150 posts categorized "Horror"

February 09, 2018


WinchesterDefective from its conception, this would-be horror movie doesn’t take the bother to establish a compelling protagonist. Even taken as a generic haunted-house movie, “Winchester” dovetails suspense rather than building it, much less paying off the way Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” did.

Helen Mirren is mesmerizing in the title role of Sarah Winchester even if the screenwriters/directors (The Spierig Brothers) don’t give her much room to run. Clearly, Mirren’s matriarchal character should have been the story’s protagonist. Instead we get substitution in the guise of Jason Clarke’s heroin-addicted doctor Eric Price, sent by the Winchester company board to assess Ms. Winchester’s mental stability. The mistress of the house has paranormal moments of clarity when she goes into a trance to diagram additions to the house that she is compulsively driven to have completed by a constant crew of workers. Ms. Winchester is constantly trapping the ghosts of people killed by her company’s firearms.


“Winchester” wants to be a noble genre film that can be appreciated for its anti-gun message and theme. The fact that the film is based on a real life person, namely firearm heiress Sarah Winchester, hardly adds much narrative impact. Here is a promising premise that was mishandled. The problem lies in the structure, the plot, and the dialogue. Back to the drawing board boys.   

Rated PG-13. 99 mins. (D) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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Groupthink doesn't live here.

October 30, 2016


Andy Warhol's FrankensteinCommonly referred to as “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” (what on Earth could be better?), Paul Morrissey directed “Flesh for Frankenstein” with a dry camp sensibility that he exploits hilariously, and relentlessly, for truly inspired gory (and nude) episodes of Grand Guignol exaltation. Makeup wiz Carlo Rambaldi (“Alien”) has a field day. Most significant in this gruesome parade is its premeditated use of the Space-Vision 3D process to allow disemboweled organs to dangle in front of audience’s noses. If this movie ever comes to your neighborhood in 3D, don’t miss it. It may well be the best use ever made of the stereoscopic process. The ratings board gave this movie an X rating for a reason.

Morrissey co-wrote the Hammer-inspired horror movie with two uncredited screenwriters (Tonino Guerra – “Blowup” and Pat Hackett). The movie is all about the set-up, style, and tone. If the dialogue seems atrociously stiff, that is the intention. Baron von Frankenstein (exquisitely played for hammy effect by Udo Kier) shares his remote castle with his nymphomaniac wife/sister Katrin (Monique van Vooren). Katrin’s pre-pubescent son and daughter secretly follow in Dr. Frankenstein’s footprints. With his submissive servant Otto (Arno Juerging) beside him, and hair slicked back in a Dracula-inspired style, the good doctor likes to stick it in the surgically opened gallbladder of his not-yet-alive female creation. Cue the 3D effects.

Udo Gets Busy

Udo Kier delivers the film’s money line when he categorically states, “to know death Otto, you have to fuck life in the gallbladder.” Hilarious.

Dr. Frankenstein goes on about creating life that represents Serbian ideals that “comes from the ancient Greeks” built of a head with the right “nasum” (nose).

Joe Dallesandro (“Little Joe” of Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” fame) steals the movie as Nicholas, the castle stable boy (a.k.a. stud) who Lady Katrin seduces and claims as her own. Dallesandro’s Brooklyn accent and physical bearing brings an intriguing undercurrent of global cross-pollination in the film’s European environs. Martin Scorsese followed in this film’s footsteps when he made “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988.

Flesh for Frankenstein

Other filmmakers also stole from “Flesh For Frankenstein.” David Cronenberg clearly took inspiration from this movie for “Videodrome” and eXistenZ. There is also no question that this deeply satisfying picture informed the set design and comic tone for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which also took its ideas from Peter Perry Jr.’s “Kiss Me Quick!” (1964).

Andy Warhol’s Flesh For Frankenstein” is a riot. Even its closing tableau is socially transcendent, and transgressive. The movie periodically achieves its operatic aspirations. It also happens to be one of the most simultaneously gloriously gross and sexy horror movies you’ll ever see. Oh what sublime joy.

Joe Dallesandro

Rated R. 95 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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June 26, 2016


Shallows2Here is a good old-fashioned suspense thriller about a strong-willed young woman and a big mean shark. Blake Lively shows off her acting chops in this genre picture that belongs all to her. It's a popcorn movie make for gigantic drive-in movie screens.

Feeding on a whale carcass gets old after a few days for a mammoth shark, especially when there’s tasty human flesh around to supplement the entree.

Jaume Collet-Serra’s workmanlike direction is adequate. He still needs to learn a few lessons from Hitchcock and Friedkin, but the raw suspense he creates works well enough. Everything is a little low-fidelity in a gaudy exploitation way. The musical score is no bueno. What can you do?

There’s no point mentioning plot details of screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski’s lean, and implausible, script. Some of the CGI is lacking, and sure I could nitpick about a giant unrealistic looking prop, but the shark is plenty convincing when you’re staring down its gullet on the big screen.

The film is paced like a Swiss watch, and Lively’s gutty performance as Nancy, a surfer and med school student, makes it tic. A wounded seagull friend that accompanies Nancy during her tiny-island waiting game with the shark, is a nice poetic touch if not much else. It’s still not as cheesy as the cell phone conversation Nancy has with her dad about her future. Such is the sentimental white bread that bookends the action.


Yes, there is one moment that will shock you out of your chair regardless of how many scary movies you’ve seen. If that’s not good enough to send you after a cheap thrill at the movies, I don’t know what is.


Rated PG-13. 87 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

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May 20, 2016


The-Neon-DemonCannes, France —All high-contrast shiny surfaces and fetishized sensual (albeit grotesque) fantasy, Nicholas Winding Refn’s ultra slick Neon Demon isn’t the redemption he was looking for in Cannes (we'd all rather forget "Only God Forgives"). Still, the abstract horror film is an extravagant guilty pleasure in the vein of Dario Argento at his best.

The film's badass techno soundtrack (composed by Cliff Martinez) is to die for, and characters do.

Elle Fanning is divine as an underage model who gets in way over her all-too-lovely head. As we know from movies like "The Player," bad things happen in Pasadena. Even worse things happen in L.A. proper.

The most infuriating thing about this flawed picture is how easily Refn could have corrected plot holes that even a cursory script polish could have addressed.


There's 90% of a story here. In interviews, Refn has overreached by comparing himself to Lars Von Trier, and said that Von Trier is over the hill. Clearly, Refn needs to pick his battles better since he has yet to make a film half as rigorous as even Von Trier's weakest efforts.

"The Neon Demon" is cool in its minimalist form, but Nicholas Winding Refn still has a lot of serious woodshedding to do. In the meantime, drink something sticky and watch "The Neon Demon" for its delectable visual style and detached sense of irony. Oh, and see it for its instant-cult-status-approved scene of lesbian necrophilia with Jena Malone on top.



Rated R. 117 mins. (B-) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)

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May 07, 2016


Green-room-poster“Green Room” is white-supremacy-exploitation-lite done up as a horror movie. Attack dogs come gratis. Oh, what bloody work they can do on someone’s throat.

Using an outdated hardcore punk trope, whereby a [obviously] white hardcore band “Ain’t Rights,” (with a badass Jewish girl member played by Alia Shawkat) in their mid-20s, play an ill-fated gig at a remote neo-Nazi bar staffed with skinheads. The band plays a set that necessarily includes a horrible version of The Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” (it would been much hotter if the band were made up of a Muslim, a Black, a White a Jew, a Latina, and a transgendered character). That would have made for ultimate exploitation explosion.

But I digress. Senior members wear red laces in their hi-rise boots. Patrick Stewart is chilling as Darcy, the racist group’s cold-blooded leader.

The biggest problem with writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s is redundancy over resonance. By not bothering to include any characters of color, the film suffers from redundancies where resonance should be.

I have to bust the movie on one key plot point. Spoiler alert. Look away, or keep reading. The band’s bass player Pat (Anton Yelchin) gets his hand cut — badly cut, but in ancient horror-movie fashion, he carries on with little trouble. I say, in modern day cinema, if you’re going to maim a character, let’s see how a person would behave authentically, under those conditions.


“Green Room” is harrowing, but it lacks humor. Fans of extreme violence and gore will be sated. The picture fails to editorialize (cinematically or allegorically) on white racism. I recommend David Wnendy’s great film “Combat Girls,” about a 20-year-old racist German girl. The movie is every bit as distressing as “Green Room,” but has something authentic to say thematically.


Rated R. 94 mins. (B-) (Two Stars — out of five / no halves. 

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April 26, 2015


Texas Chainsaw Massacre

This film’s intimidating title alone was enough to keep weak-kneed audiences away from cinemas and drive-ins back in 1974 when filmmaker Tobe Hooper released what was, at the time, the most intense horror movie ever made. In the United Kingdom, the picture was banned on principle alone. Rumors of the film’s notorious chainsaw-wielding Leatherface character, who impales a young woman on a meat hook, a scene revealed in the movie’s promo poster, spread quickly. Audiences were afraid of how badly they might be scared – and they had good reason.   

If Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was the premiere slasher movie, Hooper’s film followed that film’s thread to its logical arc of exploitation. Tobe Hooper’s limited budget hardly encumbered the visionary filmmaker’s ability to wring psychological tension from the same pool of inspiration that Hitchcock had used for “Psycho,” namely the notorious Wisconsin grave robber and murderer Ed Gein.

Hooper baited his film’s hook with a time-honored exploitation trope about the picture being based on a “tragedy” that “befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin.” There are still plenty of people who believe that the murders we witness onscreen are based on real-life killings; they are not.   


Over a black screen we hear the sound of a shovel digging. Camera flashes reveal short visions of fresh corpses. A news broadcast tells of Texas grave robberies. The camera pans down the body of a ripe cadaver holding the head of another while propped up on a tombstone. Dry dust blows across the macabre scene. We are firmly inside an American gothic atmosphere of Grand Guignol gore. A dead bloody armadillo lies facing up on a Texas road.  

Texas-chain-saw-massacreThe story’s setup has been ripped off so many times that it now seems rote, but remember, no one had seen anything like it at the time. A group of five white hippie types (three guys and two braless girls) pull their Ford van to the side of the road to allow their wheelchair-bound member Franklin to pee into a coffee can. A big rig rolls by and Franklin goes spilling down the hillside. Vulnerabilities lurk. The group is on their way to visit Franklin’s and his sister Sally’s grandfather’s grave to make sure it isn’t a victim of one of the spate of grave robberies. Driving past a slaughterhouse delivers a pungent stench that disgusts the quintet. Picking up a hitchhiker backfires immediately when the facially disfigured young man passes around snapshots of slaughtered cows before cutting himself with a pocketknife. He soon cuts Franklin’s arm before the group evict him from the van. 

Soon the five are separated while visiting grandpa Hardesty’s disused family home. Little does the group realize that they are next door to the uncaptured [family of] grave robbers, who also happen to be bloodthirsty killers. 

Texas-chainsaw-massacreTobe Hooper uses an arsenal of filmic techniques, lighting designs, while an increasingly noisy soundscape (of screams and chainsaw sounds) ratchets up the fear and suspense to a heart-palpitating rhythm of horrific discord. Breathtaking Dutch angles and extreme close-ups of images like bones and eyeballs underscore a gothic dinner table scene that takes the cake for sly social commentary and black humor. No matter how many filmmakers have attempted to recreate the all-out insanity of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” very few have come close.   

Rated R. 83 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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December 10, 2014


Nekromantik 2.In the brainwash of modern ideologies it seems apropos that Jörg Buttgereit’s follow-up to his banned 1987 horror film “Nekromantik” would also be prohibited in his mother country of Germany as well as in Australia, New Zealand, and a slew of other countries. After all, “Nekromantik 2” exploits the same taboo conceit as the original film, namely the erotic and romantic tension between an attractive girl and a corpse. As with the first movie, a real-life boyfriend just gets in the way.

From a filmmaking standpoint Jörg Buttgereit’s potent stab at transgressive cinema is more in line with the early films of John Waters or David Cronenberg than with the litany of directors associated with torture porn movies of the “Saw” franchise ilk. It would be sad to say that by modern standards, the “Nekromantik” movies are tame by comparison; they are not. Jörg Buttgereit’s consciously low budget approach prods the viewer to question obvious aspects of the film’s production. You might take a believable corpse for granted in a big budget film, but be taken by surprise by the apparent authenticity of the one getting all of the attention here. Buttgereit’s convincing Grand Guignol trump card might be one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it works like a charm.

The film’s title tells you what you need to know. Romance with the dead is a heavy burden in every way imaginable. Set in the downtrodden streets and apartments of East and West Berlin the story picks up with Rob, the abandoned boyfriend from the first film, committing suicide with a knife while achieving orgasm. Death and sex are united. Enter Monika; a fan of Rob’s former exploits with the dead, to dig up his decomposing green body for some quality time between the sheets. Still, Monika learns that necrophilia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her attempted sex act with what’s left of Rob sends her running to the bathroom to vomit. She chops up the body, bags it up, and returns it to its grave, albeit with one set of naughty bits kept behind in the fridge as a souvenir.

Nekromantik-2A chance meeting at a local cinema delivers Monika into the loving arms of Mark, a voice-over talent for cheap porn movies. As romance seems to grow between the couple, so too does Monika’s recurrent desire to make it with a cadaver.

It is one thing to show a Hollywood action hero killing an endless army of nameless people, but widely considered beyond the pale to show a character acting out carnal fantasies with a corpse. Sure it’s gross, but is it any worse or better than other popularized filmic expressions of murder or sexual expression? This is one of the essential ideological questions that Buttgereit wrestles with in an ambitious adult horror movie that is as much about the audiences that will never see it as it is about a commercialized culture of war.

German officials have come around to accepting the “Nekromantik” films as works of art, and have since renounced their ban.


Not Rated. 104 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 15, 2013

The Conjuring

The ConjuringGhost Story —
James Wan Abandons Gore for Suspense

Since carving his name as a modern-horror director to be reckoned with, James Wan (“Saw” - 2006) has been moving steadily toward a less literal, more haunting, approach to the genre. “Insidious” (2010) evinced a maturity of creepy style and suspenseful execution to rival even the impressive work of Ti West (“The House of the Devil”), arguably the best young horror filmmaker working in the genre today.

Operating from a fact-based script, Wan serves up a memorable if relatively gore-free haunted house creep fest filled with ghastly surprises in a cool '70s retro-gothic atmosphere. Although anchored by a now-clichéd paranormal-investigator plot device, Wan takes full advantage of the obvious narrative framework to escort the audience through a historically-bound hell house where a working class family find themselves trapped by an age-old malevolent spirit with a lot of ghastly history and deadly tricks up its sleeve.

Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are husband-and-wife paranormal investigators/authors with an off-limits basement full of possessed accouterments taken from their many encounters with the supernatural universe. An especially demonically contaminated doll sits inside its own locked glass case in their Connecticut house. Their young daughter knows better than to go into the cellar, but still can’t resist a little visit now and again.

The couple dresses in the wide collar polyester styles of the era. The pair of college-lecturing experts on things that go bump in the night could have spawned their own ‘70s TV show — imagine “Charlie’s Demon Hunters.”

Blue-collar parents Carolyn and Roger Perron (played by the oddly cast Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston) move into a large but broken-down lakeside house in Harrisville Long Island with their five daughters. The “hateful” spooks that have inhabited the property and its land for more than a century waste no time sending a message for the family to take their leave, or else. All of the clocks stop at 3:07 am. Voices talk to the little girls. A grotesque female ghost makes frequent appearances. Pictures fall off the walls so many times that Carolyn doesn’t bother putting them back up anymore. The inexplicable murder of the family dog sends the couple to visit a nearby college where the Warrens are lecturing, in order to beg for their assistance.

Sure enough, the Warrens sense that horrible spirits possess the house during their initial visit. One malevolent spirit in particular means to bring serious harm to the newly arrived family regardless of where they attempt to run.

The Warrens return with their small team of assistants to set up cameras around the house, along with tape-recorders, to chronicle the evil that freely roams and terrorizes the innocent family. James Wan artfully employs handheld camera-work with inspired flourishes of shocking action to send goose bumps.

Lorraine is especially gifted with an ability to see into the dark spirit world, but each mysterious communication takes a toll on her — a detail that adds to the film’s sense of impending doom. Still, it’s Carolyn who is most susceptible to physical attacks from the demonic spirit at large. Shocking events transpire.

“The Conjuring” backs up its creaking floor and slamming door tropes with episodes of all-out terror to send its audience to bed with a worrisome feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Nightmares may follow.

Rated R. 112 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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April 12, 2013

Evil Dead

EvildeadThe most shocking aspect of this homage horror movie based on Sam Raimi’s campy 1981 cult classic is its utter lack of wit or humor for which the original is famous. For a movie that’s nothing if not a bloodbath, “Evil Dead” is as dry as the Sahara. That Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell share producing credits seems to speak more to economic concerns rather than any regard for artistic merit. "The Evil Dead" felt like a well thought-out prank for its audience to share in; "Evil Dead" feels like an eversion therapy punishment for some undeclared sin against the State — drug use perhaps? Written as is — by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues — there is no place for the iconic B-movie sensibilities that Bruce Campbell brought to his character in the 1981 version.

Although it stays fairly true to the skeleton plot outline of the original, “Evil Dead” lacks panache. Where the imaginative special effects of Raimi's movie elicited smiles, there is no such pleasure to be had here. Gone is any remnant of the slapstick humor that filled the film's far superior inspiration. There's no character to root for. You just keep looking at your watch, waiting for everyone to finally die, die, die.

The irony is that “Evil Dead” adheres to modern day horror clichés adhered to by the likes of hipsters such as Rob Zombie. It's as unoriginal as they come. Sure, there are plenty of gory displays of dismemberment and flesh-puncturing episodes, but without a sense of fun and excitement “Evil Dead” is a morose throwaway exploitation flick. A few Exorcist-inspired lines of twisted demonic dialogue is as close as “Evil Dead” comes to delivering the cheap and goofy thrills that fans of the first movie will come to see. Don't come looking here for fun; you won't have any.

Rated R. 91 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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