As a writer, I’m often drawn to horror. Not exclusively, perhaps not even most of the time, but often enough. I grew up on horror films and ghost stories. One of the first “grown-up” books I read was `Salem’s Lot. I was probably eight at the time. Even now, on a dark and stormy night, I can conjure up the fear I felt reading about Ralphie Glick’s cold corpse scratching on his brother’s window and whispering, “Danny, let me in.”
Even when I work in comedy or drama or that non-genre that tweed jacket wearing types call simply “literature,” I always come back to horror. It’s in my blood, you could say.
So, without further adieu, here’s my quick review of the horror flicks I’ve seen so far this year. If you’re in the mood for something a little darker than the norm, hopefully I can help some.
LET ME IN
LET ME IN seems, on the surface, to fall into that camp of useless remakes. I mean, how ridiculous is it to remake a movie that’s only a couple of years old, especially one as admired as the brilliant Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist)? I loved LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and went into this one reluctantly. I was expecting the equivalent of a pile of dog shit served on a sparkling, shiny plate.
I was wrong.
I’m going to get a lot of flack for this remark but LET ME IN is a superior film to the original. Matt Reeves film is darker and bleaker than its Swedish counterpart (which I wouldn’t have thought possible). The cinematographer gets a lot of credit for this, but there are also entire sequences that really one-up the original. Much of this is thanks to the cast, which includes such brilliant character actors as Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas. The filmmakers also dropped the jarring comedic subplot that ran through LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and was, at best, disconcerting and, at worst, the vampiric equivalent of a Three Stooges short.
There is a moment or two of obligatory crappy CGI effects but, thankfully, these are kept at a minimum. Why studios insist on throwing these video game moments into otherwise brilliant films is beyond me, but whoever is behind this tactic should be shot.
In the gut.
Ultimately, director Matt Reeves kept everything that made the original great while adding his own vision as a layer atop that. If you’re a fan of the original and have avoided this out of remake exhaustion, give it a watch. If you’ve avoided the original because you’re one of those wacky people that doesn’t like subtitled movies, give this one a go. And if you haven’t seen either yet, start with this one. This film is bleak, eerie, and cold to the soul.
This is a masterpiece that completely flew under everyone’s radar. Written and directed by acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson, THE ECLIPSE stars the immensely talented Ciaran Hinds (best known for his portrayal of Julius Caesar in HBO’s epic series ROME). Hinds plays an English teacher whose wife has recently passed away. Filmed in Ireland’s County Cork, this a rare film, especially in this genre, in that it’s for adults. I don’t mean that it’s packed to the brim with tits and gore, but rather that this is a film about characters in their forties dealing with issues that many young folk simply won’t be able to relate to (not that I’m that old myself, but still…).
This film is measured and eerie. While ostensibly a ghost story, if the local video store still existed they might place this under “Drama.” In other words, if you’re looking for plenty of effects and roller-coaster type scares, I’d save this film for another day. If, however, you want something different from everything else out there, something deep and haunting and sad, then check this film out. This is one of my favorite films of any genre in the last few years, not just horror, and I can’t recommend it enough.
This pile of excrement made me want to grab the director by the hair and bash his face into a block of marble over and over. And I’m not one of those “angry movie guys.” You know the ones, the people who have too little going on their own lives and so log on to the internet and spew loads of hate on films that they didn’t dig. I’ve made a feature film. I know how excruciatingly difficult it is, how whatever vision was shared going into the project will always be bent and twisted and tainted in unforeseen ways, and how everything from budget to distribution plays a role in making the movie something completely different than what you could ever imagine. There are simply too many people, too much money, and too many concerns involved in filmmaking to keep a person’s vision intact, no matter what BS so-called “auteurs” spout. It’s a miracle when a good movie gets made, let alone a great one. The cards are simply stacked against it.
But this thing… Oh, man. Where to begin?
This film starts out great. In fact, if you just watch the first half and turn it off, you’ll probably have a good experience. The pace and cinematography feel more like the great creepy films of the seventies like THE SHINING or AMITYVILLE HORROR than the films being made today. I was watching this movie thinking “This may be the best horror film I’ve seen in years.”
And then it went downhill. FAST. Like racing a turbocharged Lamborghini with jet fuel in the tank fast. I was convinced that the second half of the movie was written and directed by different people, it felt so different. But then I looked it up and realized that wasn’t the reason. The reason is just that this film had no idea what it wanted to be.
The creeping, atmospheric horror gives way to over-the-top zaniness as two paranormal investigators show up from the set of SNL and destroy the mood so well they should have been driving wrecking balls. The plot itself gets ridiculous at this point, as if these guys had been crowned the Heralds of Shit, and the cinematography and editing become frenetic and amateurish, as though director James Wan was trying to emulate a YouTube video rather than make a film. The switch is jarring and completely ruins any tension that had been built up to this point. Where it once felt like the previous films I mentioned, now it feels like a low-rent POLTERGEIST ripoff directed by teenagers hopped up on meth. And it’s filled with supposed twists and turns that are so predictable there should have been a Doppler warning scrolling along the bottom of the screen warning us how long we had until we needed to seek shelter.
As you can see on the cover, Steve O’Brien of WCBS Radio called this the “Most terrifying film since THE EXORCIST.” Steve O’Brien either rushed out of the theater for an emergency forty five minutes in or has only watched Disney cartoons and Rob Schneider movies for the last thirty years.
The latest installment in the SCREAM franchise sees a return of many of the original cast and crew, including the original SCREAM screenwriter Kevin Williamson. I went into this movie with absolutely zero and expectations and left with… well, zero emotions. I neither loved nor hated this film, neither admired or admonished it. It simply existed.
While there are some nice funny moments (the multiple false beginnings, for instance) and an interesting approach of treating the sequel as a pseudo-remake of the original, thus allowing the movie to deconstruct remakes, it ultimately felt flat and hollow (which, perhaps, was the point). It was competently made but really brought nothing new or interesting to the franchise. At times it almost felt like a made-for-TV version of a SCREAM film.
If you’re a huge SCREAM fan, you’ll probably dig this. If you’re not, you’ll probably be left feeling like I do. Even as much as I hated INSIDIOUS, at least they took some (albeit ill-conceived) chances. I’d rather leave a movie hating it than feeling nothing toward it.
It did have one thing in common with INSIDIOUS: all of its twists could be seen coming a mile away.
BLACK DEATH and SEASON OF THE WITCH
I feel like I have to to talk about these movies together as their plots are similar. SEASON OF THE WITCH is about a medieval town overcome by the plague that sends a group of rogue knights (led by Nicholas Cage) to take the town witch to a monastery and, hopefully, release the spell they believe she has laid on the town.
In BLACK DEATH, Sean Bean leads a group of rogue knights to a town ravished by the plague so that they can pick up a guide (a young priest) who can lead them to a village that has remained plague free because of witchcraft.
After that, the similarities end. SEASON OF THE WITCH, in true Nicholas Cage fashion, is a stinker. It is a fun B-Movie in some ways (thanks in part to Ron Perlman), and does have some interesting imagery at points but, overall, is poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted. If you’re looking for a good-bad movie, this could fit your bill.
BLACK DEATH, on the other hand, is phenomenal. Everything that SEASON does wrong BLACK DEATH gets right. It’s dark, layered, brutal, and smart. It’s also subtle, avoiding the CGI mess that SEASON (and many other films) get tangled in in exchange for mood and complex characters.
One of the things I also enjoyed about BLACK DEATH was how it avoided falling into the easy trap of having all of the Christian characters be hypocritical monstrous people who only paid lip service to their beliefs while running around bringing suffering to others. While we all know those types of people are real, almost every horror film uses those characters exclusively. Those characters have become a horror cliche in and of themselves. But in BLACK DEATH the filmmakers recognize that it’s a period piece and, in this period, people truly believed. This helps the characters achieve a depth that they might otherwise not have.
Sean Bean is excellent as always, as is the rest of the cast. The fight scenes are realistic, brutal, and hardcore. Best of all is the ending, which may be the darkest ending I’ve seen in a movie since Darabont’s nihilistic finish to THE MIST. Whether you’re a fan of the original WICKER MAN or BRAVEHEART, BLACK DEATH should satisfy you. SEASON OF THE WITCH might just make you laugh.
This one I avoided for awhile because the poster made it look like a typical NetFlix Watch Instantly acquired shit-fest. But this was a hell of a lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, I ignored that it was directed by Joel “Batsuit Nipples” Shumacher. I’ll give you a quick list why.
-Undead horses stampeding while on fire
VANISHING ON 7th STREET
In VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, director Brad Anderson (who gave us THE MACHINIST and SESSION 9) plays with a lot of the same themes used in zombie films. Now, I like a good zombie movie but I am definitely suffering from zombie overload, so experiencing many of the things I enjoy in zombie movies without the George Romero fan-fiction element was a nice surprise.
I’ve also always been fascinated by the story of the vanishing Roanoke colony, which is used as a backdrop for the mysterious mass vanishings in this film. While the movie gets a little metaphysical in its philosophies at times (one character chalks up his escape from the vanishings to the fact that he “willed himself to exist”), and no concrete explanation is offered (which may bug some viewers), I thought the premise was solid, interesting, and unique. In a genre dominated by sequels, prequels, remakes, and ripoffs, that alone was refreshing.
Where BLACK DEATH treated characters’ religious beliefs with realism and respect, THE RITE only has two kinds of characters: atheists and die-hard, medieval mindset believers. The priests in this film are caricatures of priests. Where most priests I’ve spoken to or seen interviewed readily state that the Devil is a metaphor and not an actual being, in THE RITE they all believe that, hands down, the Devil exists and is responsible for everything horrible that we go through.
THE RITE does have some good points. Most of the cast is great, it’s shot well, and it’s set in Rome (which, as always, offers beautiful scenery), but overall this is simply another bland offering in the past thirty years worth of THE EXORCIST ripoffs.
The subject matter alone seems to be enough to frighten a lot of people so, if that’s you, enjoy. It’s not gory or overly sexualized or plagued by many of the tropes that turn the general public away from horror films these days so plenty of “average” folk may enjoy this movie more than a horror buff like me did. Plus Rutger Hauer is in it…
That’s it for today. Next time I’ll give a rundown of either some of the horror television for this year or literature. I haven’t decided which yet.
Feel different about some of the above film? Drop me a line below.Brad C. Hodson is a writer living in Los Angeles. His stories have appeared in anthologies alongside Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, George RR Martin, and many more of his literary heroes. For a listing of his literary and film work, please check out his Bibliography at http://brad-hodson.com/bibliography/