12. Black Sabbath (1963) Movie Review (Podcast Episode!)

Happy Halloween!

Are you looking for something scary to listen to on this spooky day, when the walls between the living and the dead are at their weakest? Well, then this is definitely the podcast for you!

Black Sabbath (1963) is a curious film. It has an overeager Boris Karloff in both the lead role as an anthology curator, and he appears in one of the segments as a violent vampire-like creature that is trying to eat his family. He hams it up and things certainly do get weird.

There are two other weird shorts featuring witches (black magic corpses) and a segment about a haunted telephone…or it’s just a telephone (we are not entirely sure).

Nevertheless, Black Sabbath is a fantastic anthology that prizes atmosphere above all else (and really succeeds). So join host Josh as he discusses this 60s horror flick with his brother Adam on this special “spooktacular” version of The Vintage Talk Bag!

Also, Boris Karloff’s name is Gorca in this movie, which is pretty rad.

Underrated 90s Horror Gems

It’s nearing Halloween so it’s high time to plop yourself down with a bowl of popcorn or candy and watch some scary movies, but as us horror connoisseurs know, scary movies come in all shapes and sizes, both good and bad. Thus, let’s look at a few underrated horror movies from the 90s that either don’t get much love or just get a bad rap.


Cube (1997)

I didn’t know what to expect the first time I watched Cube (1997) and was completely mortified when the realization of the protagonists’ impending doom set in to my adolescent mind (the body horror didn’t help either). Cube pits a group of unsuspecting individuals against a giant military-constructed contraption that exists, because, well—it just does. I think the franchise reveals what the cube is all about later in the series, but the mystery of it in the opener is damn intriguing. Additionally, there are some seriously gory death scenes in Cube that, while horrifying, are also creative and expertly executed.

Jason Goes to Hell (1993)

There is a lot of hate for this film, it seems…but I love it! Full disclosure: I’m not a huge Friday the 13th series fan, but I have seen all of the films (self-imposed viewing), so I can rightfully argue that they are just not my thing—except for Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). To that end, here are my reasons for liking the detestable beast of an installment:

First, it gets rid of Jason Voorhees, who is a tall, lumbering and dull character who should have stayed dead after Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) hit him in the head with a machete in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) (at least the franchise could have gone in a different direction, like with more copycat Jasons or something). Let’s face it, those movies get pretty boring because the viewer knows what to expect, and when the audience becomes all-knowing, omnipotent observers, the films stop being exciting. And, really, considering the myriad flaws throughout each installment, shouldn’t these movies just be fun and not overly plodding?

Second, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday creates a slimy worm-like character who slithers around and takes control of people by entering their bodies (ewww). I love this angle on the film, because it’s new and inventive rather than predictable and lame. Really, ole slimy boi could be a slasher villain with his own franchise. It could be like The Exorcist or The Evil Dead, except the villain is everyone around the protagonist and not just a hulking jackass with a garden tool, who slips, trips (but has an absence of quips) because he has an insatiable lust for murder.

Slimy Boi
What could be the the poster for the first “Slimy Boi” in the series. 

Lastly, there is also a cool bounty hunter named Creighton Duke that actively tries to stop Jason and doesn’t run around screaming for 90 minutes. Moreover, there are some epic-level death scenes that I still marvel at to this day, and they use the Necronomicon in the film, which is alongside a million obvious horror movie references that the creators nod at throughout the film. I suppose so many movie references can be worthy of an eye-roll, but I actually appreciated them due to the slasher-niche genre of the film.

Tales from the Darkside (1990)

I love a good horror anthology, and I think Tales from the Darkside (1990) really does the trick for me in regards to presenting good stories, good gore, and good atmosphere. Director John Harrison does an excellent job with the material as he seems to know what Tales from the Darkside is all about, and that makes all the difference. I like to imagine a modern take on Creepshow (1982), which would no doubt have a million “jump scares” and good-looking actors and actresses to appeal to casual horror fans who don’t give a damn about the source material (and probably rightfully so because not everybody loves horror movies like us junkies).

The cast is really great. Steve Buscemi as a vengeful graduate student who reanimates a mummy is perfect, David Hickey as a wheelchair bound millionaire who fears retribution from a murderous cat is…well…he plays David Hickey and that works wonders, and James Remar as a gloomy artist who has sworn an oath to a gargoyle to never speak of having seen it in action is also a joy to watch.

This is a more than excellent anthology of horror very much in the vein of The Vault of Horror (1973) or Tales from the Crypt (1972), so it’s worth checking out if you are a fan of violent little vignettes,

Night of the Living Dead (remake) (1990)

I just watched Night of the Living Dead (1990) within the last few years and didn’t like it as much as I remember, but that just means it is high-time to watch it again.

It has a lot going for it as a movie: Tom Savini directs, it stars Tony Todd (Candyman [1992]), and features hordes of cannibal zombies at every turn. It at least has all the qualities of a good horror movie. Except that it takes shlock and camp and jacks it up to 11, and then features a repetitive castle defense-style game plot that sees the cast attempting to nail all of the windows and doors closed again and again.

But, I wanted to highlight this movie for a reason: when I was a kid, my brothers and I would play a game that we created called “Zombies,” which saw some of us playing as the hordes of the undead and some us as the survivors (or we would all be survivors and just pretend there were zombies), and the point of the game was to keep the zombies out of our home (one of our bedrooms). We would spend much of the game fake nailing the doors and windows shut against an ocean of imagined monsters and also pretend to be nearly bit as we boarded ourselves from the outside. As I was watching Night of the Living Dead, I suddenly realized that we had harvested much of that game from the movie itself, which is awesome for a kid’s game, but not awesome for a movie, because it’s repetitive and boring.

Still, I kind of like it for nostalgia alone, so…oh well!


Whelp, that’s my list of 90s gems, and while this list accentuates my taste in horror films, the 90s is filled with all sorts of strange and curious flicks for viewers of all stripes. Consider the campier Wishmaster (1997), Leprechaun (1993), and Hocus Pocus (1993), versus the revolutionary found-footage film The Blair Witch Project (1999). In the span of ten years, horror movies went bat-shit insane with bipolar depictions of the terrifying and the macabre.

So, what are your favorite horror movies from the 90s? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

 

“Dark Was the Night” uses atmosphere but reveals too much budget in the light

Released: Oct. 16, 2014

Title: Dark Was the Night

Director: Jack Heller

Starring: Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich


Synopsis

A small-town sheriff (Kevin Durand), who is struggling with grief due to the loss of one of his sons, comes face-to-face with a monster that has been exacting its revenge on the local populace for desecrating its habitat.

Analysis

Dark Was the Night begins promisingly enough. It has the slow-burn quality of a tense horror thriller without using “jump scares” to try and excite the audience. However, the filmmaker forgot to add moments of excitement and resolve to create an engaging narrative.

By the time the climax hit, I was standing in front of the television waiting for it to be over, which is not the quality of a good film.

Kevin Durand turns in a good performance as a depressed father who has lost all emotional attachment after the abduction of his son. The long-windedness of the writing makes his character arch tiresome, though, and the viewer is exhausted from Durand’s depressed state by the end of the film.

Bianca Kajlich plays Durand’s estranged wife, who lives with her mother—unable to deal with the loss of her son. There is a lack of chemistry between both her and Durand, and their relationship feels like it is “going through the motions.” This is made abundantly clear through the writing, but their lack of attachment to one another seals the deal.

Lukas Haas provides some enjoyment as Durand’s rather detached partner. While he also shares many of Durand’s qualities in the film, he brings a sort of escalated expression to his role, which makes him enjoyable to watch—mores so than the lead of the film.

The first half of Dark Was the Night has interesting visual qualities. The screen is literally cast in blue to give a cold, distant winter-vibe, which I thought achieved its purpose. This cinema trickery wears off by the end of the second act as the film steers into generic territory.

Furthermore, the evil monster, which may or may not be a “Windiga” (sic) is revealed to be a giant malformed CGI creation. The entire film is a build up to the reveal of this creature—and it looks horrible. I wanted to give the movie a half-star in this category but really felt as though the monster ruined it. They should not have revealed it at all, because they could not pull it off as the build up set too much expectation.

As far as the music goes, I will keep this brief. There was nothing memorable in the score. The monster’s cries were monster screams that could have been royalty-free sounds from a horror website. And, there are moments where the audio is difficult to hear because Durand’s voice is both deep and low, which is fine, but they do nothing to elevate it in the mix, so it gets lost in a void of silence.

I would not recommend Dark Was the Night for the reasons previously mentioned. It is a long build to ultimately reveal something that could not be filmed. The setting was interesting (I love cold, snowy environments), but the characters were forgettable, and the CGI was not executed well at all. It’s kind of disappointing since I enjoyed the first half of the film.

Overall Rating: 1 star (writing ½ + acting ½ + sight 0 + sound 0 + recommend 0)

Live in Cook County Jail is King of Chicago Blues albums

I was immediately swept up with this album as I was riding on a train back home from Chicago with my future wife sitting next to me. I can still remember us grinning at each other when the crowd on the album erupts in applause at the line, “I gave you seven children, and now you want to give them back.” King’s genuine attitude really sealed the deal for me, regardless of a few clunky executions on the album.

Synopsis

King was invited to Cook Country Jail by the new warden Clarence Richard English and played for 2,117 prisoners. English had seen king play at the Chicago nightclub Mister Kelly’s (Kapos).

The set included older material, and the track list is laid out as such:

  1. Introductions
  2. Every Day I Have the Blues
  3. How Blue Can You Get?
  4. Worry, Worry, Worry
  5. Medley: “3 O’Clock Blues,” “Darlin’ You Know I Love You””
  6. Sweet Sixteen
  7. The Thrill is Gone
  8. Please Accept My Love

Live in Cook County Jail is still regarded as one of King’s finest performances alongside Live at the Regal.

Analysis

I love the way this album opens. The jeers from the crowd at the very mention of prison and state officials sets the mood (and the reform in living conditions that took place after the concert at Cook County Jail hints at why they were not pleased to hear such esteemed names). The first track, though, is rushed, and King’s voice gets muddled in trilled horn instruments as he barrels through the lyrics. Nevertheless, most of the tracks are all around sonic bangers, and I always enjoy the crusty pentatonic peel that King attempts to pull off at the end of “The Thrill is Gone.” It’s authentic.

Even the sometimes ambling “Every Day I Have the Blues,” which is perhaps played too quickly (perhaps the live-stage jitters?), still affords that necessary energy to kick off the album. When the second track “How Blue Can You Get” came on I was completely riveted. My excitement trickled over, and I handed my wife one of my ear buds. It was such a perfect moment between us, and I can thank Chicago Blues for that.

This is a classic blues album, and I believe if you go in listening to a generic blues album, your expectations are typically met. There is going to be some yelling, some soloing, and some twelve-barring. Live at Cook County doesn’t disappoint in that regard, but it has some tricks up its sleeve. King monologues and inserts his discreet sort of guitar playing into all the right nooks and crannies. If we analyze it from the idea of intention in complexity, the listener will be comfortable with the bluesy-ness of the album, and will be delighted by the content and delivery.

This is a live album so I can cut it some slack in regards to fidelity, but I would also say that in that way, the audio is one of its best parts. It sounds like a blues album, and the listener doesn’t have to find a faux-blues band to hear them use vintage amps and equipment. It’s right there on stage. As far as the ideas go, King and the band play laid-back music on purpose (I’m guessing because of the setting), and jam and vamp their way through the album, setting a real tone for both expectation and reality.

I think B.B. King, much like everybody on the planet, is as authentic a blues player as one can get, and I also think on Live in Cook County Jail, King lives and breathes his blues music like a true blues man.

Trivia:

  • Press related to the album described the poor living conditions at Cook County Jail and necessitated prison reform. The prison had been referred to in the press as “a jungle” because the conditions were so rough for inmates.
  • The album reached Number One on the “Top R&B” chart, which is the only B.B. King album to do so throughout his career.
  • It was ranked 499 out of 500 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

Musicians:

B.B. King – guitar, vocals

Wilbert Freeman – bass

Sonny Freeman – drums

John Browning – trumpet

Louis Hubert – tenor saxophone

Booker Walker – alto saxophone

Ron Levy – piano

Sources:

The Times are a-Changin’ in “No Country for Old Men”

Introduction

 The first time I became familiar with “No Country for Old Men” in any format, was when I watched the movie by myself at the ripe old age of 17. The movie played through, Tommy Lee Jones finished his monologue with “And then I woke up,” the screen went black, and I sat up from the couch. “God, that movie sucked.” Seemingly, I had just sat through something poorly executed and meaningless. I mean, was there significance to each character? What was I supposed to take away thematically? Anton Chigurh got away scot-free aside from a baffling car accident? And Moss simply dies off-screen and away from the reader’s window? I am the wiser at this point and with the help of literary analysis, I have come to understand the book much better, and find it far more profound than I once did. Though, this essay is a reflection, I will impart both thoughts and lessons I have taken from “No Country for Old Men,” and elaborate on what I think and feel about the content.

Outdated Characters in the Modern World

I suppose a good starting point is the book thematically as a whole. An initial scan reveals the suggestion that life, often being brief and ending abruptly, has a way of informing its residents in many aspects, as does the slow deterioration of one’s self. While I think nailing down a theme for “No Country for Old Men” can be difficult, there are some clues that may help the reader understand what McCarthy is getting at throughout the text. Reviewer Walter Kern writes that the novel relies on sparse elements that create a cohesive whole, which include, “Too much temptation. Too little wisdom. Too many weak, bad men. Too few strong, good ones.” Yet, it’s covered in something else. Kern writes that it’s freedom and space to make poor choices to temporarily flee, as we see with Moss fleeing for his life with the drug money—the blood money.

“He sat there looking at it and then he closed the flap and sat with his head down,” McCarthy writes of Moss’s fateful decision. “His whole life was sitting there in front of him. Day after day from dawn till dark until he was dead.”

So, then the theme it is tied to fate and chance, as one’s actions will see literal outcomes; however, I also think an important theme to consider plays into the title, which is that time moves on whether one wants it to or not, and, with that, people become outdated in their morality, philosophy and ethics as the years pass. In other words, relevancy is not permanent, and it can be inferred that one’s age dictates the currency of one’s life. I think this makes sense when one considers an older person who is attempting to dress in the current fashion—there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that, but it just looks off, because we have adopted what our own conscious understanding of fashion (and what is fashionable) and to whom it belongs. With that being said, the looming irrelevancy of all of our lives can dictate the meaning we derive from ourselves and our history.

  1. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell

Case in point, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. He believes people should be responsible for their actions and for their justifications; and, yet this concept evolves throughout the novel. The endless procession of horrors jostles Bell to the point that he retires disenfranchised due to his inability to exact any kind of justice in a world that no longer fits him.

“A few years ago and it wasn’t that many neither I was goin out one of these little two lane blacktop roads of a night and I come up on a pickup truck … so I hit the lights and whenever I done that I seen the slider window in the back of the cab open and here come somebody passin a shotgun out the window.”

During this scene, Bell is attacked by drug runners, who shoot at him from their truck, and he crashes his car and realizes that times have changed. No longer is the world full of innocent barfights that lead to a few minor scrapes, but now it has morphed into a landscape rife with murderous rampages, violence, and killing. While he reminisces in the book from what we can assume is the future of the events, the real change isn’t apparent until he visits Moss’s dad toward the end of the book and discusses his dreams with his wife.

To frame it another way, at the start, he is an honest, stalwart sheriff who is overseeing the civilians within his county (what could be defined as his flock). At the end, he doesn’t know if there is any reason to continue doing such a thing, as evil has forced its hand, the villain got away, and good people died. This is an interesting evolution as Bell reminisces about “better times” where kids used to play different games (better, more innocent games), and, as such, we see the theme of an evolving world taking place in a more literal way—in Sheriff Bell’s mind. Moreover, in meeting with Uncle Ellis and after having a thorough discussion about modern morality and ethics, Bell learns that these “better times” might have never existed, as men have always killed each other for the same reasons—or lack thereof. As Uncle Ellis states of Uncle Mac’s death, the violent times never went away.

“They was seven or eight of them come to the house,” Uncle Ellis tells Sheriff Bell. “Wantin this and wantin that. He (Uncle Mac) went back in the house and come out with a shotgun but they was way ahead of him and they shot him down in his doorway. She run out and tried to stop the bleedin. Tried to get him back in the house. Said he kept tryin to get hold of the shotgun again. They just set there on their horses. Finally left.”

This excerpt is reminiscent of Chigurh’s macabre methods. While the killing of Uncle Mac seems devoid of emotion and meaning, one could suppose that such killing happened a lot in that particular area of Texas, and thus had historical value to the inhabitants. One could also surmise that Uncle Mac was so attached to the past, and the way things were done in his day, that his death was assured. But this is only my own inference.

  1. Llewelyn Moss

Furthermore, we see the theme of outdated values in Llewelyn Moss, who is truly a flawed character. While hunting on the flats of New Mexico, he stumbles upon money, which he then decides he will steal to better his own life. This action dooms him as far as the theme of the novel goes, as he is then pursued from the start of the novel by a drug cartel, a sheriff, an remorseless assassin, and another hired gun; and, he is finally left dead in the doorway of a motel after a shootout with someone from the cartel.

Sheriff Bell’s unveiling of Moss’s corpse is indicative of the dry means of killing in this part of the world:

“He (Bell) pulled back the sheet. Bell walked around the end of the table. There was no chock under Moss’s neck and his head was turned to the side. One eye partly opened. He looked like a badman on a slab. They’d sponged the blood off of him but there were holes in his face and his teeth were shot out.”

In this, we can see Kern’s point—Moss had the freedom of choice and the freedom to flee, which he chose not to do and thus killed himself and his wife in the process of his own wants. But, we must also analyze the “outdated values” argument. Moss is impulsive and is willing to follow his morality and ethics to the end to justify his theft. Moreover, he is willing to throw his life away, and he believes that, through simple ingenuity, he could survive and defeat the odds. Nevertheless, as we see, this is not the case. Moss is killed, the money is taken from him, and his wife, Carla Jean, is murdered likewise. Llewelyn’s outdated morals—morals he perhaps honed in Vietnam (and thus during a different older time)—ultimately get him killed. He is too reliant on the skills he hopes to use to defeat the cartel and Chigurh. As such, his morals are outdated and thus lack rational logic for modern problems, which in McCathy’s world means you will leave defeated or you will die.

  1. Anton Chigurh

Anton Chigurh is vastly different from both Llewelyn and Bell in his moral code. He doesn’t believe that life has inherent meaning, and instead favors fate as the guiding principal. In Chigurh’s opinion, one follows a path that leads them to where they are going rather than choosing their path. Destiny is destiny.

As Kern states:

“He’s a strict, conscientious, self-taught psychopath who vigilantly maintains his mental ill-health. He’s purged himself of all qualms and second thoughts so as to function smoothly in the world that Bell has grown unfit for.”

The march of time and “outdated morals” do not apply to Chigurh because his morality and ethical purity are made for a violent world. In other words, he lives strictly by his convictions, and he will not be deterred unless he is in an absolute dire strait, which isn’t often. As such, he is completely different from Bell in that way.

“… what makes Chigurh such a chilling antagonist is that by McCarthy’s reckoning, he seems like the right man for the times—an uncaring beast with no concern for anyone else,” Keith Phipps from the A.V. Club writes.

He is the right man for the right time, and he is playing a violent game—not an innocent one.

Llewelyn Moss is flawed, impulsive, and impractical, while Sheriff Bell is in over his head as times have moved on without him, but the world seems to reward people like Chigurh due to his convictions and his willingness to adopt the methods of the current climate. Somebody who has no want of sensibility, community, and capital—those things that tie Bell and Moss together—will benefit in the en—or, at least, that seems to be the suggestion.

Conclusion

Which brings me to one of the final scenes in No Country for Old Men—both the book and movie. Anton Chigurh is driving down the road in suburbia after killing Carla Jean and is t-boned by another car that runs a stop sign. He is left in bad shape, bloody, but is able to pay a bystander for their shirt and silence, and then he makes off into the night, as though he is some phantom of vengeance and retribution that can’t possibly succumb to his own rule set.

I’ve always found this to be the most confounding part of the book and movie, but now it makes sense to me when applying the “outdated morals” concept. Taking a step back, one can see how Chigurh simply leaves the scene of the accident, and gets away, which would literally mean that this really is “No Country for Old Men,” because evil perseveres in the face of justice. However, in applying the “outdated morals” concept, we must reflect on Chigurh’s confrontation with Wells and his unwillingness to take money in exchange for Wells’s life. In fact, he gives Wells a face full of shotgun instead of taking his money; but, this should be strange, because we then see Chigurh bribe two small children in order to ensure his own escape. Is he just being a pragmatist who is cleaning up loose ends? I think not. As the two boys ride their bikes to Chigurh, who is terribly hurt, he asks them for their help and gives them money.

“Chigurh thumbed a bill out of the clip and put the clip back in his pocket and took the bill from between his teeth and got to his feet and held it out … Take it. Take it and you don’t know what I looked like. You hear?”

But, why? If he is so sure of fate, wouldn’t it work itself out? In the novel, Wells asks Chigurh if he would take money in exchange for sparing his life, and Chigurh says it’s a good payday, but “It’s just in the wrong currency.” This, he says, shortly before outright murdering Wells. Nonetheless, according to Jack’s Movie Reviews, and what I think is an astute observation, the reviewer states: “As he passes the one-hundred-dollar bill to them, it is a passing of generations. It is him being weak. It’s him becoming an old man. And, as we know, this is no country for old men.”

There is no right or wrong in “No Country for Old Men,” in my opinion. There are no just actions or evil actions. There are just those who have outdated morals or ethical impurity and suffer from their own actions, and those who adhere strictly to a modern moral compass that ensures survival. Bell realizes he is outdated and is no longer fit for a world that has changed and left him in the past. Once, he used to break up bar fights, and suddenly he was being shot at by drug dealers, and then he was following in a destructive swath cut by Anton Chigurh. The world moved quickly and away from Sheriff Bell, and regardless of the amount of his ruminations—the world had changed.

No Country for Old Men is a book about changing times and how that has a lessening effect on one’s own immediate surroundings. Toward the end of the novel, Bell states that by trying to live by his own morals, he thought he was going to live his life the right way, or at least the way that he perceived was right.

“I thought if I lived my life in the strictest way I knew how then I would not ever again have a thing that would eat on me thataway.”

Perhaps it is a little about mental change as one gets older, too, and the realization that these moments you once lived are now just shaky memories. I recall reading an article about how unreliable our memories are, which is such a sad realization, because we hope those memories will remain with us and will in some way allow us to remain current and relevant in conversation. The thought that we generate parts of our own memories undermines our intellectual independence and renders us fragile before time, which is what I imagine Sheriff Bell feels in No Country for Old Men. He remembers better times, but maybe those times were never better in the abstract. He just remembered them as better days. 

Either way, I believe McCarthy wants us to believe that regardless of one’s morals—or their ability to survive, or their patience, or their violence toward others—everyone becomes outdated one day whether it’s through their own memories or actions. Yet, by understanding and accepting this, one can adjust their life so that the reliance on the past has less of an impact on the present and the future. At least this rational could help us rest easy with the knowledge of our own impending irrelevancy as time marches onward, and perhaps it could help us avoid Sheriff Bell’s disenfranchised conclusion…or Llewelyn Moss’s violent fate.

Works Cited

Cheuse, Alan. “McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men.” NPR. July 28, 2005. Web.

Kern, Walter. “‘No Country for Old Men’: Texas Noir.” The New York Times. July 24, 2005. Web.

Phipps, Keith. “Cormac McCarthy: No Country for Old Men.” A.V. Club. Aug. 16, 2005. Web.

Film Festival a slice of delight for local horror fans and creators

I attended the Slice of Fright Film Festival with my mum in Bay City, MI on Saturday, Oct. 12. The festival showcased 32 international and national short films and micro-films from the horror genre.

Typically, I go to movie-outings with low expectations (this is done intentionally—not out of malice or snobbish contempt), because I’m a popcorn junkie and it gives me a reason to drink non-diet soda, which I otherwise avoid. If the outing features these offerings, then I can safely say it was a great experience without having to use the festival films as a critic’s egregious crutch.

The Slice of Fright Film Festival offered both popcorn and soda, and some really great mini-flicks to boot.

IMG_1285
I went with my dear mum, and at one point I asked her to buy me a sticker (because they only took cash, and I only had a card). My mom turned to me and said, “You’re eating into your popcorn money!” As a 30-year-old man who looks twelve, I probably should have felt more ashamed, because we were in a room full of people, but deep down I knew she was right.

As highlighted by the official selections, the short films were both national and international (and Michigan-made films as well), including Canada, France, Ireland, and Germany. The wide range of diverse voices provided interesting takes on atypical stories, so there were lots of little surprises throughout the evening.

Some of the film highlights:

  • Hypnosis: This French short by Director Grégoire Vaillant kicked off the film festival and had a great deal of depth. By analyzing viewer expectations as moviegoers, the short was able to play with horror movie clichés in an original way. The sound design in Hypnosis helped convey the fear, dread, and revelatory moments throughout its evenly-paced story. This was one of my two votes for the “Viewer’s Choice” category.
  • The Animator: I’ve loved clay animation since the first time I watched Rank/Bass’s Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964) and Santa Clause is Coming to Town (1970). South Carolina Director Trent Shy’s The Animator does not disappoint either, as it explores the notion of the creator and the creation…and the masochism that sometimes occurs when one is literally shaping the world of their creations with their own hands.
  • Grave Sight: One common factor throughout the festival was the level of humor that the creators employed in their films. Of all the films, I think Grave Site by Canadian Director Angus Swantee executed this skill with the most expertise. Grave Site tells the tale of a husband and wife who are digging up a witch’s grave to steal her rings, and hilarity ensues (there’s eye-popping, monsters, and some really fun sight gags). Grave Site was my second and final choice for the “Viewer’s Choice” category.
  • Verso: Verso was just damn cool. Michigan Director Joseph Victor proves that reverse linearity in narrative can be just as effective as telling one’s story front-to-back. The short works in reverse to tell the story of a man’s transformation into a zombie-like monster. The slow reveals through the literal reversal of film is both a neat execution strategy and it’s an engaging way to inform the viewer of plot detail.
  • Death Cleaners: This short by Director Cynthia Bergen uses the macabre profession of crime scene technician as a lens to tell a ghost story. I am highlighting it here because I think it tells a fairly conventional tale replete with “jump scares” but manages to use both a competent and unique voice to tell its story.

Overall, the 2nd Annual Slice of Fright Film Festival was a fun event that had a lot to offer in showcasing unique voices in horror and short films. I’m already looking forward to next year.

In the Tall Grass (Spoilers!)

Details

  • Released: Oct. 4, 2019
  • Director: Vincenzo Natali
  • Starring: Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, Patrick Wilson, Will Buie Jr., Harrison Gilbertson, Tiffany Helm, Rachel Wilson

Synopsis

A group of disparate characters (a mother, father, and son; a brother and sister; and an old flame) enter a field in the middle of the US to find themselves lost physically, spatially, and spiritually. They have to work together in order to defeat an ancient evil, and find their way out of a maze of tall grass and supernatural forces.

Review

In the Tall Grass (2019) is rife with Stephen King tropes, but has some of the charm of a Joe Hill narrative, which creates a compelling mixture of familiar and genuine moments.

The movie tells a story about an unknowable evil (tropey) that is both pervasive and permeates its way through miles and miles of tall grass somewhere in middle America. It also happens to embody a giant stone that sits at the center of the miles and miles of green ocean grass, and it has the ability to generate some a sort of psychic control over those that touch it, which dominates their minds and bodies.

Our protagonists are pulled off the road in pursuit of “time-loop” versions of themselves who have become stuck in a sort of wretched feedback loop where they either die or become extraordinarily insane (the rules aren’t made abundantly clear). The first two to enter, Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal DeMuth (Avery Whitted) follow after a young child’s voice(Will Buie Jr.), who is searching for his parents Ross (Patrick Wilson) and Natalie Humboldt (Rachel Wilson).

There is a great deal of time in the beginning of the film that is spent acclimating the viewer to the tall grass’s abilities, which is actually neat for the first minutes until it degrades into everybody screaming each other’s name for an excessive amount of time. I felt as though this section could have been trimmed a little as it doesn’t further the movie in any meaningful way.

As such, I have come to the conclusion that if a film forces the audiences to follow characters around and around in setting circles then there might be trouble with the story or the particular act itself; and, that’s pretty much what happens throughout much of In the Tall Grass. There’s a lot of walking in circles and returning to the same set pieces, which actively steals forward momentum from the audience, and it feels like they haven’t gotten anywhere in the story. Oddly enough, the viewer feels as though they are walking through a maze of tall grass.

In a very Stephen King fashion, one of the characters becomes possessed by the ancient evil and begins eliminating the support cast. This isn’t necessarily an issue, but Patrick Wilson is a good actor who could do much better in a role which doesn’t call for him to transform into a zany, wise-cracking villain (Damian Lewis’s change in Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher [2003] comes to mind). And, Patrick Wilson really embodies that zaniness to a fault.

I was not really familiar with the cast, but I think that was a good choice for the film, because there are some deaths in the film that are unique and unexpected, and it helps to not know who you are supposed to be rooting for when those climactic moments occur. Not having a familiar face to cling on to certainly creates more tension for the audience.

Moreover, I enjoyed many of the visuals in In the Tall Grass, as there seemed to be an actual interest in using practical effects to achieve some of the more expansive visuals. The tall grass, for instance, looks like a moving, tricky mass of sentient life, and the ancient stone looks like a real piece of architecture that could be interacted with and touched. I think it’s important to have those moments in film that are visually awe-inspiring on a practical level to stand in contrast to the unnecessary use of heavy CGI in modern film.

Likewise, the sound is not remarkable but does convey the horror atmosphere by using disjointed tones and what sounded like Gregorian chants, I think. I may need to update my sound system, though, because early in the film, as the characters are shifting around the tall grass, their voices pan from right to left and back again to denote the inconsistency in their location, but I don’t think I was catching the full effect, or it just wasn’t executed very well.

In the Tall Grass is a good horror film. It has surprises and a few solid performances. Also, the premise is interesting, and I can really appreciate a film about unknowable evil. I think fans of Stephen King would enjoy it. As for modern King (and Hill) adaptations, I think this is more consistent in tone than IT: Chapter One (2017) and IT: Chapter Two (2019). There is some gory stuff, too, but it’s pretty tame in comparison to modern horror cinema.

The premise is interesting but then fizzles down in the third act. I am also uncomfortable with the rules of the tall grass. They make it a point to hint that there are some, so why not show the viewer the whole game? Or, just don’t hint at them at all. I can live with either choice. I guess it is supposed to be this disorienting, perennial evil that encourages confusion, but this actually creates a perplexing world for viewers.

Overall: 3/5 (writing 1/2+acting 1/2+sight 1+sound 1/2+recommend 1/2)

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is the second-best film in the franchise

Details

  • Director: Steve Miner
  • Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Janet Leigh, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as hockey-skate face).
  • Writer(s): Robert Zappia and Kevin Williamson (uncredited)

An Argument for Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

The Halloween franchise is a complete mess. Ever since Michael Myers first (Laurie) strode onto the screen, audiences have had an interest in seeing more of the Shatner-faced antagonist in their film diet (and I do say interest because I feel as though most of the hype surrounding these franchises are literally manufactured by studios to continue the acquisition of wealth via franchise pillaging).

The first film in the franchise, Halloween (1978) is a masterpiece of genre filmmaking, but certainly not the first, as its predecessor, Black Christmas (1974), is an insanely underrated slasher film. Nevertheless, it still sets the tone for horror movies today and pushed the genre into the general public’s canon of interests. Hopefully, it will have a lasting impression on indie-horror for generations to come (hopefully).

Yet, the films that follow the original get a little weird and mundane. Halloween II (1981) is a rehash of the first movie…and it is just not a good film. Donald Pleasence running around to the passenger side of a police car in the beginning of the film while screaming, “I shot him six times! I shot him in the heart! I shot him six times! This guy…he’s not human!” is both disappointing for expository purposes, and it’s disappointing to watch someone try to act those lines…even if it’s Donald Pleasence.

You can watch it on YouTube here.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is clunky and a little random (I do love it though, but it really should be its own thing), even though it oozes atmosphere and a batshit-insane plot.  Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) all demonstrate how a horror movie franchise can degrade into the banality of a slasher orgy that rivals the likes of the later Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th films. The film series also gets into Druid curses as a plot point, which is weird, but it may be the only thing I appreciate about that trio of films because at least it’s innovative.

Halloween: H20 (1998), however, does everything the original Halloween did in regards to atmosphere and horror, and builds upon fear and tension without using an abundance of jump scares and gore. Case in point, the scene in which Michael steals a car while a mother and daughter try to use a bathroom at a rest stop perfectly represents what made the original Halloween scary, and I am prepared to use a comparative analysis to make my point:

At the beginning of Halloween, a nurse is literally scared out of her car because Michael Myers is on the top of the vehicle trying his damnedest to get inside. He batters the roof and the windows, and finally—in a frightful mess—the nurse lunges from the car and Michael climbs through a broken window, peeling off into the night behind the wheel. He doesn’t follow her, he doesn’t stalk her for an hour through the woods until he kills her. In fact, you barely even see him and later in the movie, when his motivations become clear, you understand that he just wanted to get the hell out of there to go kill the rest of his family.

In a similar fashion, in Halloween H20, Michael waits at a rest stop until suitable victims arrive (in this case a mother and daughter), and, in a scene that is as about as tense as they get, Michael enters the bathroom and takes the mother’s keys from her purse while she is tearfully hiding behind a restroom stall door. He doesn’t kill her, nor does he kill the daughter. He just steals the keys and hits the road on his quest for revenge against Laurie Strode. It speaks volumes of his character, his motivations, and moves the plot along in a rational way while still employing tension and a very real and menacing threat.

In contrast, in the latest iteration of Halloween, Michael murders a pair of podcasting partners in a bathroom…because, according to the film, Michael is a single-minded murderer who has no ability to rationalize when and who he should be killing. Likewise, in Rob Zombie’s less-than-enthusiastic (or overzealous? I don’t know) remake, Michael kills a rather large truck driver because he needs his jumpsuit…because viewers want to see him back in his old duds? I’m actually not sure.

What I’m getting at is that there is an essential lack of subtlety in literally every iteration of Halloween outside of the original movie and Halloween H20. To further this point, in H20 we also get to see Laurie (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) dealing with PTSD from having her life completely unhinged by her psychotic brother (something I liked in the newest film); and, while it might seem like a bummer that LL Cool J is in Halloween H20, he at no point kicks Michael Myers in the chest and screams, “Trick or Treat, Motherfucker!” He’s just in the film playing a character; and, he actually does a pretty good job at it, because, you know what? Not only do I really love Halloween H20, but I’m also a believer in LL Cool J’s acting capabilities.

So take that, internet nerds!

Halloween H20 is also more than competently written. The writers do a fantastic job conveying Josh Hartnett’s rebelliousness and Laurie’s concern over the safety of her son, while also handling the delicacy of her character with tenderness and strength. She is a strong person, but anybody confronted with the deaths of their friends and family in such a gruesome way have to put up walls to get through the trauma. Nevertheless, she stands up to Michael and beats him down with a fire extinguisher (and eventually lops off his head, thus proving fratricide is sometimes okay).

I also really enjoy the visuals. The director Steve Miner and cinematographer Daryn Okada make use of the giant, empty Hillcrest Academy as a sort of killing ground for Michael. And, the lack of emphasis on gore makes the film more worthwhile because, like the original, you are not focused on explosions of violence to sustain a slowly-paced script. Instead, the atmosphere, storytelling, and character development help the viewer interpret the action and the dynamics of the film itself.

As far as what doesn’t work: the title Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is redundant.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Halloween H20, but I am also curious about your own favorite underrated horror films. What are some of your favorites from the 90s? And, if you don’t think the 90s was a good time for horror, then tell me why!

My Five Favorite Horror Films

Halloween is fast approaching like the shambling footsteps of the corporal undead, and what better way to celebrate the ghoulish holiday then by watching your favorite horror movies? As such, I would like to offer you boils and ghouls (hee hee) my list of favorite horror films of all time. Some are new (ish), some are old, and some are timeless, like some unknown, ancient horror in the depths of an aging manor on a blackened hilltop—but, nonetheless, each holds a special place in my gory, bleeding heart.

The Thing (1982)

I have so much to say about this film but limited space (self-imposed). So, I’ll be brief in saying it is as close to a masterpiece a horror director can achieve, or even a film for that matter. The Thing deals with cold isolation—from the world and from each other—and it’s also about trust. The Room’s (2003) tagline is “Can you really trust anybody?” which only kind of makes sense, but if it was The Thing’s tagline then it would make perfect sense! This film works because both themes (isolation and trust) are never broken, and never is this truer than when R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) is trying to weed out the alien by administering a test of his own devising, which involves setting heat to blood samples. Right up until the monster reveals itself, everyone is guessing as to who is still human and who has been assimilated; in other words, nobody knows if they can trust one another and on top of that, they are all alone on a frozen continent with relief months away.

The cast also does an amazing job—from Wilford Brimley’s pessimistic portrayal of Dr. Blair to Keith David’s role as Childs. They really all give an effortless portrayal of their characters. The real life isolation of the cast certainly contributed to the camaraderie on screen, and a funny anecdote about just how isolated the actors were is relayed in a documentary regarding the film when Director John Carpenter discusses a near-death experience on an isolated mountain, which featured their transport bus almost going over a cliff-face and very nearly to their doom.

More than that, what really makes The Thing great is Rob Bottin’s practical effects, which rely on prosthetic makeup, a double amputee, and lifelike replicas that explode with gorgeous violence. If you have never seen this movie, you simply must watch it. It’s one of the best and is an education in how to tell a grotesque and terrifying tale.

Alien (1979)

A running theme in movies I enjoy, which I didn’t realize until I formed this list, is isolation. The idea that a group of characters have a small place to exist while the fear of violence assails them appeals to me. With less room to move, characters must develop or the movie becomes stagnant, and the audience either becomes bored or turns on the protagonists.

Alien (1979) achieves where so many similar films fail. This includes creating compelling characters in distress and confusion. The harrowing onslaught of a mostly unseen enemy blinds the protagonists with paranoia and speculation as to how they will survive. The sheer fact that they allowed the character of Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt) to go try to flush the Xenomorph out of a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare.

Likewise, Sigourney Weaver’s performance as Ripley and the subtle performance of John Hurt as Kane, whose gory death is a revelation for viewers and the crew of the Nostromo, add to the realism and effectiveness of the film. Even if you’ve seen Alien, watch it again. The throat rape and chest-bursting will continue to haunt your dreams.

Sunshine (1999)

I don’t hear much fanfare for Sunshine, but I know its popular among sci-fi fans because it appears on “Best of …” lists often enough. Sunshine is yet another story on my list of lonely isolation aboard the spaceship Icarus II. After its predecessor becomes lost on a previous mission, the new space crew must chart a course toward the sun with the intention of dropping a nuclear payload, which will hopefully end a perpetual winter on Earth.

The mission is dire, indeed, and yet the filmmakers create a believable world filled with excellent plot development and strong casting. The score, too, is moving and overshadows some moments of lackluster special effects. And when a film can transcend its limitations (budget, casting, etc) then that probably means you have something good on your hands.

What makes Sunshine far superior, than say, Interstellar (2014) or Gravity (2013) is the balancing of storytelling which veers from science fiction adventure to slasher movie. Danny Boyle does a fantastic job directing this sharp shift with a keen eye to previous details and adequate pacing. Unlike many science fiction films, this is not just another 2001 (1968) ripoff or an attempt at mundane space horror. It’s the real deal.

Quarantine (2008)

Quarantine (2008) stands out as one of the finer attempts at a “found footage” title that I’ve ever seen, and it was one of the first of its genre to actually engross me into the short-lived lives of the characters. The decision to cast unfamiliar actors was a smart move and having the monsters downplayed compared to the mystery of their incarceration makes the film more jarring and definitely disturbing.

The added effect of cuing the audience to the conclusion was subtle enough as to not deem reproach. What is more, the apartment complex is claustrophobic and the narrow hallways and passages become familiar by the end of the movie. I can’t think of too many films where, as the viewer, I could probably find my way around the complex if given the chance.

I should also say that it’s scary as hell.

Kill List (2011)

I must admit, I watched this movie last year, and I was saddened that I had not seen it sooner. It has some flaws but subsequent viewings reveal a carefully plotted film, and disturbing implications, which while common for horror films, is uncommon to be so relevant upon further screenings. In other words, everything in Kill List means something: every little piece of dialogue, every altercation, every character, and every scene plays into the overall narrative and conclusion.

Thankfully, Kill List is on the good side of relentless—never questioning the intelligence of the audience to put two and two together. If given the chance, I guarantee it will stay high on your list of favorite horror films after the first time you watch it.

 

11. Village of the Damned (1960+1995) Movie Review (Podcast Episode!)

The two versions of The Village of the Damned (1960+1995) have their moments—both good and bad (alien babies? communism? Luke Skywalker?)—so this week, hosts Josh and Will sit down to talk about which moments elevated each film to space (because aliens), and which moments…well, crash landed on Earth?

Join us for this week’s episode and don’t forget to Like and Subscribe to catch future episodes!