It’s yet another Double Feature day at Chez Hellfire, and damn, if all the movies I’m going to be watching for this series are as fantastic as these two, then I’m going to be a very happy horror nerd indeed.
Like We Are Still Here, discussed previously, Starry Eyes also premiered at the South by Southwest film festival, albeit a year earlier, in 2014. Written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and partially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the film has received tons of positive press, and it’s not hard to see why. Starry Eyes is essentially an homage to classic 60s and 70s Satanic cult flicks (Rosemary’s Baby, To the Devil a Daughter) filtered through the dark-side-of-Hollywood motifs of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, with a giant, sticky dollop of gruesome, Cronenberg-style body horror thrown into the mix. The film is intensely disturbing, gloriously gross and violent, blackly comic, and absolutely riveting from start to finish, not only a fun (if extremely grim), gory ride, but also a startlingly cynical meditation on the lengths people will go to for fame, the soul-sucking nature of the Hollywood system, and the corrosive effects of unfettered ambition.
Easily the best thing about the film is the astounding breakout performance of lead actress Alex Essoe, who goes to unbelievable lengths for the role and makes her tragically flawed protagonist not only completely grounded and believable, but also simultaneously sympathetic and monstrous. Essoe plays Sarah Walker, one of millions of aspiring young starlets trying to make it in L.A. To pay the bills, she works at a dreary Hooters-type restaurant called Big Taters, but she feels she is destined for bigger things. To this end, she has been constantly going out for auditions and getting rejected, all the while trying to tamp down her extreme insecurity and self-hatred by pulling out her own hair and going into psychotic rages where she feels she must punish herself for her failings.
Not helping matters are the “friends” she surrounds herself with, only a few of which (particularly her roommate Tracy, played by Amanda Fuller, and aspiring indie film director Danny, played by Noah Segan) seem genuinely supportive of her goals. One friend in particular, a rather passive-aggressive bitch named Erin (played with cunty relish as well as surprising depth and humanity by Fabianne Therese) continually chips away at Sarah’s self-esteem with her denigrating comments.
As unsure of herself and relatively unstable as she is, Sarah does manage to pull off a decent audition for a horror film called The Silver Scream, produced by a long-running production company called Astraeus Films. The only problem is, her performance is really nothing special, just like all the others, and she is summarily dismissed by the intensely creepy casting agents (played by Maria Olsen and Marc Senter). In the bathroom after her audition, she looses her frustration in a torrent of primal screaming and hair pulling, and wouldn’t you know it, the casting agent happens to come into the bathroom and witness the psychotic episode, which piques her interest anew, prompting Sarah to come back to the casting office to re-enact her terrifying tantrum for them, so they can see “the real Sarah.”
As the story goes on, Sarah is called back for more auditions that get weirder and sketchier until she eventually gets called to meet the producer, a perpetually leering and overly tanned old creep who predictably wants to make a Faustian bargain with Sarah, essentially asking her to give herself up body and soul for the tantalizing reward of fame. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Sarah is not being recruited for a horror movie so much as initiated into a Satanic cult of Hollywood elites, one that will of course require sacrifice in order to achieve Sarah’s final transformation from struggling actress and breastaurant waitress to glamorous Tinseltown screen idol.
Though the plot is, as I mentioned, essentially a retelling of the Faust tale and therefore familiar territory, the real fun of the film is in watching Sarah slowly spiral downward as she siphons off bits of her soul to achieve her dreams. After accepting the cult’s invitation, Sarah begins to physically deteriorate to a horrifying degree, so much so that the viewer is simultaneously revolted and intrigued, not particularly wanting to see whatever disgusting indignity is coming next, but also unable to look away. Again, Essoe is outstanding in the role, laying herself bare in every way imaginable and completely going for it in the gross-out department (there‘s a lot to be said for the dedication of an actress who is willing to fill her mouth with real maggots). Her performance is such that as I watched it, I found myself hating her for her weakness and naivety, empathizing with her outsider status, insecurity, and desire to achieve her dream, and actually rooting for her to go all the way with her horrible deeds to get what she wanted in the end. The fact that I could feel all these emotions at once is a testament to Essoe’s extraordinary talent.
All the other actors in the film are great too, and I thought it was fantastic how even characters like Erin and Big Taters manager Carl (wonderfully played by Pat Healy) that were supposedly “villains” (at least from Sarah’s perspective) were given dimension and humanity; even though they did and said some shitty things and were seemingly standing in the way of Sarah‘s aims, they did still genuinely care about Sarah’s well-being, which made her act of viciously turning on them near the end all the more devastating.
The special effects were also top-notch, with Sarah’s bodily disintegration especially grotesque and nauseating. The violence was also wickedly nasty and brutal, portrayed in an unsettlingly matter-of-fact fashion, with one kill in particular (in which the camera barely flinches as someone’s head is pounded into pulp) being almost unwatchably grisly. Topping the film off with a flourish is a fantastic score and terrific sound design that really adds to the atmosphere. Put it all together and you’ve got one skin-crawling, black-hearted blast of a movie that I would not hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend, though definitely NOT to the squeamish.
Another South by Southwest festival alum comprises the second movie in our double bill, and even though it’s a completely different style and experience than Starry Eyes, it is equally stellar, and likewise comes very highly recommended.
2015’s The Invitation was directed by Karyn Kusama (of Girlfight and Jennifer’s Body fame) and features a splendid ensemble cast that includes Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus), Tammy Blanchard (Into the Woods, Moneyball), and John Carroll Lynch (Fargo, Zodiac, “The Walking Dead”). The film is actually far closer to a thriller than a straight horror film, but don’t let that dissuade you, because this thing had me perched on the edge of my seat biting my fingernails the entire time; it is fantastically, unbearably tense.
The setup of the plot is this: Will and his girlfriend Kira have been invited to a dinner party at the home of Will’s ex-wife Eden and her new husband David. No one has really seen Eden and David for two years, so the couple claim they’re having this get-together for all their friends so everyone can catch up. It’s also established early on that Will and Eden divorced shortly after their son was killed in a freak accident (after which Eden also attempted suicide), and Will is not entirely sure he’s ready to see Eden again, as well as return to the house where the tragedy occurred, but with the help of the supportive Kira and all their other friends, he’s hoping he can make a go of it.
At first, everything seems fairly normal, if a little awkward as everyone feels each other out and gets reacquainted after such a long time apart. The weirdness begins to happen in very small increments: Eden and David introduce Sadie, a woman who is living with them and is obviously their lover. They have also invited a man named Pruitt, who seems polite enough but is also ever so slightly menacing. Eden is putting on a somewhat creepy façade of serene happiness, but early in the evening she has a bit of an episode and slaps one of the other guests, though she recovers her composure fairly quickly. Will notices David locking the doors, and when Will asks about this, David brushes it off by saying that there has been a recent home invasion in the neighborhood and he just wants to keep everyone safe. While Will is snooping around his former home, he comes across a bottle of phenobarbitol in the nightstand of David and Eden’s bedroom.
There is also the small matter of another guest, Choi, being very late, and of no one being sure where he is since there is no cell phone reception up in the hills where the house is located. As the party goes on, it comes to light that Eden and David have been in Mexico for most of the previous two years, and that while there they joined a sort of spiritual self-help group that has supposedly helped Eden let go of her grief about her son’s death. David, Eden, Pruitt, and Sadie all sing the praises of this group and its enigmatic leader, Dr. Joseph, though the rest of the party guests make jokes about them joining a cult and seem uncomfortable when it appears that David is trying to convert everyone at the party by showing them an unsettling video of Dr. Joseph and two other group members presiding over the death of a terminally ill woman.
The party grows ever stranger, becoming equal parts overtly sexual and intensely disquieting (especially after Pruitt makes a disturbing confession about what happened to his wife), and at one point, another guest, Claire, decides she’s had enough and wants to leave. David tries to prevent her, but Will, who has been getting increasingly suspicious that something sinister is going on, confronts David, and Claire is allowed to go out to her car, though Pruitt follows behind her because he has parked her in. Will goes to the window to watch Claire leave, as he believes Pruitt is going to do something to her, but he is called away before he can see anything.
The bulk of the narrative goes on in this way, as Will begins to see even the most innocuous actions of the party’s hosts as evidence that something terrible is about to go down. This was the best aspect of the movie by far, because the viewer is left to wonder if there really is something weird going on with David and Eden, or if Will is just having a breakdown because he hasn’t yet come to terms with his son’s death and Eden’s remarriage. Adding to the tension is the fact that none of the other party guests seem to think anything odd is going on at all, and several of them try to reason with Will at various points, leading the audience to think that Will is simply isolating himself from the group, acting like a paranoid weirdo, and letting his imagination run away with him. The film also plays with our expectations by making some of Will’s suspicions come to nothing. As I’ve stated many times before, I really like movies that are ambiguous like this, where you’re not sure if the protagonist is really perceiving things as they are or if their emotions are ultimately clouding their judgment.
I won’t spoil the conclusion, because it’s really terrific, and the very last scene actually made my jaw drop, due to its devastating implications. In short, this is a tightly directed, beautifully acted thriller that maintained a palpable sense of tension throughout and culminated in a terrifying and satisfying climax. Good stuff.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
Long time no review, Goddess fans! As usual, I’m having to open this post by apologizing for my woeful lack of recent long-form film reviews on this blog. But as most of you will have surmised, I’ve been up to my forked tail in other projects, including promoting my latest book The Unseen Hand, working on my upcoming true crime book The Faceless Villain, and recording and promoting the 13 O’Clock Podcast, as well as trying to establish a new offshoot channel called 13 O’Clock In Minutes, which will, when it goes online, serve as a more bite-sized version of the show as well as a promotional vehicle for the main podcast.
So as you can imagine, I unfortunately haven’t had much time to sit down to watch and analyze some of the underrated horror flicks I adore so much. But today, a Saturday, fate intervened: the God of Hellfire and I had actually planned a small party this afternoon, but as it happened, when we awoke this fine morning, we discovered that our air conditioning had crapped out yet again (we just had it fixed two weeks ago, but Florida is nothing if not murder on air conditioning units), so we had to call off the get-together so our friends wouldn’t have to spend their Saturday sweating their asses off in our eighty-degree foyer.
Therefore, left at sixes and sevens with no plans, and confined to the bedroom where the emergency window unit is at least keeping the small area around the bed comfortable until the repair guy can come out several days from now, I decided I might as well put my sudden free time to use by watching some horror flicks and writing about ‘em. So after that enormous and probably unnecessary introduction (but hey, I’m the queen of too much information), let’s get to the actual movies!
I decided to return not only to my favorite decade for horror movies, but also to my favorite horror subgenre for this post. In short, I’m reviewing two haunted house films from the 1970s, both of which have made numerous appearances on various “underrated” lists around the internet, and both of which happen to have been made for television.
First up is 1972’s Something Evil, a TV movie directed by none other than Steven Spielberg (and airing not long after his much-better-known, classic made-for-television film Duel) and starring a bunch of familiar 1970s faces, such as Darren McGavin (of Kolchak fame, among many other things), Sandy Dennis (who was also in God Told Me To, which I wrote about here), and famously ginger-haired “Family Affair” kid Johnny Whitaker.
The story is a fairly standard haunted-house-slash-possession yarn, concerning a city slicker ad exec, his hippie-esque artist wife, and their two children moving from New York City out to a “charming” rural house in Pennsylvania Dutch country which turns out to be infested with demons.
While Something Evil, due to its subject matter, bears some superficial resemblance to other devil-possession films of the period, such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, I found myself comparing it more to other rural or folk horror stories from the 60s and 70s, such as The Other, The Wicker Man, Burnt Offerings, or Harvest Home.
After a cold open which sees an old man (presumably the home’s former owner) being pursued through a hex-symbol-adorned barn by an invisible force and then falling to his death from the hayloft, the Worden family purchases the property after wife Marjorie falls in love with the place while they’re on vacation. Not long afterward, things start to go south, though it isn’t clear at first whether something is wrong with the house itself or with the flaky and seemingly unstable Marjorie.
Despite the movie’s short runtime, clocking in at only 73 minutes, it’s still a pretty effective slow burn, and does a lot with its simple story. At first, there are just minor hints that something is amiss; for example, locals tell the family that something is odd about the place, and the townsfolk all seem to sincerely believe that devils are real. Additionally, the Wordens’ neighbor seems to make a point of ritualistically killing chickens in the yard and flinging their blood around, which disturbs Marjorie greatly, as it would.
As if that isn’t unsettling enough, Marjorie thinks she hears a baby crying out in the barn, but nothing is there when she goes to check. She also begins to grow increasingly interested in the occult and with the hex symbology prevalent in the area. Early on in the film, a couple attending the Wordens’ housewarming party is killed in a mysterious car accident on the way home, adding to Marjorie’s increasing paranoia that something evil has been unleashed in the house through her actions.
Naturally, Marjorie’s husband Paul thinks she is losing her mind, as he is often away at work and doesn’t see any of the phenomena that Marjorie claims is taking place. And indeed it does seem as though Marjorie herself is essentially the problem, as she grows depressed, suicidal, and even violent toward her children. It gets to the point where she paints a hex symbol on the floor as protection and keeps her children locked away from her, as she no longer trusts herself around them, sincerely believing that she has become possessed by demons. In a final twist, though, it comes to light that Marjorie is not the target of the demons’ evil at all, and in fact the only possessed person in the farmhouse is the couple’s son Stevie, whose demon-hosting status is revealed at the end in a well-staged scene complete with levitation and scary voices.
While the plot of Something Evil will be extremely familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of horror films from the era, Spielberg’s direction really elevates what could have been just a forgettable, throwaway 70s TV movie into something quite intriguing, using its presumably tiny budget to great effect. Everything is kept very understated, but slightly off-kilter, giving the film a pleasing sense of dread-laden believability. The ambiguity is also very well-done, and adds to the unnerving atmosphere. The movie additionally boasts some eerie, surreal touches, such as the creepy discovery of a mason jar full of red goo from which the ghostly baby crying apparently emanates, and the unexpected appearance of a pair of glowing red eyes in a photograph at Paul’s advertising agency. No rotating heads or pea soup vomit, sure, but the low-key effects work well within the movie’s framework.
I would unreservedly recommend Something Evil, not only to Spielberg fans curious about his early work, but also to connoisseurs of 70s horror in general. The film certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s still an enjoyable little occult thriller with some effectively haunting imagery. It’s just a shame it isn’t better known and more widely available.
Next on our double feature is a British teleplay from 1973 called The Stone Tape. Written by Nigel Kneale (probably most famous for writing the Quatermass series), the movie was broadcast on BBC 2 as a Christmas ghost story, though it’s actually more of a mashup between old-school Victorian ghost story and tech-driven sci-fi, somewhat similar in concept to The Legend of Hell House.
The tale concerns a gaggle of laddish, wisecracking scientists who are in the process of moving into their new research facility in a partially renovated and reputedly haunted mansion called Taskerlands. The scientists are apparently trying to develop a new recording medium to wrest the cutting edge away from their Japanese competitors. But the only female member of the team, a computer programmer named Jill who is also evidently somewhat psychic, almost immediately sees a ghost in the unrenovated portion of the mansion, and shortly afterward, the male members of the team all hear bloodcurdling screams emanating from the same area. It comes to light that the ghost is very likely that of a maid named Louisa who died by falling down the stairs many years before, and that the part of the house that’s home to the ghost is also exceedingly old, perhaps dating back to the era of the Saxons.
While the entire team is disturbed by the haunting, they’re also quite curious and keen to use their state-of-the-art research equipment to record and study the mysterious phenomena. After much theorizing and jiggery-pokery, they figure out that the stone walls of the old room are acting as some sort of crude recording device that takes impressions of extreme emotions that occurred in the room, but that instead of just recording like one of those newfangled magnetic tapes, the mechanism is actually dependent upon the sensitivities and emotional states of the living people present, i.e. that the humans witnessing the haunting are analogous to amplifiers for the titular “stone tape.”
The scientists are quite intrigued by this hypothesis, hoping that it might be a scientific breakthrough that can put them ahead of their technological rivals. But the more they try to get the phenomena to perform for their tests, the more frustrated they get, until at last it seems that they have accidentally erased the recording of Louisa’s death, and most of the team decide to abandon the project, since they believe the “haunting” is gone.
Jill, though, isn’t having it. Being more sensitive than the men, she feels there may be something deeper lurking at Taskerlands, hypothesizing that Louisa’s ghost might have been only the top layer of the recording, and that older recordings might have been overlaid by the most recent one. Bolstering her theory is a local priest, who informs her that an unsuccessful exorcism was performed on the land in 1760, before the house was even built, suggesting that the land has been haunted for far longer than anyone thought. She also has a frightening episode in which she hears and feels a malevolent presence, but no one else hears it.
Jill tries to tell the remainder of the team about her discovery, but no one wants to listen, and her friend and director of the project Peter Brock tells her to take a two-month leave because he thinks she’s losing her marbles. Before she leaves, though, she goes in the room one last time, and is summarily killed by the entity. The men find her later, her eyes frozen open in terror.
In a final little “fuck you,” Brock informs the authorities that Jill was emotionally unstable, and he shreds all the research she was doing that showed that the evil presence might have been there for seven thousand years. But Jill gets some small measure of revenge from beyond the grave when Brock goes into the haunted room at the end and is subjected to the most recent recording: Jill’s voice screaming his name before her death and begging for him to help her.
I have to admit, I didn’t like this one quite as much as Something Evil, but it was still an entertaining sci-fi ghost story that was a bit heavier on the sci-fi than the ghosts. The acting was a tad stagy, and the beginning of the film almost felt like a Vaudevillian routine, but that’s to be expected for a British teleplay of this era, and once it moved past that, it was a fairy effective scare-fest, though also like a lot of films of the time, it takes a while to get where it’s going, and the full impact of the story doesn’t come to fruition until the final couple of minutes.
If you liked The Legend of Hell House but thought it needed more focus on the haunting machine, then you’ll probably love this, as it’s a pretty similar concept, and in fact, the hypothesis that ghosts are simply recordings of past events that have somehow been captured by surrounding materials is still known in paranormal circles as the “stone tape theory.” I’d also recommend it if you liked the Quatermass movies or other 70s British sci-fi horrors, such as The Asphyx (which I wrote about here) or The Projected Man (which made a fantastic MST3K episode).
That’s all for now, minions! Keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
So, quite by accident, I ended up having kind of a Satan-baby theme to my Hulu watching experience today. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I like a good demon-infant tale as much as the next girl, and this afternoon I got two for the price of one (well, the movies were free, and one of them sucked, but y’know). Oh, also, both movies had parenthetical titles, so there’s that.
By the way, speaking of demons, my new book House of Fire and Whispers: Investigating the Seattle Demon House is out in both print and ebook, in case you hadn’t heard. Pick up a copy, won’t you? And if you like it, please leave a review on Amazon; it really does help. Thank you. And now, on with the show.
First up, Delivery: The Beast Within (2013) was directed by Brian Netto and fuses two overplayed horror tropes—the aforementioned “devil’s child” angle with the ubiquitous found-footage platform—into something that turned out quite creepy, compelling, and far, far better than I expected.
In brief, the movie is a sort of mockumentary about the filming of a reality show that went tragically, and perhaps demonically, awry. Rachel (Laurel Vail) and Kyle (Danny Barclay) are a perky young married couple who have been trying to conceive for quite some time. Rachel suffered a miscarriage at some point in the recent past, but now she’s pregnant again and everything seems to be going well this time, at least at first. Rachel and Kyle have agreed to be the subject of a reality show called “Delivery,” that documents the lives of couples who are expecting their first child. And in fact, this is something the movie gets spot-on: the parts of the film that are supposed to be edited episodes of the series that never aired look exactly like a real reality show, complete with title credits, happy theme song, and even the little rating thingie in the upper left corner of the screen.
Intercut with this sunny and sanitized footage are interview snippets with show producer Rick (Rob Cobuzio), who explains how the show had to be scrapped after Rachel’s death, and that what we are going to be seeing is footage the crew took over the course of Rachel’s pregnancy that hadn’t yet seen the light of day. This juxtaposition between the almost impossibly treacly reality-show bits and the steadily darkening tone of the other footage is really well-done, and gives the viewer a really intense feeling of being on edge, wondering what exactly is going to go wrong, and when. The fact that you know from the beginning that Rachel is going to die gives the film an unsettling patina of dread throughout.
The thing I liked best about this movie, and I say this kind of thing a lot, is how restrained it was. All of the eerie shit that begins to happen to the couple is kept very, very subtle, and the realism of it is what makes it so frightening. We really don’t see much of anything, special-effects-wise; the haunting, if that’s what it is, consists of things like knocks on the front door when nobody is there, Kyle’s dog suddenly acting aggressively toward Rachel, doors slamming shut by themselves, and weird noises and interference turning up on the camera whenever the crew is filming Rachel. There is also palpable tension growing between the couple, as lapsed Catholic Rachel starts becoming convinced that a demon named Alastor is in the house and wants her baby, and the increasingly frustrated Kyle refuses to believe her, thinking she is losing her mind and that the film crew are encouraging her fancies by letting her listen to the audio anomalies they’re capturing. The escalating arguments they have about the supposed phenomena and Kyle’s cynicism and lack of emotional support are well-acted and uncomfortably realistic.
From here on out, this might get very spoilery, so don’t read further if you’re planning on watching. As the pregnancy and the movie progress, Rachel seems to get crazier and crazier: walking and talking in her sleep, eating raw meat, wandering around the house at all hours. Her artwork is getting increasingly disturbing, and at one point later in the film, she stabs and kills Kyle’s dog, saying that it attacked her, though this alleged attack is not captured on the film crew’s footage, so there is no way of knowing if this is true. In fact, I loved this ambiguity in the movie, because even after it’s over, we have no idea whether something paranormal was actually going on, or whether Rachel was simply going insane and doing all the stuff herself. It hinted toward the former, but everything that happened could also have been explained in the context of the latter, and there were some hints in that direction as well (for example, in one of the “documentary” interstitials, Rachel’s former psychiatrist says that Rachel had once been on medication for manic depression). And the end, while not exactly a surprise, was still an effective and affecting shock.
All in all, a pretty great little film, and one that shows that you can still do something terrific with seemingly overdone themes. Recommended.
The second film on Hulu’s demonic agenda actually utilized similar tropes to Delivery, but was much, much less successful in its execution. 666: The Devil’s Child (2014) was also done in found-footage style, but despite its title, had pretty much zero to do with the devil, and was probably just given that name and cover art to lure in people looking for something along the lines of Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen. (Note: it was also released under the even more baffling alternate title, Millennium.) Don’t be fooled, though: there is no devil and no child, and just so you know, this movie was lame as hell and a total waste of time, so y’know, caveat emptor.
Directed by Manzie Jones, 666 stars famed “Octomom” Nadya Suleman as Vanessa, a plain jane film student who is doing a school project on some vague paranormal something or other. Supposedly helping her in this endeavor is her douchebro womanizer of a friend, Brad (Jeff Kongs). Brad had already made plans with a fresh new ho on the same weekend he was supposed to be helping Vanessa with her project, but when he contacts said ho Jessica (Chanon Finley) in order to cancel their tryst, she says it’s all good, because her house is built over the site of an infamous Native American massacre and is haunted as shit, so why don’t they both come and do the film project out there? So that’s what they do; Brad expects to spend the entire weekend banging the sultry and obvious-wig-wearing Jessica (who he had only just met over the internet), while third-wheel Vanessa will ostensibly film some paranormal shit for her project. Everybody wins, except for the viewers.
Once Brad and Vanessa get to Jessica’s isolated showplace of a house, the movie starts to get even more boring than it was before. Vanessa films around the house, she films the three of them endlessly playing stupid drinking games, she films Brad and Jessica making out while her voice can be heard on the camera tsking and sighing at their shameless PDA. Nothing much happens to suggest that the house is haunted, except for there’s a weird portrait of Jessica’s great-great grandmother in which the woman appears to be kissing a baby really intensely on the mouth. Also, a camera left on the pool table records a martini glass moving across the bar by itself. Oh, and there’s a little gold statue of a woman on the mantel that suddenly develops a pregger belly with unexplained blood on it. Vanessa herself has started to notice some weird sores on her stomach that kinda look like bug bites. Amid all of this, the three leads drink a lot and film themselves doing dumb shit, and roughly every five minutes, Jessica and Brad go into the bedroom to fuck, very loudly.
Finally, after eighty hours or so of this, Vanessa starts rewatching footage she’s been taking of herself sleeping to find out where the sores on her abdomen are coming from. And there on the video, she very clearly sees a cheesy-looking ghost hag floating above her bed. She seems much less disturbed by this than you’d think, apparently not even thinking of getting the fuck out of the house until much later in the movie. Her relative lack of alarm at seeing what is very obviously a demonic apparition is quite puzzling to say the least, but it could just be that the Octomom isn’t that great of an actress.
Anyway, Brad and Jessica fuck some more, Brad starts to look ill and exhausted, and finally Vanessa figures out that Jessica is a succubus and is draining his life energy or stealing his sperm or something; it’s never really explained sufficiently. Vanessa tries to get him to leave, but he doesn’t want to, and then she can’t even find the car keys, and apparently nobody has a phone to call for help, and the whole situation just seemed like it could have been resolved pretty easily if Brad and Vanessa weren’t such idiots. If I was Vanessa, I would have just left Brad’s useless ass there and split, but I guess the movie is trying to imply that maybe Vanessa is secretly in love with him, because she sure as hell seems to care a lot more about him than he really deserves, even bodily dragging him out of the house and into the car at one point.
So, spoiler alert, Jessica is finally done draining all of Brad’s virile man-juices, and she kills him by tearing out his intestines or something, and then she tells Vanessa that her role in all this is just beginning, and then in the next scene, we see Vanessa crying at Brad’s grave and apologizing to him for not trying harder to get him out of the house. And then she turns to the side, and we see that, surprise, she’s super pregnant. So what exactly happened here? Jessica succubused all over Brad and then transferred his sperm into Vanessa, for some reason? Is the baby a demon? What was Jessica’s endgame? Why did Jessica tell Vanessa that she would see her again, but not in this lifetime? Is Vanessa’s child going to be the next succubus, because there can be only one, like a Highlander? And since Vanessa did figure out what Jessica was and probably twigged to the fact that Jessica had somehow inserted a devil-baby in her womb, why on earth didn’t she get an abortion? And do I even care? No. No, I do not.
So yeah, in case you’re wondering, I really wouldn’t recommend this one, unless you’re a masochist. It wasn’t even “so bad it’s good,” it was just dull and repetitive and kind of stupid and pointless, and as I mentioned before, the fact that its title and cover art were completely misleading really pissed me off. Weaksauce.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
Welcome back to our regularly scheduled programming, horror hounds. We’re traveling back to Italy for this one, and back to the giallo genre; we’re also revisiting some familiar faces from previous blog posts, because today’s movie features Edwige Fenech and George Hilton (from The Case of the Bloody Iris), as well as Marina Malfatti (who starred in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave). So, without further delay, let’s jump right into the psychedelic cauldron of Satan, shall we?
All the Colors of the Dark (Tutti i colori del buio, 1972) was an Italian/Spanish co-production, but set in London, and directed by Sergio Martino. It’s essentially a groovier, less satirical, and WAY more surreal take on Rosemary’s Baby, with similar themes of black magic, ambiguous reality, and crushing paranoia.
Beautiful but mentally fragile protagonist Jane has been going through some shit; not only was her mother murdered when she was five years old, but a year before the events of the film, she was in a car accident in which she suffered a miscarriage. Her boyfriend, pharmaceutical rep and raging jackwad Richard, was driving the car, and sorta feels responsible for the whole losing the baby thing, although he still kinda treats Jane like crap anyway. Ever since the tragedy, Jane has been plagued with horrific, Fellini-esque nightmares in which toothless old ladies cackle in close-up and a mysterious man with ice-blue eyes repeatedly stabs women in their beds.
In true “Yellow Wallpaper” fashion, Richard has been pooh-poohing Jane’s wishes to see a psychiatrist, insisting she just needs to keep ingesting the weird blue toilet-tablet vitamin concoction he’s giving her to flush away the crazy, since he clearly subscribes to the Tom Cruise School of Psychiatry Is Evil and Scientology Solves All the Things With Vitamins and OT Powers. But since playing with the Ty-D-Bol Man doesn’t seem to be doing her any damn good, Jane finally takes her sister Barbara’s advice and goes to see the psychiatrist Barbara works for, a kindly old man called Dr. Burton. Doc seems more understanding, but her nightmares are not going away, and what’s worse, she’s starting to see the blue-eyed man stalking her in real life, or so it would appear.
Fearing she might be going batshit insane, she finally confides in foxy new neighbor Mary, whose first suggestion, obviously, is for Jane to accompany her to a black magic ritual, which should clear that whole mental illness thing right up, with the well-known healing power of Beelzebub. Jane gives this course of action about ten seconds of thought before going, “Sounds like a plan,” and after a festive afternoon of dog-blood drinking and gang rape, she seems right as rain again.
But not so fast! In a stunning twist, it turns out that demonic cults headed by fey bearded men wearing fabulous gold Lee press-on nails may not actually be conducive to one’s overall well-being! Who’da thought? From here on out, the movie takes on the aspect of a fever dream, as we’re not really sure who we can trust and what is really happening. Is the blue-eyed psycho real or imaginary? Is everyone Jane knows conspiring with the cult to push her off her rocker for good? Has Richard fucked every woman in the immediate vicinity, including Jane’s sister? What’s the over/under on how long it would take to murder a couple of German senior citizens and prop them up at the breakfast table as though they’re still alive? Will Jane ever learn to cook bacon and eggs properly? The surrealistic touches come hard and fast, and the viewer will be left confused and on edge until the very end.
I really dug this one a lot; I loved the psychedelic weirdness and the ambiguity, and it had a really unsettling undertone of claustrophobia, as the world seemed to close in around poor Jane, leaving her with no one to trust. The cinematography was also lovely and strange, if a little heavy on the wacky camera effects. Definitely one of the more unique gialli, and one I’d definitely recommend to fans of Satanic cult movies as well.
That’s all for this installment, so until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
I can’t believe it’s been a week since my last post! Sorry about that. I really do try to keep up with this thing, but sometimes I get busy with all my other endeavors (writing, book promotion, graphic design work) and run out of hours in the day. When it finally came time to do a new post, I was scrabbling for a subject, so I just decided to do something fairly pedestrian by discussing my ten best horror films based on novels. I’m not dropping my nuts here and proclaiming that these are the BEST ADAPTATIONS EVAR, but they’re certainly my favorites, and before anyone argues, YES, I know there are lots of other great horror films that were based on books, but I wanted to showcase great movies that were made from novels that were themselves fantastic and familiar to me (for example, while John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, I’ve never read the book it was based on, and as far as The Exorcist goes, I actually thought the movie was light years better than the novel). So now that we’ve got all that out of the way, allons-y.
10. The Girl Next Door (2007)
Based on Jack Ketchum’s horrific, you’ll-need-a-shower-afterwards novel (made all the more squicky by the fact that it was based on a true story), this 2007 adaptation mostly doesn’t shy away from the more terrible aspects of the book, and is all the more powerful for it. While I admit I found the novel a great deal more disturbing, the film is a worthy addition to the evil-that-humans-do canon. Some of it is a little too aw-shucks, fifties-stereotypical, but Blanche Baker is chilling as Aunt Ruth, and the mostly young actors are great, particularly 21-year-old Blythe Auffarth as the doomed Meg.
9. Hellraiser (1987)
Adaptations of Clive Barker’s infernal works are generally hit or miss, but I think we can all agree that this is the best by a mile (though I have to say that Candyman is also in the running). Based on his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, and directed by Barker himself, Hellraiser is filled to the brim with sadomasochism, buckets of gore, that genius puzzle box conceit, and one of the most recognizable horror baddies of all time. While the sequels couldn’t begin to approach the original classic, it’s easy to see how the detailed world Barker created in his short work demanded much more screen time. Jesus wept, indeed.
8. Ghost Story (1981)
As much as I adored the spooky, low-key adaptation of Peter Straub’s 1975 novel Julia (known as The Haunting of Julia in the US and Full Circle in the UK; you can find my analysis here), I find that Ghost Story, based on his 1979 book of the same name, just barely edges it out. The novel is so rich, complex, and over the top that the film couldn’t help but streamline the thing and leave several plot tendrils out, but I love it anyway, and I think director John Irvin was wise to focus solely on the central conflict of the book, that of the men of the Chowder Society battling the shapeshifting she-demon known by different names through the years. Some fantastically eerie scenes, and it was nice to see a band of dignified old codgers playing the heroes.
7. Stir of Echoes (1999)
I’ve talked about this criminally underrated film before, but I try to pimp it at every opportunity, because it’s so great and I’m still pretty bummed that it sorta got lost in the shuffle due to its simultaneous release with The Sixth Sense. Somewhat based on Richard Matheson’s short 1958 novel A Stir of Echoes, the film takes the basic plot of the book and builds an intensely frightening tale of hypnosis, psychic visions, and murder upon it. I’m not scared easily, but seeing this film in theaters gave me the heebie-jeebies big time, and it holds up remarkably well. Props also for the very Lynchian sound design, which ramps up the scare factor considerably.
6. The Innocents (1961)
Directed by Jack Clayton and starring Deborah Kerr as governess Miss Giddens, The Innocents is one of those rare films that wrings the scares from subtle atmosphere. Based on Henry James’s classic 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, with a screenplay co-written by Truman Capote, the movie is chock full of spooky children, secrets, ghosts, and eerie goings-on, amplified into skin-crawling terror by the use of music, lighting, and ambiguity.
5. The Other (1972)
Based on former actor Thomas Tryon’s 1971 debut novel (and if you’d like to read a rundown of the lackluster adaptation of another of his fabulous novels, Harvest Home, I’ve got you covered), this Robert Mulligan-directed film is one of the best examples of the good/evil twin trope. Set in 1935 and starring Chris and Martin Udvarnoky as the conflicted Holland twins, the movie is a golden-drenched slab of uncanny mystery and horror, painted in hues of perverse nostalgia. Tryon, who wrote the screenplay, was reportedly not happy with the adaptation, but for my money the film more than did the novel justice.
4. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Another Richard Matheson adaptation (this time of his 1971 novel Hell House), this one takes obvious cues from The Haunting, but goes in a splashier direction with much effectiveness. Directed by John Hough and featuring great performances from Roddy McDowall and the impossibly adorable Pamela Franklin, the story takes the standard horror-movie plot of a group of ghostbusters investigating a scary house and does all kinds of weird shit with it. Baroque, overwrought, and lots of creepy fun.
3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Capturing the sly, blackly comic edge of Ira Levin’s 1967 book while maintaining a sense of slowly building tension and paranoia, there’s a reason this Roman Polanski-directed classic ends up on so many “best horror films” lists. I absolutely love Ruth Gordon as the lovably terrifying Minnie Castavet, and Mia Farrow is perfect as the fragile, waifish Rosemary, a protagonist you can’t help but sympathize with and be afraid for as everyone in her life seems to turn against her. If you’re a fan of Polanski’s films, check out my previous writeup on his deliciously creepy 1976 movie The Tenant.
2. The Shining (1981)
What can I say about this masterpiece that hasn’t already been said? (Well, I said this and this, but y’know.) Taking what is arguably Stephen King’s best novel and using it as a springboard to explore universal themes, myths, and existential terror, Stanley Kubrick created a timeless, iconic piece of art that still has the capacity to enthrall and horrify, more than three decades later. Easily one of the five best horror films ever made.
1. The Haunting (1963)
You just knew this was gonna be my number one, didn’t you? I admit I talk about this book and film a lot (such as here and here, for example), but that’s only because I am in awe of the subtle dread and psychological depths this story plumbs in both mediums. Based, of course, on the hands-down best haunted house novel ever penned, 1959’s The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the casting in Robert Wise’s masterful adaptation is spot-on, and he deftly drenches the film in chills and atmosphere while essentially showing nothing, an astounding feat and one that is right in line with the source material. I really can’t recommend book or film enough, in case you hadn’t noticed. Oh, and I mentioned this before, but skip the lame-ass remake.
And just because I can, here are twenty more that were eliminated for the sake of brevity:
The Exorcist (1973, based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty)
The Hunger (1983, based on the 1981 novel by Whitley Strieber)
The Birds (1963, based on the 1952 short story by Daphne du Maurier)
Nosferatu (1922, based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1897)
Frankenstein (1931, based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925, based on the 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945, based on Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel)
House of Usher (1960, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” 1839)
Duel (1971, based on Richard Matheson’s 1971 short story)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, based on Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel)
The Entity (1981, based on the 1978 novel by Frank De Felitta)
Village of the Damned (1960, based on John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, 1957)
Masque of the Red Death (1964, loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, 1842)
Re-Animator (1985, based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella Herbert West—Reanimator, 1922)
Cemetery Man (1994, based on the 1991 novel Dellamorte Dellamore by Tiziano Sclavi)
Misery (1990, based on Stephen King’s 1987 novel)
Carrie (1976, based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel)
The Prestige (2006, based on the 1995 novel by Christopher Priest)
The Lair of the White Worm (1988, loosely based on Bram Stoker’s 1911 novel)
Horns (2014, based on Joe Hill’s 2010 novel)
Keep it creepy, my friends, and until next time, Goddess out.