Hey, it’s me–walking back into your life like Steve from Blue’s Clues. I’m trying to be around more even with my busy slate of work. Halloween is upon us, my friends. We love horror, suspense, and mystery so let’s talk about this week’s interesting releases.
Netflix dropped Nightbooks this week on their streaming service. Nightbooks is a horror series that’s kid-friendly in the same vein as something like the Goosebumps movies. The series stars Krysten Ritter, who is an evil witch who kidnaps a young boy and makes him tell her stories every night. Nightbooks is produced by Sam Raimi, who directed the Evil Dead franchise and Spider-Man trilogy.
The other intriguing release is the documentary focusing on horror icon Boris Karloff. Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster released yesterday in theaters with a limited release. The film examines Karloff’s illustrious 60-year career in the entertainment industry. Karloff starred in horror classics, such as Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932). These are the interesting releases for the week!
An old Klingon proverb says “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” In Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, released in 2003, Oh Dae-su (played by Choi Min-sik), a man who has been imprisoned for fifteen years by an unknown person, goes to a sushi restaurant and asks to eat something alive. He has a conversation with the chef, Mi-do (played by Kang Hye-jung), about how the best sushi is made with cold hands. He then proceeds to shove a live squid in his mouth and bites the head off. Its tentacles wrap around his face, but he ignores this and keeps eating. Oh Dae-su’s imprisonment has changed him; he goes from being a man who talks too much to someone cold and seeking violence. He wants to be served something cold and alive.
I Saw the Devil, released in 2010 and directed by Kim Jee-woon, explores revenge similarly, although it engages with the horror genre much more directly. After losing his fiancee to a demented serial killer, Jang Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik), Special Agent Kim Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) begins routinely torturing the serial killer to get his revenge. As he executes this process the characters and the audience start wondering if Kim Soo-hyun is losing his soul and becoming a monster. Both Oldboy and I Saw the Devil feature the antagonist calling the protagonist a monster, or mention how they created a monster. This concept of monster creation has been present in horror fiction since the beginning. Books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein deal with the literal creation of a monster; whereas, Oldboy and I Saw the Devil use the monster creation as a metaphor.
Neither one of these movies is for the faint of heart, and both feature traumatic endings (which I will not spoil here. Seriously, watch these movies). They deal with the subject of revenge in a dark and nuanced way. How much would someone be willing to lose for revenge? Both films explore the cyclical cycle of revenge and violence and how once someone starts getting vengeance, everything resets, and bloodlust and revenge reemerge. Western movies–I talking regionally not the genre–such as Death Wish, released in 1974 and remade in 2018, along with its subsequent sequels, and John Wick use the revenge narrative as a vehicle for an action film. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. John Wick is one of my all-time favorite action films, but what I Saw the Devil and Oldboy offer is much more poignant and shows just how much is sacrificed in the name of revenge. Also, even though Oldboy and I Saw the Devil use the revenge narrative in a much more visceral and intense way they are still very satisfying action movies with Oldboy featuring one of the most well executed fight scenes of all-time.
Both I Saw the Devil and Oldboy also bridge the horror genre, which is why I’m looking at them under The Summer of Spook banner. I Saw the Devil engages with the horror genre in a much more direct way, some moments reminded me of films like Silence of the Lambs, and I should add that Choi Min-sik gives a performance in I Saw the Devil that is equal to the intensity and power of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. I classify Oldboy as bridging the horror genre only because some revelations and moments are horrific to watch; the film is much more in line with the thriller or neo-noir genre. These are two excellent films that explore the theme of revenge intensely and profoundly, making the audience question the morality of vengeance and violence.
Throughout the Summer of Spooks, we will do streams that feature games that have elements of horror and mystery. This is our first stream for our spooky event. The game we are featuring today is Thimbleweed Park. The game is a murder mystery that has a great sense of humor. Stream starts at 3:15 p.m. central time on Twitch at robertfrowniejr.
People fear death and the afterlife. They fear the punishment that they will receive for their sins and misdeeds. Films have explored death, the afterlife, demons, Satan, and Hell, but none have explored it with the same emotional and psychological horror present in Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku. Jigoku doesn’t position the demons or devils of Hell as the tormentors but instead has the people in Hell tortured through their own guilt. The tormentors of Hell do torture and harm the people who have descended into Hell, but the movie shows people as their own tormentors plagued by guilt, and that manifests into torture and horrific bodily harm.
Jigoku tells the story of a young man named Shiro (Shigeru Amachi). Shiro is a theology student that is well-liked by his professor. He has recently gotten engaged to his professor’s daughter, his fiancee is possibly pregnant with their child, and everyone seems to think he has a bright future ahead of him, but Shiro is tormented by a hit and run that he and his friend Tamura (Yoichi Numata) committed one evening that left a man dead. Tamura is much more cold and lackadaisical about the manslaughter, but Shiro is haunted by guilt. It isn’t long before more tragedy begins to befall Shiro. His fiancee dies, and their unborn child dies in the process, his mother becomes mortally ill, he discovers that his father is an uncaring and philanderous man who refuses to aid his ailing wife, and the lover and mother of the man killed hunt Shiro wanting revenge. Nakagawa’s presentation of this material is quite dreamlike–nightmarish probably makes more sense–and surreal. The character of Tamura is unlike any other in the film, and his presence in the film adds to the surreal quality that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Tamura’s actor, Yoichi Numata, even expressed his confusion in the role and was unsure how exactly to play him. He comes across as devilish, and I was waiting for the film to reveal that he was tormenting Shiro as a ghost or Prince of Hell, but instead, he ends up in Hell tormented for his multitude of sins.
Jigoku is an incredibly cynical film. There is no sign of hope or paradise anywhere to be found. The only redemption that anyone can receive comes in the form of endless torment in the depths of Hell. Nakagawa never dangles an ounce of hope in front of your face. From the start of the film, you know that it ends in Hell and torment. The end did leave me questioning whether or not Shiro had gained some form of redemption. In the end, Shiro’s lover and sister beckon him from afar, and where they are standing looks nothing like the Hell that he has just gone through, but having watched the movie I feel that the end may be a trick and a false sense of hope to lure the audience into believing that is some form of a happy ending. Ichiro Miyagawa joked about Heaven being in the sequel, but that was only a joke.
Jigoku is an emotionally taxing movie. The literal and figurative Hell that Shiro goes through is devastating and horrific to watch. Jigoku is a nightmarish portrayal of guilt and Hell. It is probably one of the most terrifying portrayals of Hell I have seen put to film. It is a masterpiece of horror cinema and an essential entry into the genre that shouldn’t be overlooked, but prepare to be tormented by the psychological, emotional, and violent horror present on the screen.
I am featuring Riki-Oh on the Summer of Spooks because it is a gruesome anime OVA. It is violent and it doesn’t hold back with its brutality. Riki-Oh began as a manga series that ran from 1987 to 1990. The manga series spawned two anime OVAs as well as a live-action film that released in 1991. Originally, my intention was to review the live-action film that’s titled, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. The film is a cult classic that’s not available anywhere. Prime Video, Crackle, and Shudder advertise that they have the film on their sites. After checking, the film is unavailable. The film is on YouTube, but the quality is poor. For now, I’m going to review the two OVAS until I can get a copy of the live-action film. I’m going to review The Wall of Hell (first OVA) today and save The Child of Destruction (second OVA) for a later date. These OVAs are available on YouTube with good quality.
The first OVA is directed by Satoshi Dezaki. The short film begins in a post-apocalyptic Japan that has been ravaged by warfare and global warming. We are introduced to Riki-Oh, who seems to be a homeless lone wolf. A car filled with yakuza members are driving down a road, then Riki-Oh absolutely destroys them with his fists. He literally punches a guy’s jaw off and we are able to see this grotesque feat. As we see later on, Riki-Oh intentionally killed these yakuza members in order to get sent to this prison facility. The prison facility is ran by corrupt leaders who secretly run an opium farm for profit. The leaders have certain prisoners who run their own section of the jail. The leaders and evil prisoners try to prevent Riki-Oh from getting his revenge on the chairman of the prison. However, they are not able to stop Riki-Oh and his superhuman abilities.
This OVA is not for the faint of heart. Riki-Oh destroys these vile prisoners with absolute ease and gory kill sequences. He literally punches a man so hard that the man’s guts explode out of his stomach. I feel like this anime perhaps inspired Mortal Kombat and One-Punch Man. Its influence is clearly felt in the subjects that I mentioned above. There are also very innocent people in this story that meet a doom that they don’t deserve. One of them is a child, so be prepared for how twisted this story is.
The anime short does give Riki-Oh an interesting story arc that makes him this mysterious character similar to Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive or Clint Eastwood’s character in High Plains Drifter. The story clearly explains why Riki-Oh is at the prison. He’s there for revenge. However, the mystery is what Riki-Oh was up to for two years. He was a star student and a brilliant musician. Before college entrance exams, he falls off the face of the earth, then pops up at the prison. The mystery is up for interpretation for viewers. It feels as if Riki-Oh has become this being of vengeance, who’s looking to cleanse the evil in the streets of Japan.
To conclude, Riki-Oh: The Wall of Hell is a brief, yet entertaining anime story. I can’t wait to watch the second OVA to see Riki-Oh’s story continued. I recommend the OVA for martial arts fans and fighting game fans. If you like gore too, check this out.
James Whale’s The Invisible Man, released in 1933, is a classic of horror cinema. Released during Universal Studio’s reign in the horror genre, James Whale adapts H.G. Wells’s novel to the big screen with gusto and flair. The film features incredible effects, a wonderful performance from Claude Rains, and a campy tone and atmosphere that adds to the film’s charm. In 2020, Leigh Whannell, a modern icon of horror cinema, updated the classic sci-fi/horror tale and created something arguably just as classic. I watched The Invisible Man (1933) a few weeks ago but decided to wait on my review until I could talk about these movies together. Each director takes the material and crafts something unique to their visions and unique to the period in which they were created.
Let us start with The Invisible Man (1933). In this version of the tale, a scientist, Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), discovers a way to become invisible, and this method takes a toll on his sanity. He becomes murderously insane, committing atrocious acts of mass murder, and terrorizes a quiet countryside. James Whale, along with Claude Rains’ performance as the titular Invisible Man, uses dark and macabre material to tell a campier and lighter horror film. Leigh Whannell leaves that campy tone at the door and weaves a tale much darker and sinister. One of the primary differences in both Invisible Man movies is how the titular Invisible Man is portrayed. Claude Rains cackles his way through the film, his character is tragic and a victim of his tampering with science; Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), is much more sinister. He is not a victim of science but rather a victimizer and abuser who uses his ability to gaslight and target his wife, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss).
The protagonists of each movie are incredibly different. In James Whale’s The Invisible Man, Jack Griffin is the protagonist. Even though he commits horrific acts, the movie is about his journey into madness. Leigh Whanell’s The Invisible Man has Cecilia Kass as the protagonist. They are both victims of the science that creates The Invisible Man but for many different reasons. Leigh Whannell uses the science of the story to create a very relevant tale about abusers and how people overlook or refuse to believe victims of abusers. Adrian Griffin does everything in his power to control Cecilia’s life. He knows no one will believe her and finds joy in torturing and abusing his power. One thing I find interesting is how both movies use empty space to try and make you guess where the Invisible Man may be. Leigh Whannell uses this to make you guess where the threat may be coming from. I found myself searching the frame for clues of where The Invisible Man could be. This approach is fantastic and helps build the horror and atmosphere. I love how the camera panes to empty spaces making you unsure if you are “looking” at the Invisible Man. Both directors start their narratives in the middle of the action. James Whale starts the film after Jack has already become Invisible, and Leigh Whannell opens his movie with Cecilia in the process of leaving. Whale uses this to create mystery, and Whannell uses it to aid his claustrophobic nightmare. One thing I was happy Leigh Whannell didn’t do was try and make the audience question Cecilia’s story or the reality of the film. I feel like many filmmakers would try to make a twisty narrative that tries to make the audience confused on whether or not there is an Invisible Man but Whannell takes the genre and story seriously, and that is beneficial to the film. The film never feels like it is trying to trick you; instead, it feels genuine in how it plays with the narrative elements of the Invisible Man story. Both movies also feature, what I would call, iconic moments. The 1933 film has the excellent reveal of The Invisible Man as he removes his bandages and his clothes revealing the nothingness that hides beneath. The iconic moment from Leigh Whannell’s remake features a restaurant and a knife–this movie isn’t old enough for me to spoil it. The restaurant scene is truly terrifying and made me let out an audible gasp of shock–I would assume that the 1933 reveal left audiences feeling the same way. These are the kind of moments that are etched in the minds of the audience forever.
People groan when they hear of a classic film getting a remake, and we see this a lot in the horror community, but The Invisible Man proves that remakes are not always terrible. James Whale’s 1933 film is a classic of horror cinema, and Leigh Whannell takes that familiar story and spins it in a new way that makes it relevant but still terrifying. I love that I can watch these two movies and get something unique and special from each viewing. The performances, the direction, the style, the atmosphere, and the tone are all unique. You get familiar concepts and themes but played in a unique way that is not only relevant to the film but to the time in which the film was released. The Invisible Man (1933) is a classic of horror cinema, and Leigh Whannell takes The Invisible Man (2020) to those same heights creating a modern classic of horror cinema.
Do you like horror? We do! The Summer of Spooks is upon us. Be prepared to get scared! Horror film reviews, comic book reviews, and games are coming your way. Please join us for the event that’s going from May 31st until September 22nd (end of summer). Insert evil, maniacal laugh.
In this life, we’re going to come across a film title that’s going to catch our attention. I stumbled upon this movie while scrolling through my feed on Reddit. I laughed immediately with intrigue in the back of my mind. Before I watched this movie to review, I looked up articles about the movie. The film’s director, Brendan Steere, did an interview with Forbes about the movie. He states that he drew inspiration for the film when he tried to type “velociraptor” into Google, but it auto corrected to “veloci pastor.” The goof inspired him to create this bonkers B-movie with only a budget of $35,000. I was excited for what’s to come.
VelociPastor focuses on Pastor Doug Jones (Greg Cohan), whose parents were killed in front of him by a car explosion. Instead of a shot of the burning car, we get a gag with a title card that says, “VFX: Car on fire.” The film immediately is letting the audience know to not take this film seriously. After the death of his parents, Doug heads to China where he earns the ability to turn into a dinosaur. He decides to use his newfound power to fight crime…and ninjas.
The film is going for the outlandish to induce great, effective comedy. VelociPastor has fantastic quotes and dumb, memorable scenes that will stay with audiences after the movie’s over. Two scenes come to my mind as examples. Early in the film, audiences meet a supporting character by the name of Frankie Mermaid. Frankie Mermaid is a pimp, who asks one of his prostitutes why do they call him by that name. She responds, “because you’re swimming in bitches.” I was dead. I completely lost it. I had to pause the movie and let the laughter out. The next scene that was comical was a Vietnam flashback scene. It’s a flashback sequence where supporting character, Father Stewart (Daniel Steere), remembers his time at war. In the sequence, his lovely girlfriend randomly shows up out of nowhere on the battlefield and gets blown up by a mine. Father Stewart stands there in shock, while his war buddies talk about the mine casually. Such good shit, dudes.
Greg Cohan needs to be commended for putting forth the effort in this whacky movie. He goes all out with the dinosaur transformation scenes. The dinosaur is a giant, rubbery-looking suit that they made. It’s not Jurassic Park quality. It’s Walmart/Dollar General quality. They make the most of the dinosaur with it decapitating people and gouging people’s eyes. As for the fight scenes, they’re hilarious watching someone running around in a dinosaur outfit, who’s knocking over people dressed as ninjas. This movie deserves a shot of getting airtime on Syfy or another network.
If you enjoy absurdity, this film is for you. If you don’t like comedy, you will find this movie to be stupid and not worth your time. I recommend it for lovers of B-movies.
Fade to Black, directed by Vernon Zimmerman and released in 1980, tells the story of young movie buff Eric Binford (no relation to Home Improvement), played wonderfully by Dennis Christopher, as he begins to spiral out of control committing murders based on movies that he loves. The movie appears to be a slasher on the surface but is much more of a psychological horror film with a dash of dark comedy.
Eric lives with his Aunt Stella in a cramped house. Stella is confined to a wheelchair and blames all of her woes on Eric, upset that she had to raise him. She despises Eric’s movie obsession and constantly reminds him of what a failure and disappointment he is. Not only does Eric have to deal with a controlling and abusive Aunt, but he is not treated much better at work where he is constantly berated by his boss, and harassed by two other employees Richie (played by a young Mickey Rourke) and Joey (played by Peter Horton). While out running errands for work, Eric meets a young girl named Marilyn who bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn is played by Linda Kerridge who looks as close to Marilyn Monroe as you can get and gives a great performance to top it off. Eric wins a date with Marilyn and then is stood up by her after he forgets about their plans. After Eric returns home, he kills his Aunt Stella by pushing her wheelchair down the stairs recreating a scene from Kiss of Death, released in 1947. A subplot in the movie features a Doctor named Jerry Moriarty (Tim Thomerson) investigating youth violence and sees a link between movie violence and adolescent violence.
One of the best things about Fade to Black is the callbacks to the classic movies that Eric is inspired by during his murder spree. Scenes from classic films are spliced into the movie to show the audience what is being referenced. Usually, I would dislike the spoon-fed scenes showing you what is being referenced but Vernon Zimmerman makes it work here using the references to let us get a glimpse into the mind of Eric as he goes insane.
The movie, at first glance, seems to be reinforcing the idea that movies cause violence, and at first glance that is what people would think about Eric. Eric is a loner who devours movies constantly and uses what he sees to inspire his foul acts, but the audience sees that his violent tendencies come not only from the movies he watched but from the psychological abuse that he has experienced at the hands of his aunt over the years–there is even some evidence that she is sexually abusive, requesting a back massage from him after she lends him money and requesting it grotesquely. Eric also comes across as misogynistic and entitled. He uses his movie knowledge as a way to hold power over people, thinking of them as idiotic if they don’t understand what he is talking about. His misogyny shows in his violence towards women and his objectification of Marilyn, who he obsesses over due to her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.
Fade to Black is one of those movies that you know will only improve on multiple rewatches due to its more complex psychological slasher tendencies. This movie takes inspiration not only from the slashers that were being made at the time but also movies like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and the many characters of James Cagney, whose movies make multiple appearances. Fade to Black is a complex semi-slasher that deals with themes of escapism, violence, and loneliness. Fade to Black was a much more complex movie than I was anticipating and what worth the watch.
Happy Twin Peaks Day! Today we are looking at the 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Released after the cancellation of the show, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me tells the tragedy of Laura Palmer, leading up to her murder and right before she is found wrapped in plastic by Pete Martell, played in the series by Jack Nance. While the film is primarily a prequel, there are a few moments that make it a sequel to the series, but that wouldn’t be explored fully until Twin Peaks: The Return in 2017. It has long been known that upon initial release Fire Walk With Me was met with mixed reviews; I’m glad it has been reappraised after its release and given the acclaim, it deserves, because in my personal opinion this is one of David Lynch’s best works. It is a dark and tragic tale that explores the horrors and psychological trauma of sexual abuse and Sheryl Lee gives an amazing lead performance that should have been talked about more when it was first released. By the way, there will be some spoilers in this review not only from the movie but from the TV series that preceded it, so proceed with caution.
The movie starts with the investigation of Teresa Banks, a girl who was murdered similarly to Laura Palmer and was mentioned in the TV series. FBI Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) sends Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Issak) and Special Agent Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) to investigate. They go to the town of Deer Meadow, Washington which seems to serve as a dark contrast to the homely and Americana Twin Peaks. The police station is full of belligerent and rude cops and the diner the two agents visit is a dark counterpoint to the RR Diner, run by Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). This segment of the movie acts as a prologue to the main story which follows Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) as she discovers the secret of who BOB is only days before her death. There are also some brief moments with Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), and a former missing Special Agent Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) which is incredibly strange and brief and raises more questions that wouldn’t be fully explored until Twin Peaks: The Return.
The performances from Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise are amazing in this film. Sheryl Lee plays the broken and tragic Laura Palmer which such intensity, anguish, and horror that she will nearly bring tears to your eyes. Her father, and eventual murderer, Leeland Palmer, also the mysterious BOB, does an excellent job playing what is essentially two roles. There is a moment after a tense confrontation between him, Laura, and Laura’s mother Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) where he switches from being BOB back to Leeland Ray Wise plays that transition so perfectly. You can see his personality changing while the camera holds on his face. David Lynch also does a great job directing, creating a horrifically noirish atmosphere that feels like you’ve been pulled directly into a nightmare. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this movie a horror film, some moments will make you want to cover your eyes or scream.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is an incredible follow-up and prequel to what was already an outstanding series. Featuring an iconic performance from Sheryl Lee, a transformative performance from Ray Wise and immaculate direction from the masterful David Lynch, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a movie that will stay with you forever. Make sure to check out the first two seasons of the series and Twin Peaks: The Return, although if you’ve made it this far in my review, I hope you had watched the series before.