Saturday, October 27, 2018

Shoctober Round #2

As Above, So Below

From the Dowdle brothers,  "As Above, So Below" is a pleasantly diverting piece of archeological horror whose impending atmosphere and attention to peripheral thrills far outweighs the nonsense of its average acting and bland found footage aesthetic. Films that deal with portals to hell either go too far or not enough (think "We Are the Flesh" for the former) and while this film does mingle slowly into some heavy aversions about a trip to that fiery furnace, it also pulls back when I thought it may go-for-broke. Still, this one far exceeded my expectations and deserves a look-see on Netflix.


I have to give Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas credit for severing his genre films with some pretty left field choices. In "The Lift", his modus operandi is following the travails of a haunted elevator in a high rise building. In "Amsterdamned", his serial killer is a scuba diving madman who lurks slowly out of the water and around it, picking off his victims in savage fashion. The better of the two films is "Amsterdamned" for the way it plays with the police procedural film. Its lead detective (Huub Stapel) doesn't do much to catch the killer. Various false leads result in nicely staged car chases, but the case is cracked by someone ancillary to Det. Visser. And the death scenes feel more brutal than the overall tone of the film. Regardless of all this, "Amsterdamned" looks terrific in its Amsterdam 80's-ness and it fairs much better than a haunted elevator.

Night Warning 

The VHS-rip I watched William Asher's film on incongruously features the title "Night Warning",dropping the far superior one of "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker". That's not the only mistake of this film. Supremely boring and offensive for its vilification of homosexuals, the film features shock violence and Susan Tyrell as an overprotective/sexually repressed aunt who just can't deal with her adopted nephew fleeing the coop. If that sells it for you, this is for you. I could barely get through it. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Shoctober, Round #1


Reading about the history of the 1992 BBC mockumentary is almost as fun as watching the trailblazing film known as "Ghostwatch". Set up as a real life exploration of a haunted house, the film earned the trust of its audience as something very true by the involvement of BBC personalities. A bit dated in its terms nowadays, the film is still an effective and enjoyable watch as the cameras catch flickers of things in the corners and hiding behind curtains. Then there's this split-second door opening that made me rewind and slow for about 3 minutes until I could make out the mustached man hiding behind it. For all its loopy British charm, "Ghostwatch" is the perfect atmospheric little horror film to start off the month with.

Before I Wake

The modern master of PG-13 horror (see also "Ouija" for some generic but well timed scares), Mike Flanagan's "Before I Wake" has lingered on Netflix for some time now and its well worth the time. Not only does it feature a couple of marvelously rendered moments of terror, but it features a denouement that not only makes everything that's come before it utterly believable. but crystallizes what most child horror films fail to recognize.... which is that memory and innocent brain synapses often propagate the real nightmares in our world.

Zombi 3 

Lucio Fulci never met a  fog machine he didn't like. For "Zombi 3", it's in every scene and, really who cares. The idea here- about a biohazard experiment called Death One that is loosed from a research facility onto the population of a nearby town- is just as crazy as it sounds. Floating heads out of freezers. Zombie hands borne from the womb of a woman. Some zombies move slow while others move lightning quick and fight like ninjas. Consistency isn't the film's strong point. But what we do have is a gorefest that's wild, unbelievable and wholly entertaining in the way only Fulci could make.

Friday, October 05, 2018

The Current Cinema 18.6

The Nun

Part of what makes James Wan's "The Conjuring" universe so nerve-wrecking is the seemingly endless fray of demonic entities and supernatural beings that waft in and out of people's dreams (or altered realities) with such ferocious mystery, that we become terrified of the sheer depth of terror swirling at the fringes of our consciousness. What doesn't always work is the filmmaker's attempt to affix an explanation of said entity. Corin Hardy's "The Nun" takes on the challenge of explaining (and explaining more) the character that jangled people's senses in a previous film with disastrous results. If less is more, than "The Nun" fails simply because it turns an atmospheric presence into a straight-forward hell raiser with a hammer sensibility of terror and jump scares timed to such obvious precision that the life is sucked right out of the film from the very beginning because it so desperately wants the absolute 'most'. It's also such a dimly lit affair (from DP Maxime Alexandre) that its visual scheme adds nothing but confusion to a horror film poised to wallow in disappointing mediocrity.

White Boy Rick

Told with all the handheld grittiness filmmaker Yann Demange promoted in his good debut film "'71", his first American funded effort is just as equally trenchant but far less resonant. This time, the bombed out center of violence isn't the U.K. but downtown Detroit in the early 80's as teenager Rick (Richie Merritt) and his father Rick (Matthew McConaughey) find inventive ways to sustain a living. For the older Rick, it's arms dealing (albeit with a license) and for young Rick, it parlaying his father's fringe interests into a high flying career of drug dealing and double crossing when the FBI come knocking. This type of story has been told dozens of times before with the only difference being its main character is a teenager, and Demange and screenwriters try their best to infuse "White Boy Rick" with a streak of originality including hearing the voice of the real-life Rick at the end, but the whole effort becomes mired in a been-there-done-that syndrome in which it never fully recovers.

Assassination Nation

Like a lurid pop-dream, Sam Levinson's "Assassination Nation" is a visually bold and simmering assault on everything from gender equality to the sometimes toxic nature of social media. Appropriating ages old literature from the likes of Nathanial Hawthorne and our nation's own descent into supernatural madness with the Salem witch trials (a town which our new film aptly mimics), writer and director Levinson has crafted a jaw-dropping tale that takes place in the very current when four teenage girls (played to perfection by Odessa Turner, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef and Abra) become targets- and subsequently are forced to become justice swinging vigilantes- after a computer hacker exposes the town's deep, dark personal secrets. Aided by some of the year's finest cinematography courtesy of Hungarian Marcell Rev and a thumping score by Ian Hutlquist, "Assassination Nation" ascends to wondrous heights in commentary and visual pastiche, masterfully stealing the whimpers that similarly themed films like the egregious "Purge" series aspire towards. Hopefully, this film will catch onto some sort of zeitgeist on home video as it came and went in theaters faster than most. I loved every second of it.

Free Solo

A National Geographic Films production whose story overcomes the company's very obvious template of narrative. Full thoughts on Dallas Film Now