Film Review: Nightmare Alley

By the time this post will be live, Nightmare Alley will have been nominated for Best Picture for 2022. Now, as a horror fan, it always excites me whenever I see a horror film on the Academy Awards ballot, so of course, I’m thrilled to see it there. At the same time, I don’t feel like this film was Del Toro’s best. This film was a remake of the 1947’s Nightmare Alley, in which Tyrone Power played the lead, but also was the one to insist for the film to be made in the first place. Having watched the original film, it’s very difficult to enjoy Bradley Cooper attempting to be the leading noir man when despite his best efforts at being a good actor, simply lacks the charisma of a true leading man (especially when you compare Power’s stage presence with his).

The film is adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham. The plot is a fascinating one: a man down on hi luck joins a traveling carnival. The man in question is Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) and he quickly grows fascinated with wanting to learn the tricks to become a mentalist (mind reader). He believes he can outsmart the average man and in doing so can make money off of their stupidity and hope.

That is until he meets Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) a psychiatrist with wealthy clients. The two team up to try to schill money out of the wealthy, but Stanton makes the mistake of thinking that he’s more powerful and cunning than he actually is.

Of course, Del Toro excels in depicting the perfect noir film scenes and the pacing is excellent, and the cast’s saving graces are Cate Blanchett and Toni Collette. But with a movie that runs over two hours, it’s difficult to root for a leading man that we don’t care anything about (in the 1947 original we do feel sorry for Tyrone Power’s Stanton) in this remake, we can’t help but be happy for Bradley Cooper’s Stanton to get exactly what he deserved.

If you haven’t watched the original you may enjoy this version more than I did, or if at least you don’t expect much from your leading men other than being “easy on the eye,” as Toni Collette’s Zeena tells Stanton in the very beginning, then you may overlook this miscasting. Other than that, I recommend the film because the plot is interesting and has a very bold message: Can we truly outrun our real nature, or will we ultimately befall what we really are? I’d also say to read the book because it’s excellent.

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Film Review: Last Night In Soho

I’ve enjoyed Edgar Wright films ever since he began with Shaun of the Dead. Now, Last Night In Soho doesn’t have time to be witty or funny as it’s drenched in dread and blood.

This film has everything I personally love, London, 60’s music, and a badass chick in the form of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). But the true breakout star of this movie is shy Eloise played by the superb Thomasin McKenzie. Eloise has fashion designer aspirations and when she’s over the moon when she’s accepted to a fashion school in London. Only she finds out real quick that London isn’t as amazing as it seems when she fails to fit in with her college peers and seeks refuge in Soho where she rents a room from Miss Collins.

The moment Eloise enters the room, she begins to have visions of the past. Every night when she goes to sleep she mysteriously enters the world of 1960’s London and sees the night life from the eyes of aspiring singer Sandy. Initially, Eloise is smitten to enter the world she always wanted to inhabit. In her waking life, she tries to emulate Sandy, by her looks, haircolour, and speech. But she soon discovers that all the glitz and glamour isn’t as it seems especially when she witnesses a brutal murder. Soon, she’s being haunted even in her waking life, and the fine line between reality and fiction weave in a terrible fever dream that comes to a brutal head in the final act.

This film will leave you speechless in the final act but also with a smirk.

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Film Review: The Advent Calendar

This film from writer-director Patrick Rideremont is a fever dream of a modern fairytale of storts. Eva (Eugenie Derouand) is a former ballet dancer who is now stuck in a wheelchair after a car accident (caused by her best friend). Said best friend gives her an ancient Advent Calendar for her birthday and this is when the Faustian thrills begin.

From love potions, voodoo, and trippy hallucinations, this horror has it all. The rules of the Advent Calendar are quite simple, eat all of the candy in the calendar or you die, follow all of the calendar’s rules or you will die, and don’t you dare throw the calendar away or you will die.

The calendar seemingly seems to give Eva everything she desires, but receiving these “gifts” means that she must be willing to sacrifice something as well. As the days go on, the gifts she reaps are bigger and the sacrifices begin to get much more personal each time.

Reading some reviews of the film, I know some didn’t like the idea that a disabled character would go above and beyond morality to try to regain the use of her legs. And I get why that would be problematic. I think the script should’ve shown the real reason why Eva was obsessed with regaining the use of her legs so that she could dance again (ballet was her life). Without showing the audience how important ballet was to her, her drive to be “normal” feels like a form of ableism.

Overall, the film has beautiful cinematography and the actual Advent Calendar prop is something that all horror enthusiasts would love to have (maybe without the Faustian curse though).

You can check out the film on Shudder.

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Movie Review: Catch Hell

Since I’m currently in the works of trying to write a contained horror script I decided to look up which films fell into that category and this came up. Apparently it came out in 2014, and is produced by Twisted Pictures (known for producing horror films) I was slightly confused as to why it was marketed as a thriller (at least from the blurb) especially since the plot would’ve resonated more with horror fans. I’m not the sort of person who reads reviews before jumping into films or books, I kinda prefer going into something totally blind so as not to spoil the experience with expectations or preconceived opinions.

Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a movie directed, co-written, and starring Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions, I Know What You Did Last Summer) since his most recent credits include mostly the action genre but like most first time film directors there are two ways anyone’s first film can go they either make a horror (like Romola Garai’s Amulet) or they make a pseudo-autobiographical film (like Asia Argento’s Scarlet Diva). Now Phillippe decided to flip the switch and do both. It’s a horror film whose protagonist pretty much mirrors Phillippe himself. My horror fam will get me when I say that this film is a cross between Hostel and Lake Placid.

The premise is pretty simple, Reagan Pearce is an actor struggling to find the perfect project that will put him back in the game for A-list films, instead he finds himself having to take roles he’s not too crazy about, whilst also feeling the weight of what it means to be over 40 in Hollywood (basically, a death sentence). That’s why he finds himself heading out to Shreveport, Louisiana for a role he’s not too keen on but that his manager tells him he’s gotta do “cause you know why.”

The following morning he is picked up by a different driver than the day before. Two questionable rednecks pass themselves off as production members, and Reagan reluctantly gets in the van. It doesn’t take long for him to realize he’s made a major mistake but tries not to freak out as red flags are waving neon bright alarms. Unfortunately for him, he soon finds himself being held captive under the premise that he slept with the wife of one of the two men who abducted him. Mike (Ian Barford) is a violent man, convinced that Reagan needs to pay for his transgressions, whilst Junior (Stephen Louis Grush) goes along with the plan as a favor to his uncle. The two keep the actor chained to a wall in an isolated shack, the looks of it reminiscent of Saw.

It doesn’t take long for the torture to happen and as an ex-pianist I can’t help but majorly cringe whenever hands are severely crushed/maimed/or broken. If you’ve seen enough abduction films, you can kind of predict what’s going to happen but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think this sort of film would’ve found a receptive audience in film fests like Shriekfest or Scream Fest at the time. As someone who has written/directed/starred in my own short film, I can definitely say that it’s a very difficult task so the fact that Phillippe managed to do all of that with 19 filming days, I’m impressed. Ultimately, we never know if Reagan had truly hooked up with Mike’s wife, but he definitely did know her.

The film’s strength is the unpredictability of the two villains, even when we start to see one as the nicer one, you’re thrown another twist and can’t help but cringe expecting the worst to happen. By the way, the nature of this film is high on tension so if you’re expecting to have a moment to relax with some comedic relief, it rarely occurs, but in a way allows us to fully immerse ourselves in Reagan’s perspective and thus feel the same uncertainty, fear, and dread.

If you’re a fan of contained semi-campy horror or just a fan of abduction movies, then I would recommend you to check it out.

And if for some reason Ryan Phillippe ever feels compelled to direct something vastly different (but yet still violently brutal) then he should hit me up cause Terror! Depicts the French Revolution in ways you haven’t seen before (plus it’s chock-full of gallows humor cause that’s the only humor I know).

Watch Catch Hell on Amazon Prime Video

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Film Review: Candyman (2021)

Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman…..

NOPE.

Not saying it five times cause we all know what happens next, especially if you’re a 90’s kid. But now with Nia DaCosta’s revamped spiritual sequel to the 1992 original film, a whole new generation can fear the hook. It’s no surprise that I was a huge fan of the original, and some of the old school horror fans didn’t take it well when this sequel was announced. I, instead was excited to see this franchise be resuscitated and now after viewing the film (first film I’ve seen in an actual theatre since the pandemic hit), I’m even more thrilled to see where the Candyman journey may take us in the future.

The absolute pro that this film has is that it manages to seamlessly connect the 1992 film with the current one in a way that doesn’t seem forced nor stilted. We follow the protagonist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), now an adult, but in the 1992 film was saved from the fire by Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), unknowingly returns to his origins when he’s back to living in the former Cabrini Green only now filled with high-rise luxury apartments that he shares with art curator girlfriend.

Anthony is introduced to the Candyman legend by William Burke (Coleman Domingo) who gets him up to speed on how the legend originated (the superb use of shadow puppets is used to depict the violent backstories). As it’s true with any urban legend, details have been distorted or forgotten so we soon find out that Candyman isn’t merely Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) wronged painter, but that it encapsulates an array of different black men that have been wronged throughout the years that have taken up the scepter of Candyman and kept the legend alive.

My only gripe with the film is that it lacked any real feeling of dread. The body horror element added a bit of creep factor, but it’s hard to make a film about a legendary ghoul if the one you’re using isn’t as compelling, frightening, and seductive as Tony Todd’s Daniel was. In fact, the strongest scene in the film is when we’re finally graced with Tony Todd’s cameo, his commanding voice lulling the audience back into a trance that is equal parts mesmerized and scared shitless.

This is not to say though that the franchise doesn’t have room to grow, because I think it does and I honestly can’t wait for a new installment to be made.

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Shriekfest 2021 – Getting a little freaky, getting a little spooky, getting a little SHRIEKY

Photo by: David Hanger

Shriekfest is a Horror Film Festival that is a goldmine of both upcoming and veteran horror talents. Denise Gossett, the founder and organizer of the festival has helped many debut directors and screenwriters find an audience at Shriekfest, which is very much appreciated. There’s suddenly been a resurgence in the horror genre, but Gossett has been an advocate for horror for the past twenty-one years, which is to say that she has seen a lot of horror films to know exactly which ones are worth showcasing and which ones need better tweaking.

I was very excited to receive Press Passes for this event because as a huge horror enthusiast, watching horror films for thirteen hours straight is basically heaven. Not to mention that I really love the chill vibe that the festival has and how appreciative everyone is for being there to view their films and support them. Plus, I really have a soft spot for the Charlie Chaplin theatre at the Raleigh Studios. I’d give anything to watch ALL my movies there. Seriously, folks, if you haven’t seen a film there, you’re missing out.

That being said, I was so happy that this year the event wasn’t canceled as the previous year (pandemic and all – ya know the drill) because the films I got to see this year were incredibly good. The previous years, the shorts tended to be more on the campy side of horror (which I don’t mind cause who doesn’t love the OG Evil Dead am I right?), but I do love it when horror can also be on the uber dark and creepy side, so I was all for that.

I ended up watching 31 shorts and 2 features and I know many of the directors and screenwriters I spoke to asked me how I was going to remember all of them and I told them that I was taking notes of the film titles and what they were about, but that mostly after one day of viewing if I could easily recall my favourites then that means that those were the ones that really stood out to me and were worthy of my mention. Although, I have to admit that there were probably only one or two films I wasn’t too crazy about, for the most part, the shorts were extremely well produced, edited, written, and acted.

One of my favourite shorts was from the Spanish director Alvaro Vicario called Polter. The film was about a guy trying to get rid of poltergeist in his home. The film didn’t take itself too seriously, and the fact that it was fun and campy is what really honed in the ending for me. I really suggest you guys check it out if you can because it’s very well worth the ten minutes it takes to view it. Polter was followed by another very well acted and written short called, A Strange Calm. This short was very dark and sad as it followed two friends, Rosie and Mills who encounter a strange man while they’re out playing in rural California in the 70’s and end up getting abducted. The short was full of tension and dread and overall it was excellent. Now, the shorts seemed to get progressively darker as A Strange Calm was soon followed by Killing Small Animals which was a very disturbing short where the protagonist kills various animals throughout the movie, slowly graduating to bigger ones until the very end where she’s seen abducting a little girl. I wouldn’t say that the short was bad, but I wasn’t that keen on the storyline and wasn’t a fan of seeing various animals getting killed (guess it’s just not my kind of horror).

Meanwhile, The Rule of Three expertly explored how a young woman suffering from severe OCD has to try to overcome her demons while trying to survive a home invasion. The short was filled with dread and suspense and tied everything up in a way that wasn’t cheesy. Wide Awake in Bridgewater may have easily been my favourite short. It was mysterious and held an element of sci-fi that I really liked. An elderly man receives a phonecall from his teenage girlfriend and he tries to figure out what happened to her fifty years ago when she disappeared. It was easily the best written, acted, and edited short and had a satisfying ending. Seek was a fun, thrilling short about two sisters who stop at a rundown restroom only to find out that a strange entity haunts that area.

Love Bite was a refreshing and hilarious take on the zombie trope. A bickering couple soon find out to what lengths one of them will go to just to be proven right, despite the dire consequences that it will bring. It was easily very funny because it was also very relatable. I think any couple whose been together for awhile could easily see themselves in the couple. Being a huge fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street Nancy played by the incredibly awesome Heather Langenkamp, it was a pleasant surprise to see her star in the short Cottonmouth. The short easily flourished cause of Langenkamp’s star power, but it was also engaging as the viewers can’t help but wanting to know who or what is continuously drinking from a glass of water that the protagonist keeps next to her bed stand. Selfie was another short that I enjoyed, where a girl’s photoshopped self somehow manages to come alive and become the monster that she is.

The Otherside dealt with the very real horror of child trafficking and how the mother’s of the victims tend to be haunted by their grief and in this case, one mother in particular not only haunts but seeks revenge to those that do the same to other kids. And last but not least the shorts cycle ended on a high note with Half-Cocked where two doctors find a way to bring a man to life and make him immortal only to find out that that man isn’t appreciative since he had committed suicide. The film was definitely on the campy side of horror but it was a very funny and thrilling ride.

The two features I was able to view were Ten Minutes to Midnight and Redwood Massacre: Annihilation. Ten Minutes to Midnight was a campy fun vampire film about a radio show host (played by the ever charismatic and alluring Caroline Williams) who slowly manifests the signs of vampirism after she’s bitten by a rabid bat. Apart from being a fun film, the movie also focused on an important message, especially for women, how we’re often easily discarded after we’ve passed a certain age. That’s why I love horror, because it’s a genre that dares to tackle difficult topics that other genres simply gloss over.

The last film I viewed was Redwood Massacre: Annihilation that starred horror veteran Danielle Harris (which you may recognize her from the Halloween franchise). I was really excited to check this film out as I have an affinity for killers who choose to use a burlap sack as a mask. All in all, I did enjoy the film, although once we started to surpass the sixty minute mark and no one had died I started to fret when the massacre was going to happen (no need to worry, the promised bloodbath does occur and doesn’t disappoint).

Thirteen hours of film watching was an intense feat but can you truly call yourself a horror fan if you can’t do that? Am I right?

Stay spooky my friends.

Photos by: David Hanger

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Film Review: Malignant

The opening scene in Malignant may be offputting. We’re shown a gothic looking hospital sitting on top of a high cliff with the ocean below, while a doctor known for dramatics orders her underlings to “Cut out the tumor,” as a young patient writhes and kills people either through force or telepathy.

Then the story shifts to Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) where a hardworking but very pregnant nurse returns home because she feels ill. Of course Madison has an abusive husband who dares to hit her while she’s overwhelmingly pregnant (and those scenes will never get easy to watch for any woman or decent human being). It doesn’t take long for her husband Derek to meet the most gruesome and deserved death ever. The only caveat is, the audience is lulled in this strange idea that maybe the dark entity that visits them was only after Derek, but we’re soon shown that Madison too is victim of the entity’s ire.

Director James Wan is famous for his use of string instrumentals during pivotal scenes. Now, Wan trades the strings for trippy 70’s giallo music ala Goblin mixed in with 80’s synth. And for the first half of the film you can’t help but think that this is exactly a modern day Giallo, with a killer that dons a black leather coat and leather gloves before he goes on a killing spree throughout Seattle.

Then the TWIST arrives and a major shift happens. I’m not going to tell you what the twist is because it’ll spoil the film and I actually suggest that you do not read any reviews prior to seeing this film so that you can dive in blind. But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the twist only because it’s one of my fave subgenres in horror and am happy to finally see it being explored again.

I will admit that I wasn’t sure what to think when I first started watching the film but once the credits rolled, I was a fan of the craziness that unfolded during the three act of the film. So, if you’re an old school horror fan, I would totally recommend this film as it’s one wild, fun romp. I haven’t had this much fun watching a horror than Evil Dead and that’s saying a lot.

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Film Review: We Need To Do Something

I read the novella that this movie is based on, Max Booth III’s “We Need to Do Something.” And I’ll admit that in this case, you may want to see the movie prior to reading the novella, only because the film follows the novella very closely, so the surprise factor will be gone. However, this didn’t completely spoil my viewing of the film because I was very curious to see how the filmmaker would direct certain scenes.

As we’re in full hurricane season, watching a film about a family who decides to hole themselves up in a bathroom to brace a storm is very fitting. For 90 minutes we watch the horror unfold as a very dysfunctional family have to try to stay in the same room for what seems to be days. Pat Healy plays the alcoholic father who loses his mind once he runs out of booze, Vinessa Shaw plays the mother, a Pollyanna-type figure who clearly doesn’t want to admit that bad shit is happening even when she’s soaked in blood, Sierra McCormick is the resident goth Mel who is plagued by guilt over a supposed-spell gone wrong, and finally John James Cronin is younger brother Bobby who seems to have been plucked out of a 50’s sitcom and feels a bit out of place for such a movie.

The whole premise of the movie is that we, the audience, don’t know what the fuck is going on beyond the bathroom door, but some gnarly crazy shit is happening there that we’re never made privy of. The element of the unknown is what keeps the film going, and as we’re bombarded by flashbacks of Mel and girlfriend Amy casting several incantations (and in horror movies, this is code for, shit is going to get bad real fast) we have to try to stitch the pieces together and try to understand what the hell is happening.

The movie’s strength is in the characters and the setting. The only time you’re taken a bit out of the story is when the director rely on special effects that probably due to budgeting issues, aren’t as effective as they should be. The film’s climax (as well as the novella’s climax) is the chilliest scene you’ve seen in awhile. Not to mention, if you’re a rockfan, you’ll readily recognize Ozzy’s voice (and it’s used for the best purpose ever). But overall it’s an enjoyable, dark ride, and I would recommend for you to check it out if you’re a fan of confinement horror, and highly suggest you read the novella the film is based on because it seriously delivers on the chills.

You can now stream on demand on most major streaming services.

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Film Review: Fear Street 1994 & 1978

Growing up I was a HUGE fan of R.L. Stine’s books, in particular the Fear Street series. Basically, those books were my crack and I bought at least three books a month. So when Netflix announced that they were gonna come out with three Fear Street inspired films, I knew that I was going to check it out.

From the very beginning 1994 opens with a very Scream-esque sequence – a recognizable actress is first chased and then stabbed to death by a guy dressed in a black cloak and skull mask. I didn’t mind the heavy handed reference because the inside of a mall after hours was definitely creepy. However, I was soon annoyed by the following scene where the protagonist is listening to the radio and Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains” in 1994, when the song came out in September of 1995. That aside, the film’s soundtrack was completely awesome if you’re a lover of 90’s music.

I loved the look of the movie and feeling like I was reliving my high school days, but what didn’t work for me was the fact it simply had too much going on. What I mean is, you have killers, ghosts, and zombies. ALL AT ONCE. It’s just too over the top.

Meanwhile, 1978 was very reminiscent of Friday the 13th franchise with the setting of a summer camp and a possessed killer that wields an ax and wears a burlap sack as a mask (which if you’re a fan of Jason Vorhees you know that he used to wear that as a mask long before he donned a hockey mask). Just like 1994, 1978 had a killer soundtrack (lots of Bowie, and lots of Bowie references, my heart was full). But what made this film superior to 1994 was that it had better fleshed out characters, and I was more invested in these characters than I was in the previous film. Not to mention that this installment mostly focused on ONE possessed killer rather than have a smorgasbord of all things spooky.

FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978 – Cr: Netflix © 2021

I’m really looking forward to the third and final film, 1666. I truly hope that the film is based off of R.L. Stine’s origin saga, The Betrayal, The Secret, and The Burning because those books were truly top notch for MG and it really explained by Fear Street became so cursed (I’m looking at you Goode!).

Let me know if you’ve checked these films out or any of the books when you were young! I’d love to talk more about all things Fear Street!

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Film Review: Gretel & Hansel

Oz Perkins has quickly become one of my favourite directors. Son of the late horror icon Anthony Hopkins, I first came to know of Oz Perkins when I watched The Blackcoat’s Daughter, one of my recent favourite horrors of the past few years.

So when I saw that he was going to tackle a fairytale, I was intrigued. The winning point for this film is that it’s incredibly atmospheric. From the very first scene you’re sucked into the world of the film and feel immersed in its Gothic forest wonder. Gretel is portrayed by Sophia Lillis who has been showing her acting chops in IT and also the miniseries Sharp Objects, and even in this role she doesn’t disappoint.

Personally, I love that we got to know more about the witch in question that lives in the woods. In the fairytale, we never really got a sense of who she was other than a hideous lady that cooked up children to eat them. Not that she doesn’t do this in this film, but we also get more of a backstory.

In a way, the film is very feminist as it proves that Gretel wasn’t willing to work for a nobleman who seemed more interested in her maidenhood than her abilities to clean and launder. I also liked that the witch wasn’t seen as particularly evil at first, because she was teaching Gretel many skills and looked at her as a possible stand in for a daughter figure. In a way, she was happy to share her power with her and to help Gretel nurture her own power.

But what really makes this film unforgettable isn’t all the feminist messages (there are many and it’s cool) but for the enchanting yet terrifying images. There’s something about the witch’s house that compels you to enter but also once you’re inside, you can’t help but feel like something is terribly amiss despite the tasty banquets that seem to appear on the table at all hours of the day.

Watch this film for its rich photography and if you’ve ever wanted a little more depth analysis of the Grimm fairytale, Hansel and Gretel.

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