Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Wicked: Classic 80's-Style Pulp Horror Makes A Welcome Comeback!

Back in the day - and I'm talking the 80's here - I was obsessed with reading all those horror novels with the lurid covers. Demons peeking out from behind the mountains of a small idyllic town, evil dolls with glowing eyes, ghastly ghouls hovering over a baby's crib, haunted houses that seemed to be alive...those covers were designed to attract the attention of horror fanatics such as myself, and generally held a story within that ran the gamut of ridiculous to genuinely frightening.

When I noticed the cover of The Wicked, I was promptly  taken back to my teen years and knew I had to check it out immediately.  I am a bit remorseful, however, that I purchased this title through my Kindle instead of buying the actual tome, as this cover is one of beauty (right down to the back cover that sports a faux price tag from Totem's Grocery and a well-used and battered-looking cover declaring 'An ancient evil rises...burns....kills...').  You just can't get it more right than that.  Shock Totem publications has re-released James Newman's 2007 throwback to 80's horror: The Wicked, and they've done a stylish and commendable job. 

The book itself is a helluva fun ride, too.  David Little has moved his family from the streets of New York City to the quiet mountains of North Carolina to escape a crime that has shattered his - and even more so his wife Kate's - world.  We quickly learn that Kate was violently raped walking home from work one night and the end result has produced a pregnancy that in effect has not only impaired the couple's happiness, but forced the question that haunts David's days and nights:  is the forthcoming child his?  Or the product of the worst event in both their lives?  They bring with them a young daughter, Becca, who has keenly observed that Daddy doesn't seem to love her new brother or sister-to-be.  

They relocate to Morganville, N.C. - where Kate's brother Joel is the local assistant (and acting) coroner - with intentions of starting over.  Kate is sure the impending birth will set David's mind at ease immediately, and as a woman of great faith she claims to "know" the baby is her husband's because God has told her so. This logic doesn't exactly make Kate a religious nutso, but it does swiftly show us that while Kate feels that God will help them through their troubles, David isn't quite so sure.  He in fact, has a sneaking suspicion that the baby will be a mulatto and has serious reservations about God's actual existence.

Amidst the carefully constructed story of the Littles, the author unwinds the heinous back story of Morganville.   Several months prior to the Little's arrival, a terrible tragedy struck the peaceful community.  A demented teenager obsessed with devil worship and the occult set fire to the Heller Home for Children, an orphanage/hospital that housed dozens of sick and helpless kids.  Killing everyone inside, the fire consumed the town's spirit with it as well, and has brought forth an unholy evil that is intent on destroying Morganville and all those who live within it. 

When the residents of Morganville start dropping off like flies to violent and sexually deviant deaths, it's up to David and his elderly ex-Marine neighbor, George, to decipher not only the unpleasant and sometimes repulsive manner of deaths of the innocent victims, but the disturbingly inexplicable acts of the townsfolk.  Walking around naked, fornicating without abandon, and committing unspeakable crimes - all in the name of MOLOCH - poses the age-old question: does evil exist?  Does a demon command an army of followers to kill in his name?  Is all hope lost?

Not backing down from violence in any form, this book just reaches out and grabs you from page one and doesn't let go. This is one of the fastest reads I've encountered in quite some time.  Filled to the brim with the old-style pulpy horror we fans expect, The Wicked boasts a high kill count and a fair amount of sexual perversion, but doesn't become too formulaic in its approach. Though a kickback to the horror novels of the 80's, it never falters in its believability and for all intents and purposes presents a compelling story with likeable characters and a fast pace.
Stick around at the end of the novel for the Afterword by the author; it's more than apparent that he is just as big a fan of those lurid and gory old 80's horror paperbacks as the rest of us.
Not just a guilty pleasure, The Wicked is a must-read and comes highly recommended from yours truly!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Road (2011): Filipino Terror Comes To America

 Review by Marie Robinson

Greetings, multos! That would be the Filipino word for “ghost”; I use it because today I shall be reviewing a Filipino horror film called The Road. This film is directed by Yam Laranas, who has directed two other horror films called The Echo (2004) and Patient X (2009), neither of which I have ever heard of because The Road was the first Filipino movie I had ever seen. In fact, it is the first Filipino film to ever have a commercial release in U.S. theaters. Although it didn’t hit the screens in my town, I was thrilled to pick it up at the local video rental store.

Our film starts out with Luis (played by TJ Trinidad), a police officer at an award ceremony in his honor. At the ceremony, a woman approaches Luis, asking about the case of her two missing daughters. This particular case is news to Luis, so he asks for her daughters’ names—Joy and Lara—and then proceeds to reopen the twelve-year-old case…

This film is split up into three parts, and each takes place in a different point in time, each exactly ten years apart from the last. The first part is set in 2008 where a teenage girl named Ella (Barbie Forteza) is convinced by her cousin, Janine (Lexi Fernandez), and Janine’s boyfriend, Brian (Derrick Monasterio), to sneak out and take her aunt’s car for a joy ride. Ella is hesitant, because it is clear that she is not fond of Brian (or at least pretends to be), and none of them have a license. She changes her mind, however, not wanting to leave the two alone to do what teenagers will do in their parent’s cars.

With Brian driving, the three begin cruising down the highway, until Brian spots a cop, causing him to panic and turn off onto a street. Ella pleads that they turn around and go home, but Brian gets out of the car and opens a gate, leading to a concealed darkened road.

Ella sits nervously in the backseat, the country road is lined with only thick trees; the only light they have is given by their headlights. A red car drives up behind them, and passes. Ella tells them that she didn’t see a driver in the car. Brian scoffs at her until the same red car passes them again, and it becomes clear that there indeed is no one driving the car, but there is someone in the backseat.

The car begins to chase them, trying to run them off the road, until their pursuer swerves and crashes into the trees. They stop, getting out of the car to look at the wreck, but when they approach the car it has become ancient, as if it had been abandoned there for years, and then it bursts into flames.

The three get back into the car, driving on, but it seems they are trapped in an endless loop. When the car stalls, Janine and Brian get out to walk, but Ella insists on staying in the car, too afraid to face to open road. Cousin of the Year Janine leaves Ella behind to walk to dark road with Brian, but it isn’t long they are paying for it, as they are tormented by a ghost—a woman, with a bloody plastic bag over her head.

Part one was my favorite by far in the film. It had the feel of an urban legend and I was really diggin’ it. The other two parts take place in 1998 and 1988. In fear of running this article to long I shan’t be summarizing them to you, but at the same time it will give you all a reason to go out and see it!

The Road had beautiful cinematography, with clever angles that induce tension, suspense, and fear. The film is very emotionally charged, and successfully so. The soundtrack is understated but effective, and although it is sometimes a little difficulty to judge when it comes to foreign language films, I believe that all the actors did a wonderful job.

For my first Filipino film, I am very pleased! I was reading user comments on the film on Get Glue, and a few people were saying that the ending was predictable, but I didn’t see it coming! Maybe I’m dumb, but I think you should see this one for yourself. I hope my fellow Americans and I get to see more Filipino films as time progresses. The Road was also released in Belgium and Singapore, as well as the Philippines (duh).

The Balete tree is thought to be favored by spirits...
I came across an urban legend surrounding a road in the Philippines called Balete Drive. The road is surrounded by huge, beautiful trees called balete trees, which are thought to be haunted themselves. This particular type of tree is believed to be very adored by spirits, and are often inhabited or surrounded by them. There is also a ghost, called the White Lady, who haunts Balete Drive. Because of her, locals strongly advise not to travel the road at night, and if you do to have the backseat fully occupied, and not to look back in the mirrors. She wears a long white gown, with long hair around her shoulders, but her face cannot ever be seen, as it is usually covered in blood.

I wonder if the filmmakers were inspired by this tale when they made the movie?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Horror Alphabet: Once More, With Feeling!

In horror, there are a whole host of feelings we fans emote at any given time.  I got to thinking about how some movies represent certain feelings better than others, and this alphabet is what I came up with.
Not every word is an adjective, mind you - it's more of a consensus of my thoughts about certain descriptions of various elements of horror films.

What I'm trying to say, oh so un-eloquently, is this:  I made it through the entire alphabet and I even used Q and X!  So there!

A is for ANXIETY
In Let's Scare Jessica to Death, Jessica's anxiety about slipping back into madness brings a palpable tension to the film

B is for BRUTAL
Haute Tension contains some of the most brutal kills in horror, with plenty of red stuff to go around.

Irreversible has one of the most graphic, horrifyingly long rape scenes in film, and is at the top of the heap as far as controversy goes.

D is for DREAD
It's possible I've never felt more dread while watching a horror film than this particular moment in 2008's The Strangers.

E is for EVIL
Sometimes in a horror film, you can feel the evil emanating from a scene, which is how I felt during this scene from Insidious.

F is for FIERCE
It isn't always the men who are fierce killers in horror, as Josie Ho proves in the Hong Kong slasher, Dream Home.

G is for GRIM
Horror films with grim endings such as Eden Lake are all the more effective when things aren't tied up in a pretty bow in the final reel.

H is for HATRED
Michael Myers was inexplicably full of hatred and never showed it more than in Rob Zombie's Halloween II (2009).

No one is more insidious than the devil himself, and no film has ever done the devil better than The Exorcist.

J is for JUMPY
The Grudge is famous for all its jump-scares, and while they can be overused in horror, they still remain effective when done right.

K is for KOOKY
Recently, Dark Shadows set new standards for kookiness in horror.  Thankfully Johnny Depp was able to save it from completely faltering.

L is for LETHAL
Jack the Ripper is always a good example of a lethal killer, as in the scene above in From Hell.

Asian horror is always filled with hateful, malevolent spirits. I'm not sure a better example exists than Samara in  2001's The Ring.

Cannibal Holocaust is nothing if not notorious. With actual animal cruelty and deaths that looked so real the director had to prove the actors were still alive, it is a prime example.

Evil Dead II is one of the best examples of outrageous horror.  No one can resist Ash and his possessed hand!

P is for PANIC
Doubtful there's a better instance of panic than Marilyn Burns' shrieking, horrified run through the woods to escape a deranged killer in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Q is for QUEASY
I have never been more queasy or upset than when I watched La Femme perform a crude C-section with a pair of scissors in À l'intérieur (Inside, 2007)

It's a toss up who is more ruthless in I Saw The Devil:  the psychopathic killer or the fiancé of the victim.
My money is on Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun).  Powerful stuff.

(Come on, you knew Psycho would be in here somewhere!)
It wasn't Mother's corpse in the fruit cellar that shocked the hell out of people - it was Norman in his Mother get-up!

T is for TENSION
No movie has ever made me more tense than when I sat on the edge of the couch when I was 13 years old and watched When A Stranger Calls.   Have YOU checked the children??

Lucio Fulci had a whole lot of unpleasant, unsettling, and unbelievable scenes in his films, but none made me as uneasy as this gut-spewing moment in City of the Living Dead.  Gah!

V is for VICIOUS
How's getting torn apart by a pack of wild dogs sound for vicious?  Exactly what happened in Wilderness (2006

W is for WICKED
Hard to find a more vengeful, wicked character in horror than The Woman in Black, no matter if it's the original book or the many different versions in theater, television or film.  Nasty.

"Originating outside the organism or from a foreign substance introduced into the organism"
Aww, you gotta feel bad for Brundlefly. (The Fly, 1986)

Y is for YUCKY
Another xenogenic species, this dog-slash-thing is probably one of the best examples of yuckiness in the genre.
(The Thing, 1981)

Z is for ZEALOUS
While many serial killers are enthusiastic, Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) is a dedicated, impassioned psychopath who embodies the word zealous.  It's hip to be square!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Vital Viewing: The Sentinel (1977)

 Review by Marie Robinson

Greetings, horror lovers! I’m going to tell you all about a movie that if you haven’t seen, you must. It isn’t very well known among my generation, some people my age know only of the horror movies that rely on sound cues and jump-scares. They don’t know about the golden era of horror, the 1970’s, when the films were original and the scares were real.
This is a movie that can keep you up at night, cowering beneath your covers; a movie that can make you scream out loud not because of the deafening slam of piano keys, but by a figure walking out in complete silence. This is a movie that will make you cringe, giggle, gasp, and applaud by its end. This, my friends, is The Sentinel.

"What's up with the priest upstairs?"
Michael Winner directed this beloved film of mine, based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, who lent his hand to write the script, as well. It stars the beautiful Cristina Raines as Alison Parker, a model with a tragic past who is looking to get a place of her own in Brooklyn. As she arrives to take a tour of an apartment building, the first thing she notices is a man staring out of the top window. The landlady tells her that it is just an old priest, who happens to gaze out of windows although he is blind.

Black and white cat, black and white cake!
Alison takes the apartment but of course all is not as it seems. The first turn-off is the cast of kooky neighbors, including an all too friendly old man who carries a yellow parakeet on his shoulder named Mortimer, and a cat named Jezebel in his arms. Then of course, there are the hospitable lesbians downstairs who insist on walking around in leotards. If that isn’t enough to make her uneasy, at night she is plagued by vivid nightmares, only to wake up to the sound of heavy footfalls in the empty apartment above her.

Her health begins to fail as well. Alison succumbs to frequent fainting spells, she becomes flighty and nervous. Things really take a turn for her sanity when one night she braves the hallways of the brownstone to seek out what is causing the noise night after night. What she finds is more horrifying than she could ever expect.

The beautiful Cristina Raines as Alison
Something is certainly not right with this place; something sinister resides there. Is poor Alison just the unlucky soul who happened upon this hellish place, or is there, perhaps, a reason she resides there?

“So, what’s so great about this movie, anyway?” You Sentinel virgins might well ask. The obvious answer is because it is awesome, but I guess I’ll go ahead and give you the specifics.
 First of all, it is from a time when horror films still valued a storyline. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of scares, a decent amount of blood, and a handful of 70’s boobs, but a solid storyline is what makes The Sentinel the masterpiece that it is.

The atmosphere is set more by the characters than the setting, for the apartment itself is gorgeous. I mean, that is why Alison picks it; a well-off model like herself isn’t going to go out and pick a cheap, spooky-ass flat. However, the beautiful brownstone undergoes a supernatural makeover when the sun goes down. That’s when the chandeliers start to swing and the specters come out.

The characters (and actors) are really what give the film its unique bizarreness. Okay, the guy who plays Alison’s boyfriend really, really sucks, but the rest of them do just a stellar job. Christina Raines perfectly captures the peculiar emotions one must have to go through in a situation like this.

Speaking of actors, near the end of the film a whole new cast of characters is introduced—a pack of demons—which happened to be portrayed by actual deformed people. Michael Winner caught some heat once this was discovered, but if you get over that little fact I think it definitely adds a quirk to this already weird film. You can’t deny that the scene when all the “demons” appear is terrifying, and is certainly something you will remember about the movie, especially after knowing the disturbing truth behind it.

The film surely has its moments, the climax being one of them, but the whole reason I first came to know of this film was because it was featured on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments (it was ranked at #46). The scene they featured was horrifying on its own, and I knew just from seeing the clip that I had to see the whole thing, and even though I’ve seen the film several times, that particular scene still gives me gooseflesh!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Flashback: Castle Freak (1995) - Do People REALLY Inherit Italian Castles These Days?

From Full Moon Productions and directed by genre fave, Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Castle Freak is based (albeit loosely) on the H.P. Lovecraft tale, The Outsider.   Gordon staples Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton star as John and Susan Reilly.  With their daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide), they move into a 12th century castle they inherited from a distant relative who was a well-to-do  duchess. 

When something is too good to be true, it usually backfires. Which is exactly what happens here.

When the film starts, an old woman (apparently the famed duchess) is getting some food scraps ready to feed to a mysterious guest in the dungeon.  Once she opens the dungeon door she pulls out a cat o' nines whip and proceeds to whip the living hell out of someone (something?) that is chained to the floor, and it's safe to assume it's a regular occurrence. Unfortunately for the duchess, she overdoes it a bit and has a heart attack, dropping dead and leaving our poor soul alone to rot away in the dungeon.

Enter John Reilly, a man so filled with guilt yet so eager to get laid.  Just how we like our heroes, right?
He has brought his wife and blind daughter to live in the Italian castle he has inherited, but Susan is still blaming John for the death of their son in a car accident.  Seems John was drunk, and not only did little mini-Reilly get killed, but Rebecca was blinded.  John keeps trying to make it up to Susan but she isn't having it and in fact rebuffs his advances in a major way several times in the film. 

Almost immediately after arriving John learns both the fate of the duchess and the ghost story surrounding the castle. Tales have been told that the duchess had a son, Giorgio, who must have disappointed her terribly by being a "freak" so she locked him up in the basement dungeon.   It's tough to determine why on earth the duchess even kept her monstrous son alive and captive if she was so disgusted by him she never let him see the light of day.  Perhaps she knew it would make good ghost story fodder.

When Rebecca finds a cat prowling the estate, she follows him down to the dungeon (apparently, though blind, she is unafraid of tripping and falling down stairs) and keeps calling out for kitty.  Kitty makes the monumental mistake of going into the freak's cell through the small window at the bottom of the door. (Now, you know how much I hate it when animals die in film, but I can truthfully say I'd been expecting it since I saw the kitty in the first real, so I'm not really spoiling anything.)
The thing is, Giorgio the Freak (Jonathan Fuller) hears the commotion of Rebecca chasing after the cat and from then on he makes it his mission to get out of his restraints and head upstairs to mingle with the new owners.

John is chastised by Susan for letting Rebecca roam the castle alone, and in a weak moment he heads to a nearby bar in town for some local flavor.  Not only does he get blindingly (sorry, couldn't help it) drunk, but he latches on to a hooker and brings her home to play.  From listening to prior conversations with his wife, it seems like it may not be the first time he's satisfied his urges outside the marital bed.
 Unfortunately, John's satisfaction is short-lived and he becomes despondent after having castle-wall sex with said prostitute.  When he hears his wife he makes the hooker hide, leaving her vulnerable and looking very much like a delectable victim-in-waiting.

Meanwhile,  Giorgio is now exploring the castle on his own, thanks to his appetite for his own thumb and a little drool.  He sets out to satisfy a few urges of his own.  John's hooker is his first victim (human one, that is) and the entire scene is a raunchy, gore-infused frolic that really redefines "going downstairs".  After that, Giorgio is insatiable and tears off into the castle to track down Rebecca or any other woman that may be able to assuage his appetite.

As the film comes to its inevitable clichéd ending,we have ridiculous chase scenes and excessive gore, but that should come as no shock to any seasoned horror fan.  As Rebecca continues to feel Giorgio's presence nearby she attempts to convey her fears to her parents but they have a rough time believing her, in particular her mother.  When the mutilated corpse of the prostitute is found by the cops searching the premises, John can't seem to talk his way out of it and starts to believe his daughter's crazy stories.  The cops arrest him and take him away, leaving Susan and Rebecca alone and vulnerable with Giorgio hunting the castle grounds in search of his next victim.

While Castle Freak may just appear to be another 'monster in the dungeon' kind of horror flick, there is a lot more going on here.  It truly is a character-driven film, with another great performance by Jeffrey Combs (who doesn't love him?) and pretty good acting by the rest of the sparse cast.  As John Reilly, Combs brings a believable amount of grief and guilt to the part of a man who is haunted by his past but hoping for a brighter future.  At times, it can be somewhat melodramatic, and unlike most of Gordon's films there's nary a bite of comedy to be found.  You keep expecting Combs to throw out a one-liner, especially in some of these preposterous circumstances, but he keeps it serious throughout. Despite his flaws, it's easy to feel some sympathy for his situation, and even easier to connect with the monster than in most films.  It's obvious that he has had to live through some truly horrific years trapped in that cell, and we are left to wonder how it may have turned out if he was cherished like a son should be. Juxtaposed with John's grief over the loss of his own son turns out to be one of the best selling points for the film. 

You could do a lot worse than this atmospheric offering from the same people that brought you films like Subspecies and Puppet Master.  And anytime there's a scarred naked man-creature running amok through an ancient castle, count me in. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK: The Battle for Sunday Bloody Sunday!

 In honor of Italian Horror Week on the blog of my great friend Jimmy Terror - Dr. Terror's Blog of Horrors, I have accepted his challenge to enter into a blog war of sorts:  the battle for the best Italian horror themed Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Sunday Bloody Sunday is my own brain-child, and I've had well over a hundred Bloody posts in the past for your viewing pleasure.  But I was happy to allow my pal Jimmy to utilize the feature in such a fun way.

Naturally, to have it be Italian themed, we chose two of the bloodiest (and most popular) Italian directors, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. And while I'm a big fan of Fulci, my heart lies with Dario.
So I agreed to this craziness because I was given the opportunity to back Argento in this civil war of sorts.
You'll find my counterpart singing the praises of Fulci over on Dr. Terror's Blog of Horrors, so enjoy!

So now:  The Deepest Reds to give you an Inferno of Sleepless nights...


Deep Red (Profondo Rosso)





Profondo Rosso


The Stendhal Syndrome



The Bird with the Crystal Plumage


Profondo Rosso