13 O’Clock Movie Retrospective: Necronomicon

Tom and Jenny discuss the 1993 H.P. Lovecraft anthology film, Necronomicon.

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13 O’Clock Movie Retrospective: Beyond Re-Animator

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Horror Double Feature: The Void and The Hallow

Our Netflix double-header today consists of two rather different films, one Lovecraftian cosmic horror, and one that trades in more intimate, folkloric terrors, though both have a retro kinda vibe and share something of a siege-type narrative.

First up, 2016’s The Void, a Canadian film written and directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, and largely funded through a successful Indiegogo campaign. Like a great many recent indie horror flicks, it has a heavy 1980s influence, both in its use of delightfully splattery practical effects, and the sheer amount of 80s-era horror touchstones it references. It seems as though it might also be set in the 80s, judging by the lack of cell phones and the models of the cars, but the year is not obviously mentioned, or even particularly important to the story.

The Void begins with a woman running out of a house with two armed men in pursuit. The men shoot the woman in the back, but another man who has also come running out of the house manages to avoid being killed, and takes off into the surrounding woods. The two shooters then rather casually set the dying woman at their feet on fire.

Cut to the main character, small-town police officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole), who later sees the wounded man crawling out of the woods and hurries to help him. He takes the man, whose name is James (Evan Stern) to a nearby hospital, which only has a skeleton staff due to a fire that broke out there recently. The few remaining staff are going to be moved to another hospital soon, but are stuck at this nearly empty backwater for the time being.

The only other people at the hospital are nurse Allison (Kathleen Munroe), who also happens to be Daniel’s ex-wife, another nurse named Beverly (Stephanie Belding), a trainee named Kim (Ellen Wong), the elderly Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh), a patient named Cliff (Matt Kennedy), and in the waiting room, a pregnant girl named Maggie (Grace Munro) and her grandfather Ben (James Millington).

Not long after Daniel brings James in have him looked at, things start to get decidedly strange. Beverly appears to go into some kind of trance in which she kills Cliff with a scalpel, and then cuts the skin off her own face. A state trooper named Mitchell (Art Hindle) arrives, looking for James, as he’s investigating a “bloodbath” out at the house we saw at the beginning. Suddenly none of the phones seem to be able to reach the outside world, and when Daniel goes outside to try the radio in his patrol car, that doesn’t work either. Even worse, he’s set upon by a creepy-looking person in a white full-body burka type outfit, with a black triangle over the face. Seemingly before he can blink, the hospital is surrounded by these eerie figures, who seem to have been summoned by a weird horn-like noise coming from the sky.

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Back in the hospital, the group have discovered that erstwhile nurse Beverly has turned into some kind of tentacled monster. The two shooters from the first scene, Vincent (Daniel Fathers) and his son Simon (Mik Byskov) arrive in order to finish off the job they started, i.e. to kill James. They seem to know about the people transforming into monsters, but not much else, though it seems they aren’t taking any chances.

After this, the movie takes on the feel of a siege flick akin to The Mist, with the protagonists trapped inside the hospital by the white-robed cultists, and also uneasy about the people they’re locked in the building with, who could turn into Lovecraftian murder-critters at any moment.

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Throughout the movie, Daniel has been having visions of a vast, featureless void in which a massive black pyramid looms on the horizon. As the story goes on, we learn that this is indeed another dimension, and that, much like in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, someone has figured out how to access it in order to further his own goals. The culprit is — spoiler alert — the nefarious Dr. Powell, who it turns out had been experimenting with opening the door to the void for some time, because he believed it would not only help him to become immortal, but also bring his beloved daughter Sarah back from the dead. Later in the film, the remaining characters stumble across a weird sub-basement that isn’t supposed to be there which contains all kinds of malformed human horrors, which are presumably Dr. Powell’s failed experiments that he keeps around for shits and giggles. The fire that ravaged the hospital was also Dr. Powell’s doing, as he lurked around down there, tampering in God’s domain and what not.

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It also comes to pass that the pregnant Maggie was actually knocked up by Dr. Powell himself, and that her baby is going to serve as the conduit for the return of Sarah. Daniel’s ex-wife Allison is also transformed into a baby-maker for the hell-dimension, a fact made doubly poignant by the fact that she and Daniel broke up after she had a miscarriage.

At the end, after pretty much everyone dies, a skinless Dr. Powell tells Daniel that he can have Allison and his dead child back if he accepts death, and he says okay, but then he tackles Dr. No-Flesh and they both fall into the void. At the end, Daniel and Allison are shown standing alone in the void from his earlier visions, with no one else in sight.

As indie horror films go, this one was pretty damn ambitious, and even if it wasn’t a perfect film, it was actually quite impressive. It played like something of a mashup between Hellraiser, The Mist, The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, with a huge heaping helping of H.P. Lovecraft tossed in for good measure, though I have to say that the plot, such as it is, was sort of hard to follow. But while the exact nature of the cult surrounding the void, and the exact endgame of what Dr. Powell was up to, were left fairly unclear, the movie more than made up for its failure to explain itself by being an entertaining, decently-paced flick with some absolutely stellar gore and creature effects. Though it’s obviously a pastiche of a bunch of different 80s horror classics, it never really feels like a retread, and has its own original vibe going on. Recommended for fans of 80s cosmic horror in the vein of John Carpenter or Stuart Gordon.

Next we travel to a remote forest in Ireland for The Hallow (formerly called The Woods), which had its premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Corin Hardy, The Hallow is far more straightforward than The Void was, being essentially nothing more than a simple “family in a secluded farmhouse attacked by creatures” flick. In fact, picture The Evil Dead but without the humor or wackiness and with evil Irish fairies instead of demons and rapey trees, and you’re most of the way there.

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The movie follows Adam (Joseph Mawle from Game of Thrones), his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic), and their baby son Finn as they move out to a spooky and run-down farmhouse in the Irish wilderness. Adam is a conservationist/tree scientist who has been sent out there to assess the trees that are going to be cut down for some pending development, and as such, he’s not a big hit with the locals, who not only don’t want the forest that provides some of their livelihood cut down, but also don’t want the creepy beasties who live in said woods to get pissed off and start coming out to steal babies. Particularly antagonistic is neighbor Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), who repeatedly turns up at the family’s house to threaten them about the dangers of the creatures in the woods.

Skeptical Adam is having none of this mythological nonsense, but even he has to admit that there is something weird going on in those woods. Something flies through a window of the house one night, he sees hints of unidentified animals lurking among the trees, and the area seems to be pervaded with a strange black goo that, upon scientific scrutiny, resembles a fungus that can infiltrate the nervous system of the host organism and influence its behavior.

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After Adam and Finn are attacked in their car by a creature which is never shown but leaves an alarmingly huge claw mark across the driver’s side door, Claire begins to think they had better leave, but naturally, Adam refuses to be intimidated by what he believes are malicious pranks engineered by the locals. But from then on, the situation gets worse and worse, as Adam is taken over by the fungus, and the baby Finn is taken by the creatures. This was actually my favorite part of the film, when the gooey monsters made off with the baby, Claire gave chase and rescued the baby from a swamp, then returned to the house only to have the partially possessed Adam insist that the baby wasn’t really Finn, but a changeling. There was a lot of delicious tension as the audience was left to wonder whether the baby really had been replaced or whether the fungus was making Adam see it that way.

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All in all, I found this a fairly enjoyable but not super compelling flick. It had some great gore and practical effects (including lots of Fulci-esque eye trauma, always a plus), and a few scenes of effective creepiness, but I felt like I wasn’t involved enough with the characters to really be rooting for them, so the whole thing felt slightly flat for me. Also, while I liked the overall concept of it, I felt like it could have been given more of a distinctive flair based around the Irish folklore, as it really just kinda came off as a run-of-the-mill cabin-in-the-woods type movie, albeit one that was slightly elevated by the acting and the eerie setting and look of the monsters. Fun fact: The movie was actually originally pitched as Straw Dogs meets Pan’s Labyrinth, which…just…no. I can sorta see where they were heading with that, but still. Not even close. Actually, now that I think of it, if it had been more like Pan’s Labyrinth it probably would have ruled.

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In the movie’s defense, though, I watched it when I was really, really tired, so my exhaustion might have clouded my judgment and made me more impatient and disengaged with it than I would normally be, so if an Irish fairy-tale take on The Evil Dead sounds like your pint of Guinness, then by all means, give it a spin.

That’s all for now, so until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

 

The Goddess Revisits Season One of “Masters of Horror”

We’re now in 2015, believe it or not, and jokes about when we can expect to be receiving our hoverboards aside, hopefully it will be a better one than the last. I realize I’ve been neglecting this blog a little, but as with most of you, I was busy over the holidays with just general holiday stuff as well as some of the more personal issues I briefly mentioned in a previous post, and I just never got around to updating this thing as often as I should have. But I’m resolving to do better, and to that end, I’ve decided to do something slightly different with my Favorite Horror Scenes series by discussing the 2005 television show created by Mick Garris, “Masters of Horror” (all episodes of which are available on Hulu for free, if you somehow missed them). This year marks the tenth anniversary of the show’s debut, so it seemed an opportune time for another run-through.

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I distinctly remember there being a lot of buzz about this series in the horror community when it was first announced. I mean, these were going to be hour-long, uncensored, hardcore horror films based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale! Directed by legends like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento! AND IT WAS ALL GONNA BE ON TV, YOU GUYS. Pay TV, sure, but TV nonetheless. There had really never been anything quite like it on television before, and I for one eagerly settled in to watch the moment it was available online.

At the time I enjoyed most of them quite a bit, though I found that ten years later very few of them had made a lasting impression. I had forgotten even some of the better episodes, so it was instructive to watch them all again, and gratifying that many of them were far better than I had remembered.

Just a pale wingless angel taking his eyeless Japanese man out for walkies, no biggie.
Just a pale wingless angel taking his eyeless Japanese man out for walkies, no biggie.

THE GOOD:

Case in point: Episode eight, the John Carpenter-directed “Cigarette Burns.” I hadn’t remembered anything about this episode at all, but on the rewatch it instantly moved into my top three of season one. A great deal of my enthusiasm may be due to the presence of Norman Reedus, who of course in subsequent years went on to megastardom for his role on “The Walking Dead,” but everything in this episode hit the right notes for me this time around. Udo Kier was his wonderful scene-chewing self as a reclusive squintillionaire who hires a man to procure the single remaining print of a mysterious film called La Fin Absolue du Monde, the first and only screening of which ended in madness and murder. There is genuine suspense, an eerie, menacing tone permeating the whole enterprise, and gore galore, including a memorable moment in which Udo Kier’s character threads his own intestines through the projector after his long-awaited viewing of the cursed film. Top notch.

Also very good and worth a mention: The Stuart Gordon-directed “Dreams in the Witch-House,” which very effectively captured the spooky, otherworldly feel of the Lovecraft tale it was based upon. There was also John Landis’s “Deer Woman,” which I remembered disliking the first time around but appreciated much more this time. It’s far more black comedy than straight horror, with a rather absurdist premise based on a Native American legend, but there was plenty of blood, and Brian Benben’s snark-spitting protagonist was hilarious. Lastly, and surprisingly, was Dario Argento’s “Jenifer,” which starred Steven Weber (who also wrote the teleplay, based on a Bruce Jones story). I’ve always been a big Argento fan, but I think we can all agree that his more recent output has been somewhat less than stellar. This episode, though, is quite decent, even though it honestly could have been directed by anyone. It dragged a bit in parts, but the story—about a man being slowly bewitched by a deformed succubus—was suitably disquieting, and the gore was nicely excessive.

The tragic consequence of epic beer goggles.
The tragic consequence of epic beer goggles.

THE BAD:

Episodes I could have done without included, sadly, Mick Garris’s contribution to his own groundbreaking series. “Chocolate” had a flimsy story, lame execution, and just an overall feel of why-bother-ness. Boo. The only other episode I found unforgivable was Joe Dante’s “Homecoming.” Zombies as political satire can be done well, but this came across as so heavy-handed as to be utterly ridiculous, even though I happen to agree with the film’s political stance. Added to that is the fact that the subject matter, current at the time, now comes across as terribly dated and not very relatable. Thea Gill’s ballbusting Ann-Coulter-alike was amusing (and her fate at the end satisfying), but otherwise, damn, tone it down some. You can actually make a point without smashing us upside the head with a wrecking ball, y’know.

He returned from the dead to vote, but the miracle of his resurrection was nothing in the face of Diebold.
He returned from the dead to vote, but the miracle of his resurrection was nothing in the face of Diebold.

THE OKAY:

I enjoyed most of the others, though they didn’t stand out as much as they probably could have. The David J. Schow-written, Larry Cohen-directed “Pick Me Up” was pretty good, with a decent premise (competing serial killers), some genuinely tense scenes, and the always-welcome presence of Fairuza Balk. “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road,” directed by Don Coscarelli from a story by Joe R. Lansdale, was also very watchable and included a fantastic turn by Angus “Tall Man” Scrimm. Lucky McKee’s “Sick Girl” was creepy-crawly fun, with a pleasingly awkward performance by Angela Bettis as a lovelorn lesbian entomologist. The Clive Barker adaptation “Haeckel’s Tale,” directed by John McNaughton, was good, but could have been better given the source material. Same with “Dance of the Dead,” which, given the status of all those involved—story by Richard Matheson, teleplay by Richard Christian Matheson, direction by Tobe Hooper, the appearance of Robert Englund as a depraved club owner— should have been incredible, but instead was just serviceable and somewhat disjointed. “The Fair-Haired Child,” finally, was entertaining but ultimately not all that memorable.

You would tell me if I had something on my forehead, right?
You would tell me if I had something on my forehead, right?

THE AMAZING:

You didn’t actually think I was going to leave this one off, did you? Slated to air as the last episode of season one, Takashi Miike’s “Imprint” was already notorious well before its air date, because Showtime (who carried the series) refused to broadcast it, due to its highly disturbing subject matter and intensely graphic violence. It was released to DVD in the latter part of 2006, and is now available on Hulu as part of the regular series. It’s easy to see why Showtime balked (even though they should have known what to expect from Miike, frankly), but it’s also sort of a shame, because this is the best episode of the series by a mile.

Komomo realized, upon reflection, that bobbing for knitting needles was perhaps not the best idea she'd ever had.
Komomo realized, upon reflection, that bobbing for knitting needles was perhaps not the best idea she’d ever had.

Pretty much the entirety of the story takes place inside a Japanese brothel, where an American journalist (played by Billy Drago) has traveled in search of the great love of his life, a prostitute named Komomo who he had promised to rescue and take back to America. Instead, he finds another prostitute with a disfigured face who tells him the increasingly convoluted tale of what happened to the doomed Komomo. The flashback scenes of Komomo’s torture (for supposedly stealing the madam’s jade ring) are horrific, and even a seasoned horror hound like myself could barely get through them, wincing and turning my head away more than once (and yes, you may call me a weenie all you like, but aaaaaaggggggghhhhhhhhh). Additionally, the deformed girl’s recounting of her own wretched childhood, particularly the scenes of her mother dumping aborted fetuses out of a bucket into a stream, were intensely uncomfortable for me, since I had been through my own abortion only a few weeks prior and was still feeling a little strange about it. At the end of the episode, I felt as though I had been run over by a bus, in a good way, if that makes any sense. The best horror should, after all, shake you out of your complacency, and touch you in places where you’d rather not be touched. “Imprint” succeeded on that score in motherfucking spades. A genius piece of filmmaking, but one I probably won’t watch again for another ten years or so, if ever.

Hopefully you enjoyed this rundown! I’m on the third episode of my season two revisit, so keep watching this space for another fun summary to come. Until then, happy 2015, and Goddess out.