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Movies Reviews

Ho Ho Horror: Christmas Evil (1980)

Christmas Evil. Directed by Lewis Jackson, Released in 1980, and starring Brandon Maggart and Jeffery DeMunn

Christmas Evil, directed by Lewis Jackson and released in 1980, felt misleading, but that is not a bad thing. I was fully expecting a cheesy Christmas slasher in the same vein as Silent Night, Deadly Night, but instead, it is more reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It’s not anywhere near as good as Scorsese’s neo-noir classic, but it made for a unique watch and separated it from the cliche holiday slasher that I was anticipating. Brandon Maggart stars as Harry Stadling, who witnessed the lie that is Santa Claus at an early age after he saw his father, who was dressed as Santa Claus to fool the kids, being intimate with his mother. This yuletide fuckery screwed with young Harry, and years later, he lives alone, works in a toy factory, keeps a good and bad list of local children, and dresses as Santa. He is belittled at work and picked on by his co-workers even though he has recently received a promotion.

Typically, I would expect a movie such as this to dive into the gore and violence immediately; however, this movie pulls back and paints a picture of a mentally disturbed man who is plagued by loneliness. Even his brother, played by The Walking Dead’s Jeffery DeMunn, doesn’t seem to care for Harry. He is more frustrated by his brother than anything. The movie makes you feel sympathy for Harry before he explodes into chaotic violence. It makes sense that this doesn’t feature all the slasher tropes since it came out in 1980, not long after the slasher genre took hold of horror, but I wasn’t expecting a character study that dived deep into the psyche of a lonely and insane man.

Harry descends into complete madness.

I don’t know if I buy the whole concept of seeing Mommy kissing Santa Daddy breaking Harry to the point of derangement, but Brandon Maggart does an excellent job portraying a broken man. The scene when Harry glues the beard on his face and starts weeping, both tears of joy and sadness, is magnificently performed, and moments like these make me wonder why I haven’t seen Brandon Maggart in more movies. The ending of the film is also spectacular and weird, which I immensely enjoyed.

Christmas Evil is an interesting Christmas horror film that ended up being more in-depth than I was expecting. If you go into this movie expecting a Christmas slasher, you may end up disappointed. Instead, this is a character study on loneliness that owes more to a film like Taxi Driver than it does the slasher movie cliches of Halloween.

Rating 3/5

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Movies

Ho Ho Horror: Better Watch Out (2016)

Better Watch Out, Released in 2016, Directed by Chris Peckover, Starring Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, and Ed Oxenbould

One of the activities mentioned in the classic Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams includes “scary ghost stories;” so, for the Holiday season I will occasionally be reviewing and talking about Christmas movies with a horror twist. I will be calling these reviews HO HO HORROR (I’m sure someone else was clever enough to come up with this before, and if someone else has used this title before be sure to let me know).

There is not much that one can say about 2016’s Better Watch Out, so I will keep my review short and sweet. Better Watch Out is a subversive and unique take on the home invasion genre. It offers so much more for the audience, who are expecting something much different than they get. It reminded me of a much darker version of Christmas classic Home Alone, directed by Chris Columbus and released in 1990. Unlike that movie, Better Watch Out is much darker, sadistic, and brutal in execution. The film starts pretty simple with a babysitter, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), going to take care of 12-year-old Luke, played excellently by Levi Miller–honestly one of the best performances I’ve seen from a young actor in a while. Luke is infatuated with the older Ashley, who has taken care of him before, and he and his best friend Garret (Ed Oxenbould) talk about how they can woo a woman with fear. He soon gets his chance to prove this theory after someone appears to break into the house after his parents, played by Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton, leave for their Christmas party; it is from this point on that things get strange, demented, and twisted.

I won’t say too much more to preserve the twist and turns. This movie features a clever script that is reminiscent of both Chris Columbus’ Home Alone and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. The performances from everyone are incredible, especially from Levi Miller and Ed Oxenbould, and Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton give fun performances with the little screen time they have. If you want a twisted, and subversive take on the home invasion genre with a holiday twist, I would highly recommend Better Watch Out.

Rating 4/5

Categories
Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The Night of the Hunter. Released in 1955. Directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin, and Sally Jane Bruce

The Night of the Hunter is a dark, southern gothic, noirish biblical fable; like a fairy tale, it explores the nature of good and evil. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is at the center of this tale; he is a dark and ominous man. He is a Revered and uses his religion to control, manipulate, and ultimately destroy lives. Christianity plays a unique role in the film; it shows how it is used not only for redemption but for destruction and death. Harry Powell uses his dark and alluring charm to draw people in so he can exploit and eventually betray and murder them. In the beginning, Harry talks to God, revealing he has killed anywhere from 6 to 12 people. Harry brings the wrath of God with him everywhere he goes. Harry acts as an Old Testament God, full of malice and destruction, and also assumes the role of an Anti-Christ figure, using religion to manipulate. He is a false prophet, using malevolence that is present in the Old Testament rather than the benevolence present in the New Testament. He has love and hate tattooed across both of his hands and tells people the story of good and evil by gripping his hands together and showing the battle between good and evil.

Harry eventually makes his way to the home of Willa Harper (Shelly Winters), whose husband has recently been hung for the murder of two people after he killed them during a robbery. Harry was an inmate alongside Willa’s husband Ben (Peter Graves), and he wants to get his hands on the $10,000 that Ben stole. Ben hid the money by giving it to his children, John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), and they swore never to reveal where it is hidden. He manipulates the town folk, including Willa’s boss Mrs. Spoon (Evelyn Varden), who is immediately swayed by Harry because of his connection to God. Mrs. Spoon convinces Willa to take Harry on as a husband, and she does. Harry terrorizes both Willa and the children using his religion to guilt them and betray them.

After Harry and Willa get married, Harry condemns Willa for her sexual desires. He links a woman’s sex to birth, denying that she needs it for pleasure. Sexual females are usually at the heart of film noirs, acting as Femme Fatales; their sexuality is linked to darkness, manipulation, and evil. Harry connects Willa’s lustful desire to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Femme Fatales often fill this role as the temptatious one who brings about destruction and sin but The Night of the Hunter subverts this by having Harry’s condemnation being manipulative and his control of her sexuality as his way of gaining power. Harry eventually murders Willa after she overhears him manipulating and abusing her children so he can locate the missing money. The shot of her floating in the water is horrific, nightmarish, and also beautiful because of the wonderfully shot composition and cinematography.

Charles Laughton and his cinematographer Stanley Cortez evoke old German Expressionist films. Their use of light and shadows create a gothic atmosphere; we also see this in the production design of the film. There are sharp angles that make the world, the houses, and the landscape seem dangerous and haunted by evil. The movie classifies as a film noir, but it also is reminiscent of horror movies, specifically Universal Monster movies. There is a shot of Harry chasing the children up the basement stairs, his arms reaching out for them. He looks like a monster, hunting his prey. The scene gives off a vampiric vibe, much like the famous shot of Nosferatu’s shadow as he ascends the stairs.

Also, I must mention Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish); like Harry Powell, is a religious person; however, unlike him, she uses her knowledge for love and kindness rather than death and destruction. Harry seeks to destroy the children for lying to him, while Rachel protects them with affection and gentleness. There is a paradox in Christianity between God’s wrath and Christ’s kindness. Harry and Rachel replicate this paradox. Religion, specifically Christianity, is not all good or bad. People can use it to exploit, gain power, manipulate, and harm; or, they can use it to display kindness, love, and affection. We see the dangers of the former in characters such as Mrs. Spoon, who falls for everything that Harry lies about hook, line, and sinker. But, we also see in Rachel Cooper how she lets religion guide her to be a kind and moral person, not seeking to turn away people for their vices, but instead help them understand their place in the world. 

The Night of the Hunter was the only feature film that Charles Laughton made. It is a shame that he didn’t make more because this is one of the greatest movies of the 1950’s inspiring everyone from Martin Scorsese to Guillermo Del Toro. Shockingly it was also not well received on initial release but is now regarded as a masterpiece. It is a dark tale but one filled with hope. Everyone should watch this movie; it is an excellent and well-crafted masterpiece that shows the power of cinema.

Rating 5/5

Categories
Gaming indie games

Spooktober Games #8: The Forest (Release Date: 2018)

Endnight Games Ltd’s The Forest is a game where players have to survive in a mysterious forest against cannibalistic mutants. Players explore the forest, find materials to build objects, and fight off the mutants. The game features a time system where players will play during the day and at night. Players are able to gather items during the day to build a fortress to halt mutants. At night, players fend off the hungry mutants, who will attack players’ buildings. Stealth is a way to attack the mutants or players can attack head-on with their own crafted weaponry. The game is on Playstation 4 and Microsoft Windows.

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Movies Spooktober

Crimson Peak Review

Cover of the Arrow Blu-Ray Release

Crimson Peak, directed by Guillermo del Toro and released in 2015, is a gothic horror tale about a girl falling in love with a boy and moving into his castle with him. Now, while that may sound like a fairy tale, the events leading up to her moving and the events preceding are quite horrific. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, the girl mentioned above, an aspiring author who falls for the dashing baronet Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston. After the death of her father Edith agrees to move to Allerdale Hall, the mansion that Thomas Sharpe lives in with his sister Lucille, played by Jessica Chastain. Lucille is a gloomy and despondent woman who seems to be hiding something, along with her brother.

The performances from Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain are excellent, with Jessica Chastain being an absolute standout. Mia Wasikowska is good in her role, but unfortunately, her character spends the majority of the movie in a passive role with decisions being made for her rather than making decisions for herself. While this may seem like a criticism, and to be fair it is a little bit, I think it is interesting what Del Toro does with her character in the latter part of the film. While she is passive for the majority of the first half she begins becoming more active, making things happen for herself, in the second half of the movie. I find this interesting that this change comes in her character not long after she says, “Characters talk to you and transform; they make choices,” whether this was intentional on Del Toro’s part I’m not sure, but never the less it is interesting and I believe of note.

The real star of this movie is the house, Allerdale Hall, also known as Crimson Peak. The house is an entity; a dead and rotting corpse with bleeding walls. The production design done by Tom Sanders is absolutely breathtaking; I don’t think I have ever wanted to live in a broken-down house more in my life. The ghosts that inhabit the movie are also quite extraordinary. Created with a mixture of practical effects and CGI the ghosts have an eerie atmosphere about them and it is hard for the audience to fully understand their purpose and motive until the end of the film.

Crimson Peak is an excellent gothic horror that features elements of mystery, romance, and fairy tales. Guillermo Del Toro’s movie are hard to place in a box even though on the surface they appear to be simple genre films. This is definitely a movie worth checking out if you are a fan of romantic gothic horror.

Rating 4.5/5

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Movies Spooktober

Classic Slasher Review: The Slumber Party Massacre

The Slumber Party Massacre, released in 1982, is a slasher movie written by author and feminist Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones. On the surface it looks like a typical Roger Corman produced slasher flick; it includes slightly gory kills and copious amounts of gratuitous nudity, but there is more to this slasher than what we get on the surface.

The movie follows four friends, Trish, Kim, Jackie, and Diane, who are spending their night having a slumber party, and two sisters, Valerie and Courtney. Valerie is a new girl at school who lives next door to Trish. She is invited to Trish’s slumber party but opts out because she overhears Diane bad mouthing her in the school locker room. This all acts as a set-up for the killer to attack. The killer, Russ Thorn, played by actor Michael Villella, is sufficiently creepy as the near-silent slasher who without motivation begins killing these poor girls off.

What makes this movie refreshing, despite its cliched plot, are the characters who populate the film. They make stupid decisions but personality-wise they all seem like real teenagers dealing with issues of sexuality and who scored the runs in last night’s baseball game. Amy Holden Jones has spoken about how the movie is a metaphor for a female losing her virginity, and that is obvious in a scene where one of the girls sits helpless in front of the killer as he uses his phallic-like drill to kill her. The scene is even framed with the drill bit between his legs symbolizing this. The movie is often not subtle about this symbolism but that is works to the movie’s advantage steering it away from being a typical slasher and elevating it to something new and original. The ending, without giving to much away, is also something of note showing the surviving girls traumatized by the horror they have experienced.

This is an excellent early 80s slasher that was way ahead of its time. It offers an interesting deconstruction of slasher movie characters and tropes. If you are looking for a fun, cheap, and unique slasher film definitely check this movie out.

Rating 3.5/5

Categories
Comics

Spooktober Games #6: SOMA (Release Date: 2015)

Are you looking for a horror game that takes place underneath the sea? SOMA is the game that you’re looking for. Frictional Games, the creators of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, submerge players into the watery depths of the ocean where you struggle to survive, while discovering what it means to be human. Players are inside the underwater facility PATHOS-II where they must uncover the truth of why the facility has been isolated. There are different types of enemies that players must combat, such as corrupted humans, twisted creatures, insane robots, and an inscrutable omnipresent A.I. Gamers take on these creatures and work on trying to find the remaining inhabitants of the facility. Pick up SOMA on PS4, Xbox One, OS X, Microsoft Windows, and Linux.

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Gaming indie games Spooktober

Spooktober Games #5: Outlast (Release Date: 2013)

Outlast is a survival horror game by developer Red Barrels. Gamers play as investigative journalist Miles Upshur, who is exploring Mount Massive Asylum. The goal is to survive in the asylum long enough to discover the location’s horrible secret. The game is in first-person, which provides for a terrifying experience. Players don’t have weapons to use. They either have to hide or run to escape the asylum. Red Barrels incorporates enemies that are intelligent and attack at any time. Outlast draws inspiration from actual asylums. Villains in the game are based on actual patients. Outlast will take gamers on a scary experience that they won’t forget. Outlast is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Linux, and classic Mac OS.

Categories
Movies Spooktober

The Mortuary Collection Review

“Dark, twisted, and awesome,” that is the kind of tale that Sam, played by newcomer Caitlin Custer, asks from Montgomery Dark, the old decrepit undertaker who works at Raven’s End Mortuary, played excellently by veteran actor Clancy Brown. The movie is set in the fictional Lovecraftian and Stephen King-esque town of Raven’s End, that is where the mortuary gets its name. Raven’s End is a gothic coastal town and from the looks of it houses many haunted and spooky tales. There is a meta aspect to this movie; the young Sam constantly critiques and nitpicks the stories that Dark tells her. She works here as the audience surrogate picking apart the familiar morality fables that we tend to see in many anthology films. I feel like the best way to rate this movie is to review each tale and use that as a way to talk about the frame story.

Tale 1: 2.5/5

The first tale shows a woman going into a bathroom while at a party. While in there we see that she has pickpocketed some of the men at the party. She gets curious about what is behind a locked medicine cabinet and gets more than she bargains for when the cabinet is open and finds a squid-like monster lurking behind. This a short and brisk tale to set up the movie. It is a tale about the evils of theft and the repercussion. The tale serves as an entry point into the meta-commentary of the movie. Sam breaks apart the story, critiquing it and wanting more from Dark’s tale.

Tale 2: 4/5

This tale offers more of what Sam wants from the undertaker; this story is the tale of a young man who likes to manipulate and play women so they will sleep with him. He pretends to be interested in social justice and feminism but uses that to exploit and take advantage of the young freshmen at the college he attends. While giving one of his lectures Jake, the male student, meets a beautiful girl named Sandra. Later on, they meet up at a party at his frat house and proceed to bang the night away. I don’t want to give away too much of each story twist but needless to say Jake is the “victim,” experiencing what it feels like to be taken advantage of and left behind. The story offers some substance in the form of body horror and gore, both of which are incredibly effective, and the actors here, especially Jacob Elordi who plays the manipulative and ultimate victim Jake, do an excellent job. Sam is still “glib,” as Mr. Dark puts it, about this tale to arguing that its predictability drags it down.

Tale 3: 3/5

This tale is far more depressing than the preceding two. Here we see a man, Wendell, taking care of his ill and catatonic wife, Carol; he is plagued by mounting bills and the stress of taking care of someone who seemingly will never get better. He is offered an easy way out by a doctor who gives him some untraceable pills that will put his wife to “sleep.” This story has some excellent shots, the beginning of the story starts with a dream from Wendell in which he is remembering his marriage to his ill wife. It starts sunny and blissful until he has to say “til death do us part” and then the sky turns dark and the lights in the church go out, in place of his wife is a ghostly apparition. This story isn’t nearly as short as the first or as fun as the second story but it has the most substance to its narrative. You truly feel bad for Wendell’s plight and the struggles he is going through. It is horrific due to some of its visuals as well as the narrative content of losing a loved one.

Tale 4 and Frame story: The Babysitter Murders 5/5

This is by far the best story in the movie. It involves Sam, the critical and inquisitive girl who claims she is seeking employment from Montgomery Dark. This time she gets to tell the story and it offers a new twist on an old formula, the slasher movie. We get a babysitter and an escaped mental patient from the local asylum, but the story is new and offers up new blood for the genre. That takes us back to the frame story of the movie. I waited to mention it until now because it wraps everything up like it is supposed to. Honestly, some of the stories are a bit lackluster in this movie but the frame story helps make up for it because of the meta-commentary that Sam is giving. The Babysitter Murder’s tale seems to bring up the idea that Dark’s stories are old and predictable and Sam’s story is fresh and new. This meta take helps elevate the lackluster nature of some of the other stories because it directly fuels the main story of the movie, which comes from the interactions between Sam and Montgomery Dark. I also want to take special note of the soundtrack in this story that draws influence from John Carpenter’s scores from the 80s.

Conclusion:

This is an excellent meta anthology film that offers up some fun and violent stories that aim to deconstruct the predictable nature of horror films and morality tales. I would highly recommend this movie to fans of anthology films and horror films in general. It is a fun take with some excellent performances and a wonderful score from Mondo Boys. “Dark, twisted, and awesome,” that is what Sam asks for and that is what the movie gives.

Rating: 4/5

Categories
Gaming

Spooktober Games #4: Dead by Daylight (Release Date: 2016)

Dead by Daylight is an asymmetrical multiplayer (4vs1) game where one player takes on the role of the savage Killer, and the other four players are Survivors, trying to escape the Killer and avoid being caught and killed. Behaviour Interactive has their own colorful roster of killers and survivors that players can be. Behaviour Interactive has been adding iconic killers from popular horror films to the games, such as Michael Myers from Halloween. The survivors’ main goal is to escape the killer and leave the map. The killer must capture and sacrifice the survivors. Dead by Daylight is a fun game to play with friends/family. It is fun for competition if you prefer to run solo. Pick this game up!