Autodidact: self-taught

May
09
2014

British Gothic Cinema

by V. L. Craven

British Gothic Cinema

Castles and howling wind (or is it wolves), lightning and thunder and perpetual murk. Capes and lace and bodices and everyone’s overwrought about everything all the time. There’s a candelabra on every other horizontal surface. You know the drill. It’s Gothic. And, if you’ve watched a certain type of film you’re probably picturing Hammer horror films.

British Gothic Cinema by Barry Forshaw is about the influence of British filmmakers on horror cinema from the very beginning of film. Hammer gets a (deservedly) large portion of the book, but other companies like Amicus get their time, as well. Forshaw clearly knows his material and history–explaining how the censorship codes (blood on cleavage used to give people the vapours)–were slowly chipped away.

There are interviews with the some of the key players of the time, and honest reviews of performances by the staple players like Peter Cushing, Vincent Price (shipped in from the States to bring in the crowds) and Christopher Lee. No stone is left unturned–it’s an exhaustive work. Forshaw’s love for the subject shows.

This is an excellent companion to the BBC4 documentary A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss . Indeed, Gatiss is mentioned a few times in the end of the book, as are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. British Gothic Cinema, on the whole, is about horror cinema, and the British influence on it, though the earliest contributions were period Gothic pieces.

Very academic, I would recommend it only for people already interested in Gothic cinema or fans of film history, but for them it’s a must-read. There are some film spoilers for very well-known films, but if you’re a fan of the genre you’ve probably already seen them. (I didn’t find this to be a problem.) The biggest quibble I had were the typos, of which there were more than a few.

Overall, I did enjoy it, am glad I read it and wound up with a long list of films to watch.

[I was given a free copy of this to review, but was under no obligation to give a positive review.]

Apr
10
2014

Inside No. 9

by V. L. Craven

Inside No. 9

Inside No. 9 is the newest show from two of the four members of the League of Gentlemen , Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.

Each episode is stand-alone and, being a British show, there are only six episodes. The action of each episode occurs in a different place with the address of No. 9. All are residences save one, which is dressing room number 9.

As you’d expect from these two, there are a host of creepy characters–some are in bizarre situations, others in are seemingly ordinary situations that turn surreal. All of them are original and surprising. The second episode was particularly creative, as there’s no dialogue.

Inside No. 9

The first episode ‘Sardines’, concerning a party game in a mansion that seems just a bit…off, dragged a bit, but turned out to be a nice start to the series. It fell firmly into the average people in a slowly devolving into a sinister situation sort of episode. It was also one of the funniest of the lot. Some of the guest stars in the episode were Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Katherine Parkinson and Anne Reid, which kept things interesting.

Inside No. 9

The second episode ‘A Quiet Night In’, as mentioned above, has no dialogue. Background music supplies all of the commentary about what’s going on. It concerns two hapless criminals (Sheersmith and Pemberton) who are trying to steal a piece of modern art from a house whilst the owners are in and out of the room and also in the midst of a domestic crisis. Tension is built nicely and the viewer finds themselves rooting for the ‘bad guys’, as their evening is definitely not going to plan.

Inside No. 9

The third episode ‘Tom and Gerri’ (‘her last boyfriend was Ben’) was the strongest both plot-wise and in terms of characterisation. Sheersmith is a teacher who really wants to be a writer. One day when his actress girlfriend, Gerri (Gemma Arterton), is at an audition, he has an interaction with the homeless man (Pemberton) who lives across the street. Then everything goes a bit funny and not in a ha ha sort of way.

Inside No. 9

This is followed by the weakest episode ‘Last Gasp’ about a little girl with a terminal illness who has asked the Wish-Maker charity for a visit by her favourite singer (David Bedella) for her birthday. When he dies while blowing up a balloon for her there becomes a power struggle between the adults (Pemberton, Tamsin Grieg, Sophie Thompson, Adam Deacon) over what to do with his last breath. This one never comes together. The characters felt incomplete. But I’ll forgive anything with Grieg in it.

Inside No. 9

‘The Understudy’ was the penultimate episode. The titular character (Sheersmith) is hesitant to push his luck with the overbearing lead of the company he’s in (Pemberton). His girlfriend (Lyndsey Marshal) is more ambitious for him–knowing he has more talent than he gives himself credit for. When Pemberton breaks his long sobriety our man assumes his girlfriend is to blame, but as with the play the company is performing–Macbeth–things do not go well and there is blood indeed. Julia Davis is hilarious as the lesbian stage manager.

Inside No. 9

I think my favourite episode was the final one, ‘The Harrowing’, which was of the extraordinary characters in a surreal situation type. It was about a teenage girl asked to baby-sit for an evening whilst two Poe-like characters (this is even acknowledged, much to my delight) have one of their very rare evenings out. The female character is played my Helen McCrory, who played Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films and was perfectly cast in the Madeleine Usheresque role. The girl brings her friend along, which is fortunate because the house is absolutely terrifying, with art depicting all the torments of hell. The girl is informed that she’s really there to house-sit as their older brother doesn’t actually need anything most of the time. But she’s there ‘just in case’. It was somewhat less developed in some ways, and the only one that seemed like the main characters could go on to be in other sketches. Or perhaps that was my wishful thinking.

Whether they appear in the next series or not–bring on series two, please.

Apr
03
2014

Vampires in the Cold

by V. L. Craven

Vampire films, as a genre, don’t particularly hold my interest. Immortality seems boring–humans would whine about the same problems every century–and having sex with a room-temperature body (vampires are corpses) is stomach-churning, so their sex appeal is similarly lost on me. I’m not against watching a film about vampires, but there has to be some other draw.

In this case, it’s cold climates–the beauty of a frozen landscape will get me to watch a lot of things. So this week’s film review is a comparison of two films about vampires in cold climates: Let the Right One In and 30 Days of Night.

Vampires in the Cold

Let the Right One in is based on the Swedish novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist and is about a boy who befriends his unusual new neighbour–a girl of twelve. The girl advises him to fight back against his bullies and even offers to help. Much of the story is about the budding friendship between the two young people and the boy learning to stand up for himself.

The backdrop to all of this are the horrific killings that have been happening–one man was found upside down, drained of blood; and another was attacked and murdered in front of a witness, who swore it looked like the attacker was a child.

This film is much more atmospheric and subdued than most vampire films, which was refreshing. There was also very little blood and onscreen violence, considering the trend of horror films in general. Several tropes common to vampires were handled cleverly–trusting the intelligence of the audience rather than relying on special effects. I would recommend this to fans of vamp flicks who were looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, as well as to people who simply liked a good story. I’ll definitely watch it again.

Vampires in the Cold

The premise is that the town farthest north in the U.S. experiences thirty days of darkness once a year and someone (or something) has cut them off from civilisation even further by stealing and destroying all the mobiles amongst other things. Once no one can get in or out or can contact the outside world, things start picking off the humans. Yummy, yummy humans. 

I’m going to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this one. It looked like pretty standard fare so I just came for the pretty scenery. However, some genius in casting had Danny Huston as the lead vampire. And he had a sidekick who rather looked like Marilyn Manson, which amused me greatly.

Vampires in the Cold

‘Why do people keep asking me to sing Beautiful People?’

This one was better than I was expecting, but I’d only recommend it to people who like vampire films. It had plenty of blood and action and one very cool shot of the town that (along with Huston) made it worth the watch.

Mar
06
2014

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

by V. L. Craven

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

In 2010, Mark Gatiss ( Crooked House , League of Gentlemen, that show about Sherlock Holmes with that Cumberfellow) did a three-part series for the BBC about the history of horror in the cinema.

The first episode (Frankenstein Goes to Hollywood) starts with the Phantom of the Opera and is a paean to Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and other pioneers in horror cinema. Gatiss travels to Hollywood to see Chaney’s make up kit and visit locations and people involved in early horror films like Dracula, which was the first horror film with sound. And Frankenstein, where he visits both the sound stage village and the lake where the monster met the little girl. One of the people he talks with is Barbara Steele, who appears in other episodes of the series.

The episode also covers quite a few early horror films that haven’t garnered as much attention, though deserved more than they received. There’s also a bit about the classic Freaks, which disturbed young Mark.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

The Count looks a bit unsettled, as well.

The second episode (Home Counties Horror) begins with the Hammer films, which were filmed in Britain. We’re onto the colour era of films, which made blood—which they actually showed—that much more terrifying. The first colour horror film made in Britain was The Curse of Frankenstein and starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Then we get on to the Hammer version of Dracula, where Lee takes over the Lugosi role.

There’s also discussion about the prudishness of the British film board that asked for cuts to avoid sexually suggestive material. This episode also has a fantastic story from Gatiss’ childhood as a young horror-lover whose weekly compositions where about such delight subjects as decapitations. There’s also a touching ode to Peter Cushing.

This one covers the Corman films based on Poe stories, as well, which are sort of the U.S. versions of Hammer films. Gatiss talks with Corman and talks about Vincent Price as a centrepiece of those.

The second episode  goes from the Gothic era to the English country sort of horror like the Wicker Man and Witchfinder General.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

imagine opening a cupboard and seeing that. Gah.

The third episode (The American Scream) concerns the revival of horror, which takes place back in the States, beginning with The Night of the Living Dead. Gatiss interviews George Romeo and Tobe Hooper. Hooper, of course, directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Once those independent films began making money, big production companies began making films. Including Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. And the first horror blockbuster, The Omen, which was a sort of U.S./U.K. combination film being written by an American, but starring many English actors and being filmed primarily in England.

Gatiss also visits lesser-known films like Romero’s Martin about a teen boy who may be a vampire or may just not be able to talk to women with any aplomb. Cronenberg and his love of body-horror is then discussed. Then back to Romero and Dawn of the Dead.

The final section is on slasher films, which was properly ushered in by Halloween. Gatiss sits down John Carpenter about his inspiration and philosophy of filmmaking. Then our intrepid host carries on about where horror is going.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

Terrifying, terrifying places.

Gatiss is clearly an enormous horror fan—at the start he admits that the films he chooses to highlight are his personal favourites. There’s a great love for the works and humour throughout. And bits and bobs of trivia—prior to playing Frankenstein’s monster, Karloff had been in eighty films, yet he was still virtually unknown for example–keep the viewer interested.

This is an excellent introduction to horror for people curious about the origins of the once again popular genre. It’s also sure to please devoted fans, who will no doubt find a friend in the engaging Gatiss. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing a book entitled British Gothic Cinema, which will appeal to a similar audience. So be sure to check back in for that.

[Update: the British Gothic Cinema review will be next Friday]

Feb
20
2014

Some Guy Who Kills People

by V. L. Craven

Some Guy Who Kills People

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) has recently been released from a mental hospital and his best friend has helped him get a job at an ice cream parlour. One by one, Ken’s enemies–the one’s who tortured him when he was younger are suddenly being knocked off in gruesome ways.

The sheriff (Barry Bostwick) is dating Ken’s mother and, as goofy as he is, isn’t a complete doofus, and begins to suspect Ken of the murders.

During all of this, Ken’s eleven-year-old daughter (Ariel Gade) from a one-week fling shows up and moves in, hoping to get to know her father. And a new woman, Stephanie (Lucy Davis) shows an interest. Perhaps Ken’s life is getting back on track.

So it would be something of a shame if he was  Some Guy Who Kills People . On the other hand… bitches gots to pay.

This was definitely a fun one. Well-written, well-acted, an all-round good time. John Landis was the executive producer and it shows–it’s a blend of horror and hilarity perfect for fans of Shaun of the Dead and Tucker & Dale vs Evil.

Dec
26
2013

Misery

by V. L. Craven

Misery

Christmas was a special kind of hell for me as a child. I was expected to socialise for extended periods of time with lots of loud people who wanted to hug me and be in my personal space. As a young, raging introvert , severely lacking in the ability to express my feelings, this was not something I relished. So in 1990, when I saw the teaser poster for Misery:

Misery

I laughed and thought, ‘ Every Christmas there will be misery.’ Then I bought the poster.

The film is based on a Stephen King novel of the same name . It’s about a writer. I wanted to be a writer so that captured my interest straightaway. It had a woman named Kathy Bates in it. I hadn’t heard of her before, but I thought someone with a last name like Bates was perfect to play a psychopath.

Misery

I mean, right?

So Annie Wilkes (Bates) is a delightfully balanced woman whose favourite writer, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), is in a car crash and she nurses him back to health and isn’t at all obsessive or terrifying.

Misery

I mean, is that the face of a pure sociopath? I ask you.

Yeah, no.

Actually, she finds him after the car crash because she was stalking him in the first place. Then, while she’s taking care of him–he has multiple broken bones in his legs and a broken arm so he’s not going anywhere–the final book in the Misery Chastain series is released. When she reads it and discovers he’s killed off her favourite character she’s rather…displeased. Considering that her mood swings wider than an articulated lorry the man was lucky to survive her initial reading. After forcing him to burn the novel he’s just finished (because it has too many swear words in it) she has him to write another book in the Misery series that she loves and that he absolutely despises.

So, there’s mental and physical torture. Just like my Christmases.  This film spoke to me on such a level, I can’t tell you.

Then there’s, you know, the scene.

Misery

And now, Ms Bates will demonstrate the key features of the latest in our line of sledgehammers.

Certain scenes stay with you forever. That’s one of them.

For those of you who haven’t seen the film–Bates does an interpretive dance with the sledgehammer and a four by four. It’s remarkably moving and entirely unforgettable. Bring a tear to your eye, it will.

From what I’ve heard about James Caan, there were probably more than a few people in Hollywood who would’ve liked to have swung that hammer themselves. You know, in interpretive dance.

There’s also a deleted scene where Annie kills a policeman by running over him repeatedly with a lawnmower, but it was cut, as Rob Reiner thought it would make people laugh. Apparently Bates was disappointed by the removal of that scene, and holy moly would I love to see it.

Anyway, this one wasn’t so much of a review as a One of My Fav Christmas Films and Here’s Why. But you should see it.

I know today is the day after Christmas– Boxing Day in Commonwealth countries (which has nothing to do with pugilism)–but if you’re sick to the back teeth of your relatives for one holiday season, then pop this one on and laugh and laugh and laugh.

And think of me when you do.

Dec
02
2013

Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales

by V. L. Craven

Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales

The holidays are approaching and you have to get something for that friend. You know… that one. The one who seems to like Hellraiser just a little too much, and has read every Stephen King novel at least twice. Your dread is two-fold. First, the prospect of leaving the house sends a chill down your spine and then, once out there, you’ll have to shop for one of the most difficult of friends–the well-read individual of the gothic bent. Sakes alive, but what are you to do?

Fear not, you needn’t leave the comfort of your home (or your office chair, depending where you’re reading this). For Christian Baloga’s Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales  is available online. It comes in several electronic formats (for Kindle, Nook, Apple devices, etc) as well as a very nice paperback.

But also! It’s quite good. Here’s why you should get it for that friend.

As advertised, there are thirteen stories. A couple quite short and a couple quite long. Most are inbetween. Some are supernatural in bent and others are more about the monsters within ourselves. The narrators are sometimes women, sometimes men. Sometimes gay, sometimes straight. Baloga does not tie himself down to one type of story or character. There are often twists, but those twists are unpredictable.

‘Poison Ivy’ is about how two people who belong together should never be parted. ‘Flesh Boots’, on the other hand, is what happens when you want nothing but to be left alone and you get your wish. ‘Psycho Pharm’ gives us an unusual view of the pharmaceutical industry. In ‘Tremble for Me’ social media is used as a tool of humiliation and what happens when that tool is used on the wrong person. ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Digging Deep’ are both about the intensity of a father’s love for a sick child and what that can do to the father’s sanity.

It’s difficult to choose one stand-out story. If pressed, ‘Ripped to Ribbons’ and ‘Savage Games’ would be my personal favourites, both of which reminded me of Ray Bradbury. ‘Ripped to Ribbons’ is about a woman who should have minded her own business and kept reading her book, but she stuck her nose where it didn’t belong, and … well… She should have kept reading her book.

‘Savage Games’ was the most accurate portrayal of the psychology of a nine or ten year old I’ve ever read. If the Bad Seed had skipped the tap lessons and become engrossed in video games this is who she would have been. Just beautifully rendered.

Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales

You *will* take me to the arcade. You *will* give me quarters.

As a sort of bonus, Corvids make appearances–for good or ill–in a few stories, which made me smile. Crows and ravens will always make me smile.

The only negatives were that thirteen, while a nice number for scary stories, is rather few for a collection– particularly when they’re well-written. I wanted more. There were also a few typos, but I’d say less than ten and I find more than that on the New York Times website in a week, so it’s difficult to be bothered by those in self or indie publishing anymore.

Wake the Wicked is a slim volume, so it’d be a great add-on gift for someone and it’s on sale–the ebook is 3.99 and the paperback is 7.99. Also, aesthetically, it’s fantastic. When it arrived, I had to smell it straightaway. The paper reminded me instantly of the R.L. Stine books I read as a teenager. The paperback has several illustrations by Baloga that the ebook does not have.

Overall, the stories are well-written, inventive and entertaining. I definitely recommend this one and look forward to anything Baloga has coming out in future. I hope to have an interview with him in the next few weeks, so look out for that.

 

 

[I was given a copy of this book for review purposes but was under no obligation to give it a positive review.]

 

Oct
12
2013

The Witches

by V. L. Craven

I used to be able to quote entire sections of this film. Alas, I cannot find my personal favourite scene, which happens when the Grand High Witch meets up with her nemesis at the hotel–when she sees her on the balcony.

Sep
19
2013

Ghost Story the Film – A Review

by V. L. Craven

Ghost Story the Film   A Review

After finishing Peter Straub’s masterful Ghost Story I decided to watch the 1981 film version.

On paper, it has promise. It stars Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (it’s their final film), as well as Alice Krige (who would go on to play Christabella in Silent Hill). But the Wikipedia page (which is full of spoilers) says: ‘The plot is taken from the novel of the same name by Straub, but greatly changes and simplifies it.’ Which just about sums it up.

Without reading the book, one of the main character’s breakdowns–which is moved straight to the beginning for maximum confusion–makes zero sense.

The film starts slowly (fair dues, so does the book)–and then picks up for a bit before a very unsatisfying ending if you’ve read the book and a predictable one if you’ve seen many horror films.

Then there are the make up special effects, which happen with regularity in the film and wouldn’t have occurred in the book at all. Film is a visual medium, but, good grief.

I watched the film with my husband, who had not read the book, and he didn’t understand who or what Gregory and Fenny Bate were.

Aug
01
2013

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 6

by V. L. Craven

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 6

And here we are at the final instalment of the Masters of Horrors reviews. I hope you’ve enjoyed the last five weeks as much as I have. Previous reviews are here, here, here, here, and here.

Right to Die (Rob Schmidt): A married couple are in a car accident. The man (Martin Donovan) walks away, but his wife, Abby, is badly burned. He feels she wouldn’t want to live in that state and consults his attorney & friend (Corbin Bernsen). Just before the accident, Donovan’s wife caught him in an affair in a rather humiliating way and this causes him an enormous amount of guilt. He also begins having disturbing dreams about his wife. Terrified, he calls Bernsen, asking if it could be her soul haunting him. Bernsen responds, ‘What do I know about souls, I’m a lawyer?’ (Ha!) When the wife’s mother learns of Donovan’s plan she decides to paint her son-in-law as a horrible person to the press, as she wants the settlement likely to come from the airbag manufacturer (it was their fault she died). One of the better ones of the series. 8/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 6

I said I wanted the MILD sauce

We All Scream for Ice Scream (Tom Holland): Lee Tergersen was really wasted in this one. It’s based on a short story by John Farris, which was probably frightening on the page but just looks silly on screen. Some kids tortured a clown who drove an ice cream truck–the guy died during a prank, his ghost came back when they were adults and killed them. With ice cream. As ridiculous as that sounds it’s worse on screen. I give this zero stars because Tergersen shouldn’t be asked to be in something so lame. 1/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 6

‘See, my agent and I had an argument…then he sent me this script…’

The Black Cat (Stuart Gordon): Don’t mess with my dear Eddie. There’s some debate as to whether or not Poe and his wife/cousin ever had sex but within the first two minutes the characters were kissing passionately. Poe (Jeffrey Combs) is trying to sell poetry, and failing, as people want his stories like ‘Tell-Tale Heart’. He promises a new story and gets an advance, which is promptly drinks away. Upon his return home, he’s met by his wife trying to sell her piano. She has a terrible bout of the TB then and there and the doctor tells him that nothing should be allowed to upset her. At the start they have a bird, a fish and a cat, Pluto. Like in the story, the menagerie is whittled down to the cat. Then Sissy dies and Poe blames Pluto. There are common themes of Poe’s–death of a beautiful woman, supposed-but-not-actual death, madness out of sanity. They had to change some aspects of the story for the movie and it made no sense whatsoever except, ‘if that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have an ending.’ I would be interested in hearing what other Poe fans thought of it. Poe fans who aren’t masochists can skip it. Even non-Poe fans would still give it a 5/10.

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 6

I know how you feel, Sissy.

The Washingtonians (Peter Medak): A couple and their daughter visit the husband’s grandmother’s house after she dies. Upon looking through the place, he (Johnathon Schaech) finds a letter supposedly written by George Washington but sounding more like something Ed Gein would come up with. The Founding Fathers were cannibals? Really? That’s what we’re doing now? This has got out of control. I swear, it’s like they saved the worst ones for the final few. Based on a story by Bentley Little. Spare yourself. 1/10.

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 6

Are those middle fingers? They should be.

Dream Cruise (Norio Tsuruta): As with the final episode of the first series, this one is by a Japanese director. And it has the classic Japanese elements: Someone dies tragically, their creepy ghost haunts the person with them when they died. In this case, a man in his late 20s/early 30s, Jack, is having nightmares about a childhood friend who drowned during a boating accident. He’s summoned to a business meeting at a restaurant and runs into a woman he’s having an affair with–the wife of the client who summoned him. The client wants to have their conversation on his boat, on the ocean. Jack explains his fear of the ocean, but the client, Eiji, insists. It becomes apparent that Eiji suspects (or knows) something is going on between Jack and his wife, Yuri and he takes them out further to sea rather than back to land. There are some are-they-are-they-not dead moments and ghosts and possessions, you know, good ol’ Japanese funtimes. Based on the short story by Koji Suzuki. At least the series went out on a somewhat high note. 7/10.

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 6

I don’t know if you’re a ghost, but I’m going to kill you anyway…

Jul
25
2013

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 5

by V. L. Craven

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 5

Please see Parts One , Two , Three , Four of the Masters of Horror reviews.

John Carpenter’s Pro-Life (John Carpenter): Two people on their way to work at an abortion clinic nearly hit a young woman who runs out in front their car. They take her to the clinic to make sure she’s all right, when her father (Ron Perlman) pulls up outside their clinic. He’s a long-time opponent of abortion they have a court-order against for his previous threats against. Inside, they check on the girl to make sure she wasn’t injured when she fell on the road and discover she’s several months pregnant…and fifteen. Questioned further, she says she was raped a week prior. The doctors conclude she’s in shock and has disassociated from the trauma because it was her father, who she was running from when they nearly hit her. Outside, the girl’s father plans to get into the clinic to get his daughter back and with her child safely inside her at all costs. There is some SERIOUS body squick happening in this one and some of the acting is beyond wooden to quick-dry cement. And the special effects? Yes. They are, indeed, ‘special’. 5/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 5

Please. Women who give birth to human babies look worse than this.

Pelts (Dario Argento): Meatloaf plays a man who makes things out of the skins of animals. He also has a thing for a particular stripper who isn’t interested. Meanwhile, his suppliers have found some raccoon pelts that are spectacular, if uncannily similar. They had to go to a part of the wood that’s supposed to be cursed to get them, but they got them without incident, so they’re home-free. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from movies it’s that you NEVER takes things from cursed parts of forests. FAR too much up-close gore for my taste. It’s called a wide- angle lens, folks. [On the other hand, if you're into up-close gore, you'll love this one.] Based on a short story by F. Paul Wilson. If you like gore it’s a 9/10 if you don’t it’s a 5/10 at best.

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 5

Put it on a stick and you have a nifty Halloween mask.

The Screwfly Solution (Joe Dante): An airborne virus is causing men to murder women, their homicidal impulses triggered by sexual arousal. The men use religious reasons for their hatred of women, and watch a lot of violent horror films. Two scientists (Jason Priestley and Elliot Gould) work out that they can block the rages by chemical castration, but of course, most men won’t do this, so the female population is quickly diminished. No one knows who is doing this, let alone why or how. Priestly tells his wife and daughter to go north, as the virus seems to be staying in the southern part of the country. As with wind-borne anything, though, eventually it makes its way worldwide and if a woman wants to survive she has to go to greater lengths. Based on the short story by Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr, this is probably the most straight up science-fiction-y of the entire series and could be a little heavy-handed but it wasn’t as bad as Dante’s previous offering in the first series, Homecoming. 7/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 5

Pictured: Science fiction

Valerie on the Stairs (Mick Garris): A young man has been accepted at a house for  unpublished writers. His room became free when the previous tenant committed suicide, distraught over the number of rejection slips for his most recent work. Our protagonist has just got out of a relationship and has decided ‘to hell with love’–he’s going to live his life through this stories. The problem is he writes horror stories. He begins seeing a woman on the stairs, asking for help and then she’s pulled away by something else–something humanoid but possibly demonic. Discussing what he’s seen one night with another tenant at the house, he learns something disturbing. It’s what you’d expect–sprawling house, faces in mirrors of people not there, are they all characters someone has made up or not, etc. One of the other writers in the house is Christopher Lloyd. Based on a story by Clive Barker. Classic line, though: ‘Everyone in this fucking place is fucking crazy!’ ‘Including you, young man! We’re writers!’ I’m giving this one an 9/10 for Lloyd and Barker. Most people will probably find it to be more of a 6 or 7. What can I say, I’m a sucker for films about writers.

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 5

If you’re going to write you have to dig deep, sonny Jim.

Next week is the final instalment. See you then!

Jul
18
2013

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 4

by V. L. Craven

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 4

If you’re just joining us in the reviews of the Masters of Horror series, you may catch up by reading series one: part one , part two , part three .

And now we begin Series Two…

The Damned Thing (Tobe Hooper): One evening, a young boy witnesses his normally mind-mannered father shoot and kill his mother and then come after him. His father his then disemboweled in a rather spectacular fashion in front of him by some unknown force. Many years later, that little boy is the sheriff of his town and the locals are once again beginning to exhibit erratic, homicidal behaviour. He begins trying to save the town and his family from the supernatural evil, but it starts to take him over. High marks on the gore. Probably the only time you’ll see someone commit suicide with a hammer. Based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce . It was fine for supernatural, unexplained evil, nothing new to see. 7/10.

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 4

Go back to the South Pole! Wait, wrong movie…

Family (John Landis): George Wendt is your average, suburban psychopath, living the dream, dissolving the skin off corpses and sitting them in your living room for company, as you do. Then a young couple moves in. The husband is an ER physician, the wife an investigative journalist. After a few drinks one evening, they knock over Wendt’s postbox and, the next day, when they go to apologise, they sit down to coffee and the wife begins making overt sexual advances (or so he thinks). The couple has Wendt over for dinner one night, when he learns they had a child who died from cancer–he suspects there’s more going on with them than meets the eye, though. He’s right. Typical Landis, it’s freakin’ hilarious–even more so than his offering in the first series, Deer Woman. Loved this one so very much. 10/10.

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 4

We’ve been on the Atkins diet for six months!

The V Word (Ernest Dickerson): Two teenager boys decide to break into a mortuary to see a dead body. They get their wish times about a hundred. A third of this is the two boys wandering around the funeral home in the dark, whispering to each other. Once things begin to get interesting the music turns into a sort of eighties synth deal, which I’m not sure was meant to be a spoof or not. One of the kids is killed by a vampire and the other one can’t get anyone to take him seriously (a common problem in horror films). But friendship dies hard, bro. There are some fairly funny lines in this one, but it still dragged and was predictable in many ways. During the mortuary scene I kept expecting Laurence Fishburne to be waiting around a corner to tell them scary stories. 6/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 4

The call is coming from inside the house! JK, vampires don’t use phones.

Sounds Like (Brad Anderson): A supervisor in a call centre develops superhuman hearing after the death of his young son. Every tiny sound is magnified to the nth degree, which he finds to be increasingly stressful. His performance at work suffers and he is reprimanded, then he’s gesture of friendship towards a subordinate is rebuffed. One thing after another is piled upon him.  Bombarded by noise, he tries to find one place he can be free from the cacophony of life. Not an enormous amount of gore in this one, but the end was predictable. Based on a short story by Mike O’Driscoll. 6/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 4

Pipe down, this my jam, yo.

Jul
11
2013

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 3

by V. L. Craven

This is part three of a six part series of reviews of the Masters of Horror films. Here are parts  one & two .

The Fair Haired Child (William Malone): A teenager–outcast amongst her peers, neglected by her mother–is abducted on her way home. She wakes up in another state, in a hospital, where the nurse (Lori Petty) asks her if she’s been baptized and is a virgin. The girl sees the address on a magazine–she’s actually at a music school–and tries to escape when she’s thrown into a basement, where she finds a boy being hung by the neck. She helps him down before he dies and they try to find a way out of the basement. Meanwhile, the adults upstairs are preparing a ritual, which is successful, I suppose because something horrible is born in that basement. There are odd, Bergman-esque moments in flashbacks, that are humorous, rather than frightening. I don’t know if that was the intention, but I found it to be distracting. Loved the ending, though. 7/10.

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 3

Who’s a good Hell…thing? YOU are! Yes, you are!

Sick Girl (Lucky McKee): An entomologist who’s a bit awkward with the ladies, and has a disturbing number of pets (bugs), finally gets up the nerve to talk to the brunette who sketches in the lobby every day. That evening, she also receives a parcel from Brazil of an insect she’s never seen before and cannot identify. The awkward entomologist, played by Angela Bettis, is like a younger Lilith Sternin, which is all to the good. Part of the story is from the point of view of the the bug, which is amusing. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments. One of the least gory of the entire series, but not for insectophobes. 7/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 3

One big creepy family

Pick Me Up (Larry Cohen): A bus breaks down between two areas of nowhere in Washington State. One person (Fairuza Balk) chooses to walk in the direction they were headed towards a hotel, three others choose to take a ride with a trucker who comes along and offers to take them back to the previous town. That leaves a young couple with the bus driver when a young man strides up out of who-knows-where and makes the situation a bit more interesting. We then follow the course of the three stories–Balk, the trucker, and the wandering guy, which eventually converge and go to hell. One of the better written and acted of the series. 9/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 3

Fairuza Balk instantly ups the yikes factor in any film

Haeckel’s Tale (John McNaughton): A prosperous young man approaches a necromancer to have his young, recently deceased wife returned to him. She says she will if he will first listen to  Haeckel’s Tale. Haeckel was a heretic young doctor who, inspired by Dr Frankenstein, becomes determined to reanimate the dead. His resurrection man tells him of a necromancer. Sceptical, Haeckel goes to see the man anyway. The young doctor’s father is taken quite ill and on his way to visit him, he is taken in from the weather by a man. Haeckel is immediately attracted to the man’s wife, Elise, and the attraction is returned. As Haeckel is lying down he sees the woman feeding a child and then the necromancer comes to take Elise away. Haeckel follows… and finds far more than he ever bargained for. Based on a short story by Clive Barker, the titular character is a fictionalised version of a real person .  It put me in mind of the Johannes Cabal series of books. The Barker story is probably great, but the film is unintentionally goofy. 5/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 3

‘Did Victor have these sorts of problems?’

Imprint (Takashi Miike): I don’t know what this one was about because I got about ten minutes in and realised it was more of what Miike is famous for and wanted to be able to sleep. So caveat emptor and all that. Wikipedia has this to say about it:

Episode 13, “Imprint”, originally scheduled to premiere on January 27, 2006, was shelved by Showtime due to concerns over its content. Mick Garris, creator and executive producer of the series, characterized the episode as “the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen”.

Clearly, I made the correct decision.

The next film review will be the the first few films of the second series of Masters of Horror. See you then!

Jul
04
2013

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 2

by V. L. Craven

Continuing from from  last week’s  post on the Masters of Horror series…

Chocolate (Mick Garris): A recently divorced man who creates artificial flavours for a living begins tasting chocolate–a really nice, artisan chocolate he’s never actually tasted. Then he begins having other episodes where he seems to be existing in two different places at once. The experiences become stronger and he becomes obsessed with the woman–he becomes determined to meet her. Directed by the MoH creator, Mick Garris, who also wrote the script. A fun bit of trivia happened when the main character picked up a book before bed, Stephen King’s Desperation, which Garris directed in 2006. One of the best written of the series. 10/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 2

Homecoming (Joe Dante): Heavy-handed satire where the bodies of soldiers who’ve fallen in an unjust war are returned to the States and express their displeasure at their plight. I kept expecting some sort of twist but … nope. It fell flat in comparison to the others in the series. 5/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 2

We would like to have a word with the person who sent us to war… or who wrote this script… whoever.

Deer Woman (John Landis): A washed-up detective assigned to animal attacks gets called out to investigate…something. At first, they think it’s an animal, but it turns out to be a human that’s been severely mutilated. Then another one comes in. And another… It’s based on an actual legend  and written by John Landis. This one had several laugh-out-loud moments, it was the funniest of the series. Landis seems to have a thing for films about human/animal hybrids. He did American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. 9/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 2

I’d say she looks like a deer in headlights but she’d probably kick my ass. bu-dum-tish

John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns (I couldn’t work out who directed this one, sorry) : A collector of rare films hires a young man known for being able to locate difficult-to-find films to find an infamous film that was supposed to have been completely destroyed. His search takes him to the house of a reviewer–someone who saw the one and only screening of the film, where there was a massacre, seemingly spurred by the film. Merely searching for the thing adversely affects his life–seeing flashes of his dead wife, for example–so, upon finding it, he decides not to screen it himself and just gives it to the collector. This was another really good one, one of the few that are of the calibre of a full-length film. 9/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 2

I have the sudden, overwhelming urge to watch Millennium. That was a good show.

Next Thursday will be the final set of episodes of the first series of MoH. See you then!

Jun
27
2013

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 1

by V. L. Craven

Masters of Horror is an anthology series of films by some of the best horror film-makers working today. Each short-film was around an hour long and most were based on a short story. The series was helmed by Mick Garris and ran for two seasons on Showtime. What would have been the third season became Fear Itself, which aired on NBC.

Though each episode of MoH had different writers most still suffered from the occasional stilted dialogue. And even though the episodes were directed by the best horror filmmakers, it’s better to think of these as extended television episodes than films. None are up to the calibre you’d expect from a full-length film, but they’re still better than some horror movies shown in cinemas for ludicrous ticket prices. As with any collection, there were hits and misses.

Over the next several weeks I’ll review a few episodes of the series each Thursday. If you agree or disagree with my review, let me know in the comments.

Series One

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (Don Coscarelli): Fetching young woman gets stranded in the dark on a mountain road. Mutant serial killer wants to ‘make friends’. Survivor Girl has a leg up, as she’s been married to a survivalist, who’s been training her in the ways of crazy, I mean, how to fight for survival in desperate circumstances. And being stalked in the dark by a freak who wants to make you into a Blair Witch scarecrow that uses the moonlight as eye-beams (it’s quite disturbing) is about as desperate a situation as you could ask for. Most of the gore/torture is out of shot. A nice introduction to the anthology. Based on a short story by Joe R Lansdale. 8/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 1

‘It takes a little time to acclimate to the tilted floors, let me help.’

H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch-House (Stuart Gordon): A graduate student of string theory rents a room in a run-down boarding house and the weirdness begins nearly immediately. With the scratching in the walls, rats with human faces and the portals to parallel dimensions right in his room. There’s the obligatory old man, warning the grad student, who doesn’t heed said warning. There are also bad dreams and the titular witch, as you’d expect, the good old Necronomicon makes an appearance and a rollicking time is had by all. 8/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 1

Perhaps if he’d attended a different university…

Dance of the Dead (Tobe Hooper): Post WWIII, where terrorist attacks and rapes happen by the score, clean blood is a commodity and the common denominator for entertainment has dropped even lower than Jersey Shore, a teenage girl disobeys her mother to go into the nearest city. The hottest in entertainment is something called L.U.P.s, which, for legal reasons, have to be prefaced as ‘scientific’ performances. When legal/ethical issues must be addressed in a post-apocalyptic hell-land you know you’re in for a good time. Based on a story by Richard Matheson. Bonus points for having Robert Englund as the MC of the Doom Room, which looks like it’s based on the NIN ‘Wish’ video. And, apparently, it was scored by Billy Corgan. This was one of my favourites of the entire MoH series. 9/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 1

Your eyes are getting heavy…you are getting sleepy…

Jenifer (Dario Argento): A detective happens upon a man about to butcher a young woman and, upon shooting the would-be assailant, discovers the woman has a severe facial deformity. Apparently mute, she’s taken to an insane asylum. The detective can’t stand the way she’s being treated there, and takes her home with him. Things don’t go very well, so he employs the help of someone accustomed to dealing with the specially gifted… the situation devolves from there. The screenplay was written by Stephen Weber, based on a short comic book story by Bruce Jones and Berni Wrightson. The goriest one thus far. mmmm entrails. 8/10

Masters of Horror Reviews Part 1

This was the *least* horrifying photo I could find

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