13 O’Clock Movie Retrospective: From Beyond

We’re returning to the rich well of Stuart Gordon’s H.P. Lovecraft adaptations with the “spiritual sequel” to Re-Animator, 1986’s From Beyond. Humans are such easy prey.

Audio version:

Video version:

Please support us on Patreon! Don’t forget to follow the 13 O’Clock Podcast blog, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Also, check out our cool merch at our Zazzle store! And check out Giallo Games!

Go subscribe to us over on our BitChute channel, our Veoh channel, and our Daily Motion channel.

THANK YOU TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS! The show is made possible by: Justin, John, Sean, Jason, Scarlett, Nathalie, Jake, Jen, Victoria, Lana, Duncan, Thomm, Matthew, John, Joseph, Dan, Eric, Brandon, Valtrina, Tara, Sandra, Paul, Jonathan, Weaponsandstuff93, Michael, Ben, Anthony, Denise, Ima Shrew, James, Matt, Mary Ellen, Jamin, Joanie, Arif, Natalia, Samantha, Ashley, Kieron, Sophie, Tara, Jana & Scott, Ed, creepy crepes, Christopher, Elizabeth, Tina, Lars, Ed, Feeky, Veronica, Corinthian, Daniel, Dean, Greg, Lindsey, Richard, Sheena, and KnotHead Studios.

13 O’Clock is hosted by Jenny Ashford & Tom Ross. Channel art and audio & video editing by Jenny Ashford. Music & sound effects courtesy of freesound.org users jamespotterboy, corsica-s, enjoypa, capturedlv, luffy, kiddpark, and justkiddink. Video clips courtesy of Videezy & Videvo.

Advertisements

13 O’Clock Movie Retrospective: Castle Freak

On today’s installment, we’re tackling the underappreciated 1995 Stuart Gordon film, Castle Freak, starring Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.

Audio version:

Video version:

Please support us on Patreon! Don’t forget to follow the 13 O’Clock Podcast blog, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Also, check out our cool merch at our Zazzle store! And check out Giallo Games!

Go subscribe to us over on our BitChute channel, our Veoh channel, and our Daily Motion channel.

THANK YOU TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS! The show is made possible by: Justin, John, Sean, Jason, Scarlett, Nathalie, Jake, Jen, Victoria, Lana, Duncan, Thomm, Matthew, John, Joseph, Dan, Eric, Brandon, Valtrina, Tara, Sandra, Paul, Weaponsandstuff93, Michael, Ben, Anthony, Denise, Ima Shrew, James, Matt, Mary Ellen, Jamin, Joanie, Arif, Natalia, Samantha, Ashley, Kieron, Sophie, Tara, Jana & Scott, Ed, creepy crepes, Christopher, Elizabeth, Tina, Lars, Ed, Feeky, Veronica, Corinthian, Daniel, Dean, Greg, Lindsey, Richard, Sheena, and KnotHead Studios.

13 O’Clock is hosted by Jenny Ashford & Tom Ross. Channel art and audio & video editing by Jenny Ashford. Music & sound effects courtesy of freesound.org users jamespotterboy, corsica-s, enjoypa, capturedlv, luffy, kiddpark, and justkiddink. Video clips courtesy of Videezy & Videvo.

Horror Double Feature: Beyond the Gates and Dead Silence

It’s another lazy weekend, which means it’s time once again for another horror two-hitter, courtesy of Netflix. Today’s pairing was really nothing to write home about, but enjoyable enough to write a blog post about, so let’s get right to it.

First up, 2016’s Beyond the Gates, directed by Jackson Stewart, and winner of the midnight-movie audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film, like many indie horrors of the past few years, is a throwback to a golden era of horror cinema (the 1980s; not that I’m complaining about that), and overall I found it a fairly charming effort, though I admit the pacing and tone seemed a shade uneven. Though the movie wasn’t really scary, had a somewhat slow first half, and was obviously a bit hamstrung by its nothing budget, I gotta say I’m looking forward to what this director comes up with in the future, as this was a pretty solid and generally entertaining horror-comedy.

The movie deals with two estranged and polar opposite brothers, uptight and nerdy recovering alcoholic Gordon (Graham Skipper) and shiftless bum John (Chase Williamson), who reunite in their home town in order to pack up their Luddite dad’s old-school video rental store. Seems that dear old dad, also an alkie, has been prone to binges and disappearances for some time, but since his most recent vanishing act has lasted more than seven months, the guys are assuming that this time, their father is never coming back.

Gordon decides to stay at his parents’ empty house while he’s in town, and he’s soon joined by his sweet and supportive girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant), who we later learn was the reason for Gordon giving up drinking, since he hurt her once when he was drunk. Before too long, John also asks to stay there, since apparently the couch he had been surfing on ejected him back into the streets for failure to cough up any rent money.

As the brothers are sorting through the vast and shadowy store, they discover in the locked back office the last thing their father had been watching before he vanished: one of those interactive VHS games that were fairly popular back in the 80s and early 90s, called, naturally, “Beyond the Gates.” The guys watch part of the tape (which features the wonderful Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame as the “host” of the game; she is easily the best part of the movie, peering creepily out of the TV screen with her kohl-rimmed eyes), and eventually come to believe that the game had something to do with their father’s disappearance, and finally they figure out that they’re going to have to play the game to the end to find out what happened to him and help him escape from whatever hell-dimension he got sucked into.

This movie did have quite a lot to recommend it, especially if you love cheapie 80s horror flicks and the more recent movies that pay homage to them. Barbara Crampton, as I said, was fantastic; some of the funniest/creepiest parts of the movie involved Gordon, John, and Margot hemming and hawing about the game, and Barbara Crampton (ostensibly on an old black and white VHS tape) just staring intently at them, waiting for them to make their next move. I also really liked the whole retro feel of the opening credits and the movie as a whole, including the Goblin-like opening theme and the predominance of neon pinks and blues. The look of the video store also brought back some pleasant memories, and the tone of the film was overall very similar to a movie of this type from the era. I also loved the design of the board game itself, which had a wonderful homemade gothic aesthetic going on.

I also liked that the movie took its time establishing the relationships between the characters, though I’m not sure it was entirely successful on that score, as I never felt fully engaged with them. And honestly, I felt like the plot could have been sped up a tad, as the first half of the movie seemed to drag somewhat before we got to the actual gameplay. And once the game actually started, there seemed to be a lot of scenes of the characters arguing about whether they should continue playing or not, which got a little repetitive.

I should also say that I felt like the balance between the horror and the comedy was a bit strange; much of the humor was fairly low-key, which is fine, but then there were a couple scenes of over-the-top gore that were clearly supposed to be funny (and they were, for the most part), and a brief comic turn by Jesse Merlin as a ghoulish antique shop proprietor, but the funny stuff didn’t really seem to fit in with the mostly serious relationship drama going on between the brothers and between Gordon and his girlfriend. So as I said, the tone of it was a bit off.

It was also painfully clear that budgetary constraints forced the filmmakers into a box; the journey “beyond the gates” and into the evil dimension was simply facilitated by an ordinary iron gate sitting in the house’s basement, and the evil dimension was just the basement shot with creepier lighting and a smoke machine, but I’m not gonna fault the movie too much for that, because making an indie movie and having to squeeze every penny is hard enough without assholes like me dinging you for having more ambition than cash. And it could be that they shot it like that on purpose, in order to give it that legit 1980s low-budget schlock touch.

So all in all, a decent 80s throwback that should please fans of the same, though it could have done with a bit more cohesion and a slightly quicker pace.

Next up, a film I only just got around to seeing, even though it came out way the hell back in 2007. James Wan and Leigh Wannell, obviously best known at the time for the Saw series, made Dead Silence three years after their breakout debut, and though it’s a completely different kind of film than any in the Saw franchise, I came away feeling sort of meh about the whole thing. I should note here that while I can see why James Wan became such a horror behemoth, most of his movies (The Conjuring, Insidious, even Saw) never struck me as anything particularly special. I realize that’s just me; for some reason his movies, while I enjoy them for the most part, don’t resonate with me, and I tend to forget them shortly after seeing them. I can’t really articulate why that is, but maybe in the course of writing out my thoughts on Dead Silence, I can clarify what I mean.

DeadSilence

The premise, for the three of you who haven’t seen it, is that main character Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) receive an unmarked package that contains a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy named Billy. Even though Jamie (and maybe Lisa too, this wasn’t clear) come from a small town where there’s a scary urban legend about a ghostly ventriloquist and a perception that ventriloquist’s dummies are portents of death, Jamie doesn’t immediately chuck the thing out of the nearest window or set it on fire, but instead leaves it in the apartment with his wife while he goes to grab some takeout. Predictably, the doll murders Lisa, ripping out her tongue and leaving her with her mouth wrenched open like a vent figure’s. This prompts Jamie to return to his hometown of Ravens Fair to try to figure out who sent the doll and why it killed his wife, and on the journey, he is pursued by the endlessly shaving and wisecracking Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), who is convinced that Jamie is responsible for the murder.

First of all, I have to say that this movie looks terrific. Very gothic and atmospheric, which is always a plus in my book. I also dug the whole ventriloquist aesthetic, with the old-school theater and all the trappings of 1940s showbiz, and I gotta admit that the dolls were effectively eerie, as vent figures in movies tend to be. Ghost ventriloquist Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts) was also cool-looking and easily the scariest part of a not-very-scary movie; overall, the visuals and the sound design of Dead Silence were admittedly pretty rad.

Where the movie failed, I felt, was in the plotting and the characterization. The characters were not engaging or charismatic, made dumb decisions (by gum, I think I’ll drive to a cemetery in the middle of the night with a haunted doll sitting right beside me in the passenger seat!), and spouted lame, cliched dialogue. The acting performances were not all that great, with Donnie Wahlberg’s detective seeming like a weird parody of a character and the guy who played Jamie just kind of bland.

The way the story moved along also felt too pat and obvious: for example, Jamie is all, I’m gonna go ask my estranged dad what’s going on with all this murderous doll ghost business, and then he goes to his dad’s house, and his dad’s like, I don’t want to tell you, and Jamie’s like, no dude, tell me, and dad’s like, okay, then, we all killed Mary Shaw back in the day and now she’s killing all our descendants in revenge, sorry I never laid all that exposition on you before, my bad. You get my drift? I just felt like everything was over-explained, like the movie didn’t trust the audience to figure anything out and had to make double-dog sure we were all on the same page, even though viewers were not only on the same page, but had finished the book a long time before the movie did.

DeadSilence3

The “twist” at the end of the movie was sort of neat, but not entirely unexpected. I don’t know, the whole gestalt of the movie reminded me of some of the lamer, PG-13 horror flicks of the era, like Darkness Falls, except a bit gorier; it seemed as though it wasn’t really made for adults. I watched the whole thing through and didn’t get too annoyed, but overall I thought it was just kind of there. But then again, I feel that way about a lot of James Wan’s movies. I think I would have liked this flick a lot more if I had watched it with the volume down and played some music to it instead, because it would make a gorgeous long-form goth-rock video, but as a movie…eh, not so much.

That’s all for now, and until next time, steer clear of retro VHS games and tongue-stealing vent puppets, and keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

 

Horror Double Feature: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and We Are Still Here

As regular readers will recall, I had a series on this blog titled Hulu Horror Double Feature. You may have noticed I haven’t written any of those in a while, and you may have also deduced that I stopped doing them right around the time that Hulu went to an entirely subscription-based format and got rid of all its free content. Since our household already pays for a Netflix subscription, I wasn’t gonna pay for Hulu as well, especially since I unfortunately don’t have loads of time to watch stuff. So from this point forward, whenever I do more recent double feature posts, the reviews will be of horror films that are featured on Netflix (or, for older ones, on YouTube‘s or Amazon‘s pay-per-film service). I do realize that this limits my options somewhat, as Netflix isn’t actually known for having a vast horror movie library (though they have improved somewhat this year, and hell, I may pony up for a Shudder subscription one of these days), they have enough decent-looking recent flicks that I can probably squeeze at least a few long-form posts out of ‘em. So consider my Hulu Horror Double Feature category to now be a more generic Horror Double Features. And that’s all I have to say about that.

With that requisite housekeeping out of the way, let’s settle in for our opening salvo in the new improved Double Feature category. The first movie I’m discussing is one I’d been hearing a great deal about since its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and although reviews were somewhat mixed, most of the negative reviews I read complained only that the movie was too slow, spare, and minimalist. Well, to me, that’s like an open invitation. Because if there’s one thing I love and can’t stop harping about on this very blog (see my reviews on The Haunting, Soulmate, House of Last Things, Yellowbrickroad, and pretty much any ambiguously creepy ghost story), it’s eerie, slow-burn, vaguely surrealist ghost stories that show very little but leave a lingering impression on the patient viewer.

By now you may have guessed that I’m going to be talking about 2016’s I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. Directed by Oz Perkins (son of the legendary Anthony), and starring Ruth Wilson (best known in the US for her work on the Showtime series The Affair) and Paula Prentiss (best known, at least to me, for starring in the dynamite 1975 movie adaptation of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives), the movie is a master class in using subtle cinematography and sound design to engender a cloying atmosphere of dread that pervades every frame of the film, even though nothing particularly terrifying appears to be happening. One review I read stated that the film was what it would look like if David Lynch decided to adapt a Shirley Jackson novel, and to me that seems to hit it right on the head.

The rather simple plot involves a neurotic hospice nurse named Lily Saylor who is sent to a remote old house to care for Iris Blum, a retired author of pulp thrillers, who suffers from dementia. During Lily’s eleven-month tenure, it comes to light that the house may or may not be haunted by a spirit named Polly Parsons, the subject of Iris’s most famous novel, The Lady in the Walls, whose ghost supposedly told the story of her tragic murder to Iris some years before.

Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that right in the first few minutes of the film, Lily herself breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience straight out that she is going to die, and the fact that Iris insists on calling Lily by Polly’s name, as well as the fact that the theme of ghosts forgetting how they died comes up several times, suggests that something more ambiguous than a simple haunting is taking place, and that perhaps our protagonist Lily is not exactly what she seems.

PrettyThing1

The movie is essentially a story inside a story inside a story. Was Polly a real person who was murdered in the house and whose ghost still remains there? Or did Iris just make her up, and is Lily conjuring the spirit out of her nervous imagination? Is Lily, in fact, dead the whole time and acting as the ghost herself throughout the entire film? I Am the Pretty Thing could be read in myriad ways, which is one of the aspects contributing to the creeping unease infusing its entire run-time.

The plot of the film, though, such as it is, is really not the star of the show. That would be the almost unbearable buildup of uncanny dread which makes the viewer feel unmoored in a waking nightmare. The gorgeous cinematography (by Julie Kirkwood) focuses on the house’s stark, neutral interiors to great effect, wringing eerieness out of every unsettling, off-center shot of white walls juxtaposed against blackened doorways beyond, of a stubbornly folded corner of carpet, of an empty chair pushed against a wooden table. The movie’s portentous framing of ordinary objects as sinister is quite Lynchian and very, very effective in building up tension, as the viewer is never sure what they’re going to see. Even though standard “jump scares” are almost non-existent, we are kept constantly on edge waiting for something awful to happen, just because of the way the cinematographer plays with our expectations.

PrettyThing5

PrettyThing4

Also contributing to the film’s sense of free-floating anxiety is the fact that its time frame is never firmly established (though judging by the clothes Lily wears, the phone in the house, and the presence of cassette tapes, I’m guessing it’s the early to mid eighties), and that Lily herself is an almost painfully awkward character, a prissy, repressed throwback to an earlier era. Her uncomfortable interactions with estate manager Mr. Waxcap (played with an almost undetectable straight humor by Bob Balaban) ramp up our anxiety on her behalf, a very intriguing way of making us relate to her situation. In this way, Lily is very much like the character of Eleanor in Shirley Jackson’s brilliant Haunting of Hill House. And similar to that novel, the “haunting” in the Blum house seems to be analogous to the slow unraveling of Lily’s mental state, or alternately her slow-dawning realization that she herself is a ghost, either literally or metaphorically. The fact that most of her early voice-overs are later revealed to be paraphrases from Iris’s novel about Polly Parsons drives this point home rather succinctly, as do the recurring images of rot and fragmented reflections.

PrettyThing3

While I will admit that for those who enjoy more straightforward, plot-driven horror, I Am the Pretty Thing might seem like a boring, overly-indulgent slog to nowhere with few big scares, no huge payoff, and long, lingering shots of furniture and faces with very little dialogue or action. But for those like me, who enjoy more cerebral horror that is more interested in building a mood and getting underneath the viewer’s skin with its nebulous oddities, there is much to recommend here, though I would add that it is best watched alone, at night, with no distractions, so that you can get entirely lost in its world and lulled into its creepy spell. It’s definitely a movie that sticks with you long after you’ve seen it, and that in itself is a wonderful thing for any horror film to do.

Next up on the double feature is a far less experimental film that had its premiere at another recent film festival (in this case South by Southwest back in 2015), and although the movie was highly lauded, favorably compared to the splendid It Follows, and ended up on a lot of critics’ “ten best horror films of the year” lists (including Rolling Stone’s), I honestly wasn’t all that crazy about it, though it did have some entertaining moments.

Directed by Ted Geoghegan and packed with horror movie all-stars (Barbara Crampton from Body Double and Re-Animator; Lisa Marie from Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, and Lords of Salem; writer/actor/director Larry Fessenden from Session 9 and much, MUCH more), We Are Still Here has a fairly standard horror movie set-up. The main characters are a middle-aged married couple, Paul and Annie Sacchetti, who move out to a remote house somewhere in New England following the death of their college-age son Bobby in a car accident. Shortly after they move in, a few little things happen around the house that suggest maybe Bobby’s ghost has come along for the ride, but it doesn’t take long at all before the audience realizes that something far more infernal is going on than a harmless lingering spirit.

WeAreStillHere4

It is in fact this nearly immediate blowing of the entire horror wad, as it were, that I think is one of the film’s main weaknesses. It gets off to a promising, low-key start, with some effectively eerie shots of the roads and the isolated house all covered with a blanket of snow, with very spare dialogue that nonetheless conveys the deep grief the couple is feeling, and with very understated hints that something in the house might not be quite right: a picture falling over, a strange noise in the cellar, a ball rolling down the stairs.

The choice to set the film in 1979 was also a decision I’m on board with, as not only does it help to evoke a golden era in horror cinema (also evidenced by a few subtle references to classic horror films of the period, such as The Changeling and The Shining), but it also gives it an otherworldly feel and more of a sense of dread, since the problems that arise can’t be solved by Googling stuff or calling for help on a cell phone.

WeAreStillHere3

But really, as soon as the couple’s obviously not-to-be-trusted neighbors show up about ten minutes in and start going on about the house having been a mortuary and the family living there supposedly being run out of town for stealing corpses back in 1859, and making reference to the house needing “fresh souls,“ it all just gets a bit too on the nose and seems to move along too quickly with no regard for subtlety or restraint. And then once the electrician comes and the audience is pretty much shown exactly what happens to him, all sense of anticipatory dread is lost, for we have already seen everything there is to see. From that point on, it’s just more of the same, only bloodier.

Clocking in at only an hour and twenty-three minutes (and a not insignificant chunk of that is the long end-credit sequence), I think the movie might have actually benefited from being a bit longer, so that the characters and story had more room to breathe before everything went all demonic and wacky.

WeAreStillHere5

 

That said, I think the film also would have REALLY benefited from taking everything down a notch or ten. While I generally don’t have a problem with copious gore or jump scares per se, there is a point at which you’re going so far over the top that the story is just not scary anymore and veers over into unintentional comedy. The burned-looking ghosts were cool, for example, but I didn’t need to see them in my face every few minutes, which significantly lessened their impact. The gore was fairly well-done, but I didn’t need everyone to die in enormous, ridiculous sprays of blood and chunks like the second coming of Dead Alive.

In fact, I think the entire reason that this movie didn’t really click with me was because its tone seemed all over the place: on the one hand, it seemed to want to be a serious horror film, but then on the other hand you had these kinda goofy, over-acting characters who shamelessly chewed the scenery and dropped boatloads of exposition at pretty much every opportunity when the audience could have figured out the story just fine without all the over-explaining. Either do a serious horror film or do a horror comedy; it takes a very deft hand to make a decent film balancing elements of both, and I just felt like this wasn’t really getting there.

 

WeAreStillHere2

WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Dagmar

I admit I did like the séance scene with Paul and stoner dude Jacob, and I sort of liked the overall premise of the movie, which was marginally in the vein of a 70s-style, small-town folk horror type deal, and I sort of liked the creepy weirdness of all the townsfolk being in on this big secret, but other than that, I kinda found my attention wandering during the movie, since I pretty much knew where it was going, and when I was paying attention, I was cracking jokes about it, which I can assure you did NOT happen while I was watching I Am the Pretty Thing. While I can see why a lot of horror fans dug it, it was just way too obvious and over-the-top for my tastes, trying to smack you in the face with HORROR, and it seemed like it was trying to be too many things at once at far too frenetic a pace. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out