Friday, March 18, 2016

DARK ARTS: The Victorian Paintings Of Amalia Kouvalis

Elysium
~by Marie Robinson

There’s something so beautiful and eerie about Victorian photography. The somber faces, the dark, but elegant dress; you could swear that each mysterious portrait subject had a dark and terrible secret hiding behind their blank stare. And then there’s the undeniable morbid—yet fascination—post-mortem photographs, that is, pictures of people after they have died.

American artist Amalia Kouvalis captures the world we want to see when we look at old Victorian portraits. In the flash of an imaginary camera she captures ghosts, demons, departing souls, and other things that we can only catch a glimpse of out of the corner of our eye.

It is no surprise, then, looking at her world, that she is inspired by “Victorian aesthetics” and silent films, as well as dreams and memories. As a movie-lover and a theatre worker, I have a special appreciate for the fact that she spent her childhood in her father’s movie theatre, and that she now strives to embody the atmosphere of it in her paintings.

Her oil paintings and etchings are like a nightmare you want to revisit over and over again, only if to try and understand it more, or a scene from an old black and white movie that you see before the whole theatre goes black and you realize you aren’t alone.

To view more of her artwork and perhaps make a purchase, please visit her website, here .

Here, There

In Limbo

Untitled

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Adapting STEPHEN KING: Killer Frogs Are Coming Your Way Soon!

Because life gets in the way sometimes, I don't have as much time to spend with my blog as I used to.   In the past I have done entire month-long posts to celebrate Women In Horror Month, but I can't devote that much time anymore.  However, when I was asked to spotlight a new project helmed by women, I was on board pretty quick.  Even better is the fact that the source material is from a Stephen King short story.  

Vanessa Ionta Wright and Samantha Kolesnik are friends who met and bonded over their mutual love of all things horror.  Now they come together with another friend, Stephanie Wyatt, to bring us a new short film bound to send shivers down our spine and yearn for more from this talented team. 

Many thanks to Vanessa for taking the time to answer some questions about their highly anticipated project!

Let's dig in!

FWF:  Tell us a little more about your project.  Obviously when I hear those two little words:  Stephen King....I, and others I'm sure, listen a little closer.  How did you and Samantha meet and can you tell us about your backgrounds in the horror  industry?


Vanessa Ionta WrightSamantha and I met at the 2015 Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, her script 'The Price of Bones' and my script 'The Time Changer - Close at Hand' were both finalists in short screenplay competition.  I was actually sitting at a table outside of the theater enjoying some street style tacos when Samantha approached me.  I invited her and her husband to sit down and then proceeded to ask her if I had anything in my teeth.  I did, lots of cilantro.  She kindly helped me remove all the green from my teeth, I knew she needed to be in my life personally and professionally.

FWF:  Can you give us a little synopsis of the storyline, for those who haven't read the SK short story?

VIW:  Rainy Season is a story about a young couple who travel to the town of Willow, ME.  After repeated warnings from town locals to leave, they stay and learn the horrific price the town must pay for prosperity.  Every seven years, the rainy season descends upon Willow in a downpour of vicious, man eating toads:  The newest inhabitants of town are then sacrificed and suffer the deadly consequences of their choice to not head the warnings.

FWF:  Where are you filming and what made you choose that location?

VIW
We are filming in the old town of Sharpsburg, GA for the Willow scenes and we are also shooting in a house in Senoia, GA that was built for the film 'Lawless' starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Gary Oldman.  We chose these locations for aesthetic purposes.  The home was built for a film so it is set up for equipment and hanging lights and still leaving enough room for the actors to perform.  Both locations will help to bring the town of Willow to life.

FWF:  Who else is involved in the film, and what do they bring to the table?

VIW:
  The film is being directed by Grant McGowen, the Artistic Director of Pinch 'n Ouch Theatre in Atlanta.  Our DP is Mark Simon, who got his start working on Sixteen Candles, Ferris Beuller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club, to name a few.  I am the Executive Producer and Writer of the film and I have two phenomenal producers, Stephanie Wyatt and Samantha Kolesnik making it all happen.  The film is starring Tyner Rushing (Salem - tv series), Brian Ashton Smith (Nashville - tv series, Joyful Noise - film) Amber Germain and Alpha Trivette (Drop Dead Diva - tv series.)  This a great group of artists and I am thrilled to be working with them.

FWF:  Have you always been a horror fan?  What makes you want to write and produce horror?

VIW: 
Yes, I have always been a fan of horror, since about the age of 7.  I was sitting on the stairs in my house while my parents watched The Amityville Horror on tv.  I gingerly peeked around the corner catching glimpses of the film, kickstarting a lifetime of nightmares and fears.  The adrenaline rush that comes along with being scared was addicting and I found myself chasing that high.  Thank god it was scary movies, could you imagine if I would have witnessed my parents doing heroin and jumped on that band wagon!   I, of course, had to sneak around to get my 'horror fix', as I was not old enough to watch these films.  I watched Poltergeist at a friend's house when I was 8, her parents had a 'hands off' approach to parenting.  

When we moved to Ohio and got cable television, I used to sit down in front of the TV and watch Commander USA's Groovie Movies.  I started with
Friday the 13th part III, My Bloody Valentine, The Curse of the Cat People, C.H.U.D., An American Werewolf in London, etc. My mother was a huge Stephen King fan and had read all of his books.  I was always curious and wanted to read them but she always told me they would be too scary and give me nightmares...too late.  When I was 14, I picked up a copy of Four Past Midnight and was hooked.  I went back and read from the beginning.
I have always wanted to create these fictional worlds and bring them to life with the intent of scaring the viewer/reader or making them laugh.  I like to have that balance between humor and the macabre.  I have always been interested in writing and filmmaking, beginning with penning my first book, The Witch's Castle when I was 7. 


FWF:    Did you originally want to be a writer, or a film maker?  How did you accomplish your goals?

VIW:
  Up until I was about 16 writing and making little "movies" had been a hobby.  Then I went to see a film.  This film was not a Hollywood blockbuster.  We saw it at the local art house theatre and it was independent movie.  I didn't know there was such a thing.  I thought all movies had big stars and huge budgets.  I had no idea that you could make movies like this.  The film was Reservoir Dogs and I realized at that moment that I wanted to do this for a living.

I went to Ohio University and studied video production and film.  After graduation, I moved to LA with a rag tag bunch of friends to pursue a career in music videos.  I was drawn to the experimental, short format film.  Music has always been a huge inspiration. When I sit down and start a new script I generally formulate a song playlist and keep it going until I 'fade to black'.

I wrote my first feature in college, a thriller called 'Melting Point'.  I was just learning the craft and the process and was completely hooked.  I decided to focus on writing and directing. 

As I gained more wisdom and life experiences, my writing improved and I went on to do pretty well in some competitions.  Okay, bargain moment:  'Bayou Gold' 2003 Semi-Finalist in the American Zoetrope Screenwriting competition and 2015 Official Selection in the Oaxaca Global Scrip Challenge, 'The Time Changer - Into the past' 2014 Finalist in the Shriekfest Horror Film Festival and 2015 Official Selection in Chicago's Indie Horror Fest, 'The Time Changer - Close at Hand' 2015 Finalist in the Shriekfest Horror Film Festival.  'Rainy Season' - 2015 Official Selection in the Northeast Horror Fest Film Festival and 2016 Official Selection in the Milledgeville Film Festival.


FWF: What made you want to adapt this particular story?

VIW:
  A Facebook friend had posted a link about Stephen King's dollar babies in a group that I help form called Above The Line Artistry.  I went to Stephen King's website and read all about it.  Basically, King will release his short stories that have not been previously produced commercially and allow students and aspiring filmmakers take a stab at adapting his work.  The catch is that these films are for promotional/festival use only, no distribution or profits at all.  I think most people might ask, 'why in the world I would put so much time and energy into a film that can't make any money and that cannot be distributed.  Well...I'm not doing it for the money.  I looked at this as an opportunity to have my name attached, in some capacity, to Mr. King and to showcase myself and a talented team of up and coming artists and actors. 

I read through the list of available stories and many of them I knew, so I wanted to find one I wasn't familiar with.  I read
Rainy Season from his collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  It reminded me a bit of Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery', and sure enough, King makes a reference to that tale a few pages in.  Personally, the thing I found scariest about this story wasn't what was on the page, but all the subtext and things that weren't being said.  I thought, "this could be a really dark tale and translate really well to the big screen."  Stephen King will be seeing our completed film and that is extremely nerve racking and extremely exciting.

The expectations are high on this and we are not going to cut corners.  For a short film with a modest budget of $30,000 we have some really talented people lending their skills and expertise.
I also really focused on the subtext of Rainy Season in the film adaptation, we wanted more of 'What are the actors not saying', let's focus on that.  We decided to focus on the tension and suspense of the story.  Alfred Hitchcock said "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." This was my mantra while writing the script.


FWF:  Who are some of your biggest influences in the genre?

VIW:
  Alfred Hitchcock and John Carpenter for sure!  Stephen King goes without saying...I like to think WWSKD?

FWF:  Do you consider being a woman more challenging in this particular genre and if so, what will you do to not just be another face in the crowd?

VIW:
  I think it can be quite challenging for a woman in this genre.  Filmmaking tends to still be a boys club, but there are some amazing and talented female groundbreakers.  Jennifer Kent (The Babadook 2014), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary 1989) Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker 1953)
I live my life in such a way so as not be just another face in the crowd, and my career is the same way.  I can't even put into words what I do, but I make sure to leave a lasting impression.  I don't believe in gimmicks so I think I will set myself apart simply by making great films.  I only want to work with creative, talented people who are smarter than me.  And while we are working I want to laugh a lot and sometimes get scared.


FWF:  Please tell us about your crowdfunding to get this film made.

VIW: 
We are crowd funding through indiegogo.  our campaign can be found at:
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rainy-season-based-on-the-story-by-stephen-king#/

We have set up a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rainyseasonmovie
Twitter @rainyseasonmovie
Instagram @rainyseasonfilm
Website at www.kreepygrrl2000.wix.com/rainyseason
YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCG8UEk7O5FLoCU-ZnClLe2g
(I have been posting daily videos "Fun With King" to keep people entertained.  I have also put out a challenge to people to play Fund My Film Truth or Dare.  starting at $50 people can dare me to do something and I have 24 hours to do it.)


FWF:  And finally, because everyone always gets a kick out of this:  what three horror movies would you want with you on that proverbial desert island?

VIW:
  Just 3!!! ok...Halloween (1978), Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973)  I know those might seem cliché, but those are the 3...I think...JUST 3!!!!  too hard ;)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Styria (2014) a.k.a. Angels Of Darkness: The Legend Of Carmilla Returns...

Because vampires have become pretty much a cliche in the last several years, it's next to impossible to find a fresh entry in the sub-genre. I'm always looking for something a little different, and perhaps enjoy the more obscure titles more than the popular mainstream ones, such as 2006's Perfect Creature, 1977's Martin, 2008's brilliant Let The Right One In and one of my most recent favorites:  Only Lovers Left Alive (2013).   So when I heard there was a new-ish film based on Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 vampire novel Carmilla, I was on board quicker than you can say bloodletting.

Burdened with the supposedly American viewer-friendly yet eye-rolling title Angels of Darkness, Styria (also known as The Curse of Styria) finds us in late 80's Hungary at the end of the Cold War, where Lara Hill (Eleanor Tomlinson) and her father have arrived at a dilapidated castle in which Dr. Hill (Stephen Rea) is planning to uncover and possibly restore some very old murals hidden under layers of plaster.  Lara has been removed from the boarding school she spent most of her years at due to some violent behavior, so she is just getting used to spending time with her father.  Her mother, who apparently prevented Lara from being injured as a child in a nighttime attack,  is mysteriously missing from the picture.  We find out why eventually.

Lara, revealed to be a cutter, has some trouble settling in and prefers listening to music, adding morbid drawings to her journal and taking forbidden walks rather than spending time in the company of her father and the few townsfolk that stop in to the castle to stir things up.  While wandering in the woods she sees a car accident in which a young woman (Julia Pietrucha) quickly gets out of the wreckage and runs away, soon to be chased but not caught by the driver of the car.  Lara is able to settle the frightened passenger and takes her back to the castle to get her cleaned up. 

The beautiful blonde soon offers up her name, Carmilla, and the two girls become friends quite quickly.  Carmilla seems to want to push boundaries at every turn, whether it is exploring the ruins of the castle (which she seems to be mysteriously familiar with), swimming naked in a nearby pond, or staying out half the night looking up at the stars. Lara is entranced by the easy friendship, even though she knows something about Carmilla is a little "off".   When a local man who calls himself a "general" comes to the castle asking if Dr Hill or Lara has seen a known runaway orphan, Lara lies as she looks at the picture of Carmilla, denying that she has seen her at all. 


The enigmatic Carmilla exudes not only a tangible feeling of power over Lara but also has a profoundly sexual vibe, and each time Lara spends time with her the two grow closer.  Shrouded in mystery though, Carmilla is always disappearing when Lara turns her back, causing a sense of unease and near-dread that Lara just can't shake off.  And as Carmilla grows more adventurous, she expects Lara to follow her lead, causing more than a few moments of tense disagreement.
When young women in town begin to turn up dead from apparent suicides and Lara loses chunks of time, she begins to suspect that her friend may have something to do with it.  Or maybe even she herself is involved.

Styria is a gratifyingly slow burn.  The almost non-stop foggy atmosphere of the castle and grounds, together with the dimly lit sets and bluish tint of the entire film can't help but to evoke an eerie feeling of apprehension.  I don't know many horror fans that don't like creepy castles and serious neck wounds, so there should be enough here to keep any genre fan duly entertained.  The acting is really top-notch, with Rea his normal, fantastic self and exceptional turns by both Tomlinson and Pietrucha.

This is not your average vampire film though - very little is blatantly revealed, but anyone with any knowledge of the legendary creatures will see the subtle hints early on.  Vampires are mentioned, but not thrown in our face.  They remain in the shadows of the townsfolk's legends and superstitions, until it is time to face the truth, which even then is elusive and deceptive.

I wish more films were like this one.  Reeking atmosphere and yet very short on actual bloody violence, it drums along at a perfect pace, willing us along for the ride.  And while it is not a complete page-to-screen adaptation, it is faithful enough to Le Fanu's original tale that even the die-hards will be hard-pressed not to enjoy it. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Black Mountain Side (2014): Superstition Reigns Supreme In The Great White North

I'm a real sucker for films that take place in ridiculously remote locations, in particular if it boasts arctic temperatures and an immeasurable amount of the white stuff.  It is for this reason that I love films such as The Thing and The Last Winter.  And it is for this reason that I watched Black Mountain Side.

In a remote cabin in the great white north of Canada, a group of archaeological researchers have uncovered what appears to be a stone monument ages and ages old. Unsure of just what they have found, they set about to secure funds and assistance to dig out the evolving mystery.  When superstitious local workers dig around the large stone, attempting to bring to light the meaning of the strange writings on the artifact, they one by one disappear from the site, eventually leaving the researchers high and dry unless they are to continue on their own.   The men, sure they have uncovered the greatest find in archaeological history, attempt to forge ahead, with disastrous results.

The film immediately evokes an expected sense of frigid claustrophobia, which is something I can really dig into.  The woods around the cabin were ominous, even more so because of their far-north location - it was only light out for around 5 hours a day.  Which leaves a lot of time to look out the cabin window and see something.....what was that?.......at the edge of the treeline.  The cinematography was really stunning, as nothing is more beautiful than snow falling upon snow, with a large expanse of woods behind it.  And as spectacular as that is, it is so much more unsettling when the sun is going down and shadows abound, casting an eerie blue light on the snow right at dusk. The snow is all-too suffocating, made even worse when trapped by situations out of your control.

Soon after the workers start disappearing, the men begin to hear strange noises outside the cabin.  Voices are telling them to do things, to hurt someone else or themselves. They start seeing disturbing images that are not easily explained.  Supplies start to run low and they are unable to contact the base station to send help when the bizarre illnesses and startling injuries start piling up.  Is it all because of the strange stone monument?  Are the legends the locals tell true?  All of this feels very familiar, and truthfully we've seen it all before, many times.  So it's all in whether or not you are willing to travel this same road again, with a new cast of victims.

One thing that I felt didn't work to its full potential is the fleshing out of the individual characters.  By the end of the film I couldn't recall any of their names or personalities.  They all seemed to run together and no one truly stood out.  In comparison, a movie like The Thing works so much better because you become vested with those characters - you know them.  You care what happens to them.  Here, a man loses his arm, then another his hand.  And you know what?  I can't remember either of their names, nor their purpose for being there.  And while we're at it, could they not have had a different body part removed to put some distinction between the characters?  I mean, it wasn't like it was a movie directly about people losing their upper limbs.   I think the director wanted us to know the difference between the men, but the only one I can actually recall is the obligatory doctor, because he was always treating someone and we saw him frequently.  Everyone else was either playing poker or trading barbs around the table.  Which works wonderfully in films like The Thing and Alien - because we rapidly find ourselves getting to know and care about the characters.  And that's why those films are vastly superior to this one- but in all honesty, this is not a bad indie film at all.

Despite its few character flaws, Black Mountain Side is a truly atmospheric and mostly-fun time, but it's a slow, slow burn.  Don't expect things to move along with any real speed, as the heart of the film is the slow, desperate realization that perhaps no one is getting out alive.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Abandoned (2016)

I heard plenty of good things about The Abandoned before I saw it - most of which were comparisons to movies like Session 9 (which I LOVE) and House on Haunted Hill (remake),  so I was all-in when I finally sat down to watch it. 
Unfortunately to me,  it didn't seem to have the punch that those two previously mentioned films seemingly enjoyed.  I think what was the clincher for me was that there were essentially only two characters in the movie, and I didn't like either one.  The haunted building was nothing short of spectacular (I believe it was actually several sites and sets) but the story just didn't jump up and get me.

Previously known as The Confines (not any better, despite the mundane current title), The Abandoned gives us the story of "Streak" (Louisa Krause), a young woman with nothing to lose except a young daughter.  Trying to get her life back on track, Streak takes on a job as a night security guard at an aging apartment building that seems more suited to have grand balls and perhaps an Oscar party in.  It's immense, magnificent, and a whole lot of other adjectives I'll just refrain from mentioning.  Seems the building was never finished and so, like all ridiculously overpriced and underused buildings, it holds mysterious secrets, as well as perhaps a few ghosts.


Streak's partner (because apparently it takes two security guards to protect this abandoned site) is a most unlikable character. Cooper (Jason Patric, still looking pretty fine in his middle-age) is busy monitoring the numerous televisions with views all over the building.  These two will take turns patrolling the building  -for whatever reason- and watching over the entire site via these multiple monitors.   Sounds boring enough, and let me tell you - it is!  For the audience watching them watch, as well.

It is immediately clear that Cooper is a testy bastard, with ignorance and bitterness his two greatest gifts.  Even eventually showing us that he is wheelchair-bound garners no sympathy.  The guy is a blatant asshole, and when he is not pushing his snippy barbs Streak's way, he's scaring her with tales about rooms that were never finished that they are "forbidden" to seek out.   Streak has emotional and perhaps even mental issues that she is shown to be medicated for, and all the talk seems to get her worked up fairly fast.  The two bond for moments only, just a smidge at a time - talking about their daughters.  But most of the time it is sarcasm-central.

For the first half of the film though, there are enough creepy moments that I was kept entertained.  There's nothing like wandering around an empty building to make you hear and see things that (probably) aren't there.... When the two guards allow a homeless man to come inside out of a storm (against Cooper's better judgement), things amp up a bit when said bum goes missing from the room they allowed him to squat in.  As an audience, we are privy to the transient's location - as he and his Rottweiler (because every homeless dude has a purebred dog) wander around the bowels of the building, and it's obvious he was added to the story to provide a victim.  No spoilers, because it really is THAT obvious when they let him inside.

Because Streak is mentally unstable, we're left to wander if she is really hearing noises and seeing unusual sights when she is tasked with patrolling.  When the film starts we are told that the power has been going off and on in some sections of the building, which is a conspicuous hint that we're going to see electrical tricks.  The elevators sometimes work, sometimes not - and you know they aren't going to work when they are in dire need of working.  And like I said, they added the vagrant to the whole ball of wax for terribly obvious reasons.

 Streak and Cooper are linked with headsets and he seems to make her internal suffering even worse by talking her through certain areas and attempting to keep her out of the dreaded "forbidden areas" that she inevitably ends up in.  The director pulls out all the usual haunted house tropes, with creepy visuals and unsettling noises, but it doesn't work quite as effectively as say, Session 9.   The two leads do eventually band together to fight the dark forces at work, and only then do they become even slightly more tolerable.  I did find myself rooting for them as the final act brought forth truths they were forced to confront.  The ending has a much-needed surprise and though a bit contrived, seemed to fit perfectly with the rest of the film.

The Abandoned tries too hard to be straight-cut horror and in the process, just kind of falls into psychological melodrama.  It has all the right elements to be truly unsettling, but instead I found myself thinking (hoping!) that surely something would be lurking around the next corner...  It never was.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Intruders (2016) There's No Place Like Home. Especially When You Can't Leave....

Movies about home invasions always seem to catch my eye, so when I saw the trailer for "Intruders", my interest was piqued.  For some ungodly reason this film's title changed from the enigmatic "Shut In" to the hackneyed, stale current name. And the movie's tagline "They should have left her alone." pretty much gives everything you hadn't already guessed away.   Regardless, Intruders is a relatively good addition to the sub-genre, at least until the final act.

Anna (Beth Riesgraf) suffers from agoraphobia so intense even stepping onto her porch sends her into waves of anxiety.  She lives in a big ol' house with her only companion, her brother Conrad.  Unfortunately, he has his own medical condition to deal with...pancreatic cancer.  We're shown these tidbits right away, so that when Conrad inevitably dies, we know that Anna will have a lot of things to deal with in addition to grief.  

Without her brother as her link to the outside world, all she has is her family's lawyer who is trying to tie up final wishes, and the semi-charming Dan (Rory Culkin) who brings her food everyday from a meals-on-wheels type of program.  Anna and Dan form a friendship of sorts, so that when he sees her dealing with her sorrow, he's able to lend an ear and a bit of comfort.  He tries to convince her that now that the situation is changed, maybe she'd finally want to leave the house, try to make a new life for herself.  While Anna is utterly against the mere thought, she does feel a type of sympathy at Danny's dead-end job and offers him some of her family's money that she's been hiding away for years.  He politely refuses. But this will not be the end of that thought.

Because we were privy to a few short conversations at the beginning of the film, we know that Conrad wanted Anna to forgive their father, who apparently did something ghastly and reprehensible. Anna wasn't hearing any of it, so it's hard to imagine why she wouldn't want to leave the house in which these unmentionable things occurred, but Anna must have her reasons, right?


The day of Conrad's funeral, Anna prepares herself to venture outside, knowing that she needs to attend.  She lays out her clothes and even goes as far as to actually get dressed...but in the end she is just unable to get herself out the door - her anxiety is so palpable and SO distressing that it gives those of us with no fear of the outside world a little taste of the profound dread people with this condition must deal with. 
Anna instead wallows in self-pity by making some tea when she hears someone pulling into the driveway.  Peeking outside she realizes there are three men intent on breaking into her house, obviously thinking she would be at the funeral.  She hides, and they do gain entry by breaking the glass in a door, and just when you think she may be able to hide until they are gone, the tea kettle whistles.  Alerting the intruders that they are not alone, they quickly surmise that Anna must be in the house somewhere.  They seem to know who she is and that there is a sizable amount of cash somewhere that they want to get their hands on.  Even when Anna tries to make a run for it, she is crippled with fear and unable to save herself.  The trio of men find her and after a quick assessment realize she's not going anywhere.  But what they don't know is that neither are they.


Intruders has a great opening act, setting up the rest of the film by shedding light on Anna's emotional handicap that makes her unable to deal with not only her affliction, but reality.  She's been closed up in her house for ten years, since her father died, and those two facts intertwine for what may be a predictable yet still engaging story-line with more than a few surprises in store. 

 The trio of money-hungry trespassers (Jack Kesy, Joshua Mikel, and Martin Starr) are somewhat stereotypical criminals, with one being the "leader", one being the brute of the gang, and one is sympathetic to the victim and unsure of how far he wants to go.  That being said, they do a respectable job in their roles and the film loses nothing from their casting.

Admittedly, I think the last third of the movie loses some momentum and it's possible the writer(s) weren't quite sure how to give us the shock and awe ending we deserve, but Intruders is not overly long and the pace is kept going at a very acceptable rate.  The whole of the film is carried by Riesgraf, who in my opinion did a stellar job of projecting her fear onto the audience and was able to garner some serious sympathy for her condition.  All the more satisfying when the tables turn and our criminals realize Anna may be meek and damaged, but she's not afraid in her own home. And she's not leaving unless it's on HER terms. 

All in all, you could do a lot worse than checking out this newest addition to the home invasion sub-genre.  It's not breaking down barriers or throwing us any serious original content, but it is a 90 minute thriller that has solid acting including a very believable lead, some decent moments of gore and a house that has some tricks up its sleeve.  


But they still should have left the title alone - Shut In is so much better!



Monday, January 18, 2016

See ya later 2015! It's been fun.


2015 was a pretty decent year for horror, truth be told. A lot of really good films, a few that could even be considered great.  Some crap, as usual, made its way to our screens - but for what I saw, I was pleasantly surprised with what was offered. 

This is not your average "best-of 2015" list.  Because everyone does that, I tend to do something a little different.  This post mirrors my end-of-the-year posts of the past.... so here goes.

BEST HORROR EXPERIENCE OF 2015: 
 JAWS on the big screen. Last year's wrap up included a statement that the only film that could top my viewings of THE SHINING (2013) and PSYCHO (2014) on the big screen would be seeing JAWS.  Well....in honor of the 40th anniversary of the blockbuster, it was playing all over the US on theater screens, giving those who'd never seen the film (are there actually people out there who haven't seen it?) or anyone who was up for a re-visit a chance to watch Bruce wreak havoc on Amity Island.  This was my dream come true.  I was only 7 when it came out in 1975, so obviously I didn't see it then.  I've watched it countless times on Blu-Ray, DVD, VHS, plain ol' TV....but to see it in the way it was originally intended made my year.  (Only thing better this year for me was American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown in June. Actually, that was seriously the best day of my 47 years so far, bar none!)

It Follows
FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE (Besides seeing JAWS, obviously):  IT FOLLOWS.  I saw this in a theater completely alone.  No one else in the theater with me.  It was creepy as hell and if I hadn't been in the very back row, I'd have been looking behind me the entire time.  It was like a private screening. Unnerving and deliciously fun!

What We Do In The Shadows
MY FAVORITE FIFTEEN HORROR FILMS OF 2015: (in no particular order except my top five)

1) WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS - At the top of most of the "top-ten" lists that are already out there, this film is a charmingly hilarious 85 minute homage to vampire films.  I've watched it countless times already this year and every single time I have LOVED it.
2) CRIMSON PEAK - When I hear people complain about it not being "horror" enough, I want to pretty much punch them. This is gothic romantic horror.  Still a sub-genre.  And it had some really good horror elements. No film looked as beautiful as this one did this year.
3) IT FOLLOWS - Why are people divisive about this movie?  I'm not sure what people expected.  It is a classic creep-fest with a great score (the best of the year by far), boatloads of atmosphere and a strong female lead who is going places, mark my words. Horror fans are known to be violent critics, and I suppose when a movie is as hyped as this one was, there are some that will be bound to be disappointed.  Just don't count me in that group.  I loved it.
4) SPRING- This has been called, several times I might add, a "Linklater by way of Lovecraft" film. And I think that is a fair comparison.  I had no idea what to expect going in, which is the perfect way to experience this beautiful yet extremely unique horror film. One of my absolute faves of any year.
5) WE ARE STILL HERE - Fulci lives!  Well, he's at least stirring in his grave after this little beauty.  Subtle.
6) JURASSIC WORLD- Please don't try to tell me that dinosaurs eating people is not horror.  In what world is that NOT horror? Not Jurassic World, that's for sure.  The most fun I had all summer.
7) THE FINAL GIRLS - This self-aware throwback to the 80's camp-slasher flick has a lot of heart.  And a really good cast. It's not a perfect film by any stretch of the word, but it has some genuine humor and is a fun time.
8) VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH - An indie flick with the titular "In Search Of" monster front and center. Writer/director John Portanova brings us the tense atmosphere of the deeply wooded Pacific Northwest and throws in a good measure of family drama to keep things interesting.
9) GOODNIGHT MOMMY - While I may not have liked this one quite as much as others, there is no denying it is quite possibly the most unnerving movie from 2015.  It's a slow burn - but that ending! It more than makes up for any amount of waiting for something to happen. 
10) THE VISIT- Some may disagree that this film even belongs on a best-of list from last year, and I'm not saying this is a return to his "Sixth Sense" form, but The Visit is M. Night Shyamalan's best offering in at least a decade. Witty and unsettling (sometimes simultaneously), I really did find it one of the better contributions of 2015.
11) CREEP - Found footage films are something I usually veer away from, but one day I just happened upon this indie weird-fest and found myself oddly unable to stop watching it.  The entire running time is marked with abject dread....you just know something is going to happen....but when?  Take my word for it - it will happen.
12) DARK WAS THE NIGHT- Playing like an extended episode of The X-Files, this monster-of-the-week flick brings us a wendigo-type creature that we are lucky enough not to see for nearly the entire movie, allowing eerie atmosphere and mounting dread to give us chills. I didn't hear much about this one this year, but I couldn't leave it off my list.
13) BACKCOUNTRY - While no bear attack could possibly top the one in the DiCaprio vehicle, The Revenant, the one in this adventure-horror film had me outright cringing.  Animal attacks are always going to be scarier to me because THAT SHIT CAN HAPPEN! (Hence why JAWS is my favorite film.) A couple on a camping trip gets avoidably lost.  Simple concept. Maximum effect.
14) BONE TOMAHAWK - Boasting a fantastic cast headed up by Kurt Russell, this horror western, while probably overly-long, is a delightful example of how to merge genres. It also gives us one of the most gruesome deaths in a film this year- it's just cringe-worthy!
15)  ANGUISH - I recently caught this subtle indie and was blown away by Ryan Sympkins, just one of the strong female leads here. A teenager (Sympkins) already suffering with anxiety and multiple emotional issues starts to experience an increase in hallucinations and other instabilities - does she need to increase her already hefty medication regimen or is something a little more....supernatural going on?
16) EXTINCTION - Hard to believe Matthew Fox is on this list twice, but I've got to be honest when I say I liked this different take on the zombie apocalypse - partially because of Fox and his pre-teen co-star (Quinn McColgan) who brought enough family drama to the table here that it made more than tolerable something that would have otherwise been The Walking Dead meets The Descent meets 30 Days of Night.  I'm aware I could be alone in liking this one, but that's what makes the world go round...

Let Us Prey
ON THE FENCE IN 2015
1) LAST SHIFT - This one I actually did like as it had a boatload of atmosphere, taking place in a closed police station.  But it went so off the rails at the end!  It was like two separate movies.  I was really into it until about the last third.  At that point there was just too much thrown in visually that I expected the kitchen sink to show up. Why!?!
2) TALES OF HALLOWEEN - While I did enjoy this one also, it failed to capture my attention like Trick R Treat did back in 2007.  Perhaps there were just too many stories and not enough cohesion. This is a real negative point for me, I love anthologies but things like those ABC's of Death movies and ones like it - too much going on.  Not enough continuity.  The segments have got to be related and mold together somehow - otherwise we're just watching a bunch of unrelated shorts on YouTube on a random Tuesday afternoon.  I also have to admit the "funny" segments left me totally cold. Ugh. Someone in charge could benefit from seeing 1945's Dead of Night.)
3) LET US PREY  - Like Last Shift, we have another film that takes place in a creepy police station. This one benefits from having both Pollyanna McIntosh and Liam Cunningham in the lead roles, which is never a bad thing.  It did drag a little, and some of the Scottish accents were a little thick for we uneducated Americans...and I just felt a little bored by the end.

The Green Inferno
FOUR FILMS I FOUND TO BE PRETTY OVERRATED
1) THE GREEN INFERNO (After all that hype, all that waiting, it was really just Meh...  In all honesty, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is vastly superior. If you can stomach the animal cruelty in that one, just see that one.) Yes, people eat other people.  But these days, that's just not enough.
2) THE BOY (I love a slow burn just like the next guy, maybe more...but nothing happened in this film. For minutes and minutes and minutes and.....days.... The ending was unnerving but not unexpected.  In my opinion, it was all a bit too nap-inducing.)
3) DARK SUMMER (Gotta be honest, this felt like a Chiller PG-13 flick for tweens.  Blah. So boring. Nothing...and I mean NOTHING...scary happens.  In other words:  move along...nothing to see here.)
4) A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT - Yes, I realize it is an art-house type film with loads of monotone atmosphere...but I just couldn't get into it! Maybe it's because I went into it thinking I HAD to like it because it had such great critical reviews.  I tried to watch it twice.  I guess it's just not for me. 

Poltergeist
SIX FILMS I'M PRETTY GLAD TO HAVE MISSED AND HAVE NO REAL INTENTION OF SEEING:
1) Poltergeist - No need for this remake in the least.
2) The Gallows - Seemed good in the trailer, failed miserably at the box office and with critics.
3) The Vatican Tapes - Apparently nothing sets this apart from any other religious dreck.
4) The Human Centipede III: Final Sequence - Let's hope Final means FINAL.
5) Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (Plea to Paramount/Blumhouse: Please stop making these films.)
6) I Spit on Your Grave III:  Vengeance is Mine.  (seriously...? Just put on Ms. 45 and don't suffer through what I'm sure is pure dreck.)

Cooties
A DOZEN FILMS I MISSED SO I CAN'T CRITIQUE YET:
1) Krampus
2) The Editor
3) The Hallow
4) Cooties
5) Sinister 2
6) He Never Died
7) When Animals Dream
8) Deathgasm
9) Maggie
10) Hidden
11) Stung
12) Victor Frankenstein

The Lazarus Effect
BAD. JUST PLAIN BAD.
1) THE PYRAMID:  If you have seen As Above So Below, you needn't even bother with this one.  And AASB was one of my favorites last year.  This one seemed like a total rip-off of that one, with a horrible - and I mean HORRIBLE version of Anubis.  Just comedic, really.
2) THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH.  I am usually not one for sequels, but was hoping for the best with this one.  The original 1989 version of THE WOMAN IN BLACK is in my top five, all time faves. The remake wasn't too bad - saved by the actors if I'm being honest. So I should have known this one would be crap.  And it was. 
3) THE LAZARUS EFFECT.  The concept was unoriginal.  The acting was only marginally good (though Evan Peters is a joy to watch in anything). And the scares?  Not even remotely there.
4) INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3.  I think they can stop making these films any day now.  Please, go no farther with the further!


   

SIX UPCOMING FILMS I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2016:
1) THE WITCH - My most anticipated film of the new year.  Don't let me down!
2) THE FOREST - This may not do well and is most likely crap, but I am terribly intrigued by the whole concept - the Aokigahara Forest in Japan just reeks dread. 
3) THE CONJURING: THE ENFIELD POLTERGEIST - Because I am a sucker for both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  And ghosts.
4) 31 - I'm also a sucker for genre super-fan Rob Zombie, because no matter what - he's got passion.
5) THE BOY - A different BOY than the one I already mentioned, this one involves Lauren Cohen (TWD) and a life-sized doll.  Bound to be terrifying, as I just can't stand dolls of any kind.
6) A MONSTER CALLS - Because well....Liam Neeson. And.....Sigourney Weaver.


Ash vs. Evil Dead (Starz)
MY FAVORITE HORROR TV EXPERIENCES OF 2015: Another banner year in horror television brought so many great things my way - there was a lot to love. If I'm being honest though, American Horror Story Hotel left me completely cold.  I stopped watching after 4 episodes and haven't looked back.  But Bates Motel had a banner season in which the end of the season had Norman wearing his mother's housecoat, making pancakes for breakfast and talking in her voice.  Oh, and peeping on motel tenants and committing murder.  Can't wait for the new season of that one!  The Walking Dead had me on pins and needles waiting to see if Glenn was dead or not. That was just rude. Andl Penny Dreadful, in all its gothic goodness, brought us some more characters from classic literature to life and amped up the violence in season 2. 
But for sure, the best horror TV experience of 2015 is Ash Vs. Evil Dead!!  To bring back the iconic character of Ash Williams in his quest to rid the world of deadites just made any horror fan's entire decade.  To see it renewed for a second season? Icing on the cake.  It's outrageous and campy and fun and perfect as hell! Thanks Starz! Year made!


MY FAVORITE BOOKS I READ IN 2015:  Fiction: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King.  If I need to explain that, then you don't read enough. 
Non-fiction:  The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer's Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead - by Adam Rockoff.  Guess that title is as self-explanatory as the fiction title above.


FAVORITE GENRE MAGAZINE: Rue Morgue gets my number one spot again this year.  I don't think I need to reiterate that it is simply the classiest horror magazine out there with the most well-rounded content. I still love that they review books and music, which all mags don't do.


FAVORITE MOVIE SCORE IT FOLLOWS.  Electronic goodness at its best.  Evoking fear and atmosphere in every note. Composer Disasterpeace really nailed it!
Kudos also to John Carpenter's return to composing with Lost Themes.  Feels like it could be the score of any recent horror film.  More please.
I also really liked the score to Crimson Peak by Fernando Velázquez. Feels as old-school gothic as the film.

The Revenant
FAVORITE NON-HORROR FILM I SAW IN 2015:  It came out in the last week of the year (in order for Oscar contention I'm sure) and went wide the first week of January 2016.  THE REVENANT is a perfect film in nearly every way.  There are some nasty elements that border on horror, but it's an adventure/revenge film at its core.  Leonardo DiCaprio really needs to win the Oscar, dammit.

Random Year-End Awards:


*THE "I CAN'T BELIEVE I SAT THROUGH THE WHOLE MOVIE" AWARD:  As previously mentioned, The Pyramid

*THE "WHEN THE HELL IS THIS TITLE GOING TO GET CRITERION RELEASE?" AWARD:  Dead of Night (1945).  I'm still waiting.....................................

Bone Tomahawk
*BEST DEATH SCENE:  Hands down, Bone Tomahawk.  (Spoiler Alert!) Dude is scalped, has the bloody scalp jammed down his throat, and is then cut apart from the groin with a tomahawk while upside down.  Then they ate him.  Wow. Just wow.

*BLOODIEST MOVIE I SAW IN 2015:  Well, I guess it may have been The Green Inferno but my mind is a little fuzzy on that one.  Crimson Peak would have been the obvious choice but there wasn't as much blood as expected....well, at least not spilled.

The Gift
*FOUR FILMS THAT WERE SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED:
1) Unfriended
2) Kristy
3) Ex Machina
4) The Gift

Ryan Simpkins in Anguish
SIX STELLAR FEMALE PERFORMANCES THIS YEAR:
1) Ryan Simpkins in Anguish
2) Nadia Hilker in Spring
3) Maika Monroe in It Follows
4) Eva Green in Penny Dreadful
5) Barbara Crampton in We Are Still Here
6) Pollyanna McIntosh in Let Us Prey

Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker in Spring
SIX STELLAR MALE PERFORMANCES THIS YEAR:
1) Lou Taylor Pucci in Spring
2) Mark Duplass in Creep
3) Tom Hiddleston in Crimson Peak
4) Bruce Campbell in Ash vs Evil Dead
5) Freddie Highmore in Bates Motel
6) Rory Kinnear in Penny Dreadful


*MOST CURIOUS TITLE OF HORROR FILM IN 2015 Sharknado 3: Oh HELL no! Now that's funny, I don't care who you are.

*THE "THEY'RE SPEAKING ENGLISH!" AWARDLet Us Prey.  God Bless the Scots but I can't understand them sometimes.

*THE "SOOO DIDN'T LIVE UP TO THE HYPE" AWARD:  The Green Inferno

*THE "I CAN'T WAIT FOR THE SEQUEL" AWARD:  First things first - I haven't heard that there is a sequel coming, but I'd be first in line for:  "What We Do In The Shadows 2:  Werewolves, Not Swearwolves!"

The Witch (February 2016)
*THE MOVIE I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2016The Witch.  Hope I'm not disappointed!!

*THE "MOST UNNECESSARY SEQUEL AWARD:
With so many to choose from I'm going to draw out of a hat.  The Human Centipede III: Final Sequence gets my vote this year.  I think it's fairly obvious why.

*THE MOST UNNECESSARY REMAKE AWARD
:
Another obvious choice here:  Poltergeist.   Not sure who green-lighted this one but they need to be taken out back and shot.

Well that wraps up yet another year.  Goodbye 2015.  You've been good to us!  Here's hoping 2016 is even better!
Thanks for reading and sticking with us here at Fascination with Fear!!



Monday, December 14, 2015

3 CHRISTMAS BEASTS THAT AREN'T KRAMPUS‏!!

~by Marie Robinson

I can almost guarantee that all of you are familiar with Krampus by now. This evil, half-goat version of Santa Claus has become extremely popular over the last few years, and with the release of Michael Dougherty’s film,
Krampus, there isn’t a doubt that most of the North American population will be on a first-name basis with the Bavarian demon of legend. 

What you may not know is Krampus isn’t the only creature looking to wreak some wintry havoc, there are a few others I’ve found with similar ideals. Don’t get me wrong, I love Krampus, but he is getting all the limelight right now. Let’s take a look at some other demons of Christmas. 


Namahage 
It isn’t surprising to see Japan at the top of the list, as their folktales are equal if not more terrifying than the Germans’. Namahage are demonic ogres that dwell high up in the mountains—how they have come to live there varies by region. All year long they watch each household in the village and monitor the children’s’ behavior, keeping notes in a little book. 
These demons descend from their mountain homes not at Christmas, but on New Year’s Eve, where they stomp through the town in pairs toting knives and wooden pail. The Namahage have bright red or green skin and horrible twisted faces with protruding teeth and they wear traditional straw capes. They visit each house (except for those that have experienced death or illness in the past year) and pound on the door and tear through the house shouting as they “interview” the head of the household. The family must have food and saki prepared to serve to the monsters. The man of the house is questioned about the behavior of the children, and if they have been naughty, the Namahage tell them that they must take them away and begin to chase them around the house. The father then pleads with the monsters to let the children stay, and the little ones (who have probably all wet their pants by now) must promise to do better next year. 
This tradition is till acted out throughout Japan, but most famously in the town of Oga. They have a festival each year where men dress up as Namahage and beat drums and, naturally, terrorize children. 



Perchta 
This particular character in folklore goes by many names, and her stories vary vastly through regions and time. Rather than try and go into all of it and end up talking about things I don’t really know about, I’m going to stick to one version of the tale, which would, naturally, be the one that relates to Christmas. 
In Bavaria and Austria, Perchta is a woodland deity who comes out of her forest seclusion to enter the villages on the Twelve Nights of Christmas, and visit the houses to check on the children’s behavior. She can either appear as a beautiful woman robed in white, or an ugly old woman. Since this goddess was also believed to have overseen the spinning of flax, she was especially interested in the young girls of the house, checking to make sure they have spun their fair amount of wool and flax that year. If they had, they would receive a silver coin and be left in peace, if not—well, they were getting a lot more than spanking. Perchta would cut open the bad children’s bellies and rip out all of their intestines, replacing them with straw and rocks. 
There was, at one point in time, a cult who honored Perchta, and would leave offerings of food and drink out in hopes of wealth and prosperity. In the midwinter festivals in Austria, people dress in horrifying animalistic masks with horns and fangs, and are called the “Perchten”, and are meant to enter homes and drive out the evil spirits. 





Grýla
Grýla comes to us from Icelandic folklore, another one of my favorite cultures for being truly bizarre and terrifying. She is a Giantess who lives in the mountains with a strange cast of characters. She looks like any old hag with a scarf over her head, except she has hooves for feet and an ox’s tail.
Although she can sense bad children all-year-round, she only comes out around Christmas, when she descends to the villages to find naughty children to eat. Her favorite thing to do is make a nice big stew out of children, but she’ll gladly gobble them up raw.
Her sons are the Yule Lads, who are pretty much like two Santa’s who go around either distributing presents or rotted potatoes. Her pet is the Yule Cat, a monstrous black cat that stalks the snow-covered countryside and eating anyone who hasn’t gotten new clothes to wear on Christmas. And believe it or not, Grýla even has a husband! Although, it is her third husband.

If you have enjoyed learning about these creatures, fear not, there are even more evil Christmas monsters to haunt your holidays! Rather than stealing all of my ideas from another blog, I’d like to give it credit, for it seems to be a sort of encyclopedia for this very topic. For more beasts like these, visit the wonderful, but now unfortunately defunct, A Scary Little Christmas (https://scarylittlechristmas.wordpress.com/)! 

Happy holidays, and patiently await that blessed holiday when your naughty children fall prey to all kinds of merciful demons.