Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanks Be to Horror, Part 3

We've reached the final part of my thankful posts here in part 3.  I'm thankful for all the blessings in my life, but certainly one of the things I hold most dear is my love of the genre that defines who I am, makes me happy when I'm down, and gives me the fulfillment in life that many people lack.  Horror in its many forms is the light at the end of my tunnel and the very marrow of my existence.
And with that sentiment, I give you the remainder of my list of gratefulness....

21) 80's Horror ~ I wouldn't be where I am today without having seen such films as Friday the 13th, April Fool's Day, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Creepshow, Night of the Comet, The Evil Dead, Pumpkinhead, The Lost Boys....the list goes on and on.  I was a teenager in the eighties, so I saw a lot of classic horror films at the theater, where they formed my love of the genre and had me seeking out more.  Though many of my favorite horror films were made in the 70's, if I hadn't seen those 80's standards, I may not have been as drawn to the genre and god forbid - might be writing a blog about bad romantic comedies.... Gah!

22) Screeners ~ Ordinarily I wouldn't think to say thanks for receiving screeners of films in the mail from production companies, but here's my chance to be grateful. I've discovered a lot of hidden gems (and a bunch of throwaways, truth be told) this way, and I have to give a shout out to anyone and everyone that has ever sent me a movie in the mail.  Don't be discouraged if I didn't review your film.  I get a lot in the mail and I watch a ton that I never get a chance to write about for one reason or another.  In any event, thank you for sending me your work. It's always appreciated.  This goes for all the ARC books I've gotten as well.  Like I said, chances are I've read your work, but I don't have enough time in my day to get up reviews of everything.  It could still happen though!!  Regardless, thank you!

23) Hitchcock ~ To my favorite director:  I love you and thank you for making my life complete. I don't own all your films yet, but I'm working on it. Thank you most of all for Psycho. I know it wasn't easy getting that film made, but damn if it wasn't worth it. Appreciative thanks also for Vertigo, The Birds, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and Notorious.  While I like pretty much everything of yours I've seen, those seven movies are my favorites. I've heard a lot about you being one weird bird, but I'm guessing that craziness served you well. It certainly helped me fall in love with your work. Thanks again, Hitch!

24) The Top Secret Eli Roth Project ~ While I can't say a lot right now, I will say that I've been given a profoundly exciting writing opportunity to be a part of something that is going to change horror substantially in the future. Both Marie and I will be writing for this special project, and just knowing that Eli Roth is behind it and has his people hand-picking the writing staff has me pretty psyched. We'll be working with some awesome fellow writers and friends, and believe me when I say this is going to be big.  Coming VERY SOON.
*For now, follow us on Twitter: @fearthecrypt, Facebook, and online at

25) Quiet Horror ~ I'm in love with the quiet horror film.  Movies that are subtle, slow-burners that although they don't have chainsaws, car chases, or people screaming while running through the woods, still pack a punch. Films like Session 9, The Abandoned, The Orphanage, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, Dead Birds, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The Eclipse, The Woman in Black, The Eye, The Innkeepers, The Ninth Gate, even The Strangers...films that don't scream at you but still make you think.  Many ghost stories are like this, which probably goes hand in hand with the fact that ghost stories are my favorite sub-genre.

26) Fellow Horror Bloggers ~ I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by to say thank you to all the bloggers out there toiling away on their blogs, writing about their passion for horror.  I read so many blogs that I couldn't possibly list them all. And I've made some truly wonderful friends in this crazy community, some of which I consider extended family. And even though there is a lot of fighting and reprehensible behavior at times within this genre and those who write about it, there's a love and understanding that reaches far beyond the bad vibes.  So thanks to all my friends out there, keep up the great work!

27) Nox Arcana & Midnight Syndicate.  I think the first time I heard Midnight Syndicate was on vacation at the Outer Banks. There is a gigantic Christmas store in Manteo, N.C., and their top floor is a Halloween shop. I was perusing the wares and was suddenly aware of the most enchantingly creepy music playing in the background. Low and behold, I'd found the soundtrack to my life. Discovering Nox Arcana soon afterwards only added to my glee. Believe me, if you haven't experienced the haunting, gothic music that both of these artists bring to the table, you're really missing out.  Check out their websites with samples: NOX ARCANA and MIDNIGHT SYNDICATE. And of course you can buy both on and iTunes.

28) Michael Myers ~ Jason and Freddie don't have anything on my main man Michael.  Nor does that ugly sumbitch Leatherface or the S & M pretty-boy Pinhead. I'm thankful for Michael because the dude taught me fear. He taught me that blood and guts do not necessarily a suspenseful movie make. I love his no-nonsense attitude. He's pissed and he doesn't really have to tell you why. He just kills. I realize that when Halloween part II came out it introduced the whole sister angle, but I prefer to think of Mikey as simply, The Shape. No rhyme or reason to his killings, he is just pure and simply, evil.  By far the most intimidating slasher, period.

29)  Anticipation.  In the horror genre, I sometimes feel like the anticipation of the latest book, movie or television show is almost as exciting than the show itself.  When it was announced that The Walking Dead would be a television show, I was at first in a state of disbelief. First of all because it would be on AMC, which is so obviously NOT a premium cable station. How could they do it? Zombies on TV? Bloody, gory, violent zombies....? But then the hype started...and kept going until it was at a fever pitch.  The waiting for the series to start was agonizingly fun.  The same goes for a new novel (who wasn't beside themselves when Stephen King announced he was writing the long-awaited sequel to The Shining?) or the latest film to start a The Conjuring - or the remake of Oldboy?  While finally realizing the dream and reading the book or seeing the movie....or that first episode of usually great, I still feel the promise of the next great thing is almost better than the actual experience. It's what we horror fans live for!

30) And finally, I'm so very thankful for my partner in crime here on Fascination with Fear, Marie. Not only is she like a little sister to me, but she keeps the blog up and running when I am unable to post when life gets in the way. She's insightful, smart as a whip, and well versed in all things horror. I'm thankful every day that we happened into each others lives. And I don't think there's really any way to thank her for everything she's done and for being a wonderful friend. (But thanks anyway, Ms. Robinson - you rock!)
I'm also hoping she doesn't flip out for my posting her pic! :)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks Be To Horror, Part 2

Happy Thanksgiving!! As we Americans celebrate turkey day, I hope everyone has at least one thing they are thankful for in their lives. I've got tons, including my humble list of horror thank you's!  If you missed part one, click HERE.
And here's the second of three parts...

11) Ghost Stories. This could go two ways.  I'm a huge fan of both the written word and the silver screen when it comes to ghosts.  It doesn't even have to be dark out, if I'm watching or reading a ghost story I am completely immersed. I can look up and see shadows in corners and just simply freak out. This sub-genre branches out in so many ways.  While I'm not as big a fan of the ghost hunting shows as Marie, I appreciate the spookiness of it.  It's the found footage that I can live without.  But if there is anything that will get me to a theater fast, it's a ghost story.  I'm always looking for the next best one...

12) Mainstream stars doing horror. I'm talking people like Paul Giamatti (John Dies at the End), Julianne Moore (Carrie), and most certainly Angela Bassett and Jessica Lange in television's American Horror Story, among many others.  At last, it doesn't seem like such a career-ending move as it used to be.  I could sit and watch Lange chew scenery for hours on end. Horror isn't quite the red-headed stepchild anymore. Things are on the upswing. Respect is at hand! Now all we need is someone to call Meryl Streep and offer her the next Chucky movie and we'll be all set!

13) The return of Hammer.  As someone who thrived on watching old Hammer films on Saturday afternoons as a kid, all I can do is thank the powers that be for raising that studio from the dead. With films like Let Me In  (2010), Wake Wood (2011) and the remake of The Woman in Black (2012), I think they are well on their way to being a force to be reckoned with in the future of horror.  And it's so nice to see their name on the opening credits again.  I know Marie agrees with me on this one, we're both psyched to be here for the ride.

14) Vampires are still alive and well.  Yes, True Blood is ending next year. I do realize that. But I don't think there's ever a time when vampires aren't popular in horror crowds. The unfortunate business that was Twilight didn't do the fanged ones any favors, but TV shows like Dracula, The Originals, True Blood and the upcoming series based on Guillermo del Toro's trilogy The Strain, as well as movies like Byzantium and Midnight Son are making it safe to like vampires again.  As if there was any doubt!

15) The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh ~ I saw this film for the fist time a month or so ago and if I'm being honest, I loved it.  It is written and directed by Rodrigo Gudiño (of Rue Morgue fame) and tells the tale of a man who was estranged from his mother but goes back to clean out her home and settle her affairs but finds more than he bargains for.  It's a slow burn, and many people might become bored with it before the wings of this butterfly unfurl.  The home in which it was filmed is packed full of unusual and even creepy artifacts and mementos (which is part of the story itself) and this makes it one of my favorite houses in horror.  And speaking of mainstream stars...Vanessa Redgrave plays the title character, and though we really only hear her voice - what a voice it is.  Give this one a chance.

16) The horror classics.  I don't think I've ever praised the stories that started it all. Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Turn of the Screw, The Tell Tale Heart, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward..these are some of my favorites, but I also love Jane Eyre and The Woman in White....Anything by Lovecraft, M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe. The more recent The Haunting of Hill House, The Woman in Black, I Am Legend..... There are so many wonderful authors out there and their stories are timeless. Probably why I've read all of them several times.

17) Italian horror ~ Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time would have to know of my love of Italian genre films. In particular the films of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava. I love not only the giallo films, but stand alone films as well as Fulci's popular zombie films.  The gorgeous, artistic talent of Argento, the so-called godfather of giallo Mario Bava, and the gory beauty of Fulci's zombie flicks have long been favorites of mine. While many other foreign countries have films I love (France and Japan among them), the Italians strike a nerve of mine...and I've never looked back.

18) JAWS - It's not a secret that Jaws is my favorite film. The perfection of the script, the brilliant direction, frighteningly good cinematography and of course, the impeccable casting all comes together for an experience of sheer terror unsurpassed in most of film. It's not the first scary movie I saw, certainly not the last...but definitely the film that left the biggest impression on my psyche. Even though I vacation there every spring, I am still terrified of the ocean. Only one guess why.

19) My personal DVD collection ~ I have a ridiculously large collection of horror DVD's. I'm not trying to win a medal or get special recognition, I'm just stating a fact.  I own a ton of films. And this, to me, is comfort. When I'm feeling down or having a bad day at work, I want to know that I can go home and pull Martyrs off my shelf and feel ten times better about my own situation (because of the profound horror the main characters go through), or I can grab up Psycho - one of my "comfort horror" films - throw it in the DVD player, and relax with a movie I know line for line and never tire of watching. It might sound weird, but it works for me. My only problem is that I'm running out of room to store them....

20) GODZILLA (2014) - As a huge fan of the original monster, I'm fairly psyched to see this new version, which is saying a lot because I'm not a big fan of remakes. I don't think I need to say more, as this trailer pretty much speaks for itself. Go here:
(If the link doesn't work I'm sorry, it seems this film is top secret and all the links to the teaser trailer are constantly being taken down all the time.)

*Stay tuned for the final third of my thank you's!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanks Be To Horror, Part 1

All over social media, I've been seeing these posts throughout November in which people post day by day things they are thankful for, as in "Nov 15: I'm thankful for Starbucks gingerbread lattes, they make my entire existence worthwhile!" Now, I'm not one to look down on that, and I'm certainly all about joining in any kind of meme or list-a-thon, so I thought I'd do something similar here on Fascination with Fear.  But I'm not going to do day-by-day postings, I'm just doing the whole damn thing at once.  As in, there are thirty days in November - hence, I'm posting thirty things I'm thankful for, with a horror twist.

I'm already eternally thankful for the big three: my husband, family and friends. And everyone already knows how much I love my cats, Bob Marley, spaghetti, and the Outer Banks. That's all common knowledge, so I'm not boring you with any of that.  What follows is a list of things that make me the happiest about horror, whether it is a single film or a sub-genre, a character or a book I's all here.  This is how this horror fan says how grateful I am to be a part of this wonderful genre we all know and love.

1) Stephen King ~ Yes, I thought I'd start with one of the biggies.  King shaped my love of horror at a very tender age. I was probably eleven or so when I first picked up The Shining and I'm not kidding you when I say it changed my life. And he keeps upping the ante. This year's Joyland only goes to prove he still "has it" and the release of Doctor Sleep (the long-awaited sequel to The Shining) shows he still has a love of the game. So, thank you Stephen, for being your warped, twisted, brilliant self.  Thanks also for being a truly stand-up guy who gives back, as well.  Things like that do not go unnoticed.

2) Indie Horror ~ While I always ramble about the big name movies that everyone else does (because yes, Psycho, Jaws and The Exorcist really ARE that good), I still love to find an independent film that knocks my socks off and is unlike anything an obnoxiously over-hyped major studio film puts out.  For instance, films like Lake Mungo, The Pact, Absentia, Midnight Son, and Jug Face are just a few of the many movies that have blown me away in recent years and it is the independent filmmaker that I most admire, toiling over his tiny production with the heart and soul that is missing from most big productions. Thanks go out to every indie writer/director/producer that makes strides to entertain us.  I for one, appreciate the hell out of it.

3) Norman Bates ~ Might as well get this one out of the way because you all know it was coming anyway. Norman is my absolute favorite character in film, any genre. And though I enjoy young Freddie Highmore as the younger version of the ultimate mama's boy in television's Bates Motel, the brilliance in which it is played in the Psycho film series by Anthony Perkins is chillingly awesome. I've come to realize I think I would have fallen dangerously head over heels in love with Norman if he were real. And that's the scariest thing of all.

4) Horror television ~ While we're talking about Bates Motel, I may as well thank the television gods for the plethora of amazing genre shows that are on these days.  Is it just me or is horror on TV becoming extremely fashionable in recent times?  With the undisputed king of television The Walking Dead pulling in insanely high numbers (beating all other shows, even the basic channels), someone out there is finally getting it.  And the shows continue to pile up: Bates Motel, Dracula, The Vampire Diaries, Hannibal, True Blood, Hemlock Grove, Game of Thrones, Witches of East End, The Following, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, The Originals, Being Human, The Returned, Grimm, Under the Dome, and of course the fabulously delicious American Horror Story....there's no end in sight.  Which is awesome. My DVR can't keep up!

5) Soundtracks/Scores ~ Most of the music I listen to, be it instrumental scores or alternative rock songs, comes from horror movies.  I'll hear a song during the end credits and I am downloading it off iTunes ten minutes later. I have an embarrassingly large collection of movie scores, from Jaws and Psycho to more obscure titles like Dark Remains, Half Light, and Rogue, to really hard to find titles like Psycho II and The Woman in Black (1989). I've also downloaded a ton of tunes from horror TV like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, and True Blood.  I guess I like to be reminded of my favorite horror all the time. It's also how I discover new music, because I detest the radio. That's not crazy, right?

6) Jimmy Stewart ~ It might seem strange to put an actor who was so famous in film, in general, up here on a horror list. But his films with Alfred Hitchcock are the stuff of legend.  Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 ), and Vertigo (1958) are four of Hitch's best, and I'm certain Stewart was the reason for that.  Rear Window is sheer brilliance, and one of my favorite films.  But Vertigo is the one I seem to come back to most often for another look. It's captivating and mysterious, with Stewart doing some of his best work. On a side note, Stewart was born only 25 miles away from where I live. I've seen where he grew up and live in the same area, so I feel closer to him somehow. It sounds sappy and it is, but it makes me happy, so there.

7) The Shining ~ As I indicated above, The Shining has been one of the biggest influences on me in horror, all around. The book is my second favorite of anything I've read (Straub's Ghost Story is first) and the palpable fear within that book just spreads like wildfire till the exciting conclusion.  Likewise, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) is such a slow-burning, tension-filled film that had me at the opening credits. I haven't really rambled on about it any any length on the blog because everyone already knows what a brilliant piece of filmmaking it is (even though King dislikes it I feel it stands alone well too, without telling the exact same story King penned).  And even though many say Jack Nicholson went over the top in his performance as Jack Torrance, I think it is the perfect mix of crazy and controlled.

8) The Theater Experience ~ I'm thankful that I still feel a need to entertain myself by going to the movies and seeing horror on the big screen. I generally go see horror films alone because my hubby never feels the need to spend his hard-earned cash on something he can watch in the comfort of his own home in three months. That said, I love going to see a film a few weeks after its release, just about when they are ready to stop showing it.  I can generally have the whole theater to myself.  I've seen tons of films this way and it's a creepy but rewarding experience. This year, among other, I saw The Conjuring and You're Next alone.  I totally dig the feeling of isolation and fear.

9) Dark Jewelry ~ By dark I mean things like bats, crows, and owls.  I'm very much into these kinds of expressions of horror and own several pieces. I'm always looking for something new, and this year I bought a spiderweb necklace with dangling spider. I also love those skull bracelets that are popular and I have a penchant for crescent moons as well.  While I never go huge and cumbersome and I'm not much for coffins, crosses, dragons, or big skulls, I do like subtle accents here and there. It's the real me.

10) The Criterion Collection ~ In the last few years I've been collecting some of the great films Criterion is offering, and they have plenty of horror to choose from.  These editions of classics are top-notch special editions that generally have a nice selection of bonus features and are quite frankly the definitive version of the film. This year I splurged on myself and bought five: The Uninvited (1941), Carnival of Souls (1962), Eyes Without A Face (1960), The Vanishing (1988) and Sisters (1973). I also own Diabolique (1955), Kwaidan (1964), Rosemary's Baby (1968), and The Devil's Backbone (2001). The film I am most waiting for a Criterion release?  1945's Dead of Night!  Hopefully someday!

I'll be back with part two......

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jug Face (2013) ~ The Pit Wants What It Wants

Movies about "backwoods horror" seem to be a dime a dozen these days, with films that echo the feel of Deliverance with dashes of The Hills Have Eyes peppered it's hard to find something that is truly different within that sub-genre.  At first glance, Jug Face may not really catch your eye as something unique, but after viewing it I've pretty much decided it's the most original film I've seen at least all this year.

Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle has created a tale that besides fitting into the horror genre really gives us a slice of life that most of us thankfully aren't privy to and perhaps even have a primal fear of on many levels.  Many of us consider ourselves poor - complaining that we don't have enough money to take that vacation to Jamaica or even to make this month's rent.  But I'm talking destitute here. Not enough food to eat.  Defecating in a bucket.  Washing clothes in the local river by hand.  Scraping up road kill off the highway for dinner.

In the poverty-striken back woods of an unnamed location (could be Tennessee, could be eastern Georgia...who knows?), several families make up a community that live by their own set of rules and principles. Strangest of all is their primary focus on what the "pit" wants.  Yes, a real pit.  A hole in the ground with a deep, percolating puddle of muddy goo that apparently speaks to one of the townsfolk, demanding human sacrifices on random occasions to keep the little colony of residents "safe". Said resident is Dawai (Sean Bridgers, The Woman), who has a keen understanding of what the pit is asking for and in turn makes a jug face - quite literally he crafts a piece of pottery with the face of the requested sacrifice on it.

Because they have dwindling numbers, there is little to pick from in the gene pool as far as mating goes. Hence, that is perhaps the excuse we are to believe when we meet Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), who is shamelessly attracted to Jessaby (Daniel Manche) - whom we are soon to find out is her brother.  One of the first scenes is the two of them having sex against a tree, and it's obvious (before we even know their connection) that the tryst is forbidden.  And even though we should be repulsed by the copulation, for some reason it just doesn't seem that awful. 

Once we meet Ada's parents - the hardened Loriss (Sean Young) and community leader and lead moonshine-maker Sustin (Larry Fessenden, a legend in the genre!), it's obvious that Ada has a rough time. She is their only daughter and has been promised to one of the only men left to choose from - a chubby dolt named Bodey (Mathieu Whitman). As preparations are made for their "joining", Ada finds out two things. One, she's pregnant with her brother's child. And two: she is the next ritual sacrifice.  She finds the jug with her face on it and promptly stows it away in the woods, hiding it so it cannot be used. 

Dawai, the maker of the jugs, is sweet on Ada, and when the jug comes up missing he says nothing and crafts another, this one with the face of Bodey.  But the pit will not be fooled. And that's when things go terribly awry.

I hate to give away more plot details, as the story itself is sparse. But meager as it may be, it packs a punch in the short running time.  There are frights in here that have nothing to do with the ominous pit of death.  In one scene, Lorris is determined to make sure Ada is still a virgin and hasn't disgraced the family before her joining. She forces her to sit on the toilet and spread her legs while she does an exam ten times more thorough than the gynecologist ever thought of.  And as Ada hesitates and squirms, her mother burns her inner thigh with a cigarette.  And the scene when Sustin and Ada are in town selling their moonshine to a local store -Sustin stops to pick up a dead possum off the road for supper....Gah!

Most of us cannot imagine living like this. Without our comfortable houses and apartments, countless mobile devices, that new Jeep Wrangler, and a drive thru at Taco Bell in our lives it would be unthinkable.  To scrape together a dinner of roadkill and a romp with a sibling? Unheard of.  These are the things that made me the most uncomfortable watching Jug Face.  Oh yes, there is blood. The pit demands sacrifice to keep things in the community in line, and when we do get that there is some nice gore for the blood-hounds out there. 

And it is in these moments that I though it was the only place where the film slipped a little bit.  The sacrifices are "told" to Dawai - and later through Ada - by a seizure-like possession, in which the camera shakes and we get characters with milky eyes and screaming.  There is also a ghostly character that the community has named "the shunned one" that in my opinion could have been completely eliminated and the film would have still worked.

There is much to be said about the truly excellent performances by the lead roles here.  Lauren Ashley Carter is perfect as Ada, a down-trodden teenager with no future but a big heart.  Scenes in which she cares for her mute grandfather are touching and yet difficult to watch due to the reprehensible conditions the old man is living in.  I can't imagine Carter not having a nice career in front of her. Her unusual yet pretty features make her like the girl next door. (Albeit maybe the anorexic book-worm next door, but you get my drift.)

And you can certainly tell Fessenden had fun with this one.  The man behind such films as Habit, Wendigo, and The Last Winter didn't let low budgets hold him back from playing the role with flavor.  Additionally, both Sean Young and Sean Bridgers were flawless in their portrayals of the callous matriarch and prophetic lunkhead, respectively.

Part of the film's charm, if we can call it that, is the fact that the characters aren't caricatures of backwoods hicks. Of course there is the obvious "village idiot" language that screams hillbilly, but the people are genuine, not freaks ready to cut your heart out if you cross onto their property. You can feel honest sympathy for them and the gloomy lifestyle that they lead because regardless of their tax-bracket, they are earnest in their poverty and never once take on a woe-is-me attitude. They just accept life as it comes. Oh, and they worship and live by the rules of a supernatural pit of doom.  But hey, to each his own.

I'll be interested in seeing what Chad Crawford Kinkle has in store for us next.  It's obvious his heart and soul went into Jug Face, and if his next idea is as original as this one, we should be in for a real treat.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Skinwalker Ranch (2013) : Superstition, Folklore, And Yet More Found Footage.....

~review by Marie Robinson

The 2013 found-footage film Skinwalker Ranch, directed by Devin McGinn, is inspired by the real-life location of the same name.

Skinwalker Ranch—originally Sherman Ranch—located in Utah in a place called Bottle Hollow is believed to be the site of various paranormal phenomena. Among the claims are UFO’s, mysterious lights, disembodied voices, and enormous wolf. The ranch was popularized by journalist George Knapp, who penned several articles concerning peculiar activity on the ranch and later co-authored a book with research scientist Colm Kelleher.

"Navajo skinwalker"
Kelleher was Deputy Administrator for the Las Vegas based organization, National Institute for Discovery Science, which researched the paranormal before it disbanded in 2004 after only nine years. In Knapp and Kelleher’s book, Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah, they chronicle the supposed unexplainable events they encountered when they brought a team from NIDSci onto the ranch.

I should also briefly explain where Skinwalker Ranch gets its bizarre name. A skinwalker is a creature from Native American folklore, particularly among the Navajo. More specifically it is a person, usually described as a witch, who has the ability to take the form of animals—they are able to do this by wearing the pelt of the animal. Skinwalkers are extremely feared among Native Americans as they are considered to be evil and are known to terrorize innocent people. The ranch received its name from the belief that a skinwalker is responsible for all of the strange activity that surrounds it.

The film draws loosely from the ranch’s history and superstition. We are introduced to a band of amateur investigators who have been given permission by the ranch’s owner to explore the mysterious property. The owner, Hoyt (Jon Gries), has been driven to desperation after the tragic and curious disappearance of his young son, who one day simply vanished without a trace. Since his loss Hoyt has isolated himself on the ranch and become the local nut job, but welcomes the team of investigators, whom he believes are there to help find his son.

The team, led by Sam (Steven Berg), a field scientist for a research organization called MDE (Modern Defense Enterprises). Joining him is an old friend, Cameron (played by the director, McGinn), an investigative reporter acting as a third-party. The other members of the team are a local veterinarian, a couple techies, and a cameraman. Cameron, the resident skeptic, is quickly faced with a terrifying epiphany, as the supernatural activity on the ranch grows more frequent and more bizarre while remaining inexplicable. With each passing night the crew witnesses everything from the apparition of Hoyt’s missing son, mutilated livestock, mysterious idling vehicles, and the giant wolf of legend, and it isn’t long until it isn’t just the UNNECESSARY dog being killed.

While I’m aware that all the supposed paranormal activity at Skinwalker Ranch is so intriguing because it fails to be explained by science and logic, this film asks more questions than it answers. Piling weird events and creepy scenes on top of each other does not make a good movie, and that’s really all Skinwalker Ranch accomplishes. Sure, there were some chilling moments in the film and perhaps even a touch of good old-fashioned tension, but it fails to create any depth, and even gets shallower as it rambles on. In fact, I even thought it started out pretty interesting, and appeared to be a somewhat researched film as theories on the paranormal are introduced along with each occurrence. But then it just boiled down to cheesy UFO conspiracy theories with absolutely no reward at the end.

Although Skinwalker Ranch failed to impress me, I would like to welcome new director Devin McGinn. A debut is a tricky thing, and pretty much impossible to do perfectly, so I will gladly keep McGinn under my radar and check out what he has coming next.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Haunter (2013): A Supernatural Groundhog Day

~review by Marie Robinson

For those of you who are fed up with the lack of originality in recent horror cinema, consider Haunter a beacon in the darkness. This Canadian supernatural sleeper comes to us from director Vincenzo Natali (Splice, Cube), and writer Brian King (Night Train).

It stars Abigail Breslin (Zombieland) as Lisa, a moody teenager with a music taste pretty similar to mine. What is really troubling her, though, is that she is stuck reliving the same day in 1985 over and over again, while her parents and little brother are seemingly oblivious. She tries desperately to break the routine and bring her family members to the realization that they are all dead.

When Lisa challenges the monotonousness she is threatened by a grim entity credited as the Pale Man (Stephen McHattie). He warns not to meddle with his arrangement, or try and contact the living, as she has been trying to do by way of an Ouija board, or she will suffer a fate worse than death.

Unfortunately, this is really all the plot information I feel comfortable giving you. However, let me reinstate that this is a very original concept and there is plenty more storyline to follow where I left off. It is a slow-burner, so events take place very gradually over the course of the film, but I don’t fear you’ll have trouble staying interested in Haunter.

While an unconventional storyline, well-developed characters and lovely cinematography are a few qualities that make Haunter a good film, the performances are what truly bring it to life. Abigail Breslin has been a promising actress from the start, and at age 17 she is only getting better. Her acting is flawless, compelling, and extremely impressive from a performer her age. I sincerely hope she continues to do more genre work—we could use a few new scream queens!

Another favorite of mine is Stephen McHattie (Pontypool); his face is so deliciously expressive he could easily give an entrancing performance without speaking, but then you would be robbed of his wonderful voice. McHattie has been in a fair amount of genre work in his day, such as Tales from the Darkside, The Twilight Zone (1980’s series), The X-Files, and plenty of others, and it looks like there’s only more to come. His upcoming films include the disturbing and psychological Torment (2013), and Hellmouth (2013), which is directed by John Geddes (Exit Humanity, also featuring McHattie), and written by Tony Burgess (Pontypool).

So far I am quite the fan of Natali’s work and I’m very excited to see what he has next—which is apparently a segment in the ABC’s of Death 2, set for a 2014 release.