riveting way. While Silver and Golden are clever characters and we feel some level of empathy for them, I also never felt completely gripped by them either. I felt no connection to any of the supporting characters either. Any attempt at figuring out the plot will only leave the viewer frustrated. I would advise taking The Lure as an experience and not a puzzle to necessarily be unraveled.

The Lure has elements of immeasurable fascination and an enormous creative edge. Attempts to create a unique fable meshed with a disturbing central theme are successful, but the overall story is way too confusing for the average user and ultimately ends up dragging towards the final portion with the final climax a wee bit unsatisfying. Still, a brave and inventive attempt at achieving something fresh and imaginative in cinema.

Jigsaw-2017

Jigsaw-2017

Director-Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Starring-Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell

Scott’s Review #739

Reviewed April 9, 2018

Grade: C-

As a fan of the horror genre and specifically of the Saw film franchise  that debuted in brutal form in 2004, directed by James Wan, has sadly become a lesser version of what was once clever writing mixed with wonderful, tortuous kills. Jigsaw is the eighth installment in a series that has now run out of steam- simply riding on the coat-tails of what was once its glory days. The 2017 film can only be appreciated by die-hard fans of the series, otherwise will be unsuccessful at obtaining any new fans.

Admittedly, Jigsaw does begin in strong fashion as the viewer is thrust into the midst of a compelling  rooftop police chase that results in a fleeing criminal, Edgar Munsen, being shot by detectives. Unknown if events are connected, the action shifts to a remote barn where (in typical Saw fashion) five individuals are held captive, each with a noose around their neck. Throughout the film we learn the back-stories of each victim as well as a connecting story of a pathologist, Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore), his sister, and the possibility that John Kramer has either returned from the grave or a copycat killer is on the loose, emulating his shenanigans.

The basic premise and tone of 2017’s Jigsaw is very similar to the preceding seven installments, however this version seems a bit watered down and glossy by comparison. My recurring thought throughout the feature was one of reminiscence of a horror version of a network episodic drama- think CBS’s Criminal Minds or the like. This is not a compliment. The camera style is of a slick production with nary a raw or authentic moment- incredibly produced with good-looking people in peril.

Fans of the previous Saw films will undoubtedly expect the now familiar twist towards the end of the film- a clever story turn making one character revealed to be not what he or she appears to be or even in cahoots with serial killer, “Jigsaw” (John Kramer). To be fair, this quality does surface in Jigsaw, but the surprise is so lame and inexplicable that it is hardly worth mentioning.  Suffice it to say the expected resurfacing of Kramer is a real sham and instead we are fed a less than satisfying riddle of one character faking his death and another sequence taking place ten years earlier. If better written this twist might be worth its salt, but the reasoning seems thrown together with little thought of staying true to the characters or history.

Other familiar elements in Jigsaw abound so that a fan of Saw or Saw II or Saw III will undoubtedly find tidbits that will satisfy them. In this way the film is like a trip to McDonald’s or a neighborhood burger joint- one will more or less get what is expected. As the barn victims are given choices via a tape recorded message by a sinister John Kramer voice, each is given a test and must ultimately confess their sins. As fans know, Saw victims are far from innocent and always harbor a neatly tucked away secret.

Such horrific acts like a haggard young mother smothering her screaming baby and framing her husband for the deed, or a thief stealing a woman’s wallet and causing her to die when her asthma medicine is lost, are back stories thought of by the writers. Another character once sold a motorcycle with a faulty brake line to an innocent man who later crashed and was killed. These aspects are the fun in a film like Jigsaw in that the tortures the victims endure have elements of “serves him or her right”.

Another solid to Jigsaw are the kills, again what fans of the Saw franchise have come to know and love. In this one we delightfully witness a victim’s leg severed, another impaled with needles, and yet another gleefully attempts to shoot one of the other victims trapped in the barn to allow her freedom only to realize the gun is rigged to shoot herself instead. These are fun moments that make Jigsaw less than all bad.

Having created an eighth version of a once great franchise that introduced the world to the term “torture horror”, by 2017 has grown ultimately stale and tired with a few glimpses of former glory created in the familiarity aspects. All great things must come to an end and the Saw series has more than crumbled from its former days of glory.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter-2017

The Blackcoat’s Daughter-2017

Director-Oz Perkins

Starring-Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka

Scott’s Review #732

Reviewed March 12, 2018

Grade: B+

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is an eerie 2017 independent horror film offering that combines various chilling elements to achieve its goal. Largely a fusion of the supernatural, the occult, and the psychological, the film, while slow at times, does offer a unique experience and is unpredictable in nature. Parts of the film are downright scary and spooky as religion meets satanism, always a safe bet for an unsettling experience. Writer/Director Oz Perkins, should be well on his way to a successful career in the industry with this, almost full-on artsy, film.

The action begins in a prestigious Catholic boarding school in a quiet, wintry area of upstate New York. As students (largely unseen) leave the school for a February break, Kat (Kiernan Shupka), and Rose (Lucy Boynton) are left behind when their parents do not arrive to pick them up. While the girls hunker down for the night, hoping their parents show up the next day, a third girl, Joan (Emma Roberts), who may be a psychopath, is en route towards the school, enlisting the help of a strange married couple (Bill and Linda), whose daughter had died years ago and was the same age as Joan. Also in the mix are two school nuns who are rumored to be satanists.

Little is known about the town, but the fact that nobody is around makes the setting a major plus. This may very well be due to budgetary restrictions associated with the film, but regardless, the use of very few characters or extras is a score, with the number of principle characters below ten. The cold and bleak nature of the town and the stark journey that Joan is on make the ambiance very successful. Many scenes throughout The Blackcoat’s Daughter are set during night time in relative seclusion and given the icy texture of upstate New York in the middle of winter the setting chosen by Perkins is spot on and quite atmospheric.

The overall story to The Blackcoat’s Daughter is both peculiar and mysterious and does not make complete sense a good deal of the time.  In fact, by the time the film concludes and the credits role, not a lot of the film adds up from a story perspective, which left me rather unsatisfied. Since Bill and Linda’s daughter looks identical to Rose, are we to assume that the events at the school occurred a decade before the events involving Joan? What ends up happening to Kat is perplexing- haunted by spirits and forced to kill, is she healed at the end of the film? Or is Kat really Joan? Too many loose ends are left.

The film is very heavy on the violence and the gore, and dares not hold back in showcasing the victims pain and suffering before they cease to exist. More than one character lies bleeding and immobile as the killer calmly approaches to finish the deed. Three characters are decapitated in horrific form as we later see their severed heads lined up in a boiler room. The demonic chanting of “Hail, Satan!” may turn some viewers off as would the overall story line- those who feel 1973’s The Exorcist is disturbing need not see this film as similar elements abound.

Also worthy of a quick mention is the cool, unique musical soundtrack that singer/songwriter, and brother of the director, Elvis Perkins, creates. With goth/techno elements, the score is noticed (in a good way) at various points throughout the running time, and adds to the overall feel of the film.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter succeeds as a disturbing and experimental piece of independent horror-making sure to at least pique the interests of horror aficionados. With plenty of blood-letting and squeamish parts, Oz Perkins knows what works. The story, though, would have been made better by a clear, definitive beginning, middle, and end, to avoid a confusing outcome. Still, I look forward to more works from this up and coming director.

Happy Death Day-2017

Happy Death Day-2017

Director-Christopher B. Landon

Starring-Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard

Scott’s Review #726

Reviewed February 20, 2018

Grade: C+

Happy Death Day is a 2017 horror/slasher film offering that incorporates the “groundhog day” theme into its story in clever fashion.  Oddly, the film was released in October instead of February- missed marketing opportunity? Despite a unique premise, the film is overly complicated, especially for this genre of film, and rather than succeeding as a late Friday night treat, Happy Death Day becomes tough to follow leaving too many questions and puzzled thoughts in the after effects.

We first meet snobbish and sarcastic sorority sister, Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), as she awakens with a pounding headache and a bad attitude one morning in the dorm room of a handsome classmate, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). She barely remembers the drunken tryst as she haggardly goes about her morning- today is her birthday!  Irritated with the day, she proceeds to dismiss her kindly roommate, and her father, and is rude to a former one-night stand, finally going to a party, where she is followed and brutally murdered by a figure wearing a campus mascot mask. She suddenly awakens to the same morning she has just experienced!

Perplexed, Tree spends the remainder of the film on the hunt to figure out who killed her, and to unravel the mystery of putting the events to a halt by going on a continues “loop” of the same night, each time uncovering more clues. Mixed in with the events, Tree realizes she has feelings for Carter and should really become a nicer person.

Star Jessica Rothe is perfectly fine in a breakout film role- though she had a small part in the musical La La Land from 2016. Her chemistry with Broussard is adequate, though when we talk horror, romance is not at the top of the list- blood is. Unfortunately, Happy Death day offers little in true kills or scares- the film is rated PG-13 for heaven’s sake.

A nice aside and testament to the character of Tree, though, is her possession of both “good girl” and “bad girl” qualities. Trendy in slasher films  is that the girl who parties and has sex is offed before very long, but in Happy Death Day, we are served both in the same character. Tree is, in fact, butchered, but then when brought back to life, the character eventually blossomed into the clear heroine. This is a nice twist on a traditionally written character.

I enjoyed the perpetual whodunit factor that screenwriter Scott Lobdell carves into the fabric. A bevy of suspects are introduced and the tale changes direction with each loop. In this way, with each loop the story becomes a bit more complex and characters stories or motivations shift each time. Furthermore, a few more characters are introduced giving the story more layers. This is both a strength and problematic- Trees professor, Dr. Gregory Butler, her secret lover, is a suspect. Is Trees sweet roommate, Lori, who wants nothing more than to treat her friend to a lovely birthday cupcake, too good to be true?

At a certain point things spiral out of control from a story perspective. What is the point of the local serial killer, John Tombs, injured and conveniently staying at the campus hospital, other than to serve as a red herring? Who is the masked killer and why do they suddenly disappear from the story? How is Tree able to seemingly change the details of her murder so much so that it ends up never happening? The reveal of the true killer is very good, but how did we get to this point? By the big reveal at the end I had stopped trying to figure out the film.

Slightly above par, Happy Death Day, while spirited and reaching for something different, becomes muddled and senseless, leaving the viewer wondering how all the various “groundhog day” stories add up to a satisfying conclusion. Sadly, by the time the films conclusion is reached, one will likely not wish to waste the time bothering to care. Still, some props for creativity must be awarded.

Scream-1996

Scream-1996

Director-Wes Craven

Starring-Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, David Arquette

Scott’s Review #710

Reviewed January 5, 2018

Grade: A-

Wes Craven’s 1996 film Scream is a piece that greatly assisted in bringing the horror genre back into relevance after a long drought throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when horror films suffered from both over-saturation and cliche-riddled messes. Thanks to Scream, creativity and plot twists and turns returned to the forefront of  good horror films and a clever film was birthed. Fast-forward to 2018, the film does suffer a bit from a dated “1990’s look,  but is still great fun to watch and a treat for all classic horror buffs as the references to classic greats are endless.

The film is sectioned off nicely and gets underway quickly  (in the best sequence of the film) as Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore)  receives a flirtatious phone call, while making popcorn,  from a man asking her to name her favorite horror film. The friendly game quickly turns vicious as the caller threatens to kill her boyfriend should she answer a question incorrectly. In a clever twist (think 1960’s Psycho!) Casey and her boyfriend meet deadly fates and the opening credits begin to roll. Given the huge star Barrymore was in 1996, this twist was all the more shocking and attention grabbing.

The remainder of the film centers around Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a popular California high school student, as she is pursued by an attacker known only as “Ghostface”, who dons a creepy costume and terrorizes victims via phone calls. The small town , led by police officer Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and bitchy newswoman Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), are determined to unmask the killer and figure out his or her motivations. Sidney’s boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and other friends are along for the ride as a possible connected sub-plot involving Sidney’s deceased mother are introduced. A romance between Dewey and Gale is also broached.

Scream is an enormous treat for fans of the horror genre as numerous references (and film clips!) of classics such as 1978’s Halloween abound throughout the film. Other references to Friday the 13th, Prom Night, and A Nightmare On Elm Street appear during the film. Writer, Kevin Williamson, clearly a horror enthusiast, must have had a ball writing the screenplay that would become Scream. In 1996, the mega-success of the film successfully not only jump-started the entire genre, it introduced younger fans of Scream to classics that were perhaps their parents generation and got them interested in the films.

Classic horror films are not only referenced during the film, but also explained, mostly by the supporting character of Jamie, the nerdy kid who works at the video store and adores horror films. A sequence in which he explains several “rules” of the horror genre is superlative and creative, and just great fun. He schools the teenagers at a party that anyone who drinks, has sex, or says “I will be right back”, is doomed to suffer a violent fate. This clever writing makes Scream enormous fun to watch.

The climax of Scream is quite surprising in itself and the “great reveal” of the murderer (s) is also intelligent writing and quite the surprise, as several red-herrings are produced along the way, casting suspicion on other characters who may or may not be the killers. A small gripe of the writing is the motivations of the murderers- when the explanation is given for their killing spree, the reasoning is a bit convoluted and hard to fathom, but this is horror and suspension of disbelief is always a necessity.

Scream is best remembered for giving the horror genre a good, hard kick in the seat of the pants and shaking all of the elements up a bit while preserving the core ideals of a good slasher film (suspense, a whodunit, and good solid kills). True to a good mention in the film, Scream was followed by several sequels, some achieving better successes than others. In 2018 the film may not be quite as fresh as it once was, but is still a solid watch and memorable for relaunching a genre.