Dagon (2001), straight up Lovecraft

There’s something to be said for a faithful adaptation, but sometimes the changes work out. This movie is pretty true to the original short story except for the setting, and that change of location makes the story even more satisfying. So let’s dive in.

Dagon (Movie Review) | Bloody Good Horror
Macarena Gómez as Uxía Cambarro

The film is an adaptation of the classic H.P. Lovecraft story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, wherein a small fishing community is taken over by a sinister cult. Director Stuart Gordon just loves Lovecraft, but as always has adapted the story to modern times and it is wonderful. They made the (probably financial) decision to shoot in Spain, but instead of pretending to be somewhere else like so many low-budget films do, they decided to embrace it, turning Innsmouth into Imboca.

After a boat crash with his friends Howard and Vicki (Brendan Price and Birgit Bofarull), the protagonist, Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden) and his Spanish girlfriend Bárbara (Raquel Meroño), find themselves in the small town trying to find help for their friends. By setting the film there, the protagonist faces a language barrier that only adds to his sense of discomfort and helplessness. Even Bárbara is out of place as a Spanish-speaker in a town that speaks Catalán. At first I was like, “oh cool, representation for the minority Catalán community” but then my husband pointed out “they’re all evil fish people, though”.

So… fish people. Glorious, practical make-up effects. Some of them make dolphin noises. It’s great. But, alas, this is also tempered by some very dodgy CG effects at points, which are completely distracting. Honestly, those effects are the only thing keeping this from being a perfect movie for me. (Also, why do they collect skins, though?) The acting is all good for a low-budget foreign production. Ezequiel (Francisco Raban) is a great old-school wino character, and he even has the acting chops to pull off a huge expository scene. So there’s a good range of humour, drama, and horror.

This movie altogether lived up to my expectations for the creator of Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). It’s not perfect, but it is fun and makes the most of its status as an adaptation rather than being too cute with the source material. If you like Lovecraft, I would say this is essential viewing. It’s free on Tubi! But be forewarned, the subtitles don’t translate the dialogue in Catalán so if you don’t know that language and/or Spanish you will have a hard time.

The Lair of the White Worm (1988) horror comedy… mostly comedy adventure

Lair of the White Worm - Home | Facebook
Amanda Donohoe as Lady Sylvia Marsh

Imagine, if you will, Doctor Who fighting a snake person with the power of bagpipes. This movie is not trying to be a horror film, it’s an old-school adventure story and if you take it on that level, it’s super fun. It’s based on an original Bram Stoker short story, and the film itself is an homage to swashbuckling serials from the 1930s, with larger than life characters, big accents, and beautiful women in danger. Pure camp. Elevating it, there are some great trippy dream sequences where you go “Oh yeah, he directed Altered States (1980)”. So, altogether, it’s massively entertaining.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot because it’s very simple. There is an ancient town where a local lord once killed a great dragon, the white worm of the title. Now, in the 1980s, there is still one acolyte of the serpent, facing off with the lord’s descendant, James D’Ampton (a smarmy Hugh Grant), and a plucky archaeologist, Angus Flint (a very Scottish Peter Capaldi). Amanda Donohoe dominates as Lady Sylvia Marsh, chewing all the scenery while the other female characters, Eve and Mary Trent (Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis), do a fine job but don’t contribute much (and that’s okay in this genre).

It’s currently on Tubi, but leaving soon, so catch it if you can.

Basket Case (1982) puppet rating: 8.5/10

Do you like puppets? Gross puppets? Consider watching Basket Case (1982). It’s the madcap tale of a young man, Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), and his parasitic twin, Belial (puppet in basket). Separated without consent, the two team up to take revenge on the doctors that tore them apart, Dr. Lifflander (Bill Freeman), Dr. Needleman (Lloyd Pace), and Dr. Kutter (Diana Browne)… who is now a veterinarian. Along the way he meets the sympathetic medical receptionist Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), who falls head over heels for him for no reason apparent to the viewer. All of this takes place in a sleazy, early 1980s New York which is always a good time (think Muppets take Manhattan but icky).

It Came From the '80s] Belial is a Total 'Basket Case' - Bloody Disgusting
Belial, or “BeLyle”, as Tubi subtitled it

There’s even a bit of a weird Canadian trivia for those keeping score: the first evil doctor who is killed, Dr. Lifflander, is played by a writer of Canadian historical fiction, Bill Freeman.

Now. The puppet. Sometimes he’s stop motion. Sometimes he’s a real person’s face in a prosthetic. Sometimes he’s rubber gloves, like it’s filmed from his perspective. But most of the time, he is a hand puppet in a basket. I would argue that the fact he is all of those things is what takes this movie from garbage to glory for most of its run time. The gore effects? Surprisingly competent.

But then… I started getting a bad feeling when he tries to feel up Duane’s raunchy neighbour, Casey (Beverly Bonner). And, finally, there’s no two ways about it, he kills and rapes and Sharon. It’s so very tragic because I really did love that puppet. The film ends when Belial strangles Duane before they both plummet to their deaths. And because the world is a terrible place there are sequels. Sequels which I don’t think I’ll watch.

Colonialism, Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is a legend in shocking schlock. When describing it on Red Letter Media, the summary was that no one should see it. So, naturally, when I got a subscription to Shudder… I had to see it.

The frame narrative is that an new expedition has been sent to rescue a failed expedition, recovering their film canisters. It’s kind of cool as uncut footage from the first expedition is watched by the second, as it is cut for a TV special. The effects for human corpses are not terribly convincing, with animal organs and meat draped on plastic skeletons. Then there is the ritual abuse of women, designed to titillate the audience with female nudity but only in the context of violence, which is uncomfortable to watch but not unexpected. The portrayal of indigenous tribes is about what you’d expect: tree people (Yanumamo) are painted white, the swamp people (Shamitari) black, both are cannibals and rapists. The other tribe we meet, the “Yacumo” are wordless and impressed by simple technology, like flick knives and lighters. But the film pretends to turn expectations on its head as the first expedition is shown abusing the seemingly simple Yacumo, justifying it by saying its the rule of the jungle, “the daily struggle of the strong overcoming the weak”, as the protagonist puts it.

I get it, the white people are monsters, but the portrayal replicates historic abuses with a new generation and the indigenous tribes are made to respond by inflicting the same violence received (sort of a revenge motif). Making indigenous people chow down on raw meat and simulate rape is degrading abuse by any measure. But what is, oddly, really shocking is the abuse of animals. Early on, there is a leering sequence where a small rodent is stabbed, screaming on knife for several minutes, another where they hack at a turtle for what feels like an eternity. It’s genuinely awful, as you know it’s not fake and their lives are taken slowly, and clumsily to maximise screen time. After watching such horrific animal abuse, I was already okay with the idea the expedition would all die before knowing how they treated humans. I guess the justification for seeing this is man’s inhumanity to man etc. but others have done it in a more clever, less exploitative way. It’s crazy to see how many other films this director made. So, why do people defend the right to see it? Because the revenge angle makes all the preceding violence okay? Because it’s an early example of found footage film? I honestly can’t agree.

Fitzcarraldo (1982), is at the other end of the spectrum, with lovely natives ready to work for white men. It is the story of a wild-eyed eccentric, Fitzcarraldo (real-life horror show Klaus Kinski), who is charmingly obsessed with opera and decides to drag a boat over a mountain to expand a rubber empire. To do so, he conscripts a tribe identified as the Jívaro. In this story, the supposedly dangerous cannibalistic tribe is instead curious and childlike. They make a pact to help Fitzcarraldo for no apparent reason, even though they are consistently physically abused and some die. It is a hard watch because, in the end, the film just repeats the pattern of abuse that indigenous people suffered under in colonial times by forcing tribal members to repeat the same kind of hard labour in 1980. But at least there’s an opera-loving pig who sits on a red upholstered chair, I guess. It is interesting to consider the film in the larger context of Werner Herzog’s work, as he moved exclusively into documentaries after this earlier narrative work, filming indigenous groups more on their own terms and telling their stories with less interference.

At the end of the day, both films are about exploitation and replicate colonial structures of power over indigenous groups, and this can’t be ignored when talking about them.

Horror Ideology: They Live (1988) and Society (1989)

No one can doubt that 80s nostalgia is on the rise these days, especially this year; in new ways like Stranger Things 3 and Glow, or in re-vamps like Child’s Play and period pieces like It. The weird thing about it to me is the extent to which the era is glorified, unselfconsciously and without criticism. This was an era that spawned legitimate fears, like the repression of the AIDS crisis and art censorship in the USA under Reagan and the fear of fascism in the recession-era Thatcher regime in the UK. Instead, we get loving imagery of malls and carefully-curated costumes (with oh so many scrunchies). Much like the recent zombie craze, these feel increasingly like empty exercises in visual fetishism.

If we return back to the era itself, we can see savage social criticism in horror movies and now, when we reduce things down to heavy-handed 80s visuals for laughs, we lose the sense of the times. Heck, even Chopping Mall (1986) has more of a critique. As it happens, my favourite local theatre was showing Society (1989), presented by Rue Morgue, which I had never seen and had a lot of buzz as an openly anti-capitalist piece. I first became interested when it was mentioned in passing on Red Letter Media, which basically said to go see it without any preparation.

Many squishy noises ensue.

Of course, having to convince my partner to go, I needed supporting evidence (if you want to follow RLM’s advice, however, I see no problem with that). Noted critic Mark Kermode provided this, describing it as “A cult favourite amongst the horror cognoscenti, Yuzna’s directorial debut boasted eye popping rubbery mutations courtesy of an eccentric Japanese FX whizz who went by the somewhat self-explanatory name of ‘Screaming Mad George'” (p. 92, The Good The Bad and The Multiplex). Society is, essentially an FX masterpiece which still holds up to modern scrutiny. The social commentary is obvious, the subtext Freudian, and the acting horrible. Upper classes are bad, sexy, and gross. Right out of the gate, we know that the grotesquerie of the film is real. It’s disappointing, really, because if this idea were developed slowly as a mental breakdown in the protagonist it might have been an interesting film. Nope. Instead, we see a quivering mass of copulating flesh in the opening credits. Also, it’s framed up as a comedy, with flat comedy music cues, odd editing, and bizarre performances. As a result, this is a disgusting, sometimes unintentionally funny, film that encapsulates a society ill at ease with sexuality and a culture of excess. Still, it has some memorable imagery.

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A piece of subtle symbolism in this film.

Along the same lines, we have They Live (1988), a middle-period John Carpenter film, before the 90s seemed to burn him out creatively. This film is arguably lesser-known, as compared to more-beloved blockbuster/cult features like Escape From New York (1981) or The Thing (1982). I was first exposed to this film in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), in the form of over-explained clips. It is a testament to the film’s own charms that I sought it out to watch in full. Carpenter take a basic, paranoid we-are-secretly-being-invaded-by-aliens plot, and jazzes it up with the idea that they are intentionally poisoning our culture, and the dominant 80s culture is really theirs. There is, of course, a valiant underclass fighting them in secret. Through the rather obvious gimmick of special sunglasses, the hero sees the truth. We see gross skull monsters in high 80s fashion, selling out the Earth to invaders bent on destruction. Again, the social commentary is very much on-the-nose, but the protagonist remains iconic.

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In closing, I want you to think about how 80s nostalgia can be harmful. It de-fangs a complicated era that prized ostentatious wealth and suppressed anyone who disagreed with those in power. It was an era of fear, when the nuclear threat remained palpable and increasing censorship was repressing sexuality and dissenting voices. Both of these films imagine an external threat, and draw on the horror of inhuman bodies living off of our culture like parasites to examine the increasing divisions of class. In all of its silly 80s trappings, what does Stranger Things have to say about 80s culture OR about our culture today? I would argue that it speaks to a culture artistically bankrupt, desperate to mine the resources another time period and capitalize on nostalgia. When not making direct remakes, our most popular media is still all about an imaginary past which is reduced to visual cues and easy to laugh at. Scrunchies for everybody; we’re doomed.

Midsummer: The season of the witch!

Midsummer (summer solstice) is kind of a big deal in the North and it involves all manner of pagan trappings, like bonfires and night vigils. Really, it’s a much witchier time than Hallowe’en in many ways, but most summer horror films are of the popcorn, slasher, drive-in variety rather than spooky. Some summer blockbuster horrors, like the new “Chucky” (2019), don’t even take place in summer.

In honour of “Midsommar” (2019), which I’m super excited to see, I decided to do a quick rundown of some of my favourite witch movies for solstice. It’s interesting to me that, as you will see, we have vacillated between early depictions of a demonic witchcraft in 1922, to a more pagan, mystical image, and back around again to literal demons in 2015 and paganism in 2019. What does it say about our culture how the witch is portrayed, and how her story ends?

HÄXAN (1922)

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This is basically a history of witchcraft, very well-researched. Sources from the Middle Ages are taken at apparent face-value, as potions are brewed and spirits rise from the body in flight. The witches are either gross hags, or entrancing maidens, doing their rites with demons in the woods in a very real and literal sense, fought by the religious orders. In the contemporary era, though, real wichcraft is dismissed as hysteria, “The witch no longer flies away on her broom over the rooftops”. The version I saw was presented sometimes in a crisp sepia-tone, lending a red glow to the proceedings, and at other points in a cool blue. The demons are well-crafted, with flicking tongues and strange, distorted proportions. Smoke and steam are ever-present, and figures appear and disappear.  The costuming and effects in this film are very memorable, and it is interesting to imagine its reception at a time of changing morals. No witch comes to a good end, here. Burn the witch!

I Married a Witch (1942)

https://www.chicagofilmsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/img13.jpgOkay, so this is a weird one. Pre-dating Bewitched by a long-shot, this movie sets up Veronica Lake as a reincarnated witch sent to wreak vengeance on the family of a witch-finder, only to fall in love… seem familiar? It’s just another twist on a classic trope, but it’s charming in its camp simplicity. Hail to the (safe, married) witch!

The Wicker Man (1973)

Christopher Lee in Robin Hardy’s THE WICKER MAN (1973). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal

This is a personal favourite. It completely goes against all of your expectations for a horror film. For one thing, the setting is idyllic, filled with green pastures, bright colours, and wholesome, happy people. Here, witchcraft is in the open, and pagan rather than demonic, with charming songs and dances. For another,  the protagonist, an up-tight, strictly religious policeman is not particularly likeable and he is also, ultimately, unsuccessful in his quest. Evil is not gross here as it was in Haxan, but charming. Hail to the witches!

Phenomena (1985)

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While not exactly a witch movie per se, I’m including this one for its summer setting and mystical girl protagonist. Here, her magical powers over insects solve wicked crimes! While this is not one of Dario Argento’s most prominent works, it remains my favourite for reasons I cannot fully articulate. Like many other Argento films, there is a lack of logic to the plot, but great visuals. Magic here is at once dreamy, and in-tune with the natural world. Hail to the witch!

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Image result for hocus pocusA staple of my childhood. Even if the witches were evil, they were clearly the stars of this film, with the best outfits and musical numbers. I will fight you if you don’t like this movie. It also caused some strange feelings surrounding the human cat, further muddied by sassy Salem the cat on Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996). Hail to the (campy) witch!

The Witch (2015)

Related imageThis movie was clearly influenced by Haxan. It mimics its traditional imagery of demonic witchcraft, while at the same time exploring the psychology of the witch-trial era in all its religious fervour, paranoia, and sexual repression. Here, magic comes from the devil himself through worldly representatives, but its benefits seem so pitiable to a modern viewer; an apple, a bit of butter, all in exchange for your soul. At the same time, the witch is the only survivor in this context. Hail to the witch, maybe?

Suspiria (1977, 2018)

Image result for suspiriaThis film was a surprise for me. Having seen the 1977 original, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The 1977 version is fairly nonsensical, with a skimpy plot upon which to hang a bunch of interesting visuals (especially lighting effects). This 2018 re-telling is really a return to folk-horror, wherein magic is performed through dance and ritual. The setting in 70s Berlin is a big part of the story too. Here, the true witch triumphs over wicked pretenders. Hail to the witch!

To conclude, the witch is a complicated figure in film, running the gamut from a full camp Hocus Pocus (1993) to a sinister Suspiria (2018). Whether the witch is treated with compassion or denounced as a threat to society doesn’t just boil down to the era; each decade seems to portray multiple versions of the witch, and always with a certain degree of ambivalence. Right now, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) is blending straight horror, Satanism, and cannibalism with quippy teens and cutesy love stories in a confusing mix. Basically, witches are whatever you want them to be. Hail to the witch!

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Apostle (2018)

Are you ready for some weird, gory, environmentalist horror? Well you should be. The Apostle (2018) delivers the horror movie you didn’t know that you wanted. Gareth Evans, director of The Raid (2011), seems like an unlikely contender in the period-piece-horror genre, but this film was delightful in just about every way.

While it starts out like a late-Victorian adventure story, with the simple premise of an opium-addled investigator, Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), looking for his kidnapped sister, Elaine (Catrin Aaron), the movie goes to places you probably aren’t expecting. Reminiscent of the original folk horror classic The Wicker Man (1973), the viewer explores an unsettling island environment alongside the investigating lead-character as the plot unfolds.

With Elaine taken by a cult on an isolated island for ransom, Thomas is forced to feign conversion to penetrate the secretive commune, run by Prophet Malcolm and his fanatical cronies with an apparent revolutionary-communist flair. Thomas immediately sets to finding his sister and planning his escape, but finds the cult’s basis to be more complex and frightening than expected.

The movie feels fresh and simple, because the cast is quite small, and there isn’t too much exposition to get through (except a bit of a flashback at the end which feels unnecessary). The characters are all set up simply, their motivations are clear, and the dialogue is limited.

The visual style is incredibly good, with bright, sere, cool-toned daytime scenes and dark, earthy interiors by night. Some of the later scenes will even evoke Guillermo Del Toro’s iconic look in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

“But wait, what was that you said about environmentalism?” Well, this film deals with the theme of environmental depletion and overpopulation. That is, in itself, quite a feat, but the fact that the tone is never sententious is really impressive.

I would definitely recommend this movie, but be prepared for some real gore in the end stretch. Heck, it’s even on Netflix! Enjoy.

Hallowe’en Viewing Suggestions

Okay, so Hallowe’en is on its way. Maybe you’re planning a party, maybe you’re thinking about what horror movies you should watch leading up to the big day in general.

Sure, you could watch 3 flicks from the same property like Evil Dead, or Halloween, George A. Romero’s zombies… but horror movies spawn a lot of sequels of varying quality (I’m talking to you, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)).

Instead, I’ve created a list of possible movie-combos based on themes. I hope you like them, and maybe they will give you some new ideas.

1. FUNNY (but not for kids)

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Night of the Demons

These are some (sometimes unintentional) comedy-horrors that make for good popcorn-eating, drinking-game-playing, party movies, but still have moments that might creep people out.

Night of the Demons (1988) The weird kid decides to have a Hallowe’en party at the local haunted house. Things get really scary. Lipstick, ladies?

The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987) Evil deadites possess the living (and the woods themselves) in an isolated cabin. These are the films that made Sam Raimi’s career and his eccentric camera work, paired with Bruce Campbell’s off-the-wall performance make these a mainstay of Hallowe’en programming everywhere.

The Return of the Living Dead (1985) An homage to the George A. Romero films, this is a new take on his zombies that pits a bunch of no-good-punks against government-produced zombies.

Re-Animator (1985) A sort-of H.P. Lovecraft story, with the best mad scientist I’ve seen on film.

Dead Alive AKA Braindead (1992) Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) was clearly inspired by Raimi. He made a low-budget horror film with some great props and crazed ideas. You may never look at a lawnmower the same way again.

There are many more self-aware horror-comedies now. I will list some, but they wink at the audience pretty broadly: Lake Placid (1999), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Slither (2006), Drag me to Hell (2009), Zombieland (2009), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Get Out (2017).

 

2. BODY HORROR

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Dead Ringers

This is the opposite end of the spectrum from above, while there are some funny elements, there are genuine gross-out points here. I have given almost no information so you can get the full experience.

Dead Ringers (1988) Jeremy Irons is twin gynecologists.

Scanners (1981) One of the most iconic explosions, ever.

The Thing (1982) Kurt Russel is part of a team in an Antarctic scientific outpost and they are under attack.

The Fly (1986) Jeff Goldblum is a scientist working on teleportation.

From Beyond (1986) Barbara Crampton is a psychologist trying to understand one patient’s madness.

 

3. REALLY CREEPY

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Martin

Martin (1978) This movie is ambivalent about whether Martin is or is not a vampire. It makes for an interesting watch.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) A classic for a reason, this movie is all about paranoia.

28 Days Later (2002) Kind of a big deal when it came out, this movie brought us the “fast zombie” and really got into living through the zombie apocalypse.

It Follows (2014) Gets by more on creep-factor than content, per se, but really stuck with me.

It Comes at Night (2017) More upsetting emotionally than anything else. Not a creature feature.

 

4. EVIL, MAGICAL GIRLS

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Phenomena

As I’ve discussed in other posts, this is really its own category of horror films. Girls are often used as the site of societal fears.

Phenomena (1985) An often-overlooked Argento film, in which a girl has an unusual bond with insects.

The Exorcist (1973) An obvious choice, but it still holds up pretty well, blurring the lines between psychopathy and evil.

Carrie (1976) Another obvious choice, but it remains a chilling portrait of teenage cruelty.

Let the Right One In (2008) A new take on young vampires.

The Witch (2015) A new take on the psychology of witchcraft.

Hereditary (2018) Although my husband maintains that this was “a dark comedy”, I found it really got under my skin. It works both as a metaphor and a literal story, so it’s pretty neat.

 

5. STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE

Image result for Mandy 2018 filmMandy (2018) This movie is all about looks, and I’m fine with that; it’s visual storytelling.

White Zombie (1932) I would be remiss not to include a Lugosi film, and this one is more interesting to look at than some of his other ventures, while not noteworthy for its plot.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) If you can get over Keanu’s attempt at a British accent… well, you can’t, but this movie is sexy and super cool to look at.

Sleepy Hollow (1999) A re-telling of the horror classic with sets to die for (ah, puns).

Crimson Peak (2015) A Gothic-with-a-capital-G film all about ambiance and colour.

 

6. THE OBVIOUS CHOICES

These are all classics for a reason. You can’t mess with Psycho (1960), The Omen (1976), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Halloween (1978), The Shining (1980), An American Werewolf in London (1982), Silence of the Lambs (1991), or Candyman (1992) but even I get burnt-out on the classics after a while.

 

7. JUST SKIP IT

These are some of the supposed classics and game-changers that left me unmoved or felt too much “of an era” to remain relevant: Suspiria (1977), Poltergeist (1982), The Hunger (1983), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Hellraiser (1987), Tremors (1990), Scream (1996), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Saw (2004), The Descent (2005), Paranormal Activity (2007), Sinister (2012), The Conjuring (2013), Antibirth (2016), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), It (2017), A Quiet Place (2018).

 

8. HONOURABLE MENTIONS

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Pet Sematary

These don’t quite fit the categories that I defined, but are worth watching in general:

Pet Sematary (1989) Great film, sequel not wanted.

The Others (2001) Ghosts!

Shadow of the Vampire (2000) A fictitious look at filming on the set of Nosferatu (1922)

Mama (2013) Sort of creepy kids and ghosts.

The Babadook (2014) Worth the hype.

Bone Tomahawk (2015) Sort of a Western, but also horror.

The Ritual (2017) A creature feature, but cooler than it sounds.

Annihilation (2018) Although the ending left me a bit dissatisfied, this sci-fi horror is inventive visually.

 

9. KID STUFF

Young Frankenstein (1974) I mean… I saw it as a kid despite adult situations.

Ghostbusters (1984)

Gremlins (1984)

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Beetlejuice (1988) I mean… I saw it as a kid despite adult situations.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Corpse Bride (2005)

Coraline (2009)

Paranorman (2012)

Krampus (2015)

 

Any viewing suggestions that I missed? Please post a comment.

 

What horror can I get on (Canadian) Netflix?

If you’ve ever looked for something to watch on Netflix, I am sure you’ve encountered the same situation: I have time to watch a movie now, except that I just spent 45 minutes trying to find something to watch… oh well. To that end, I decided to create a list of horror and suspense films that will encompass a few sub-genres to suit your mood. Obviously, I have not watched all the movies, so I welcome any further suggestions in the comments section (no, really, I want to find other films that don’t suck).

 

Handout photo of Ben Chapman in costume for the title character in "The Creature From the Black Lagoon." For obit. of Chapman. E-mail from Bob [mailto:kogar@earthlink.net] via writer Dennis McLellan.

 

  1. Documentary: The Nightmare (2015) is about sleep paralysis, try going to bed right after that. It’s a pretty decent documentary with some entertaining reenactments, although interviewees insisting that it was really, for sure, actually a demon gets a bit irksome. Cropsey (2009) is an interesting, detailed look at an urban legend.
  2. Horror… IN SPACE!: Last Days on Mars (2013) is basically The Thing (1982) but on Mars, it has some cool visual elements (although it is lacking in Kurt Russels) and is scary. Attack the Block (2011) gets political with aliens. Under the Skin (2013) uses aliens as a metaphor and stuff. Ex Machina (2015) does the same thing with robots.
  3. Artsy horror: Mr. Jones (2013), although flawed, is pretty and dreamy, as is Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). Stoker (2013) is really creepy, but also not a gore-fest. Oculus (2013) has its moments. The Taking (2014) is a creepy take on dementia. The ABCs of Death (2012) is a mixed bag, but interesting. Maggie (2015) is not bad, all Schwarzenegger aside. Berberian Sound Studio (2012) is spooky. Stranger by the Lake (2013) and Nightcrawler (2014) are good suspense. The Skin I Live in (2011) is terrifying as well as thoughtful. I’m sure you have seen The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), but they’re good. Barton Fink (1991) is a great thriller.
  4. Silly fun: In the fantasy genre, Knights of Badassdom (2013) has Peter Dinklage so, how could you not watch it? The Beast (1975) is exactly what you think it should be. I am sure everyone has seen Evil Dead (2013), The Cabin in the Woods (2011), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Evil Dead 2 (1987), The Omen (1976), Jaws (1975)… but I am listing them on the basis of their intrinsic merit.
  5. Misogynistic garbage: I would take a pass on It Follows (2014), Contracted (2013) [AND Contracted Phase 2 (2015)], Nurse 3D (2014), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006), Basic Instinct (1992) … but maybe it’s kind of your thing.
  6. Just garbage: Archivo 253 (2015) is boring, The Human Centipede 1, 2 AND 3 (2009, 2011, 2015) just, why? We are what we are (2010) is overrated. Afflicted (2013) had some promising moments, but a really disappointing ending. The Awakening (2011) is a confused mess of a plot. Stake Land (2010) is a terrible B-Movie that wants so badly to be taken seriously.

 

I hope that this will help you make the best use of your Netflix time.

 

Nightmare Castle / Amanti d’oltretomba (1965)

This is a movie too good to be overlooked. Well, by good I mean terrible, and I love it. The following is an actual conversation that happened while watching this movie:

          Chris: What’s happening?

          Me: They’re acting… in slow motion.

          Chris: What? Do they not know that slow motion is done with cameras?

          Me: Of course they know that. They wanted the style, it’s just too expensive.

Okay, so the effects, sets, and costumes are less than convincing at best…

NightmareCastle2To be fair, this painting will haunt your nightmares.

But really, this film has so much potential.

nightmarecastle1No, seriously.

It hits on all those juicy Gothic elements that make Horror movies glamorous and intriguing.

The lovely Barbara Steele plays a dual role as Muriel and her sister, Jenny. Muriel is wed to a classic Victorian mad scientist, Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith as played by Paul Muller. Rich and bored, she has an affair with the gardener, and her husband tortures her and her lover to death in his experiments to make himself and his lover, the housekeeper, Solange, immortal. He keeps the lovers’ hearts in a flowerpot as a gruesome souvenir, and those hearts continue to beat at night (Telltale Heart, anyone?). Unfortunately, Muriel had already willed her castle and all her property to her “hysterical” sister, Jenny. This means that our horror doctor needs to marry Jenny to keep his classic Gothic castle, but he is conflicted as to whether to hang on to his “mentally fragile” wife, or just use her up in his experiments too. Meanwhile, dead or no, Muriel and her lover will not leave the Doctor, or Jenny, alone.

All in all, this is a Giallo delight, but not for casual viewers. Unless you really like bad horror movies, you may not be able to suspend disbelief enough to wallow in the low-budget effects and the classic blonde wig/black wig trick (what, they’re sisters, come on). Nevertheless, this movie speaks to me, somehow. By playing off the classic creepiness of Doppelgangers, haunted castles and hearts that beat out a warning to the living, this film has just enough style and substance to hang together… tenuously. It’s that tension, between decent film and total turkey, that makes it so charming – like a really good velvet Elvis painting.