Sunday, May 21, 2017

Never Open the Door

Never Open the Door

When six friends get together to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner they think they're in for a good time with lots of food. When an unexpected knock at the door brings in an uninvited guest, their relaxing night turns into a nightmarish fight for survival. 
From the opening title sequence I could already tell I was in for a good time with Never Open the Door. The film has a wonderful and spot on B-movie tone and style that was consistent throughout. It really felt like a late night flick you'd find on cable and end up watching to the end. The score tops off the tone like a cherry on top with a loud and telling horn section that has a classic sci-fi/adventure/thriller vibe reminiscent of 1950's visitors from outer space movies. 
The music dovetails nicely with the black and white cinematography and practical effects that recall Hammer horror of the 1950's and sixties. The filmmakers did their homework when it comes to classic horror/science fiction and it shows. Not only does the black and white picture add to the style the film is going for, it's also a nice symbolic reference to the good happening in all of the character's lives (weddings, babies) and the random, unpredictable evil that can takeover the lives of people in the blink of an eye. 
What is also noteworthy is not only do the filmmakers use classic horror to set the tone of Never Open the Door, but how they also bring it up to date with modern dialogue and speech patterns. The opening scene has the group of friends eating dinner and engaged in conversation. The conversation is remarkably natural sounding with constant overlapping dialogue. The whole scene has a modern improvised feeling to it and this approach, for the most part, feels noticeable throughout the film. I say that as a good thing as it made several moments truly feel spontaneous and real with actors repeating some of the same lines a few times in a row just as any one would in a surreal and distressing situation in real life. 
Once the unwanted visitor is in the house, the character of Tess (Jessica Sonneborn) begins to have startling and scary visions and this is when the melodramatic, old school horror, twisty Twilight Zone-like fun begins! There's a wonderful movie from writer/director Isaac Ezban called The Similars or Los Paracidos (find it on Netflix) that would make the perfect companion piece to Never Open the Door for a double feature. Both have a wonderfully nostalgic science fiction melodrama tone laced with an underlying horror that grips the viewer and leaves them questioning everything right up until the end credits roll. A very interesting and entertaining film.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Blackcoat's Daughter

The Blackcoat's Daughter

The Blackcoat's Daughter tells the story of two girls, Katherine and Rose, who stay at their boarding school over Winter break while all the other students go home. When mysterious things begin to happen, it appears as though the girls may not be alone. Meanwhile, a girl named Joan is making her way towards the boarding school from a few towns away as things build to a terrifying climax.
The moment this movie opens you already feel like you're in a place you aren't supposed to be in. The Blackcoat's Daughter drips with a cold and eerie tone right from the opening frame and creates a disorienting atmosphere with wonderfully simple yet effective camerawork. Many shots are very still, close, slightly off center, a little skewed and obstructed and all have a touch of subtle shifting blurriness in backgrounds and foregrounds. Characters and objects appear on the edges of the frame, half in or half out of view. There are a lot of doors, almost in every scene and a lot of mirrors appear on screen. The whole theme of The Blackcoat's Daughter is that of an evil fun house filled with reflections and dark openings. Simply put it's a cold, snowy, very dark and very beautiful film.
Kiernan Shipka simply blew me away with her performance as Katherine. With her hair pulled back and up in braids she appears intensely proper while the labored body language of her small frame coupled with her slow, quiet speech pattern suggests a lonely and shy girl. In short, she's a fragile powder keg. With her physical choices, Shipka does incredible work in this film. Her face and eyes move with swift and seamless ease, changing from a blank, innocent expression to a mischievous smile in a way that recalls Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho. Yes, she's THAT good. 
The simultaneous emotional depth and emptiness portrayed by all 3 leads is simply astounding. Shipka, Emma Roberts and Lucy Boynton all perfectly embody and reflect the tone and feeling of the film. James Remar and Lauren Holly (who hasn't aged a day in 20 years) round out the impressive performances with Holly delivering a truly chilling, mid film monologue. 
The Blackcoat's Daughter is as perfect as films get. A bold statement, I know, but I can't stop thinking about this movie and how everything within it worked so well together. The bleak, unsettling and powerful music, the steady pace that expertly builds the story and mystery with each passing scene, the powerful and haunting performances (especially Shipka) and the creepy tone had me thoroughly engrossed in every moment. In my opinion, The Blackcoat's Daughter is a modern classic that should be seen by all fans of horror, especially those under the misconception that the genre is in an anemic state. Writer and director Oz Perkins has masterfully created something wonderful and scary and memorable. See this movie.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Plank Face

Plank Face

Plank Face tells the story of Max (Nathan Barrett) who goes on a camping trip with his girlfriend Stacey (Ellie Church). When Max is captured by a family of feral, wood dwelling cannibals, they are determined to transform him into one of their own. Will Max escape? Or will he become one of them... The movie opens with the very familiar 'have sex and die' motif executed so often in horror films that involve college age characters and take place in the woods. It's nicely filmed and makes good use of car headlights to shine light on the evil that waits in the darkness of the woods. But don't be fooled, this is not your average 'cabin in the woods' movie. Not at all. 
The opening scene gets the viewer ready for familiar territory and then does a complete turn into uncharted waters. Plank Face is a fascinating tale that shows the ability of people to adapt to new surroundings, no matter how bizarre. The film is a disturbing combination of man and nature. The evil antagonists are not simply inbred hillbillies or an unexplainable, evil presence in the woods, but rather a morphing of the two. 
The father of the family wears a plank of tree bark on his face and one of the daughters wears a filthy old rabbit mask and none speak any kind of recognizable language. It's the worst of man and nature in a twisted blend that creates seemingly crazed and animalistic antagonists out of the feral family. Think the woods in The Evil Dead mixed with the family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's nature personified, and vice versa. 
The music has a wonderfully off-putting playfulness to it and a fairy tale like chimey-ness that gives some of the scenes a dark carnival sideshow like feel. Other scenes have an ominous and airy, atmospheric sound that effectively creates a confusion of reality and fills scenes with a dreamlike quality. While we see the strange, ritualistic goings-on on screen the music asks us, "is this really happening?" 
The most brilliant part of Plank Face is that most of the film happens without any dialogue and the story is carried out through actions and observing the everyday rituals of the family. Experiencing such a life shattering event, we see the mind of Max slowly break as he struggles to realize his new situation while at the same time we see the strengthening of the family as their new member adapts to them. It's a voyeuristic and artistic approach that successfully puts the viewer in the same shoes as the protagonist; we learn as he learns, we adapt to the family as he adapts. 
This style will no doubt turn some viewers off but I found it to be completely engrossing and fascinating. I was beyond impressed by the commitment of the filmmakers to the tell the story of Plank Face the way they did, it comes across as uncomfortable, full of unexpected humanity, and wholly unique. Definitely check this one out for something completely different.

Havenhurst

Havenhurst

Havenhurst tells the story of Jackie (Julie Benz), a troubled young woman who takes up residence in a Gothic apartment building where her best friend was living when she went missing. During her stay, Jackie must confront a terrifying evil and try to find the truth about her best friend's disappearance.
The film does a fantastic job of sucking the viewer into the story from the very beginning. The opening sequence features horror favorite Danielle Harris as Jackie's best friend Danielle, and sets the tone as the bloody mystery of Havenhurst is presented. With Danielle missing and a detective named Tim (nicely played by Josh Stamberg) on the case and Jackie experiencing the mysterious and terrifying happenings at Havenhurst, the movie unfolds as an effective slow burn house of horrors film noir.
The filmmakers create a wonderfully dark and heavy atmosphere within Havenhurst complete with creaking floors and doors and dark wood paneled walls. The rich color palette of the cinematography gives a muted vibrancy to the fabric of the rugs and furniture through the musty and stale looking air. The film is a beautiful cross between the colorful look of Hammer films of the 1960's and the black and white film noirs of the 1940's.
The building that is Havenhurst is a darkly dominant and imposing building shooting high and heavy into the air, topped with sharp and spear-like Gothic style spires. It's a large, tomb-like building with locked up secrets and a deep, violent history. Havenhurst is full of plenty of horrific surprises and the building becomes a fun character in and of itself.
As for the cast, Belle Shouse is fantastic as Sarah, the young victim of her drunken, abusive foster father living in Havenhurst and Julie Benz is solid, if not a little one note, as Jackie. Her rough history and sad current life is good reason for her character to be a bit numb as a person and I'm glad the script was strong enough to set that up. It's hard to show the dynamic Danielle Harris and her strong screen presence for the opening sequence and have to follow that up. As a viewer, I was left wishing Danielle Harris were the lead character. That's how revered Harris is within the horror genre; using her as a cameo is almost distracting and dangerous because you end up missing her when she's no longer on screen.
As the mystery of Havenhurst unfolds, we get to see some pretty impressive looking gory effects and set ups, I only wish there were more of them. I appreciated the slow burn approach to the film and the patience the script took to lay out the story and flesh out the characters, but the gory horrors looked so good I would have liked to see a bit more because they felt a little few and far between. With that said, it's a beautiful looking film with a solid story and strong characters. I definitely recommend Havenhurst to any fans of the genres I mentioned because there's a lot to like and enjoy. 

The Evil Within

The Evil Within

The Evil Within tells the story of Dennis, a lonely, mentally handicapped man who lives with his brother, John. When John brings home an old antique mirror, Dennis immediately doesn't like it but reluctantly begins to befriend his reflected image, a demonic figure that tells Dennis to single handedly kill one by one the people he loves most. 

The movie throws itself onto the viewer with confidence from the opening scene; a surreal sequence aided by voice over that lets it be known you have to pay attention. The Evil Within is largely told from the perspective of the main character, Dennis. In fact, most of the time we are experiencing what's going on inside his mind in what is ultimately a character study. The end result is an absorbing and dark, cerebral fantasy. 
The Evil Within is an unique and sad story that drips with a nervous tension. You get the feeling something could happen at any moment, but you don't know what. It's creepy, unsettling, sad and strangely beautiful. There are several sequences that boast frightening, nightmarish imagery along with great camera work that captures reflections and distortions in mirrors. The film seems obsessed with the co existence of good and evil and has the running theme of a mirror can hold two separate images but we can see only one at a time with our eyes. 
Frederick Koehler is fantastic portraying both sides living inside of Dennis. The journey of the evil within slowly invading and corrupting the innocent part of Dennis is both heartbreaking and fascinating to watch and Koehler just absolutely nails it in his performance. His switching between characters with quick vocal and physical transformations are very impressive and he manages to portray both characters evenly throughout the film. I was very impressed by Frederick Koehler. 
Sean Patrick Flanery is also good as John, the overworked and stressed older brother forced to care for Dennis. There's an interesting parallel between the two brothers as John is losing his identity caring for Dennis, Dennis is finding his within the mirror, for better or for worse. 
Michael Berryman is perfect as the evil incarnate within the mirror. Thanks to The Hills Have Eyes, Berryman is horror's familiar Boogeyman and seeing him here was like remembering a scary dream as a kid and feeling the fear all over again. His staring, unblinking eyes are scary, hypnotic and unsettling. The story behind the making of The Evil Within is an interesting one. Writer and director Andrew Getty labored on his passion project for an astounding 13 years, with stop and go filming from 2002-2008 and spent years editing it attempting an impossible perfection. Getty passed away in 2015 with a still unfinished cut. The film was finished to the best of its ability and released this year on digital platforms. And this troubled production does cause some considerable misfires in the film. I clearly noticed different hair lengths on Flanery between some scenes but it is the end that suffers the most. There's very awkwardly edited and written scenes towards the end in a hail Mary attempt to tie things up. With a bizarre new character being introduced in the final act and conclusions being drawn and then re-drawn all in the same scene, it's an unfortunate and very messy little bit of the film. Overall, The Evil Within is a mostly carefully paced and hauntingly focused character study with slasher and supernatural undertones that leads to a twisted and bizarre freak show of an ending that was both unexpected and entertaining. Definitely give this film a watch, there's a ton to like here with a great story and a lot of unforgettable imagery that will please horror fans. 
To read an in depth account of the troubled production of The Evil Within and the troubles of writer and director Andrew Getty, check out the article at Blumhouse here.

CarousHELL

CarousHELL

CarousHELL tells the story of Duke, a disgruntled carousel unicorn that has had enough of the theme park life when he is insulted and wronged by a young rider. Naturally, Duke vows revenge on the doomed kid and goes on a bloody killing spree to release his frustration. What follows is a ridiculous and absurd good time. 
The characters are all entertainingly portrayed by the actors in a comically over the top way. They're more like caricatures than characters and the purpose they served was the best of both worlds: they had me laughing and rooting for their deaths at the same time. The two standouts are Se Marie as the endlessly full of herself Laurie and the My Tiny Uni loving Preston played by Chris Proud. Writer and director Steve Rudzinski also has a funny role as Joe, a very pizza focused pizza delivery guy. There's plenty of blood on screen and more than just blood, the kills are very creative and entertaining. One thing I love about the indie horror genre is the time and effort put into creative kills and practical effects. Maybe they do it to stand out, maybe it's for a love of the genre, or maybe a combination of the two. Either way the effects put forth by the film crew on CarousHELL are impressive and a ton of fun to watch. I also loved how Duke the unicorn remained an inanimate object as he moved. He would just glide and hop and kill as the stiff, plaster, wooden carousel unicorn that he was. It was funny seeing Duke move and navigate in this manner and hearing his voice come from his frozen face. It's a lot like the turkey in Thankskilling. 
Something I've noticed from the indie horror genre of today is the ability of filmmakers to perfectly merge the horror of the 1980's and the horror of the 1990's. The practical effects, outrageous story lines and cheesy dialogue of the 80's blends nicely with the polished, Abercrombie and Fitch like ensemble casts of the nineties. They mix nicely to create a nostalgic filled and self deprecating good time. 
CarousHELL is the kind of movie you can throw on late at night after a long day and just enjoy how ridiculous it is. It's entertaining, funny as hell, and even has a unicorn/girl sex scene for the Beauty and the Beast loving crowd. And when the end credits start to roll do yourself a favor and stick around for a couple extra minutes. CarousHELL manages to top it's ridiculous self and end on a high note. Hop on and give CarousHELL a ride, I know I'll be giving it another go around soon.

The Void

The Void

The Void is about a police officer who shortly after delivering a patient to an understaffed hospital, experiences strange and violent occurrences seemingly linked to a group of mysterious hooded figures who surround the outside of the building.
To say strange and violent occurrences is an understatement as The Void sets up scenarios that are nothing short of horrific nightmares. The set up feels like Assault on Precinct 13 and then shifts gears into The Thing crossed with 2015's Baskin and the film plays out beautifully. One of the things I loved about it was I never was quite sure where the story was headed or where it would end up. And the ride from beginning to end had me smiling from ear to ear.
The outside scenes in the movie are very dark and very quiet. I could barely make out what was going on save for the very small amount of light that shined on whatever needed to be seen to understand. This barely there lighting let's the viewer know that this story is a dark one and like there is little light, there is also little hope. It's also a wonderful play on the title as the quiet darkness creates the sense of a void, like something is missing. And that's pretty much how the movie works: it gives you just enough to comprehend but never over plays it's hand.
While inside the hospital the film takes on a yellowed and timeless look, as if the story could be happening now or 25 years ago. Once our group realizes they are surrounded and trapped in the hospital by a large group of white robed and masked strangers, the fun begins as they realize the true evil is waiting for them in the bowels of the building. What follows is an all out creature feature gore fest, a scary and unflinching hell on Earth. The acting is strong all around, especially Kenneth Welsh as Dr. Powell who delivers his lines in a measured and steadfast speech that indicates a man who possesses a great and dark knowledge. It's a truly scary portrayal through use of voice.
The effects and creature design were some of the best I've seen recently and the vision demonstrated by writers and directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski is truly impressive.
To say too much of the evil inside the hospital would be a disservice to potential viewers so I've remained as vague as possible about the details of the plot. The Void is not an easy film. It doesn't spoon feed you the answers you may want and instead leaves you thinking and contemplating what happened. Most importantly it leaves you wanting to watch it again. The Void looks beautiful, is truly scary, has awesome creature designs and I whole heartedly recommend it.