Upcoming Stuff

No review or feature today for the first time in 8 weeks, but working on some more ambitious material. Gonna roll out a new feature tomorrow that required a program to be written for it, have a deeper modern horror history article coming soon, and some web stuff and graphic design to work on. With no promo budget, there’s been 500 visitors to Terror Spective since the launch, so thanks for checking out this horror freak’s passion project. Plenty more ghoulish, gruesome, and macabre offerings on the way.

The Lodgers

STREAMING BANNER 2
NETFLIX
Released Feb. 23, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 32min
Directed by Brian O’Malley
Starring Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner, Eugene Simon, David Bradley


what_it_is_review_header
Twins Rachel (Vega) and Edward (Milner) lead cursed lives – bound in solitude to their ancestral estate by a supernatural force that governs their lives and demands they produce children once they reach adulthood. As their 18th birthday arrives, Rachel is having none of it and begins desperately seeking a way out, but conversely, Edward may be warming up to the idea.


what_it_does_review_header
Primarily, The Lodgers is a gothic ghost story, and it really sells that type of atmosphere. In fact, it strongly invokes many of the themes and elements of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, albeit with a considerably different story structure. It could also be considered something of a fusion between Pride and Prejudice, Flowers in the Attic, and The Turn of the Screw (a book which was likewise a large influence on what is probably the best-known gothic horror film of the last quarter-century, The Others).


how_it_does_review_header
The Lodgers gets off to a strong start. Some bizarre and mysterious sights and character reactions are presented in a way that stokes some legitimate curiosity. The creepy melody sung over the opening credits lays out the rules by which the house-bound twins must live – a nursery rhyme passed to them by their parent/aunt-uncles (gross). The squirm-inducing plot is well introduced, the gothic atmosphere is adeptly established, and Charlotte Vega, as primary protagonist Rachel, demonstrates that she can capably carry scenes like a solid lead actress. Things are looking good.

I wouldn’t have led off like that if it had made good on the promise of its first act. Before long, The Lodgers has a whole lot going on for a ninety-minute movie, and it becomes obvious that all these disparate elements will likely not be united in a satisfactory way. And they’re not. It’s fine when a love interest is introduced for Rachel (at least one she didn’t share a womb with for nine months – gross) because that’s the catalyst the story needs to really get going. However, that love interest Sean has his own tragic backstory that gets considerable attention from the narrative. Additionally, he gets wrapped up in a subplot involving political violence, the Irish War of Independence, and the town’s resident bully – all of which gets its own screen time and none of which contributes anything to the plot. It’s a baffling choice on the part of the filmmakers. Meanwhile, Edward just sulks away in the decaying estate – an opportunity lost to build him into a compelling and more complicated antagonist. He just is, and his sudden descent into madness is delivered in the kind of shorthand that should have been reserved for Sean’s nowhere story threads.

There’s even more material stuffed into The Lodgers than that. So much so, that the paranormal villains of the story get short shrift too. It’s made clear that they are grey, soggy, naked, and mad, but not much else is divulged. As the most extraordinary elements of the plot, their neglect is even less understandable than that of Edward – and the price for all the inattention to both of Rachel’s key adversaries is truly paid in the film’s climactic moments, which simply doesn’t hit with the necessary impact. It just lands with a wet thud – an ‘oh……ok then’ type of ending. All this, and there was an entire separate subplot involving David Bradley – Filch from the Harry Potter series – that didn’t even get addressed here, but likewise consumed valuable time for questionable payoff.

If anything benefits from this overly busy narrative, it’s the pacing, because this movie flew, which given its gothic pedigree, is a rare feat for a subgenre best known for slowburn horror. However, it doesn’t speed along with the focus of an Olympic sprinter – it’s more like that of a hyperactive child loaded up on Halloween candy. Another 30-45 minutes to bind all these elements together more tightly while also trimming some fat from the plot and tweaking that lackluster ending, and we could be looking at one of the year’s best. Instead, we’re just looking at one of the year’s movies.

The Lodgers gets a rating of
ITS ALRIGHT ICON

NEW REVIEW RUBRIC

FACEBOOK ICONTWITTER ICON


Cold Skin

STREAMING BANNER 2
HOOPLA
Released Sep. 7, 2018
Unrated (equal to R rating for creature violence, thematic elements, nudity, and aberrant sexual content) – 1hr 48min
Directed by Xavier Gens
Starring Ray Stevenson, David Oakes, Aura Garrido


what_it_is_review_header
A man (Oakes) with a mysterious past takes a job as a weather observer on a desolate island near the Antarctic Circle. Upon arrival, he meets the island’s only other resident, the eccentric misanthrope Gruner (Stevenson), and is informed rather unconvincingly that his predecessor died of typhus during his year-long mission. Come nightfall, however, he learns there are much greater things to fear than Gruner lurking about.


what_it_does_review_header
To an extent, it’s like an adaptation of I Am Legend, if H.P. Lovecraft had written it instead of Richard Matheson. However, the themes explored throughout Cold Skin are more related to Matheson’s work than they are to the cosmic terror of Lovecraft’s stories. Regardless, the film approaches its subject matter as both a visual epic and as a contemplative narrative.


how_it_does_review_header
Starting out, Cold Skin presents its story as a man’s struggle for survival against things he doesn’t understand in a place he probably shouldn’t be. That, along with the early 1900’s time period, the isolated setting, the verbose philosophizing intellectual who serves as both the protagonist & narrator, and, perhaps most obviously, the vicious humanoid sea dwellers who persistently raid the island are all staples that would suggest the film to be a quintessential Lovecraftian tale. Without turning this into a bio of the immensely complicated and infamously xenophobic author, his works explored almost exclusively fear of the unknown & unknowable and the possibility of humanity’s lack of value in the greater scheme of things. Despite the setup, that’s not where this movie decides to go.

Within the first half hour, Cold Skin shifts its focus largely to the precarious coexistence between the nameless protagonist and the brutish roughshod Gruner, who lords over the derelict isle’s lighthouse. To complicate matters, Gruner is obsessed with exterminating the aquatic humanoids, all the while keeping a female sea person captive as an abused pet and sex slave. While Ray Stevenson gives the lout a very compelling portrayal, he’s hellishly unlikable and the nameless dude – who I’m tempted to just name Bob for the sake of simplicity – generally regards Gruner with the mildest of irritation. Considering we know so little about him, it’s difficult to really understand or reconcile any of his – Bob’s – motivations, reactions, or contemplations on anything, as they all become quite contradictory when examined as a whole. Maybe that’s the point – the film is based on a novel by Albert Sánchez Piñol that I have never read, so I’m somewhat unsure on the matter, and that raises an interesting issue with the movie.

Apparently, this is an extremely faithful adaptation of that book, which is a rare thing in the film world. While book lovers often convey their disappointment in adaptations of their favorite novels, that’s generally because the nature of the storytelling itself needs to be radically transformed to compliment the attributes of another medium. Literature is exclusively for the imagination while film is predominantly an audiovisual experience, and without going into a lecture on psychology, the way we process the two types of information are dramatically different. Of course, the essence of the same story can be told in both formats, but what is successful for the one does not translate directly to the other – changes need be made. That is a very specific diagnosis as to why the pacing, tone, and overall narrative presentation of Cold Skin comes across as awkward and off-putting. The pursuit of faithful adaptation is a noble one, but in my opinion, is also a self-inflicted injury.

Despite a story that moves in erratic jolts that drag down the pace, Cold Skin is a beautifully directed movie. The scope of Xavier Gens’ filmmaking talent has expanded greatly since his debut, Frontier(s). While I liked that movie more than this one, Gens has grown from a director of backwoods horror to one who is capable of an epic. This isn’t quite the great one yet, but damn it if he wasn’t close. The cinematography work of Daniel Aranyó needs to be commended here as well for likewise making the film visually spectacular. It’s an exceedingly small cast, but as alluded before, Stevenson mostly runs away with it as Gruner, but Aura Garrido deserves credit too for her wordless role as his confused and victimized captive.

There existed here all the components for a potential classic, but Cold Skin proves again that a movie starts with its script. That’s not to say that it was poorly written, but that the adaptation was perhaps ill-conceived. Aside from what I mentioned earlier, the movie also struggles with the presentation of its weighty themes. It puts them down on the table for consideration, but then hasn’t much of anything interesting to say about them other than that they exist. That would generally be easier to overlook, if those themes were not the reason the film itself seems to exist.

Cold Skin gets a rating of
ITS ALRIGHT ICON

NEW REVIEW RUBRIC

FACEBOOK ICONTWITTER ICON


On the Radar – Tumbbad

ON THE RADAR LOGO

This week, we’re taking a look at Indian horror fantasy Tumbbad, a genre epic being heralded for its stunning cinematography, fine storytelling, and creepy atmosphere. Winner of Best Picture at last month’s Screamfest (Los Angeles), it also snagged some awards at the prestigious Sitges International Film Fesitval in Barcelona and was the first Indian film ever selected to open Critics Week at the Venice International Film Festival. Tumbbad takes place in the 18th Century and tells the story of an ambitious young man who discovers his family’s secret connection to an evil fallen god. In a classic fable about placing greed above common sense, he’ll discover over the course of his life that some deals aren’t meant to made. It took directors Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi, and Adesh Prasad six long years to finish production of the film, but reactions from the festival circuit – boasting both an 8.8 on iMDB and 88% on Rotten Tomatoes – suggest that the mammoth effort was worth it. Still without an American distributor, no release date is yet scheduled in the States or most anywhere outside India as it continues on its festival tour, but we would expect to see this sometime throughout 2019.


Here are some of the critics’ reactions to Tumbbad:

“Atmospheric, heavy on mythology, and scary as hell. Not a film for the squeamish or claustrophobic.”

    Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter

Tumbbad sears char-blackened folklore into a supernatural bake that sizzles and steams and hardens over with a crispy bite…an accomplishment in horror filmmaking that lights any discredit of genre quality arguments ablaze.”

    Matt Donato, Slashfilm

Tumbbad is pure classic horror through and through – its finale is ambitiously crazy, and in some ways, it reminded me of The Descent meets The Evil Dead.”

    Heather Wixson, Daily Dead

“A slow burn whose finale is wonderfully unexpected yet fitting, Tumbbad is a great film and hopefully the start of a new trend in India.”

    J Hurtado, ScreenAnarchy

You can check out the English-subtitled trailer here:



On the Radar



FACEBOOK ICONTWITTER ICON

What the Waters Left Behind

STREAMING BANNER 2
Amazon-Instant-Video
Released Oct. 26, 2018
Language: Spanish (Argentina)
Unrated (equal to hard R rating for graphic and sadistic violence including rape and torture, sexual content, and language) – 1hr 38min
Directed by Luciano & Nicolás Onetti
Starring Agustín Pardella, Victoria Maurette, Victorio D’Alessandro


what_it_is_review_header
A documentary film crew sets off for the flood-ravaged ruins of a ghost town. Once there, they become the targets of a depraved and bloodthirsty family of cannibals.


what_it_does_review_header
It’s everything you thought of when you read that description – nothing more and nothing less. It’s the Argentina Chainsaw Massacre Inferno of 1000 Corpses that Have Eyes.


how_it_does_review_header
There’s a fine line between paying homage and being a copycat. Among notable filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino is probably the most adept at walking that tightrope. In the horror world, Rob Zombie is well-known for wearing his genre influences on his sleeve, and while he stumbles from time to time, he’s typically successful in making references to his favorite films and still creating something that feels fairly fresh with its own identity. What the Waters Left Behind does not do this. It goes to work with a hillbilly horror checklist and it does not roll the end credits until every single box has been marked off.

After watching the comparably superior Terrified (Aterrados), I was in the mood to see what else is going on in the Argentina scene and this appeared to fit the bill. As I try to approach a movie as blind as I can, all I knew here was that people go to a creepy flooded place, and then What the Waters Left Behind delivered to me its singular surprise, in that it wasn’t a monster movie. The opening sequence made it pretty obvious, but as soon as our hapless protagonists – the horny one, the princess type, her bf Overly Serious Guy, the sassy lesbian, Mr. Plain Vanilla, and She Who Is Most Likely to Survive – drive up to the world’s most impossibly disgusting gas station and meet the wildly eccentric and menacing individuals that live there, it became abundantly clear what kind of experience was in store. There’s the overly aggressive and territorial mechanic. We have a filthy old woman selling mystery meat pies and telling awkwardly grim stories to clearly uncomfortable people. We got the mysterious perv in the back room fapping to something incoherently bizarre on an antiquated TV. Meet our cannibals, ladies and gentlemen.

The whole movie progresses in this reliably predictable manner – its steadfast commitment to choosing the most obvious possibility at virtually every opportunity is impressive in a twisted, upside-down way. The biggest shame about the cliché-worn story is how good the film looks. First and foremost, the filmmakers employed the greatest set designer that will work for free – nature. The ruined city of Epecuén is a very real place that was devastated by a cataclysmic flood in the 1980s and it makes an extremely effective setting for a horror film. Its beautifully haunting devastation makes for an unsettling backdrop to the movie’s ugly events (and I’m sure, in Argentina, the place is likely steeped in urban legend, providing greater subtext to audiences there). It’s frustrating though that What the Waters Left Behind could not make more of this unique locale.

Also, the film is rather well-directed in regards to style and technique. Many shots are artistically and compellingly framed. Color is very well implemented throughout. There’s some pretty amazing tracking shots taken utilizing the Epecuén ruins that are maybe more ambitious than necessary. The Onetti brothers may have flubbed it when they wrote the staggeringly derivative script, but What the Waters Left Behind serves as quite the impressive demo reel for what they can accomplish behind the camera.

Overall, this is such a ‘been there, done that’ movie, it elevates many other such movies to a place of greater creativity by comparison. By taking no risks, it’s devoid of suspense, but it’s still rather effective when it wants to make you squirm. However, with nothing interesting to say about anything, the sadism seems rather cheap and empty. It’s still not a bad horror movie though. Setting aside, it may not have an original bone in its proverbial bone collection to which every cannibal family devotes at least one room in their ramshackle house, but it accomplishes its objectives with style, and that’s more than can be said about a lot of flicks.

If hillbilly horror is still somehow new to you, then go up a couple notches – otherwise, What the Waters Left Behind gets a
DECENTISH ICON

NEW REVIEW RUBRIC

FACEBOOK ICONTWITTER ICON


Kuntilanak

STREAMING BANNER 2
NETFLIX
Released Oct. 12, 2018
Language: Indonesian
Unrated (equal to PG-13 for violence, imagery, and mild language) – 1hr 45min
Directed by Rizal Mantovani
Starring Sandrinna Michelle, Aurélie Moeremans, Fero Walandouw


what_it_is_review_header
Five adopted children are left in the care of their foster mother’s niece for three weeks. In the meanwhile, the niece’s boyfriend has procured a nice gift for the aunt – an ornate antique mirror. Unfortunately, the mirror is cursed with a ‘kuntilanak’, an evil spirit that feeds on the souls of children, preying especially on those without mothers.


what_it_does_review_header
The Ring meets Oculus by way of E.T., all rooted in Indonesian culture and folklore. It’s mostly jump scares, a twitchy demon with crunchy bones that flops around the floor a lot, and some tonally inconsistent kiddie hijinks.


how_it_does_review_header
Kuntilanak started well enough. The intro focuses on a young boy, Anjas, mourning the recent loss of his mother and dealing with the erratic behavior of his father, who is drowning his sorrows in booze. He’s a perfect mark for the mirror-bound ghost, and she makes quick work of him. This sequence is actually quite effective – it’s properly creepy and suspenseful while also managing to be surprisingly sad. The actor who plays Anjas, Naufal Ho, does a good job at selling his character’s grief and survivor guilt. However, the movie’s primary problem starts to grow apparent even in this early scene.

The film throws every single thing it can think of at the wall and doesn’t wait to see what sticks before it begins throwing more. It doesn’t take long for the haunted mirror to find its way into the home of the main protagonists, and once it does, the set pieces are a relentless bombardment of creepy sounds, supernatural tropes, jump scares, and shrieking violins. Kuntilanak wants to beat you over the head with a shoe while screaming, “ARE YOU SCARED YET?!?! HOW ABOUT NOW?!?!” So much is employed so quickly, it doesn’t take long before scares are being recycled. By the midway point, I was just exhausted with the whole endeavor and was dragged along apathetically through the remainder of the runtime.

The film must have been exhausted too, because it is at that halfway mark when a new plot device is introduced and our plucky child heroes are literally packing their bags and going elsewhere for about a half hour. I’m not sure I could adequately explain why they do this, other than to conveniently tie their story in with the opening sequence. The brief respite as they travel from one location to the other is welcome, because once they arrive to the other house, Kuntilanak goes right back to pummeling us with the spooky shoe again. “THOSE CANDLES LIT THEMSELVES!!! YOU SCARED NOW?!?!”

There’s some odd stylistic choices and tonal inconsistencies throughout as well, but I attribute a lot of that to my own lack of familiarity with Indonesian culture, so those elements probably held my interest better than most everything else in the film. Indonesia is a rapidly developing economy with quite the burgeoning horror scene, so there’s plenty more offerings on the way – Kuntilanak was probably not the ideal introduction though. It would’ve been impressive if it had pulled off the whole ‘The Grudge with an 80’s Speilberg vibe’ motif it had going on, but it showed so little restraint that it worked better as a parody than a horror movie.

Kuntilanak gets a rating of
BAD ICON

NEW REVIEW RUBRIC

FACEBOOK ICONTWITTER ICON


Review Roundup #4

That’s 9 more reviews and this was easily my favorite batch of movies so far, with 5 making strong cases for the upcoming year-end Best Of list. Our Stream Picks Friday feature got benched this week, but will return as an every-other-Saturday thing, rotating with the Review Roundup. The next two weeks will see the introduction of a Spotlight feature, an article focusing on a specific movie, genre celebrity, or year in horror. So, this marks 50 days of Terror Spective, continuing to provide daily horror content free of ads and clickbait, and the plan is to keep it that way. Now, for each Roundup, I go over my review process to help explain how I decided upon a particular score. REVIEW RUBRICI look at premise, story, characters, pacing, visuals, acting, atmosphere, effects, music, and the presence and quality of what can just be called ‘horror elements’ (scares, gore, things like that). I don’t score each category individually – just weigh them all out against what works for or against the premise and crunch it all into a letter grade. The intention is that, if the idea behind the movie is solid and that movie is also well-made, then it will get a good grade regardless of what kind of horror movie it is – keep my personal preferences to a minimum to focus on the quality alone. So, with that, here’s the reviews:


Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil – 2018 – Grade: A-

ERREMENTARIAvailable on Netflix. Set in the Basque region of Spain, a government official arrives in a sleepy village still reeling in the aftermath of a civil war. He is in search of a blacksmith who allegedly absconded years earlier with a fortune of ill-gotten gold. Meanwhile, young orphan and local misfit Usue has the head of her beloved doll ripped off by bullies and thrown over the wall of the blacksmith’s forbidding makeshift fortress. These two sets of circumstances will collide to expose the fearsome blacksmith both to the horrors that he hides from and those he keeps trapped within. Full review here.


Halloween – 2018 – Grade: B

HALLOWEEN 2018 - HORROR WATCHNow playing in theaters everywhere. Forty years after the infamous Babysitter Murders devastated the town of Haddonfield, the killer – Michael Myers – is being transferred to a lesser facility after decades of silence and docility. He escapes to continue his obsessive-compulsive killing spree, seeking out the one who got away, Laurie Strode, but she has spent her entire adult life waiting and preparing for this day. What she doesn’t count on is that her granddaughter Allyson will wind up in his path. Full review here.


Prodigy – 2018 – Grade: B

PRODIGYAvailable on Netflix. Child psychologist James Fonda is brought in as a consultant for a government project by an old associate. He is caught completely off guard by his new assignment – to counsel and evaluate a sociopathic super-genius child named Ellie who is handled as if she is a monster. How dangerous can this little girl possibly be?… Full review here.


Terrified – 2018 – Grade: B

TERRIFIEDAvailable on Shudder. Residents of a city street are plagued by intensifying supernatural phenomena that begins to claim lives in a violent fashion. In an effort to clear the name of a man falsely accused of his wife’s murder, three paranormal investigators and a police captain team up to discover the source of the malicious activity, which may be more horrible than they could have imagined. Full review here.


Unsane – 2018 – Grade: B

UNSANEAvailable on Amazon Prime Video. Sawyer Valentini is a successful and ambitious business analyst with a tough-as-nails persona on the outside, but inside, she’s plagued by constant anxiety and depression following a traumatic stalking by a relentless admirer, David. When she seeks counseling for her issues, she is conned by an unscrupulous treatment facility into consenting to ‘observation’. Locked inside with no means of escape, her nightmare only worsens when a new orderly named George is a spitting image of her psycho stalker. Full review here.


Chopping Mall – 1986 – Grade: C+

CHOPPING MALLAvailable on Amazon Prime Video, Hoopla, & TubiTV. A shopping mall installs a state-of-the-art security system, complete with three automated robots and steel shutters that seal the place tight from midnight to sunrise. On the first night of operation, an electrical storm shorts out the rooftop control unit, turning the security droids into haywire killbots. Meanwhile, four young couples have arranged an after-hours party at the furniture store. You see where this is going. Full review here.


Extraordinary Tales – 2015 – Grade: C+

EXTRAORDINARY TALESAvailable on Netflix & Hoopla. An animated anthology of some of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest stories – The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-tale Heart, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, The Pit and the Pendulum, & The Masque of the Red Death. They are thread together by a story of Poe himself in the embodiment of a raven debating the nature of his life and work with none other than Death, taking the form of a graveyard statue. Full review here.


Ghost Stories – 2018 – Grade: C-

GHOST STORIESAvailable on Hulu. Professor Philip Goodman has made a career of debunking claims of the supernatural and even hosts a TV show on the subject. He’s contacted by another academic, Dr. Charles Cameron – a fellow skeptic who happens to be his personal hero – who hasn’t much time left to live. The dying man challenges Goodman to debunk three cases that have shaken him to his core, leaving him to question his life’s work. What Goodman discovers may destroy him completely. Full review here.


Seven in Heaven – 2018 – Grade: C-

SEVEN IN HEAVENAvailable on Netflix. While at a keggar, Jude and June are picked to play the game Seven Minutes in Heaven, where a random couple go into a closet to maybe make out, maybe not. Jude and June don’t, as they’re not particularly fond of each other, but when they emerge, they find themselves in a different but similar reality – one where people are much more hostile, their friends hate them, and Jude is a wanted killer. Full review here.


FACEBOOK ICONTWITTER ICON

Terrified

STREAMING BANNER 2
SHUDDER
Released Oct. 12, 2018
Language: Spanish (Argentina)
Unrated (equal to R rating for graphic violence, imagery, and language) – 1hr 27min
Directed by Demián Rugna
Starring Ariel Chavarría, Maximiliano Ghione, Norberto Gonzalo


what_it_is_review_header
Residents of a city street are plagued by intensifying supernatural phenomena that begins to claim lives in a violent fashion. In an effort to clear the name of a man falsely accused of his wife’s murder, three paranormal investigators and a police captain team up to discover the source of the malicious activity, which may be more horrible than they could have imagined.


what_it_does_review_header
Terrified wisely avoids the found footage format that has become so popular for telling these kinds of stories in favor of a traditional presentation. However, the movie is split into two distinct halves – the first told largely in flashback during an interview and the second moving forward from there. The narrative though generally works to provide a platform for set pieces with big scares in mind.


how_it_does_review_header
Terrified exists for only the one objective – to get under your skin. To its credit, it largely succeeds. Despite the fantastic circumstances that drive the plot here, the proceedings ground themselves firmly in reality. It plays everything with a straight face and an unblinking stare. Frequently, that’s not enough in itself to really sell the material and can often backfire into unintentionally laughable seriousness, but director Demián Rugna demonstrates a great awareness of the subtle details that promote suspense and uneasiness.

Those little flourishes are played with patience and confidence throughout, so when Terrified makes its move and hits with the jolt of a scare or the horror of a gruesome reveal, it worked to earn that moment. When a grown man checks under his bed in a panic before he dares to put his feet on the floor, it has a lot of unnerving impact since all that has been established by then is how truly malevolent this mysterious presence is – we don’t know what he was expecting to see under there, but it certainly can’t be good. That’s a single example that doesn’t give too much away, but those types of set-ups provide the backbone of the film.

The story, on the other hand, could have benefited greatly from that same meticulous consideration. The movie is only interested in providing hints at the greater nature of the forces at play, but those hints neither satisfy nor are they necessarily coherent when taken as a whole. There’s definitely an interesting mythology guiding the action behind the scenes that invokes shades of Event Horizon and Prince of Darkness, which are less typical influences for a haunted house flick, but the glimpses into those inner workings mostly serve to baffle and frustrate, especially for a film that centers so much around the process of investigation. Also, the ending is something of a shrug. Don’t get me wrong though – the horror elements of Terrified are strong enough to overcome the weakish plot.

The other components of the movie hit the mark as well. The acting contributes to the sense of gravity that provides an effective contrast to all the phantasmagoria. The score, composed by Pablo Isola, is properly creepy, even if it isn’t particularly distinctive with its droning synth and haunting piano notes. The setting of a cramped urban street in Buenos Aires provides an outer layer of claustrophobia on top of the interiors of the homes themselves. Aside from a moment midway through when the plot focus shifts for the back half of the film, the pace moves along nicely.

Terrified is a great example of a pure horror experience. The story is rather thin, there’s no ambitious attempts at allegory or messages to interpret about greater themes, and it’s not concerned with portraying some visually elaborate style. It just wants to scare you. It plays somewhat like Hereditary‘s leaner, meaner Argentine cousin – it just wants to get down to business, and fortunately for the audience, business is good.

Terrified gets a rating of
REALLY GOOD ICON

NEW REVIEW RUBRIC

FACEBOOK ICONTWITTER ICON


Horror Watch – November 2018

Here’s a list of the upcoming horror releases for November, and we have a remade classic, Nazi monsters, a zombie musical, killer cowboys, a vegan fable, and something like the 12th Amityville movie. Also, with three wide releases, there will be no shortage of horror on the big screen this month.


Suspiria

Release: Nov. 2 (expansion – limited began Oct. 26)
Rated R – 2hr 32min
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Grace Moretz, Mia Goth

Official Synopsis:
Young American dancer Susie Bannion arrives in 1970s Berlin to audition for the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Co. When she vaults to the role of lead dancer, the woman she replaces breaks down and accuses the company’s female directors of witchcraft. Meanwhile, an inquisitive psychotherapist and a member of the troupe uncover dark and sinister secrets as they probe the depths of the studio’s hidden underground chambers.

Expanding from 2 screens to 250. A wider expansion is expected Nov. 9th.



Welcome to Mercy

Release: Nov. 2
Unrated – 1hr 43min
Directed by Tommy Bertelsen
Starring Lily Newmark, Eileen Davies, Kristen Ruhlin

Official Synopsis:
Stricken with stigmata, Madaline travels to a convent where nothing is what it seems — and her friend August is seemingly the only person she can trust. Together, they must confront the demons inside Madaline before she becomes the Antichrist.


Coming to limited theaters & VOD.


Possum

Release: Nov. 2
Unrated – 1hr 25min
Directed by Matthew Holness
Starring Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong

Official Synopsis:
After returning to his childhood home, a disgraced children’s puppeteer is forced to confront his wicked stepfather and the secrets that have tortured his entire life. Featured in our Oct. 23rd feature of Under the Radar.

Coming to VOD.



Monster Party

Release: Nov. 2
Unrated – 1hr 29min
Directed by Chris von Hoffman
Starring Julian McMahon, Robin Tunney, Sam Strike, Virginia Gardner

Official Synopsis:
Three thieves plan a daring heist at a mansion dinner party. When their plan goes horribly wrong, the thieves realize the dinner guests are not as innocent as they seem, and their simple cash grab becomes a violent and desperate battle to survive.

Coming to limited theaters and VOD.



Haunting on Fraternity Row

Release: Nov. 2
Unrated – 1hr 33min
Directed by Brant Sersen
Starring Jacob Artist, Jayson Blair, Molly Tarlov, Shanley Caswell

Official Synopsis:
A fraternity house throws their big “Winter Luau” party but when fraternity brothers and coeds begin dying horrible deaths, they discover an evil entity has taken over the house.

Coming to VOD.



The Amityville Murders

Release: Nov. 5
Unrated – 1hr 37min
Directed by Daniel Farrands
Starring John Robinson, Chelsea Ricketts, Paul Ben-Victor

Official Synopsis:
On the night of November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. took a high-powered rifle and murdered his entire family as they slept. At his trial, DeFeo claimed that “voices” in the house commanded him to kill. This is their story. A pseudo-remake of Amityville II: The Possession.

Coming to VOD and disc.



Death House

Release Nov. 6
Rated R – 1hr 35min
Directed by Harrison Smith
Starring Cortney Palm, Cody Longo, Kane Hodder, Sid Haig, Tony Todd, Bill Moseley, Barbara Crampton, Dee Wallace, Tiffany Shepis

Official Synopsis:
Touted as ‘The Expendables’ of horror – during an exclusive tour, a power breakdown inside a secret prison known as the Death House sends two agents fighting through a labyrinth of horrors while being pursued by a ruthless army of roaming inmates. As they fight to escape, the agents push toward the lowest depths of the facility where they learn a supernatural group of evil beings is their only chance for survival.

Coming to VOD.



Overlord

*Pick of the Month*
Release: Nov. 9
Rated R – 1hr 49min
Directed by Julius Avery
Starring John Magaro, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk, Mathilde Ollivier

Official Synopsis:
On the eve of D-Day, American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion’s success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation. They find themselves fighting against supernatural forces, part of a Nazi experiment.

Coming to theaters everywhere.



Lasso

Release: Nov. 13
Unrated – 1hr 37min
Directed by Evan Cecil
Starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Lindsey Morgan, Andrew Jacobs

Official Synopsis:
Tour guides unwittingly lead their group into a death trap when they bring the people deep into the woods for a rodeo, and relentless cowboys begin to hunt them like animals as part of an evil ritual.

Coming to VOD.



The Clovehitch Killer

Release: Nov. 16
Unrated
Directed by Duncan Skiles
Starring Dylan McDermott, Samantha Mathis, Charlie Plummer

Official Synopsis:
Tyler Burnside is a Boy Scout, a volunteer at his local church, and the dutiful son of an upstanding, community leader dad. Only one thing troubles the quiet Kentucky town he lives in: the unsolved murders—in which ten women were brutally tortured and killed by a psychopath known as Clovehitch—that rocked the community more than a decade ago.

Coming to limited theaters & VOD.



The Farm

Release: Nov. 16
Directed by Hans Stjernswärd
Starring Nora Yessayan, Alec Gaylord

Official Synopsis:
After taking a wrong turn on the highway, a young couple decide to stop at a roadside diner for food and relaxation. Their fun trip soon becomes a fight for survival when masked kidnappers imprison them on a farm where humans are the main course.

Coming to VOD.



Anna and the Apocalypse

Release: Nov. 30
Rated R – 1hr 32min
Directed by John McPhail
Starring Ella Hunt, Sarah Swire, Paul Kaye

Official Synopsis:
A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.

Coming to limited theaters. Nationwide Dec. 7.



The Possession of Hannah Grace

Release: Nov. 30
Rated R
Directed by Diederik Van Rooijen
Starring Shay Mitchell, Stana Katic, Grey Damon

Official Synopsis:
A shocking exorcism spirals out of control, claiming the life of a young woman. Months later, morgue worker Megan Reed takes delivery of a disfigured cadaver during the graveyard shift. Locked inside the basement corridors, Megan’s horrifying visions soon lead her to believe that the body is possessed by a demonic force.

Coming to theaters everywhere.



Ghost Stories

STREAMING BANNER 2
HULU
Released Apr. 20, 2018
Unrated (equal to R rating for violence, imagery, thematic elements, & language) – 1hr 38min
Directed by Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman
Starring Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther


what_it_is_review_header
Prof. Philip Goodman (Nyman) has made a career of debunking claims of the supernatural and even hosts a TV show on the subject. He’s contacted by another academic, Dr. Charles Cameron – a fellow skeptic who happens to be his personal hero – who hasn’t much time left to live. The dying man challenges Goodman to debunk three cases that have shaken him to his core, leaving him to question his life’s work. What Goodman discovers may destroy him completely.


what_it_does_review_header
Ghost Stories begins in the style of a mockumentary, but curiously abandons that premise early on, never to revisit it. It then becomes something of an anthology, as the eyewitness accounts of each of Goodman’s subsequent investigations are presented as their own chapters. It then melts into a full-blown reality bender.


how_it_does_review_header
Ghost Stories is based on a critically acclaimed stage play. I’m going to return to that point, but first, I want to discuss video games, which is a normal impulse for me when someone brings up ‘the theater’. Many of the most popular gaming franchises – Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted, Resident Evil, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, etc. – have achieved their success largely by translating the thrills and excitement of cinema into an interactive adventure. However, they tend to borrow heavily from the world of movies in regards to crafting their narratives. This becomes extremely obvious when these game properties are adapted into the static, non-interactive world of films. They’re often regarded as dull and derivative – the action fails to have the intensity enjoyed in the games and the lack of originality in the storytelling then shines through. Now, Ghost Stories, as a stage play, was heralded for being able to cleverly translate horror movie tropes into a chilling theatrical experience. So, it is my opinion that it suffered the same dynamic as the video game adaptations on its way to the screen.

The movie does have a lot going its way. The acting is top-notch, particularly that of the three characters at the center of each investigation (and especially that of Alex Lawther as a chronically nervous and irresponsible wreck of a young man). Co-writer/director Nyman does a fine job in the lead role too, but his job is mostly to react and push things forward. Likewise, the pacing isn’t the issue here either, with the film chugging along at a satisfactory clip. The award-nominated musical score, composed by Haim Frank Ilfman, is also notable (so much so that there are a couple quiet contemplative moments in Ghost Stories that are frankly overwhelmed by the audacious swelling of orchestral strings). The atmosphere is generally on point – both creepy and cryptic, begging the question of how the whole thing is going to come together in the end.

Yet, it all still manages to go wrong. The build-ups to the big scares are enjoyable, but the payoffs consistently fall flat. Many of the big horror moments in Ghost Stories seem generously borrowed from other films – Lights Out, the Evil Dead series, Mama, and The Conjuring, to name a few. Aside from a couple instances of haunting imagery, it didn’t stick a single landing on any of its attempts. The greatest fizzle is in the final reveal itself which, in its eagerness to blow minds, scuttles everything that came before it. It’s so bold that it can only be interpreted as brilliance or garbage, and I fell into the latter group. I can’t say that it came from nowhere though, because the foreshadowing throughout is so upfront that there’s just no denying that a twist ending lies in wait.

So, my presumption is that Ghost Stories worked great when performed on the stage. It would be pretty amazing to see the modern horror movie translated into something that plays out tangibly right in front of the audience. However, in adapting that experience back to the screen, those visceral thrills are lost – just like with the video games that have been turned into movies. What was fresh and exciting in one format transforms into a slog when it’s forced to expose its core elements as used hand-me-downs.

With everything it gets right, it seems wrong to be so harsh on this film, but when it goes wrong, it’s consistently at the most crucial moments. That made for an unenjoyable time. I could possibly recommend it to someone who typically enjoys big twist endings no matter what, but that’s an excessively specific group. Otherwise, it was a disappointing waste of high-quality components and great potential.

Ghost Stories gets a rating of
DECENTISH ICON

NEW REVIEW RUBRIC

FACEBOOK ICONTWITTER ICON