Friday, April 26, 2013

The Lords Of Salem: Book Review

Review by Marie Robinson

Rob Zombie has played many roles—musician, director, actor—but in the case of his recent novelization of his newest film The Lords of Salem, he takes on the role of author.
The novel is split into two parts: the first taking place in 1692, Salem, Massachusetts; the second in the same city, but present day.

Zombie weaves some historical fact into his tale; character John Hawthorn was a very real and cruel judge that took a personal interest in the witch trials. In the novel, Hawthorn, accompanied by another judge by the name of Mather and two brutish brothers, is on a mission to stop a coven of witches from raising the Devil. After catching them in the act of ritual the witches are given a “trial” to try and have the Christ beaten into them. However, the leader of the coven, Margaret Morgan, curses the men’s bloodline before they set her ablaze.

This extremely graphic but undeniably gripping opening brings us to part two and our protagonist, Heidi Hawthorn. Along with being an unknowing descendant of John Hawthorn, she is also a local radio DJ and a recovering heroine addict. Poor Heidi’s struggles are far from over when she receives “a gift from the Lords”—a wooden box bearing an odd, cross-like symbol and a vinyl record. Whether the record is played at home or on the air, it gets the same reaction, hypnotizing the women of Salem into a trance that often ends in murder.

Our characters may be oblivious but something strange is happening in Salem, and Heidi is at the center of it all.

Lords of Salem was co-written with B.K. Evenson, an American author who often dabbles in horror and science fiction. This was no exceptional work of fiction, but it was still a fun, lofty read. I’m a big fan of Zombie’s work and I would absolutely pick up anything else he penned, but I think it is safe to say he is much more confident in his screenplay writing.

The characters—with the exception of Heidi—were only half-imagined. Some were given a bright spotlight that winked out of the end of the chapter. More effort should have been put into the characters and less into the pulpy text. While the extensive physical descriptions are lovely, they aren’t always necessary, and not really desired by myself, someone who likes to work for the story rather than have it all handed to me. There was a lot of beautiful, dark imagery but I was left wondering what it all added up to.

I don’t want to sound like I didn’t like the book and I don’t want to nit pick too much because I think The Lords of Salem was a decent work of fiction and a quick, exciting read.  You can pick it up at or your favorite bookseller.

The film is now out in theatres and is also available On Demand and on DVD in some places.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Curandero (2005): Even The Shaman's Magic Can't Save This One...

 Review by Marie Robinson

Although this Mexican-made film apparently came out in 2005, it just hit the shelves here in the States last month. Directed by Eduardo Rodriguez—but more famously produced and written by Robert Rodriguez-—Curandero tells the story of a jaded healer and his quest to help solve a case of ritualistic murder.

Carlos (Carlos Gallardo) has taken on the profession of his late father of the town curandero, or spiritual healer/shaman. His father was incredibly respected and revered, and Carlos (and everyone around him) knows he will never amount to his legacy. It doesn’t help that Carlos hardly believes in the magic that he performs on a daily basis; he thinks, rather, that his potions and spells have a sort of placebo effect on the “cursed”.

One day the monotony in his life is broken when a super sexy (seriously, does this outfit comply with dress code?) federal agent, Magdalena (Gizeht Galatea), shows up at his house requesting the help of his father. After discovery of Carlos’ father’s death and the strange connection between the three of them, Carlos reluctantly takes on his role as curandero to cleanse a crime scene.

A string of brutal and ritualistic murders have broken out in Mexico City, and the superstitious local police force (not very professional, if you ask me) are too afraid to enter the crime scenes without a purification from a curandero.

The two come to the conclusion that the murders are not acting on behalf of Satanism, but Mithraism—a very old and very mysterious Roman religion. (They mention nothing more about it other than it’s name, which is a shame because it is super interesting. Check it out!)

The deeper they go into the drug and violence infested underbelly, the more Carlos begins to doubt himself and the events around him. His father lost his mind to visions—visions that are beginning to plague him—but Carlos can’t be sure to blame them on insanity or a horrifying reality.

As much as I wanted to like this film, it was pretty bad, but it did have potential! Robert Rodriguez’s familiar, seedy, sexy, and often ridiculous story was there, but director Eduardo just did not pull it off. It took itself too seriously, which made the occasional campiness cheesy and unbearable. The pacing was all off—sometimes rushing past and other times dragging on a horrendous shoot-out scene—and too many jump scares dashes any chance at actual suspense or fright.

If the characters were developed in the script you would never have guessed because on screen they are dry, stagnant and often toting a single, universal facial expression. In other words, the acting sucks.

There were some really beautifully shot scenes, and a wonderful attention to light but for some reason the sound editing seemed to me to be just awful. On the DVD I watched there was a dubbed option but I opted for just English subtitles because I would prefer to hear the actors own voices, and I think Spanish is a beautiful language. Point being, I don’t think the sound issues had to do with it being re-recorded for an English-speaking audience because I was listening to the original audio.

I believe this movie could have been done better; who knows why Robert Rodriguez couldn’t directed it himself, but if he did I think we would have a completely different film. The story line was rich enough and there were details about it that I really loved, such as the bits about superstition, Mexican spirituality, and the small reference to the secret, ritualistic religion of Mithraism. On a final note, I’d say that unless you are as big of a sucker for Satanic stories as I am, you will find little to enjoy in this film.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Revenge Is Sweet: An Exhaustive Countdown Of Messy Vengeance, Part One

Today feels like a great day for revenge. Revenge in horror films, that is. Or at least films wandering around the horror genre.

First things first. In a related side note, I have to say that most of the men that I know and/or associate with, both here online and in the “real world”, are awesome. I don’t have a complaint to sound and I don’t care which way the plumbing works. But we all know it’s not always that way.

We live in a world of deluded, disrespectful, sometimes even misogynistic men who occasionally seem to disregard all sense of decency and choose instead to objectify and demoralize women.

Well… you know what happens to those dudes in a horror movie? They die a fairly gruesome death. And oh yes, I clap my hands and give a rousing whoo-hoo! when that occurs.

That being said… I have to admit, sometimes women are equally as cruel, unforgiving, and psychotic as men, so I have to give everyone their due. There are a LOT of pissed off women on this list.

Horror seems to be the perfect fit for this type of film, and SO many horror movies are all about revenge in one way or another.  That makes it really hard to pare down a list of hundreds to fifty.

But on that note, I bring you my exhaustive top 50 personal favorite films of revenge and retribution, counting down to my number one. As hard as it is to place any kind of order with these films, I hope you'll just bear with me - my top ten are in part two, and those are pretty much the way I see it - but the rest, well they are all fairly equal.

Oh, and beware ‘ye spoilers!

50) Friday the 13th (1980) - It felt right to start on a good note, as this is one of my favorite horror flicks from way back. Vengeance is mine, saith the mother.  Pamela Voorhees had nothing but revenge on her mind when she saw they were opening Camp Crystal Lake again.  I mean, those damn counselors let her baby drown in the lake (which really does beg the question, where were YOU, mom?). So after them she goes, dispatching them one by one with various sharp implements. Everyone remembers that Jason is pissed off because they killed his mother, but we need to remember what started it all in the first place!

49) The Toxic Avenger (1984) - This Troma camp-classic pits scrawny Melvin against four dolts who tease him relentlessly.  One day during a prank the four set up, Melvin falls into a vat of toxic waste that proceeds to burn and horribly disfigure him. Yet Toxie lives to exact his revenge by becoming a bizarre superhero of sorts, at the ready to fight crime and kill each of his tormentors with pluck and determination.  Strange film, but everyone should see this craziness once!

48) The Craft (1996) - I've written about The Craft before and got some backlash about it not being horror. Well to that I say, yeah...whatever.  When Nancy (Fairuza Balk) makes snakes crawl out of toilets to attack a friend, causes her pervy stepfather to have a fatal heart attack and causes teen heartthrob Chris (Skeet Ulrich) to fall out a second story window to his death because he shunned her, you realize this vengeful girl knows her stuff.

47) Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002) -Park Chan-wook is pretty much the South Korean master of revenge films, I do think.  In this ridiculously violent film, Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) is in search of a kidney for his sister, and after finding out he is not a viable donor, takes to the black market to exchange one of his own kidneys for one that will match his dying sibling's. Unfortunately, the deal he makes goes sour when after the operation, he awakes to find both the kidney and his money gone. Yeah, that'd piss me off too.  I think you can take it from here....

46) Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) - Chan-wook is at it again. In this installment, Lee Geum-ja  (Lee Young Ae) has served a long prison term for a murder of a young schoolboy that she did not commit - a murder she was forced to confess to so that the true murderer would not kill her newborn daughter. Needless to say, she's fairly amped up after her early release for good behavior.  And that's where the can of whoop-ass is opened up. In particular after Geum-ja discovers that the true killer has murdered many other children, and made movies of the deaths.

45)  Straw Dogs (1971) Sam Peckinpah's controversial film from the early seventies tells the tale of David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), a man who takes his beautiful wife Amy (Susan George) back to her quaint home town in rural England where he quickly finds out that the locals aren't too keen on him trying to fit in. Which is the question itself - does he even fit in?  Amy's former lover and his friends come on strong, and when they are hired to renovate part of the property, lines are crossed and Amy ends up raped. Things eventually escalate into a night of violence - one in which David shows the townsfolk just who IS in charge. Remade in 2011 with questionable results.

44) What Lies Beneath (2000) - It's a sad day when you have Harrison Ford in a film but cast him as a villain. A fine little supernatural film, What Lies Beneath tells the story of Clare Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer), a woman adjusting to a move into a beautiful house by a lake in Vermont. Sounds idyllic, to be sure. But soon it seems a ghost has set its sights on Clare, who thinks it is the murdered wife of the neighbor next door. As she tries to make contact with said entity, other things come into question - such as the sanctity of her marriage to Norman (Ford).  In reality, the ghost isn't after Clare, it's after revenge - or at the very least closure to its own murder.

43) House of Wax (1953) - Forget the remake, I'm talking the Vincent Price version here, of course!  Henry Jarrod (Price) is a museum-caliber sculptor who uses wax to portray people and animals. The museum where his displays are showcased is owned by a greedy business partner who has been asking the exhibits to be more dramatic - vulgar even- in order to increase ticket sales.  Jarrod refuses so the partner burns the museum down to gain the insurance monies. Jarrod, half-crazy and nearly perishing in the fire himself, takes his revenge by sealing his victims in hot wax for all eternity.

42) Cape Fear (1991) - I use the remake gladly when noting this film, as Scorsese really knows how to put a villain on the big screen.  Ex-con Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) has a big grudge against his previous lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) due to evidence that was not released during the trial and purportedly increased Cady's sentence in prison.  Naturally, this doesn't sit well with Cady and he tracks Bowden down and starts stalking him, showing up at his house, getting close to his wife and daughter, and finally has a big showdown on the family houseboat. This one really shouldn't be missed, if you haven't seen it yet.  Powerful.

41) Hobo with a Shotgun (2011) - I've already sang the praises of Rutger Hauer in this film, so if you want to you can check that out. Suffice it to say, any film with a title like that just has to be a revenge film, right?  A hobo checks into a random town that ends up being rife with violent crime due to a pair of brothers and their demented father, Drake.  So what is a hobo supposed to do?  Grab himself a shotgun and start dispersing of the filth that is ruining his new town!

40) The Burning (1981) - This early eighties slasher film doesn't really open any new doors as far as revenge films, but it is one of the only ones that has a supposed link to a true crime.  When teen campers play a prank on an unsuspecting caretaker, it goes horribly wrong, leaving "Cropsy" horrifically burned.  Years later he makes his presence known by attacking a new round of campers with his signature weapon of choice: gardening shears.

39) The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992) Never has Rebecca DeMornay been more frightening than right here in this thriller. When a pregnant woman's husband is arrested for molesting several patients and he soon commits suicide, the woman not only loses all her assets but her unborn child as well.  She sets off to get revenge on the first patient who initially implicated her dead husband. She gets herself a suitable pseudonym, Peyton Flanders, and suavely weasels her way into the Bartell family home as a nanny.  And it all goes downhill from there.

38) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) - The arrest of Freddie Kreuger years ago on child murdering charges didn't stick, allowing the madman to walk free. However, the parents of the murdered children weren't having that, so they burned the guy alive. Now Freddie stalks the children of those parents in their dreams, killing them with his finger-knives when they fall asleep.  Was a great concept in its time, and was a solid entry into the slasher sub-genre. Freddy was really scary when he started out, all pissed off and vengeful. Then he unfortunately got silly.  But that first film, revenge central!
37) The Fog (1980) - Another great revenge film, The Fog has a group of a seaside townies conspiring together to make sure a clipper ship heading for Antonio Bay doesn't make it any father than the rocks and a watery grave.  The seamen on board apparently wanted to set up a leper colony nearby and the citizens of the town weren't having that. So they coaxed the ship with false lights and made sure it hit the rocks and sank. The townsfolk then stole all the gold and treasure on board and established the town. Needless to say, when the 100 year anniversary came along, so did the ghostly crew of the Elizabeth Dane, seeking retribution.

36) Dead Silence (2007) - Is there anything more creepy than dolls and puppets?  Yep. Vengeful dolls and puppets. Mary Shaw was a famous ventriloquist, but when a child questions her ability and says he sees her mouth moving, that child eventually goes missing. Shaw was held accountable and the people of the town murdered her bu cutting out her tongue.  Coincidentally, those same villagers who killed Mary Shaw ended up dead with their own tongues cut out, some of them turned into living dolls.  Goddamned dolls, anyhow.

35) Urban Legend (1998) - An underrated film of its time, it was inventive with its kills and had a slick edgy feel to it. As each victim is offed according to an urban legend, it is up to our main protagonist Natalie (Alicia Witt) to discover the method to the killer's madness. Turns out, Natalie and a friend made the mistake of playing a joke (the gang-initiation headlights legend) on an unsuspecting young teen, causing him to have a fatal accident.  Now the girlfriend of said victim is killing everyone near and dear to Natalie in acts of revenge against her slain beau.

34) Happy Birthday to Me (1981) - Were we really ready to see Mary Ingalls as a murderer?  Anyway, with a crazy crazy ending that defies common sense, Happy Birthday still has great kills and a coherent plot (at least till they throw that kicker in at the end!).  Ginny is a pretty, popular girl at school, and is in fact a member of the Top Ten Club.  Her 18th birthday is rapidly approaching but there's a killer at large! Someone is pissed at the Top Ten club! Could it be Ginny? After all, Ginny is a little unstable and makes frequent visits to her dead mother's grave. On top of all this, we get a black-gloved killer! Giallo wannabe! Regardless, someone has revenge in their heart - and all will be revealed at the birthday party!

33) Scream (1996) - Scream really set the horror genre on fire back in '96 when it was released, ingniting a fire that was rapidly dying out.  It was witty and fun and killed off Drew Barrymore ( à la Psycho) in the first ten minutes. The revenge factor here comes from Sidney Prescott's mother being a bit of a tramp and sleeping around with half the town, including Billy Loomis's father - causing their marriage to implode and Billy to become a vengeful murderer.  He gets his pal Stu involved and it's havoc and death until the last reel.

32) I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) - While we're talking teen screams, we may as well bring up this gem from '97.  Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and her friends accidentally hit a man on the road while they are driving recklessly on a ocean-side highway. Thinking the poor soul dead, they throw him in the water, hoping that a shark will make a nice meal of him and all will be forgotten.  But we know that is never how it works, and the fisherman comes a callin', hell-bent on getting his revenge on the stupid, beautiful teenagers that left him for dead.  Is that your hook or are you just glad to see me?

31) Inside ( À l'intérieur, 2007) - God this film is brutal. It's so difficult to watch, and the tension just keeps rising throughout the entire 82 minutes. Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is pregnant and recovering from a car accident that took the life of her husband.  Enter La Femme (Béatrice Dalle), a woman who, for unknown reasons, wants to take Sarah's unborn child. No, scratch that. She wants to cut the baby right out of her abdomen. And now. After a relentless evening of attacks, we finally realize why La Femme has revenge on the mind.  Nasty stuff.

30) Oldboy (2003) - The third film from Park Chan-wook on this list, but with good reason. This is the middle film in the so-called trilogy with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the final Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Oh Dae-Suis is kidnapped on the evening of his daughter's birthday and is held in a prison for fifteen (yes, FIFTEEN) years with no explanation. Naturally, anyone confined to a cell for that long has got nothing but vengeance on the mind.  And he takes his revenge without question or guilt.

29) Terror Train (1980) - You know, people should know better than to play nasty pranks on others. Especially when there is the possibility that the person you're pranking is possibly a little (or a lot) unstable. After a group of college kids engage in a bit of tomfoolery by placing a corpse in bed with a nerdy geek named Kenny.  Kenny doesn't take the joke well and ends up in a mental hospital. Three years later the same group of pranksters board a train for a costume party.  And even though we have known it would happen all along, Kenny does end up on said train with a grudge and a great big knife.

28) The Ring (2001)  - To me, this version of Ringu is really good, which is the reason I am putting the Americanized Ring here.  Rachel Keller gets wrapped up in the mystery of her young niece's death after she apparently died after watching a doomed video tape. What she uncovers is a young girl who was feared by her adoptive parents and subsequently killed by her mother by way of a long fall into a deep well.  The young girl in question, Samara, has alternate plans rather than resting in peace. She wreaks vengeful havoc by somehow creating a tape of fearful and disturbing visuals that condemn whoever watches it to death after seven days. The exact amount of time it takes someone to die of starvation.

27) My Bloody Valentine (1981) - The town of Valentine Bluffs is sick of not celebrating Valentine's Day. Sick of it, I say!  They turn their back on the town legend of Harry Warden, who apparently was trapped in a mining accident twenty years ago.  Harry watched as his four co-workers died but he was rescued several days later, having resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. The bosses at the mine were too worried about getting to the Valentine's dance that they forgot to check the levels of methane gas, causing the explosion that trapped the miners. A year after Harry's rescue, he killed those bosses with a pick axe and vowed that the town had better not ever hold another dance, or there would be Harry Warden Hell to pay.  So what do they do?  Well they hold another party.  In the mine, no less.  Dumb asses.

26) The Crow (1994)  - Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his girlfriend Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) are randomly attacked and left for dead. Somehow, Shelly survives only to suffer for longer than thirty hours before her death. Upon the beckoning of a single crow, Eric raises from the grave (because you can do that in movies) and avenges his and his girlfriend's death by going after the thugs that murdered them. Best part of this scenario?  He has a crow guiding his vengeful acts. Only in the movies, folks.

                                STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO, COMING SOON!!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Trifecta Of Terror! : "The Eyes Have It" Handicap

For my second foray into the Trifecta of Terror, I've chosen three films that all have the eyes as a pivotal plot point. If you forget how this works, see the original post right here, it explains what we have going on.

In short, I'm picking three movies and putting them in the order of, let's say superiority.  Sometimes this is harder than others. But in this case, I think I've got it down right. 

First up, the winner of said handicap:

THE EYE (2002)

This is not the wretched remake starring Jessica Alba, it is the original film directed by the Pang Brothers. It packs a punch and should be on any discerning horror fan's life list.
Mun (Angelica Lee) is a classical violinist who undergoes cornea transplants to correct her blindness. She is overwhelmed at first, and getting used to being able to see puts considerable strain on her.  While still in the hospital, she sees shadowy figures standing in corners, and in one case it seems the strange shape is escorting a nearby patient out of the room.  To her horror, the patient turns up deceased the next morning.
 She is assigned an attractive psychologist (Lawrence Chou) that takes a special interest in helping her adjust to life with sight.  Everything seems to be going along swimmingly until she realizes she is still seeing what just may be ghosts, and that they give the impression that they are predicting death.  Everywhere she turns, these phantoms foreshadow death. (There is one particular unsettling scene in an elevator that had me clutching the edge of the couch.) Naturally, Mun begins to realize that perhaps she is seeing these "visions" due to the cornea transplant, so she and her shrink set off to find the donor's family and determine if their assumptions are correct.  What they find is that her donor, a lonely girl with psychic abilities, could predict deaths from her visions. And the unwanted talent has somehow been transferred to Mun.
THE EYE  is a real favorite of mine, as it evokes a seriously creepy atmosphere and tension runs high throughout. It may not be for everyone, as there is no real gore to speak of and it does travel at a slow pace, but for me, it's plain to see (sorry) that this is one of the better films to come out of Asia.

Next, the second "place" film:

JULIA'S EYES (Los ojos de Julia)  2010

As you may have guessed, I'm a big fan of foreign horror.  This Spanish film is no exception to that.
Julia (
Belén Rueda, The Orphanage) returns to her sister Sara's home after a feeling that something is wrong. She'd be right. Sara has hung herself in the basement, apparently depressed because a sight-restoring operation did not work. Julia, also afflicted with the same eye ailment, is certain there is more to the story than meets the eye (sorry). She feels an inexplicable presence close-by - and is sure this person (?) is responsible for Sara's death somehow. The film opens up into a full-fledged mystery, but is never far from the unnerving horror at its root.  Julia starts to struggle more and more with her own vision as she tries piecing the puzzle of her sister's death together. As shadows emerge and disappear, her husband Issac (Lluís Homar) fears for not just her sight but her sanity, with every twist in the story seemingly causing Julia's eyesight to deteriorate just a little more, until she has absolute fits of blindness when pressured to solve the apparent murder.
The search for an "invisible man" that supposedly had a hand in Sara's murder eventually forces Julia to rethink what may have happened, especially after her husband is found hanged in the same basement. 
In her time of anguish, a donor is found for her own eye operation. But afterwards, it is only when Julia is truly blind (because the bandages from surgery cover her eyes) is she able to unravel the secret regarding Sara's death.  Using her other senses she sorts through the clues until a final showdown with the dubious killer has her fighting not just for her sight, but her life. Great stuff!

And our "show" (3rd place finisher) film is: 


A true product of the late seventies, THE EYES OF LAURA MARS  has Faye Dunaway portraying the title character, a sophisticated and famous fashion photographer. Her photo shoots are different from the standard variety in that she has elaborate sets depicting violence, causing a ruckus within the profession.
Unfortunately, Laura begins to see the deaths of friends and business colleagues through her lens.
Enter a young Tommy Lee Jones as Lt.
John Neville, a detective on the case who isn't the only one who finds it unusual that Mars' fashion shoots mimic the recent murder scenes. 
As more and more of Laura's friends fall victim to the killer's black gloves (a giallo shout-out if I've ever seen one!), she and John Neville randomly fall in love. She tells him of the vision she has of the killer coming after her and he (like all good movie boyfriends) gives her a gun and a peck on the cheek, wishing her well.
What makes TEOLM so intriguing (besides the garish 70's clothing and music) is Dunaway's over-the-top performance (as per her usual) and some of the almost laughable dialogue. It's a camp classic if there ever was one. And even though it's relatively effortless to figure out the killer, it's always fun to watch Dunaway scream while running.  She does it so well.