Hulu Horror Double Feature: The Attic and Boo

I know it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but that’s mostly because my laptop and browser at home are so damn ancient that I can no longer watch Hulu on there. But I managed to wangle another computer that Hulu worked on, and I did it all for you guys. Considering the double bill I got handed today, though, I’m actually kinda sorry I bothered, but since I did, let’s soldier on to the reviewin’, shall we?

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First up, The Attic from 2007. This one actually sounded pretty promising going in, as it was directed by Mary Lambert (of Pet Sematary fame) and starred a pre-“Mad Men” Elisabeth Moss. The description sounded like a fairly standard haunted house/evil twin tale, but I really like those, as regular readers will know, so I dived right in.

In brief, it’s the story of a college girl named Emma who moves into an old house with her mother, father, and mentally challenged brother (played by the screenwriter, Tom Malloy), and subsequently develops agoraphobia, an eating disorder, and a severe case of seeing creepy shit at every turn. The largest proportion of the creepy shit she sees is an apparition of a girl who looks just like her, except with ghostly makeup on. She becomes convinced that she had a twin sister named Beth who died twelve days after she was born, and she starts to believe that her parents killed Beth because she had a birth defect, and/or that they are into black magic and are trying to bring Beth back from the dead to kill her for some reason…? Aiding her in her investigation/delusion is a house-calling psychologist who may or may not be banging her mom, and Ridiculously Photogenic Paramedic/Police Detective Guy Who is Also Maybe a Real Estate Agent and Almost Definitely a Demon, I think? Emma gets crazier and crazier during the course of the film, and you kind of really don’t know if she actually is nuts or if her parents really are The Worst™, because they act like sketchy shitlords through most of the movie. Then you find out that yeah, Emma really is crazy and imagining everything, except maybe not because the house is doing it somehow, with the help of the low-rent James Dean demonic paramedic dude? Hell, I don’t know.

 

A few things. I really wanted to like this movie. I loved Elisabeth Moss on “Mad Men,” and I’m a fan of Pet Sematary as well. And I’m not gonna say The Attic sucked completely; I mean, I sat through the whole thing and it didn’t get on my nerves too much, and I was interested enough in the plot to keep watching until the end. But it had some really major problems. First off, the acting was really…let’s be charitable and call it “uneven.” Elisabeth was sort of okay, but kind of all over the place; you could tell what she was shooting for, but she wasn’t quite getting there and it was a tad off-putting. Catherine Mary Stewart was fine as her mom, but was only in a few scenes and didn’t make much of an impression. John Savage played her dad, and I don’t know what the hell was going on with him, because it was a really strange performance, just weirdly gruff and kinda dyspeptic. The retarded brother was all right, if just a shade on the overdone side. All in all, the cast didn’t really gel all that well, and it made for a really bizarre, uncomfortable dynamic throughout the whole film. I guess if you viewed it as entirely seen through Emma’s warped sensibilities, then it makes some kind of sense, but I don’t know if that was what the filmmakers intended, and it wasn’t obvious during viewing, so even if it was intentional, then it was not very well handled.

Also, the resolution of the plot was kind of lame, and didn’t really give a clue as to the true nature of the haunting, or whatever it was supposed to be. What exactly was in the house, why did it manifest itself the way it did, and what did the chisel-jawed paramedic fella have to do with all of it? Was he, like, a sorcerer, or what? How come the girl who had lived in the house thirty years previously also saw a ghostly döppelganger, just as Emma did, but then the girl who moved into the house at the end just saw the James Dean guy in the attic mirror? And if Emma had imagined everything about James Dean guy, then how come the gun he gave her was real enough to kill people with? It just made no damn sense.

So, in the aggregate, not a terrible film, but pretty dumb, disappointing, and kind of a hot mess. But little did I realize that The Attic would look like fuckin’ Shakespeare next to the following movie that Hulu barfed up for my weary eyeballs. Sigh…

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Boo came out in 2005 and was the debut film of a dude who used to write for Fangoria. You’d think that a guy like that would have a fairly firm handle on what makes a decent horror flick, but in this case, you would be tragically and utterly incorrect. In short, this was a run-of-the-mill teen slasher that was trying very hard to be a fun mashup of Scream, Halloween, Night of the Demons, and Session 9, but just ended up falling flat on its face with wildly inconsistent acting, a stupid and unnecessarily convoluted concept, bad CGI, and a plot that dragged out longer that Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Just recapping it here is making me tired all over again, so I won’t really go into many more details except to say that it concerns a bunch of dumb-ass college students who go to spend Halloween at an abandoned mental hospital that’s supposed to be haunted. You can probably guess what’s gonna happen from there. The only highlights of the film were the copious amounts of drippy gore, a brief cameo by Dee Wallace Stone as a nurse, and the sadly underdeveloped subplot of the grizzled cop character who had once starred in a series of blaxploitation films under the name of Dynamite Jones. I actually wished I had been watching one of his movies—particularly Count Pimpula—instead of this irritating, overlong bullshit. Meh.

And that’s all she wrote for another Hulu double feature installment. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Hulu Horror Double Feature: House of Last Things and Reverb

‘Sup, minions! I’m back once again for the third installment of my Hulu Horror Double Feature series, which if you haven’t been following it began here and continued here. This’ll probably be the last time I link to the older installments in the current installment, though, because you guys know how the internet works and can probably find previous installments on your own from now on. You don’t need me to hold your hand, now, do you? Thought not. Anyway, off we go.

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First up on this particular double bill is House of Last Things from 2013, which was written and directed by Michael Bartlett. I can see this movie being the kind of thing that inspires either adoration or contemptuous eye-rolling in the horror community, with fans of more traditional horror maybe thinking it’s too pretentious for its own good, or weird for weirdness’s sake, but I have to tell you, I thought it was dynamite. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into it, but it honestly just sucked me in, and even though I’m not entirely certain what it all meant, I remained fascinated from start to finish.

The setup of the film is rather mundane: Classical music writer Alan Dunne and his wife Sarah—who has just been released from a mental hospital after an undisclosed tragedy—take off for Italy, ostensibly to try to put their lives back together. Alan has hired trailer-trash hottie Kelly to house-sit while they are gone, and predictably, no sooner have the Dunnes toddled off to the airport than Kelly has allowed her mentally challenged brother Tim and her dirtbag boyfriend Jesse to move into the urbane couple’s home to keep her company.

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It’s here, though, where the movie begins to get interesting. The way it’s shot is very dreamlike, seemingly going back and forth in time and location, drawing parallels between the Dunnes’ marital breakdown in Italy and the bizarre dynamics of the three people occupying the home in their absence. Things get even weirder when Jesse impulsively kidnaps a boy he finds abandoned in front of a grocery store; although he initially tells Kelly he took the boy to get a ransom from his parents, it soon becomes clear that the boy doesn’t seem in any hurry to leave the house, and further, that no one appears to be looking for him. The mystery gets deeper and deeper, reality becomes murkier and murkier. Who is the boy? What happened to send Sarah to the mental hospital? Is the house haunted, and if so, by what? Why do the identities of the Dunnes and the house-sitters appear to be melding and switching? There are really no clear answers, and while some viewers may find this frustrating, I found myself utterly intrigued, since as most of my previous reviews on this blog have detailed, I do love unsettling, ambiguous films like this.

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In fact, House of Last Things, with its off-kilter suburban surrealism, reminded me very strongly of a David Lynch film, with perhaps hints of Roman Polanski thrown in. The whole film is just so alluringly strange, with beautifully nightmarish imagery, overlapping identities and timelines, and copious symbolism, threaded through with Verdi’s Rigoletto and the Biblical Garden of Eden. As with a few other movies I’ve done in this series, I hesitate to call this a horror film; I suppose it’s a ghost story of a sort, but on the whole it’s rather hard to classify. Recommended if your tastes run to more surreal, mysterious, or art-house fare, this movie leaves an eerie impression that lingers long after the end credits roll.


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Structured far more like a standard horror film, but also far less interesting, the second film in the lineup was a British one, Reverb, from 2009. It deals with a churlish musician named Alex who has lost his musical mojo after the breakup of his band and his relationship. His friend and co-worker Maddy pulls some strings and gets him a couple overnights at a nearby studio so he can work on a new track that he hopes will restart his flagging career. As the night wears on, Maddy begins hearing weird noises around the studio and on the recordings they’re making, and after doing some research into a mysterious song that Alex wants to sample, becomes convinced that some creepy occult shit happened in the studio back in the 1970s and that Alex is in danger. Things go fairly predictably from there.

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Honestly, this one wasn’t terrible, but I can’t say there was much to it either, and my patience with it was tested several times. It seemed like a huge chunk of its running time consisted of Maddy creeping around the darkened studio listening to distorted screams and growls, or Alex staring at his reflection in the bathroom and getting flashes of blood and lyrics written on his skin, set to jarring musical stings. The movie was mediocre, and the plot paper thin, but the director was clearly trying to make it seem scarier and more “edgy” by doing these annoying flashing edits of disturbing imagery. There was so much of it that it really just got boring and silly after a while.

It wasn’t a total waste of time; the actors were fine, though there wasn’t really enough characterization or back story to really make me care about what happened to them. The use of sound was fairly effective, though it would have worked better if it had been reined in some. Even the premise of occult forces summoned through music could have been pretty cool if it had been given more substance and scope. But so much of the movie was set in one location with just a couple of characters, and it just got repetitive; on top of that, the ending brought absolutely no surprises. Like I said, not awful, but not that good either. Just a big ol’ meh. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

And that’s all for this installment, folks. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Hulu Horror Double Feature: Soulmate and The Legend of Lucy Keyes

Even though I don’t always succeed, I really do try very hard to maintain some semblance of regularity on this blog. Of course, circumstances usually intervene, and I have to be content with simply posting a short writing update or radio show link rather than the more in-depth content I enjoy writing. I really am going to try posting more of that longer stuff, though, and to that end, I actually had a bit of a brainwave yesterday, vis á vis finding fodder for longer posts.

You see, this past week has been a bit of a clusterfuck, to put it mildly, as the God of Hellfire had to be hospitalized for almost a week because of a cat bite, of all things (note to readers: cat bites are absolutely no joke, and will get infected before you can sing the first bar of that Ted Nugent song, leaving you with no choice but to languish in the hospital for days on end, attached to countless IV drips, hoping one does not have to have the bitten limb amputated or at least surgerated upon). Obviously I was in no state of mind for writing, as I shuttled back and forth from work to hospital and back again, breaking only briefly for showers and drive-thru dinners. The GoH is back home now, huzzah, but he’s still convalescing, and needs help with tasks that necessitate the use of his left hand (so, a lot of tasks, really).

ANYWAY, as I spent yesterday watching over him, keeping an eye on the wounds, fetching whatever he needed, keeping track of his meds, and what not, I decided to slap some random horror flick on Hulu and watch that sucker. So I did. Then, when that first one was over, the next one they recommended looked pretty decent too, so I thought hell, I’ll watch two of ‘em; not like I have anywhere in particular to be except right here monitoring my patient.

And then it came to me: Hulu Horror Double Feature blog series! Pick one horror/suspense film at random, watch, see which movie comes up next, watch that one, then review and post. Easy! Painless! Sure to bring about world peace in our lifetimes! Or, y’know, not. Oh, and my Scary Silents and Favorite Horror Scenes series will continue sporadically as well, so don’t worry your little horror heads about that.

There aren’t really any rules to this new Double Feature series; I’m just going to pick a random flick that looks good, watch it, then watch the next one that comes on, unless I’ve already seen it, in which case I’ll skip to the next one until I get to one I haven’t seen yet. Then I will review them here for your edification. You win, I win, we all win, Steve Wynn. And after that insufferably long preamble, we’re off to the races!

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know how much I love me some understated ghost story action, particularly if it’s British. Scrolling through the “Paranormal” section of the Horror/Suspense classification on Hulu, I came across Soulmate (2013), which from the brief description sounded right up my alley. I didn’t read any of the reviews before starting it, just clicked play and sat back. In brief, the movie is the story of a violinist named Audrey, who has attempted suicide after the death of her beloved husband. She survives, but feels the need to be alone so she can move on from the tragedy. Without telling her family where she is going, she checks herself out of the hospital and rents a cottage in a remote Welsh village. The cottage, obviously, turns out to be haunted, and there are some intriguing secrets waiting to be discovered about the other townsfolk that tie in with the man who is haunting Audrey’s cottage, as well as some mysteries surrounding the ghost’s motives.

First off, I loved this movie, but it is definitely NOT for everyone. Matter of fact, I don’t know if I would really call it a horror movie per se; it has some creepy moments and eerie imagery, but it’s more like a gothic romance or a spooky character study than a horror film. I want to say it’s like a low-key mashup of The Woman In Black, The Others, and Truly, Madly, Deeply. The acting is fantastic, and the cinematography is gloomily stunning, but keep in mind that the pace of this thing is glacially slow, and even though I was intrigued by the story and stayed with it no problem, I can see how people might get impatient or bored, because it does take a while to get where it’s going. The whole interaction between Audrey and the ghost might also be a dealbreaker for some viewers, depending on how absurd (or not) you find the situation she finds herself in. Personally, like I said, I took it in the same vein as Truly, Madly, Deeply, which I adored, but your mileage may vary. Overall, I found this a really lovely piece of cinema, and I’m actually really glad I chose it, even though I have to say that the American cover art (top) featured on Hulu was really not indicative of its content and looked kinda generic and lame; as you can see below, the British cover on the bottom was much classier and more evocative of its style.

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Next up was another ghost story, this one set in New England instead of old. The Legend of Lucy Keyes (2005) starred Julie Delpy and Justin Theroux as a city couple who move to a small town in Massachusetts when hubby is offered work on a project building a wind farm near Wachusett Mountain. This film is actually based on the real legend of four-year-old Lucy Keyes, who disappeared in the nearby woods in 1755, and the subsequent haunting of the area by her mother Martha, who to this day can allegedly be heard calling for her lost daughter in the forest. Significantly, the city couple in the movie also have a daughter named Lucy (as well as another one named Molly, but she doesn’t factor into the story too much), and things start to get increasingly ghostly from there. If you know the legend, you won’t be surprised by the outcome of the movie, but since I hadn’t heard the story before, I enjoyed following along as the mystery was solved.

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Gotta say, I didn’t like this one nearly as much as Soulmate, but it was actually a decent enough way to spend two hours. Its production aesthetic was obviously not remotely in the same league as the first film, and in fact reminded me at times of a Lifetime made-for-TV type movie. The acting was fine (though the chemistry between the two leads was rather off, so much so that I was having a hard time believing they were supposed to be a loving married couple), and the little girl playing Lucy was actually pretty adorable (and that’s coming from someone who generally can’t stand child actors or children in general). The plot was suspenseful enough to keep me interested, though it did telegraph the mystery a tad. The ghost effects were a bit cheesy, and some of the “villain” characters (especially Brooke Adams as Samantha) were teetering on the edge of cartoonishly evil, but overall, not bad. This isn’t a film I would necessarily go out of my way to watch, but if you’re into New England-style ghost stories and are bored out of your skull one day, you could certainly do a lot worse.

Hope you enjoyed this first installment! I will probably have more in the coming weeks, depending on how much time I have to sit down and watch two movies in one sitting. Until next time, then, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.