Tag Archives: Horror


19 Mar

If you’re up on your festival buzz, you’ve likely heard about the swarm of ambulances called into the Toronto International Film Festival to extract viewers of the film “Raw” because they had passed out from the gore. A weave about a vegan who develops a taste for human flesh while away at college might do that to you, but what makes the film so visceral and utterly disturbing isn’t so much the blood-and-guts aspect but the cold realization that there’s nothing supernatural going on here (vampires, zombies and lycans, oh my) – just your average waif with an eating disorder that consumes her. And others.

The screening I attended passed out barf bags, which was clearly more of a joke/marketing gimmick than a splatter control concern. That was too bad; the film stands on its own, without such hype. Written and directed by first-timer Julia Ducournau, the arty lo-fi production brims with the creepy, slight alter-reality ambience of a Ben Wheatley film (“High Rise” and “Kill List”).

We catch up with Justine (Garance Marillier) as she’s being dropped off at veterinary college by her parents. She’s a demure ingenue who doesn’t eat meat (the whole family is vegetarian), so you can only imagine her surprise when dining at the cafeteria she bites into a chunk of sausage nestled inside her mashed potatoes. It’s a bad beginning, but the least of her problems. Before she can even settle in and meet her roommate, Adrien (a lean Rabah Nait Oufella), a hazing party blasts open the door and throws their belongings – mattresses and all – out the window. Subsequently all “rookies” are rounded up and forced to crawl up the stairs of the dorm and to a rave of sorts. For a week, we learn, the newbies are under the thumb of the older students and ritualistically doused with animal blood and forced to eat such dissection orts as rabbit livers. Continue reading

24 Feb

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a devilish little bit of social commentary that takes the essence of “Guess Who’s Coming to Diner” and forces it, with vehemence but also panache, into a “Wicker Man”/“Stepford Wives” construct. The result is something clearly borrowed, incredibly fresh and nearly perfect in light of the current political climate. What’s also remarkable is that the horror flick-cum-black comedy marks Peele’s directorial debut, and a surprising one at that – not only because is it so sharp and confident, but also because Mr. Peele is better known as half of the comedy team of Key and Peele on Comedy Central.

The setup’s simple enough. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an aspiring photog, agrees reluctantly to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams of “Girls”), whom he’s been dating for five months – just long enough to have to take these things seriously.

“Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks, a question that the lily-white Rose shrugs off, telling him that her dad would have voted for a Obama for a third time if he had the chance. It’s a pointed little barb, but since “Get Out” started filming long before it played at Sundance in January, I’m not certain Peele understood the whole political backdrop he’d be facing. Given the results of the election, the daggers the film throws couldn’t be any more on point. Continue reading


21 Sep
Don't tell us that dancing the funky chicken at wedding receptions is any less unnerving than demonic possession

Courtesy of Telewizja Polska, The Orchard

Don’t tell us that dancing the funky chicken at wedding receptions is any less unnerving than demonic possession

Marcin Wrona’s soft-horror thinker Demon unfurls a competent and moody bit of filmmaking, which much like Robert Eggers’s Puritan period piece The Witch, becomes just as much about the dynamics of the society it’s set against as it is about a supernatural incursion. In this case a Polish man, about to be wed, gets possessed by a dybbuk (a demon of Jewish lore). The real eerie air swirling about, however, comes in the sad side note that Wrona, having had this, his third film, play the Toronto International Film Festival last year, committed suicide on the eve the film was to be shown at the Gdynia Film Festival, Poland’s annual film fest. There remains as much mystery in his tragic parting as there is in his protagonist’s slow consumption by the soul of another.

Much of the action takes place against bawdy wedding proceedings. There’s plenty of drinking and merriment, even as the spiritual affliction begins to break down the couple at the center of the celebration. Adapted from Piotr Rowicki’s 2008 playAdhere ce, the film begins on a somber, hopeful chord as Piotr (Itay Tiran), who like Jeremy Iron’s work-seeking Pol in Jerzy Skolimowski’s Moonlighting (1982), labors for a living wage in London, returns to Poland to marry the lovely Zaneta (a radiant Agnieszka Zulewska). The pairing is something of an arranged marriage. After the two are wed, they will be gifted Zaneta’s grandparents’ old farmhouse in the country, which is also the site of the wedding. Continue reading

The Witch

19 Feb

There’s plenty that beguiles in Robert Eggers’ moody film “The Witch,” the Sundance Film Festival hit that opens widely in theaters on Friday, February 19. Masterful in composition and imbued with a deep sense of intimacy, dread and gritty authenticity, it takes place in the 1600’s — sometime between the arrival of the Mayflower and the onset of the Salem witch trials — in a New England highland that is bucolic but harsh. There, a family of settlers are banished from the main plantation for vague religious reasons and then struggle to make a go of it. Their cupboards are bare and the fields are barren. Clearly the dream of a better way of life in the New World has listed for these folk.

It doesn’t help that William (Ralph Ineson), the able family head who works nonstop in a futile attempt to provide, is saddled with a wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), who’s on the verge of dead weight. She frets incessantly and retains an unproductive desire for all things England. Their oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a blonde ingénue on the cusp of womanhood, helps out by tending to the twins (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) and the infant Samuel while her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) accompanies William in his daily work on the farm. A hunting sojourn underscores the frailty of their existence, as William’s musket misfires when trained on a lone hare. That ominous rabbit and many other things from the woods come back to haunt the exiled clan.

The Visit

13 Sep

After “The Last Airbender” (2010) and “After Earth” (2013), films that did not see the north side of a 5 user rating on IMDB (out of 10), one might have thought M. Night Shyamalan done. A near one-hit-wonder with the clever ghost story “The Sixth Sense,” Shyamalan enjoyed limited successes with followups “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Signs” (2002), but for the man known for enigmatic eeriness and devilish plot twists, things took a drastic veer into the inept with the misguided “The Happening” (2008), in which photosynthesizing trees conspired to rid earth of man.

091215i The Visit“The Visit,” Shyamalan’s latest, is a minor rebound of sorts. It’s laughably silly at times, but in a campy, good way – though I’m not convinced Shyamalan’s always in on the gag. One such curio is the old-timer named Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) who shits his adult diapers and stores his accidents in the shed out back of a farm house in rural PA. Pop Pop and his Nana (a lithe grand-matronly Deanna Dunagan), while estranged from their daughter (Kathryn Hahn) who left home at 19 for an older man and winds up dumped and a single mother, get their first visit from the grandchildren in 15 years. Mom’s happy about this arrangement too, which lets her jet off on a cruise with a boyfriend who likes to enter hairy-chest contests.

The kids, 15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge), who’s toting a videocamera to chronicle the epic family meet-up (think “Cloverfield” or “The Blair Witch Project”), and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), figure something’s amiss the first night in when they find Nana cruising the halls projectile vomiting. They’re told Nana sundowns and that it’s best to stay in their room after 9:30 p.m. Nana’s an odd one – she can bake up delicious goodies, but when roving the house at night or playing hide-and-seek with the kids under the house, she moves like something from “The Ring” or “Insidious” films, disjointed and pale with the hair draped across her face and all the vigor and speed of an attacking croc. Then there’s her naughty nakedness. Sometimes it’s just a left cheek sneak, other times a full-frontal freakishness.

The one thing that’s for sure is the kids are in peril, and grandma and grandpa are definitely not the two kind souls who caretake down at the rehabilitation center. The beauty of “The Visit” isn’t so much the concept, but the execution. Shyamalan seems like he’s back from a long vacation and in perfectionist mode. The ambiance is spot-on eerie and tense, and a huge up-sell of the flimsy undercarriage. The cinematography by Maryse Alberti (she’s filmed many respectables, including “The Wrestler,” “Crumb” and “Happiness”) is artily shot and lushly dark, elevating and sustaining Shyamalan’s staging. But the real key to “The Visit,” holding us rapt throughout, are the four principals. Becca’s the most off-the-shelf, but DeJonge manages to make her deeper than her labels. Oxenbould gets the juicer role as the less serious one, cocky and an aspiring rapper who decides to drop the word “ho” and four-letter words from his vocab and replace them with random female pop stars (ie “Katy Perry, that hurts!”). As Pop Pop, McRobbie is adequately grizzled and intimidating enough, but the real glue to “The Visit” is Dunagan, mostly a stage actress, who imbues Nana with soulfulness and genuinely creepy malevolence even when serving up a cookie or playing Yahtzee!. “The Visit” probably won’t register as a comeback hit, but it should bode well for what’s next for all the players on both sides of the lens.


30 Apr

‘Roar’: Real lions turn out real dangerous for people making grand fiasco film

It took more than a decade and $17 million and countless near fatal incidents with cast, crew and big cats to get ‘Roar’ to screen.

Back in 1969, the seeds for a very dangerous obsession took hold when producer Noel Marshall and his wife, Hitchcock movie muse du jour Tippi Hedren, visited Africa and became deeply concerned about the big cat hunting trend. They wanted to do something about it, and that something was an animal sanctuary outside Los Angeles that would become the Shambala Preserve, which still exists. The number of rescues reached 150-plus big cats (mostly lions, but also pumas, tigers, leopards and so on) and became the basis for the movie “Roar,” one of the craziest spectacles ever filmed. 042315i RoarIt took more than a decade and $17 million – three times more than “Chariots of Fire,” which won the Best Picture Oscar the year “Roar” was released in Australia – to complete the project. The film, which also stars Hedren’s then-teenage daughter, Melanie Griffith, is getting its U.S. release some 34 years later thanks to Drafthouse Films, which clearly knows the historical and cult commercial value of such a time capsule curio. Ironically, Marshall, who made his reputation as a talent agent and later produced “The Exorcist,” would become so all-consumed – possessed, if you will – with the environmentally aimed endeavor that it would be pretty much the beginning and end of his acting, writing and directing career. He and Hedren would be divorced by 1982 and he would produce only one more film, “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon” with River Phoenix. Continue reading

House Across the Steet

10 Apr

A scene from Arthur Luhn's "The House Across the Street." (Courtesy)

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