A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.
A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.
The Screaming Minis is an experiment in short (well, shorter) individual reviews, as way for us to talk a little more about the other movies of note we’re watching but without the involved, in-depth discussion delivered as a duo. The name comes from The Screaming Mimi, the 1949 pulp novel by Frederic Brown that inspired Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella & Justin Martinez)
Starring: Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, Jason Yachanin, John Walcutt, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella
Running time: 116 minutes
As a fan of found footage, anthologies, and Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) and Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead) I’d been looking forward to this movie. With its recent release to VOD and a few other outlets, I had to check it out.
A group of hipster thugs that spend most of their time doing crimes, being dicks, and making a buck with sharking videos are hired to steal a VHS tape. They burgle their way into the home of the man in possession of the tape, only to find him dead in front of a mass of screens and a mountain of cassettes. As they split up to search the rest of the house, one member of the group begins reviewing the tapes. In the first, some brosephs try to pick up some drunk girls and secretly record their own personal porn. They’re moderately successful, but probably wish they hadn’t been. The second tape is a travelogue of a young couple second-honeymooning in the American Southwest who picked precisely the wrong motel to stay in. In the third segment, a girl takes a group of new friends on a camping trip. Always a bad idea. Tape number four contains the webcam conversations of a man and his troubled friend who believes her house is haunted. And the final tape shows a group of guys heading out to a Halloween party. They may’ve gotten the address wrong.
I wasn’t sure whether I liked V/H/S or not after first watching it. I knew there were scenes I enjoyed and I liked the overall concept, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about its execution as a whole. It’s flawed: Some of the tapes work better than others. The third segment, “Tuesday the 17th,” isn’t quite as good as the rest, though it does have its moments. Some of the characters (especially the dudes in the framing sequence and the first tape, “Succubus”) are EXTREMELY annoying. I think “10/31/98” went a little too crazy toward the end. It features a haunted house and with hauntings, subtle is usually better. Think The Haunting (1963) versus The Haunting (1999). And the second and fourth tapes don’t provide much of explanation and can be a little disorienting.
The day after seeing it, I tried to describe the movie to, shockingly, someone who wasn’t Fisty. (I still feel guilty.) I found that there was a lot that I wanted to mention. There are plenty of freaky little details as well as big payoffs from each segment. That’s when I started to feel that there was more about the movie that affected me than I was immediately aware. Just hearing about the stories from the movie secondhand had that someone interested. She wasn’t just listening to the scenes I was describing, she was reacting.
Fulci said his film The Beyond was “[An] absolute film, with all the horrors of our world. It’s a plotless film: a house, people, and dead men coming from The Beyond. There’s no logic to it, just a succession of images.” I think V/H/S works in the same way. (Not as well as The Beyond. Don’t think I’m praising it THAT highly.) It’s a collection of nightmare clips not designed to flesh out every detail, make perfect sense, or just go from story point A to story point B, but rather to tap into our fears and freakouts. It’s a handful of video equivalencies of the urban legend about the mad man under the bed, pretending to be the family dog, licking the little girl’s hand. This is why just hearing my spoken account of the movie could affect someone. That’s the level V/H/S works on, that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark level. It does it well and that’s why I’m still thinking about the movie days after watching it. It affected me. It was freaky. It was scary. Bravo.
Also, there was A LOT of nudity … male and female!
V/H/S, while not being great, is still a good found footage anthology whose successes outnumber my nitpicks. Shockingly violent, disturbing, scary, and bizarre, it revels in its own freakiness and the disreputable nature of the genre.
In celebration of After Dark’s annual HorrorFest and their 8 Films to Die For, we’re pounding out a couple of shortie omnibus reviews of eight releases from HorrorFests past.
Fleeing an abusive stalker ex-boyfriend, Faith relocates to a dingy apartment in the big city to find herself and like, do art. While out one night at a club, she meets-cute/creepy sassy Lola, a country girl with a twang this thick and bad luck with men. Lola lives outside the city on an apparently idyllic farm, complete with horses, pond, and slaughterhouse. The latter is operated by Lola’s father and brother, largely shadowy figures who lurk, sneer, and growl at Faith when she comes visiting. After her ex tracks her down, Faith decides to move out to the farm and room with Lola, but she starts to wonder about her new pal when she notices all the dates and sexing Lola has with random men who never show up again, leaving behind valuable personal effects. Faith begins wondering whether pigs are the only things being slaughtered on the farm, but her suspicions lead her to uncover a monster.
Fisty: Slaughter sucks. It just suck, suck, sucks. It’s tedious and totally lacking in the suspense that should be increasing during the painfully looooooong build up. The first forty-fiveish minutes are supposed to develop the characters of Lola and Faith, but it’s so poorly done that I could not have cared less about them. But it just keeps on chugging along to an incredibly anti-climactic climax, never building any sense of urgency or tension. Oh, and it relies on the absolutely lowest common denominator for a cheap end “twist”: child murder. Not for any real reason except they had nothing left to give and wanted to beef it up a bit, leave viewers with something more memorable than the turgid snorefest they’d sat through. Hopewell et alia attempt to deepen their shallow little flick with Statements about Women and Abuse, Women and Friendship, Women and Sexuality, blah blah blah, but it never comes off as more than broseph posturing in WS 101. And to add insult to injury, there’s an almost total lack of gore; the serial killings are all offstage and never more than incidental, and the finale deaths are pretty ephemeral. And the music is TERRIBLE! Don’t bother.
Bill: The first few minutes of Slaughter are constantly going in and out of focus and the camera jerks and jitters around. This is meant, I suppose, to be disorienting, to make the viewer feel like the poor girl being victimized. Maybe it even did make me feel like her, if she was just really, really annoyed at being killed. This is followed by boring driving/moving in scenes with dialog that sounds like it was read from a cue card and written by a 50 year old that wanted to sound hip and a boring club scene that appeared to have been shot in a smoky basement with one strobe light. Then the torture begins! Not in the movie, on my couch, as I realize how much time is left in this flick. (“Eighty five more minutes!?!!”) There’s plenty more to be annoyed by as well. Faith decides to stage an intervention for that sex-addicted slut Lola after seeing her have sex one time with one guy. Ugh. Repression ain’t just a river in Egypt, is it Faith? The establishing shots never quite fit right with the interior shots they switch to, making many of the transitions feel disjointed. Lola’s male family members, who are supposed to be threatening, never seem particularly menacing at all. Neither does Faith’s boyfriend, who should have been a real terror to have made her move to another city to avoid him. The scenes that are meant to be tense just aren’t. You only know that they were supposed to have been tense, because the music indicates that they would have been, had they have been scenes in some other movie. I have recurring nightmares about losing my teeth, so the tooth extraction scenes should have squicked me out, but they didn’t. It was all much too boring. The “disturbing” ending just made me happy. I was elated the whole thing was finally over. There is one thing about Slaughter that is well done and effective: It uses some tricky time distortion effects to make the whole movie seem like it’s occurring in real time. I mean, it’s 96 minutes long, but you will feel like you’ve been watching for days, even weeks!
I am actually angry at Fisty for making me watch this. She knew what is was like and she still let me watch it!
Superdramatic Old Timey Time! In a mine! Child labor! Tragedy! Flash-forward to the present, where recently widowed Karen Tunny is relocating herself and her daughters Sarah and Emma to her husband’s family’s old homestead deep in Pennsylvania mining country. Despite creepy warnings from a halfwitted hick storekeeper and the complete lack of livability of the house itself, the ladies move in. While Karen pores through scrapbooks and old photos, Sarah kicks it with local teens who mention the “zombies” in the hills, and Emma amuses herself with a new playmate Mary, who just might be dead. Warned to stay in at night by the creepy locals who don’t seem to mind the numerous disappearances int he area, Karne has some gnarly dreams about killer Old Timey children, and a helpful neighbor Mr Hanks paint their door with blood. It turns out the the ghosts of the miner children who died in a collapse haunt the hills as bloodthirsty zombies (!), preying upon any whose blood they don’t share. Karen is in danger because she’s an outsider, but the girls ought to be safe. That is until the presence of William Carlton, last descendant of the rapacious mine owner who caused the collapse riles them kids up. Emma disappears, people get eaten, and it’s all Karen, Sarah, and Mr Hanks can do to try to stay alive.
Bill: Hit Girl! Chloe Moretz makes a pre Kick-Ass and Let Me In appearance here and even says asshole. Seeing as how her calling a few guys cunts in the trailer for Kick-Ass contributed to that film’s success, “Chloe Moretz cursing,” should’ve been the tagline for Wicked Little Things. Another good one would have been, “Scooby Doo without the meddling kids and their dumb dog.” This movie has almost everything an episode of Scooby would need: scary local legend; weird caretaker-type character marking doors with blood; greedy land developer; eerie abandoned mine; revenge-seeking, zombie children standing in the fog with miner’s tools, looking scary… Though, thankfully, the supernatural in WLT is very, very real. The use of all these standard spook story elements are precisely what make the flick work. It has the feel of a real local legend or maybe a good campfire tale. In the beginning of the film, Sarah says that the woods remind her of Sleepy Hollow and she is so right. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or John Carpenter’s The Fog is exactly what WLT resembles. This would be a fun one to watch around Halloween. My favorite bit of dialog: Hanks, after he’d been asked if he was responsible for the smeared blood on the door, “You don’t have to thank me.”
Fisty: Dude, I totally laughed at that, too. Though it’s cliché after cliché loaded upon cliché, WLT is a pretty neat little flick. It takes bunches of longstanding horror conventions (creepy abandoned house, family relocating after trauma, superstitious locals, etc) and strings them together into a fairly tight package–and what’s more, an enjoyable movie. There’s not a whole lot going on, the script often stumbles (the deathless dialog occasionally approaches the transcendentally inane: “Are you coming?” “Yeah. I mean, sure.”), and there are numerous holes, but it is pretty to look at in terms of scenery (both human and natural), and it keeps moving at a good clip for the most part. The flesh-eating ghosts/zombie things–whatever you would call them–are an interesting touch, not common in Western tradition, and are more than a little disturbing. Overall, a worthwhile genre flick that does what it sets out to do.
An animated opening segmizzle, a la Creepshow 2, tiz-ells the stizzle of Devon, a young gangsta who accidentally capped his sister with a stray bullet during a vehicular gun battle. When an emissary from Hiz-ell confronts him with his culpability in her death, Devon exchanges his life and service for that of his lil’ sista. Tasked with gathering souls for Tha Devil, Devon is branded with an HoH, marking him as the Hound of Hell. Switching to live action, the new Hound (played, of course, by the S to the N, double O to the P to the D, O, double G) narrates three ‘hood tales of greed, gore, murder, madness and supernatural mayhem: Crossed Out, featuring Danny Trejo and Billy Dee Williams, in which a young graffiti artist is granted the power to smoke some taggin’ ass fools by simply crossing out their tags; The Scumlord, with Ernie Hudson, Sydney Tamiia Poitier and Brande Roderick, which is a Three Stooges-like story about a privileged, racist, Texan busta who must live with his father’s old ‘Nam unit, all black men, for one year before he can come into his inheritance; And Rhapsody Askew, featuring Method Man, Diamond Dallas Page and Jason Alexander, about a young rapper, SOD, who blows up after meeting a fellow MC named Quan and lets the bitches and bank go to his head.
Bill: I love hood horror, so, naturally, I was excited to watch Snoop’s Hood of Horror and, now, I’m even happier to say that I loved it. The stories are predictable hood fables and there’s no real horror in the movie, at least not any effective horror. If this flick scares you, you really are a mark-ass busta. The production values seem to vary between segments, the script is silly, the whole thing suffers from a shot-on-video feel, and some of the acting is amateurish, if you’re describing it kindly. None of that matters, however, because the movie is still damn fun. If any of the following scenes appeal to you, you will like Hood of Horror: Snoop exploding an annoying chihuahua; a person having caviar forcibly pumped into them until their abdomen explodes; a pint-sized demon vomiting into a punch bowl; a human aerosol can; a gangsta slipping in the beer he just poured for his dead homey, faceplanting his own forty; or Winston Zeddemore pretending to be the lovechild of John Rambo and Jigsaw. Hudson is kind of slumming it with a flick like this, but it’s great fun to watch him. This movie is worth watching just for the awesome cast. None of them give the best or even coolest performances of their lives and they mostly have small parts, but it’s still wonderful to see them all together in one flick. Truly a boon for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon fans. Snoop has once again proven he deserves his spot as one of my personal heroes by giving me a movie where he delivers the line, “Pretty as a picture. In fact, bitch is a picture.” Fer shizzle.
Fisty: I was kinda disappointed by HoH. It capped the ass of our Hoodrat Horror mini-fest when I was sick last week, and I liked it the least out of the three movies we watched (other entries being Leprechaun in the Hood and Tales from the Hood)–but just barely. I love me a good anthology movie, and I love me some Snoop (because I am the whitest of white girls), but it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. The gore was good, very cartoony and gruesomely fun, but it could have gone further. The humor was the same way, though I thought Snoop nicely channeled The Cryptkeeper. And there were NO TITTIES. There was like a half a side boob that we stared at, trying desperately to discern a nipple, but that was it. How is that even possible in a film with Snoop’s name on it? HoH really needed to be OTT–yeah, you know me. BUT! It had some very strong direction, and surprisingly high production values–and though the stories were somewhat mundane revenge plots, they also weren’t preachy, which was something TftH fell into at the end. Out of all Snoop’s forays into horror, Bones is still best, The Wash is still the most horrific, and Hood of Horrors is just fine.
Late twenty-something couples Mel & Joe and Helen & Chris set up their friend Laura on a blind date with Nick for a weekend boating trip in the Norfolk Broads. Though the expedition gets off to a rocky start when their reserved boat is unavailable, Joe and Chris persuade the crotchety boatman to rent them a different vessel, the Corsair Star. When they arrive at the all but abandoned boatyard that houses the Corsair Star, they find some hooligan/hoodlums hanging about all over the boat. Silent, but for a barking dog, they stare dully yet menacingly at the prospective boaters. Only after Laura chides a lovely redhead for running out in front of her car do they respond, following the redhead’s signal to leave the boat, still as silent as ever. Shrugging off that bit of weirdness, the group set sail, enjoying an afternoon of golden sunshine, wine, and silly antics. As the day progresses, however, they discover their map is woefully out of date, forcing them into uncharted territory. Spying another boat, they head into the reeds after it, but darkness falls and there is still no one else in sight. When a terrible accident grievously injures one member of the party and strands their vessel in the water, they are left vulnerable to the terrors lurking in the reeds.
Fisty: At risk of spoilering The Reeds (and getting a vicious beatdown from Bill), I want to defend The Reeds from detractors who claim it’s a rehash of Triangle. Now, I wasn’t Triangle‘s biggest fan–it was okay, but superobvious–but I don’t see the two as being particularly similar. There are two entirely different sets of circumstances going on in the two movies, and while Triangle approaches the concept from a very psychologically driven, post-modern angle (ha), The Reeds takes an approach that fits in much better with traditional folklore. And the twist ending isn’t all that twisty; too many people misinterpret it, which also leads to the erroneous comparison. Plus, it makes sense and is a conclusion viewers can easily draw from watching the movie. Is that too much? Other than that, The Reeds starts out very pretty and sunshiney, without too much of a sense of impending doom, which I think sometimes movies harp on a bit. The characters are pretty well developed rather than hateable interchangeable ciphers; even the token unpleasant chap isn’t that bad. It’s quietly compelling, and though it does falter here and there, has enough occasional eeriness and energy to keep a viewer’s attention.
Bill: Ponderous, man, really ponderous. The Reeds keeps you engaged. It’s not clear early on what is happening and things are muddied further as the movie progresses and yet more mysterious elements are added to the story. There’s something or some things stalking through the reeds, caged corpses sunken into the water, possible ghosts, untrustworthy locals and even stranger things still. there were a few times that I leaned forward and stroked my beard in thought, trying to figure out how it all fit together. It does, too. All fit together, I mean. It doesn’t spoon-feed you explanations of how what happens is happening (or happened) but you do see why and when and how each event circles back to affect others. I do think the end is more open to interpretation than Fisty likes to present it. Unlike a lot of whiny bitches on the internet, however, I think this is a good thing. I want to watch the movie again just to see what clues I can spot about the meaning of the ending now that I know what’s going on. That’s not a bad thing, to watch a movie and still have enough interest in it and curiosity about it to want to watch again. Performances and atmosphere, as well as some gore gags, that transcend the film’s low budget, will keep things exciting as you take on the clue-sniffing second viewing.
That pretty much wraps it up for our reviews of Horrorfest movies past, but we’ll be sure to cover a few more next year. Check out this year’s offerings on DVD March 23rd.