You’re in Good company when you’re amongst Wolves

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Here we have another nearly forgotten gem, burned into my memory from my days of exploring the VHS aisles. Long before I would be allowed to rent such a film, I was fascinated by the incredible image on the cover. Was this person turning into a Werewolf? Or was a wolf literally trying to escape from within? How did it get there? I didn’t pick up on metaphors very easily as a young lad, it seems…I didn’t even make the Little Red Riding Hood connection that was staring me right in the face. Young me must have had ADD. Since it’s gone so long untreated, i think it’s only proper to give me all the drugs for it now. I’ll catch up.

 

Everyone knows the cutesy version of fairytales, Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, etc… and most of us have heard the bloody original versions which seemed to be told to scare children out of harms way. Boil away everything but the subtext of Grimms tales and the message is mostly “Kids, don’t do dumb shit, or associate with sketchy people, because you will get raped and die, MAYBE in that order.” Despite this we tend to hold these tales in a special place in our mind. They are instantly familiar, yet so often forgotten. This film is a perfect example of those qualities.  Equal parts anthology film, graphic fantastical retelling, fever dream, and erotic nightmare. The film unfolds within a dream where the characters tell various stories, which in turn unfold for the audience, all for the dreamer to wake to see her dream come to life. It’s a bit strange, and not the most easily accessible, but well worth the ride.

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Angela Lansbury plays “Granny”, who knits the Red Riding Hood, and tells the majority of the tales, and she is just a fucking joy to watch. Anytime she is on screen I can’t help but hum the “Murder She Wrote” theme to myself. Also a joy are the FX work and transformation sequences. Clearly the filmmakers paid careful attention to folklore when dreaming up the visuals. Unibrows and salves, and such abound! The telling of these classic fables through the mesh of human sexuality is somewhat jarring yet oddly fitting. So much imagery in the film doesn’t make sense and is totally wrong, such as Pythons and Reptiles chilling in a French Forrest, but they work within the dreamlike-fairy tale atmosphere

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Released several years after the trifecta of Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, I totally understand how this film went a bit under the radar. For Horror fans young and old, The Company of Wolves should be considered Must-See cinema, but is best viewed with an open mind. Lacking in Gore and Gratuitous Nudity, as well as the usual cheap thrills, the film more than makes up for it by positively dripping with Nightmarish atmosphere.

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Well Hot Damn! It feels good to be back! It’s been nearly a full year, but I promise I’m coming back with a new bag of tricks! Well, actually none of this shit is new…just stuff I haven’t used before.

This year’s #31DaysOfHorror will take a look at the works of two of the Masters: John Carpenter and Rob Zombie. Various entries will examine their films, and I’ll be taking a look at their recent “Feud”…and believe me…I have some fucking Venom to unleash on you fuckers.

 

You can also look forward to seeing original video content being included in a select few posts, as well as special guests. Welcome back, and enjoy the ride!

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It stays with you…

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The hype machine can either make or break many a Horror film, but occasionally there are films that for certain reasons are immune to these effects. It Follows was hyped as “the Next Babadook”, immediately making we weary. The Babadook was such a uniquely special and strange film that the idea of capturing lightning in the same bottle twice seemed impossible. As it turns out, Director David Robert Mitchell captured lightning in an entirely different bottle…but at first I didn’t think so.

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The premise is simple enough, our Heroine, Jay, goes on a date only to have sex and then be drugged and tied to a chair. Sounds like a pretty good time so far? Keep reading, it gets weird. Upon waking, she is informed by her date that he had been cursed, and now he has passed the curse to her through sex. This curse means she will be followed by a creature visible only to those cursed. It will always look like something different, usually taking the form of whatever will help It get close to you. It will always be walking towards her in a straight line, and it will never stop. If It touches her, It will kill her that then It will follow whoever gave the curse to her. The only way to save herself is to pass the Curse to someone else by sleeping with them.

I’ll try to keep the rest of this as Spoiler-free as possible, because It Follows has a lot of layers that are worth unraveling for yourself. After my first viewing I remember thinking that I liked the film, but that it hadn’t come close to the hype…but there was something about it I couldn’t get out of my mind. I can’t explain it, but somehow I knew there was SOMETHING about the film that I had missed. Something that made me uneasy. I don’t recall feeling that anything in the film was scary…but it stayed with me. It Followed. I needed to watch it again, this time focusing on the background and not as much on the story, trying to find what had set me so on edge. I felt like the first time I watched Kubricks The Shining, trying to find the hidden clues and unravel the hidden secrets…

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The first clues I found in the first scene. We see a young woman running out of her house wearing heels, short shorts, and a tank top. From her attire and the lush green grass and trees around her, we think it’s Summerish, right? As she loops back around to her house, we see the lawns across the street are littered with the telltale signs of fall. Dead leaves, barren trees and even Pumpkins on the porch. Doesn’t quite add up… Later, we see our main character, Jay, swimming in an above ground pool, which we can see damn well is not heated, or at the very least is not heated well. then the same evening on her date, we can see that she, her suitor and everyone else in the theater are wearing heavy coats. Later, Jay and Kelly are wandering the neighborhood clearly dressed for chilly weather, but behind them we see the lush green grass again.

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If she needs to dress like Miss Pumpkin Spice Latte 2015, there is no fucking way she would also go swimming in that above ground pool! Then i started noticing that more than just the weather didn’t add up…the Time period this film exists in doesn’t seem to exist either. Nobody has cellhones, or even cordless phones…yet that one girl has the weird clamshell e-reader gimmick. We see brand new modern cars alongside brand new vintage cars, Home decor that looks like a strange hodge-podge of 50’s and 70’s, old clunker tv sets that only show black and white programs, yet we catch glimpses of modern appliances as well such as stainless steel fridges with ice-makers. It’s all very subtle but little details like this will make it almost impossible to get your bearings. It all seems normal enough, but you won’t be able to shake the feeling that something just isn’t right.

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This film has really surprised me by packing a surprising amount of depth into what is on the surface a clever way of saying “Hey kids, be careful who you fuck”. There are so many layers that to fully explore everything in this review would be such a tedious read, so I will cap this off for now, and revisit things again later once more people have had a chance to see it. Please do yourself a favour and watch this film several times.  Share it with others and feel free to email me with questions or comments. I look forward to seeing the legacy this film builds for itself.

 

 

Finally

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Watch enough Horror films and you notice Trends. Trends eventually become tropes, which eventually become cliches. Cliches lead to parody which begets apathy. Once things went down this road, most fans and critics wrote off the slasher genre as outdated and passe. Then something interesting happened. Wes Craven brought self awareness to the game. The Scream films, and even his earlier New Nightmare, to some extent, allowed audiences to revisit old territory with new twists. Whether you are a fan of the Scream films or not (personally I am not), it cannot be denied that  their self awareness revitalized and preserved the sub-genre. Final Girl has much of that same spirit, though applied much differently.

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The concept of the Final Girl appears in almost every slasher film, depicting the one girl virtuous enough to avoid the obvious death traps of sex and drugs and overcome her vulnerabilities in an empowering battle of wills with the killer, whom she will ultimately triumph over (more or less). Director Tyler Shields tells us a visually entrancing story of an orphan girl who is trained to fight maniacs by a man who has lost his family to “Bad Men”. Veronica positions herself to be the perfect bait, then the swiftest of executioners by beating them at their own game. The film appears to be set in the 1950s, or at least is borrowing heavily from the look for the sake of visual appeal. Further adding to the appeal is a pseudo-surrealist set design with stark white lighting, improbable use of spotlights and framing reminiscent of a stage play. It’s not style over substance, but both style and substance make very bold statements in this film.

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The killers are a curious quartet of young men who get together and hunt pretty young girls in the woods. Led by Jameson, a charismatic boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it is implied he is used to getting his way in every scenario. To him, there are no limits. Whatever whim he has will be indulged, even those of a violent nature. Shane appears to be the Beta of the group, he is the only one with a long term girlfriend, but it is his insecurities with this relationship which feed his violent impulses. Nelson is the bland Momma’s Boy of the group. He has, what we are lead to believe is a complex, possibly dysfunctional relationship with his Mother and like many before and after, this fuels his violence towards women. Lastly we have Danny Boy. Danny is the frantic ball of unfocused energy that in later decades would be a poster-child for ADHD, but in the 50’s was just known as a Wild-Child. He is always on, can’t sit still or keep his mouth shut, and requires constant stimulation. The rush of the kill seems to be his drug of choice.

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Abigail Breslin makes it very easy to forget her days as a chubby yet adorable oddball in Little Miss Sunshine. She’s grown into a gorgeous young woman as well as a damn fine actress. Her portrayal of Veronica is subtle yet intense when the mood calls for it. She is as focused and calculating as she is dangerous, but can slip into a disguise of vulnerability at will. Her relationship with her mentor William is complex as well. Their Sensei/Pupil relationship complex, similar to a father/daughter kinda deal…but not without its share of sexual tension. They are both pretty fucked up, but its clear that they need each other. It’s a fun dynamic that I enjoyed watching and enjoyed thinking about even more. Final Girl doesn’t reinvent the wheel, because it doesn’t need to. What it does is shows us a different side of the wheel that allows us to appreciate it in ways we may never have before. This highly stylized, self aware Slasher receives my highest recommendations!

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“Attacked by ‘uge fookin ‘owlin things!”

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Werewolf films are often quite stagnant. Steeped in folklore, with tropes we all know far to well, the opportunity for growth within the genre is often very rare. Then along come Neil Marshall’s directorial debut and while even borrowing heavily from other films, manages to give us a breath of fresh air. How did he do it? He didn’t make a Werewolf film that has Soldiers in it…he made a Soldier film with Werewolves in it.

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Our story finds a squad of Soldiers dropped into the Highlands for a training exercise against a Special Forces group. Unbeknownst to them, they are intended to be used as bait for a pack of Werewolves in the area, in hopes of capturing one of them. As one can expect, plans go pear-shaped and the plucky squad must retreat to a local cabin and try to fend off the furry brutes. The squad is led by Capt. Harry Wells(Sean Pertwee), the second in command is Pvt Cooper, and is rounded out by Spoon, Joe, Terry, and Bruce. The bond between this group runs very deep and despite their good natured bickering back and forth, you can tell that these are men who will be prepared to lay down their lives for each other. One criticism I’ve heard is that the squad seems too calm and cool when faced with a Werewolf assault. I’m not the least bit surprised, these are Soldiers, trained to kill, trained for combat in hellish conditions, and more than that, they have each other to keep their mood light. If any of these men were to face the same situation alone, I would expect far more terror.

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The beasts look very unique, and leave nothing to the imagination as to their nature. You look at these creatures and you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are seeing a fucking werewolf. Not some escaped Looney (although Cooper does reference this possibility…), not some giant wolf, no. These walk tall on two legs and have shaggy Lupine heads. With a small budget, the practical effects aren’t the best around, but still serve the purpose quite well. Cinematography, setting, score, and performances create a great atmosphere of both mirth and genuine dread. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about this film, but whenever we get a brief glimpse of one of the creatures, be it a blood-soaked snout fogging up the window, or an out of focus reveal in the background, there is something so unnerving about these wolves. Somehow, “the little monster film that could” has tapped into something primal. I almost wish the direction had been tweaked slightly and the film had played this up more… Almost.

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Just as the creatures hunt with a relentless pack mentality, the Squad has no quit in them either. Sarge is a hard as nails man of experience who sadly spends most of the action portion of the film on the sidelines after having his guts literally slashed out and then stuffed back in. He’s not afraid to die, and in fact takes several opportunities to order that he be left behind to give the rest a better chance of escape. Cooper is calm and cunning, he leads well in the absence of the Sarge but doesn’t seem comfortable in the role. During the siege on the cabin, Cooper mostly goes back and forth helping his lads in their skirmishes rather than standing and fighting by himself. And then there is Spoon. Fuckin Spoon! This is a scrappy little bastard with a penchant for smart quips. Between using a kitchen pit to bash snouts, hammers to dash fingers and genuine fisticuffs to combat the wolves, Spoon has not an ounce of quit in him, even down to his last words before being eaten.

There have been rumours of a sequel for years, and in recent times, even a few false starts…whether we ever see anything else from this property or not, this film stands as true original…that somehow borrows heavily from An American Werewolf In London, The Evil Dead, and The Howling. Werewolves in film can be so hit and miss, the bad is really bad, but the good is really good. This is a perfect example of a Werewolf film done right!

Overlooked Event

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Anytime I mention this film to someone, I’m always met first with confusion, then vague recollection. “Event Horizon? No, I don’t think I know that movie”…” Oh yeah, that one, totally forgot about that…”. Admittedly, 1997 was not the greatest year for major studio Horror Films, with such releases as An American Werewolf in Paris, Leprechaun 4: In Space, and Alien Resurrection. This was the same year we got Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer firmly establishing the new wave of Teen Horror films. Say what you will, but for better or worse, they made money! We also got some great under the radar films such as Lost Highway, Cube, and Event Horizon. These last 3 films defy conventional classification and often are forgotten by fans…but never by Dr. Havok!!!

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Event Horizon is essentially a Ghost story told aboard a derelict Space Ship, and makes use of the common tropes you would expect. We’ve got jump scares, ominous noises, bad CGI (although for the time it looked great!), and derivative script elements. How derivative you ask? Let’s just say I would bet good money that the last 3 films watched by the director prior to filming were 2001: a space odyssey, Hellraiser, and Alien. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation…the influences are worn proudly on sleeve throughout the feature, but if you are going to draw heavy influence from other films, that’s a damn fine list to select!

Everyone knows that the Event Horizon blew up on her maiden voyage seven years ago, it was the biggest Space Disaster in recorded history. So you can imagine the surprise when a distress signal is received from the Horizon in a decaying orbit around Neptune. During the journey, the designer of the Horizon briefs the crew that the EH was built to test an experimental Gravity Drive capable of faster than Light travel. Dr. Weir explains that the gravity drive opens dimensional portals between two points in space allowing the Event Horizon to pass through instantaneously. The Gravity drive functions by creating black holes which are used to rip holes in our dimension and…y’know what? I don’t need to pseudoscience to be totally sound, and nor should you.

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Once aboard the Horizon, the rescue crew finds ominous logs left by the EH crew, mutilated corpses, and a ship that may in fact be sentient. Seems that when the ship jumps through these portals, it travels through a dimension of pure chaos and evil, not unlike hell. That should be spoilers enough for you, but the rest should be seen firsthand. The effects are well done, the score and tone are perfect, and the talented cast is full of enough “holy shit its that guy” moments to keep you entertained.  Also, there is a blood orgy. Why don’t more films have blood orgies? I’m frequently asked “What are some good Horror Movies I should watch?”, and this is one of the films I often recommend. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

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42nd Street Forever! Bring back the GRINDHOUSE!

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Did you see 2007s Grindhouse in the theater?  I hope to fuck that you did. Im not sure how many times i went, but I know it was more than 3, less than 7…so lets say 5. the last 3 times were at the departed Granville 7 cinema. You had to see this place, i never saw more than 20 people show up for any screening, so the place always felt nearly deserted. it was dark, creepy, and felt seedy. Located at a spot downtown that could be either skeevy or decadent, depending on which way the wind was blowing, I don’t think anyone who entered Granville 7 was ever in any real danger of being mugged or raped, but there was that subtle vibe all the same…

 

This did wonders for the viewing experience! Here I was, paying very little money to watch a double bill of Violence, Gore, Sadism and Thrills, complete with shitty image quality, and ridiculous trailers for films that if they existed, i HAD to see! Sadly, this is as close as i would ever get to the Grindhouses of New Yorks 42nd street. Actually, that isn’t true, Vancouver still had The Fox Cinema, a XXX theater institution on Main Street. I had gone to the Fox several times, and soaked in(figuratively speaking at least…literally speaking was always a risk you took) the spectacle and the sleaziness of it all. On any given occasion, you could see what looked like deranged 80’s time travelling hookers nodding off in the seats and benches, creepy dudes doing their best Joe Spinelli in Maniac impression, shifty looking dealers offering even shiftier looking drugs, The occasional public display of fucking by patrons…which sometimes had other patrons lining up for their turn. And of course there was the gay cruising. Apparently there was a whole system of etiquette and codes associated with this, something about which rows you sat in and changing rows to express interest…I dunno, I found that if anybody made me any kind of offer i didn’t want, a simple “Fuck Off”, was enough to get them to leave me alone. Why would anyone other than a dedicated pervert (no shame, perv hard!) venture into this place? For the experience. Sure it was dirty, and skeevy and you can’t imagine what the fucking bathroom smelled like, but it had that element of danger that I crave in cinema.

 

Back to the topic at hand, Tarantino and Rodriguez gave me, and presumably others, a taste of something magical we had only heard about, knowing it was long gone and never to return. We wanted more! Why not a film showcasing franchise jumping Sheriff Earl McGraw? Maybe the Backstory of El Wray, that was only hinted at in Planet Terror? What about those incredible fucking trailers? Machete, Werewolf Women of the SS, Don’t, and Thanksgiving had me more excited for upcoming(?) films than i had been in years! Over the years since, I had heard various reports that these films may one day see the light of day. We saw Machete, which i felt lived up to expectations but i would have enjoyed more if it had a more degraded film look and DID NOT use a body double for the Lindsay Lohan nude scenes. We also saw the release of Hobo With A Shotgun, which started as a contest winning fake trailer, tacked on to later screenings of Grindhouse. Since then, there have been several new films that seem intent on capitalising on renewed interest in grindhouse style films. Astron 6 pretty much owes their careers to Grindhouse with releases like Fathers Day, Man-Borg, and The Editor. Other modern gems such as Dear God, No!, and Run Bitch, Run! bring the goods and wrap them in a vintage grimy package…there are tons more, keep your ears and your eyes open.

 

Im currently in talks with several other like minded fellows to put together a proposal and acquire sponsors to rent local theaters with a certain “Charm” to host regular Grindhouse nights, complete with trailers, double bills, buckets of bodily fluids and every manner of chills and thrills imaginable. We’ll never be able to go back to the Glory days of old, sensibilities have changed, and the world of Cinema has moved on. Grindhouse Cinema died young, left a ragged but slutty looking corpse, and was buried by the mainstream. But dammit, we might be able to bring it back for a few nights at a time. It won’t be easy, but if enough of us demand it, then our voices will be heard by someone determined to make a buck off of us. Don’t get me wrong, the Multiplex and Blu Rays might be enough for the majority…but it’s not enough for me. I want my films to be dangerous again. I want an Exploitation Explosion! I want a new rise of the Nasties! I want to go back to the Grindhouse.

 

 

 

The Cryptid Crypt: Exists

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Is it even possible to do a found footage film anymore without including the Supernatural, or Bigfoot? These two subject have pretty much dominated the medium in recent years, and aside from creative standouts like the VHS series, most filmmakers seem content with this route. I’ve reviewed a total of 3 FF style ‘Squatch-fests for this column, and for the most part, they tend to be the same. A small group goes looking for Bigfoot, stumbles across him, still acts skeptical, runs, cries and films in equal measure. All of these films seem to offer more questions about Sasquatch than answers, and heaven fucking forbid we get a good look at the beast! That is, until Eduardo Sanchez returned to the woods with his camera to remind us all how it is done.

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Sanchez, after co-directing and writing The Blair Witch Project, is Found-Footage Royalty. His work on BW, VHS2 segment “A ride in the park”, and now Exists, shows a skilled hand at work, maximizing the medium and adding believability and practicality to the shots. It makes perfect sense that our camera-man won’t stop filming, He set out to make a “kick-ass YouTube video”, so his handheld is constantly running, and Go-Pro cameras are strapped to nearly everything that you could think of.

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The best and worst of Sasquatch films often has the same problem, The creature looks like shit. Not only does Exists bring a realistic, believable looking Sasquatch to the screen, but they let us see juuuuuust enough to appreciate the design, and to keep a bit of the mystery. This is a beast that is fast, brutal, and intelligent. Fully capable of stalking us and killing us 1 by 1. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I strongly suggest making a point of doing so. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I’m confident you will too.

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