Tuesday, December 2, 2014

True Story Tuesday: Shadow People: Out Of The Corner Of My Eye...

Did you just see what you thought you saw? Out of the corner of your eye...something moving.  A glimpse of...something.  A shadow?  For centuries people have seen what have now become known as "shadow people", which refers to a shadowy, supernatural figure that is often a malevolent force or a harbinger of death. 

In 2013, a film was made that looked into this phenomena aptly entitled Shadow People.  This under-the-radar film starred the always affable Dallas Roberts (The Walking Dead) and Alison Eastwood.  Roberts stars as Charlie Crowe, a radio personality who works nights and usually listens to simpletons discussing their various woes of life, resulting in him making fun of them, somewhat in the vein of Howard Stern but with a little less maliciousness.  One night Charlie gets a phone call from a young man who claims that someone has been watching him.  The boy is obviously scared out of his wits, but Charlie brushes it off at first.  Until a day or so later he learns the boy has passed away in his sleep, forcing Charlie to confront the idea that the boy might not have been as crazy as he sounded.

The basis from this particular film is inspired by true events. Kentucky-bred Charlie Crowe was a real person who became obsessed with uncovering the truth about a series of deaths in his hometown and beyond, in particular a young man who called in with wild claims of 'shadow people' in his house.  The man was in fear for his life and in fact did perish without any reasonable explanation.

 Blamed on Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS), many victims of shadow people before their untimely deaths had spoke of a presence around them - someone watching them, an entity they saw out of the corner of their eye that waited until they were almost asleep and then paralyzed them with fear, essentially scaring them to death.

Shadow People are purposely elusive, coming into your peripheral vision but darting away when you turn to look.  There are entire websites dedicated to the stories of people who have had encounters with them, or know someone whose life was cut short when they inexplicably died in their sleep. People describe seeing dark figures in the doorways of their bedroom or hovering over their beds, walking down stairways, lurking in hallways, or just simply appearing in front of someone - rendering them unable to move, struck with fear.
Some folks have woke up from a deep sleep only to have relentless pressure on their chest, making it hard to breathe.

Shadow People are markedly different than ghosts, in that there is no real reason to be haunted. Victims of this phenomena can't seem to give a good reason why they would be targeted for this abject fear. They just know they are in harm's way.  Not unlike the "slender man" myths, shadow people seem to strike fear into the hearts of normally sane people. Just what is going on?  Is there actually a medical condition that could mimic this kind of tragedy?

Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome is described as a condition that was first noticed back in the late 70's in the Hmong people of Laos.  Cardiac activity has been thought to be arrhythmic at the time that the person stops breathing....but why does this arrhythmia happen?  There has been no reasonable explanation in the medical community as most subjects were found to be stable cardiac-wise and had no abnormalities to speak of.  Why do their hearts stop in their sleep?  This is where Shadow People seem to have made their mark in superstition and folk tales.  They appear in shadows and all but frighten the victim to death.

Many religions and beliefs have accepted the concept of shadow people, believing them a malevolent force that comes to take away the soul and essentially the life force of their victims.  The paralyzing fear is what stops the heart, and the victim is helpless to escape.  It is different than night terrors as those nightmares are meant to wake from.  When the Shadow People come to visit you at night, they mean to harm you.  They will terrorize you, sit on your chest so you can't breathe, let you slip into eternal darkness, all because you give them the satisfaction of believing in them.

In Shadow People, Charlie is compelled to find out more about these strange occurrences when he receives a package with evidence of sleep studies done in which the participants died in their sleep from unknown causes.  When an investigator (Eastwood) from the CDC looks Charlie up for some answers regarding the death of the young man and this "farce" called shadow people, the two become embroiled in a search for the truth, which might lead them down a path less ordinary - and much more sinister.

Whether or not you believe in shadow people, the film of the same name does boast some startling images and creepy moments.  Dallas Roberts, who usually plays supporting characters, holds his own quite well here and his escalating fear of the unknown makes his paranoia palpable and weirdly engaging.  The dark, shadowy sets make for some great atmosphere, and the subject matter ought to make more than one person go clamoring for their laptop to google Shadow People.  Which, if we're keeping score, is a win for the makers of this film.  So watch the movie, then do your research.  Maybe you've already seen a dark shadow in the corner of your room - or felt an unseen force causing pressure in your chest....if that's the case, then perhaps you've already met the shadow people....

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Device (2014) : Indie Sci-Fi Packs An Unsettling Punch

I love indie horror.  It's not that I don't enjoy mainstream films as well, because I do.  But give me a good indie film the likes of Absentia, The Pact, Lake Mungo, or The Invoking (from the same writer/director team as this film), and I'm really in my element.  Indie horror evokes a certain bare-bones feel that a big Hollywood production just can't emulate.  So when I was asked to take a look at the newest offering from The October People, The Device, I happily agreed.

Co-written by Jeremy Berg and John Portanova and blending elements of sci-fi, horror and let's face it, family drama, director Berg's The Device moves away from conventional films in several directions.  I'm not an especially big sci-fi fan, but when it's done right I enjoy the hell out of it and count Alien (1979), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and 2009's Moon as three of my most favorite films, any genre.  I also really enjoyed the recent Dark Skies (2013) and am one of the biggest fans of The X-Files perhaps ever. So though I don't exclusively seek out science fiction, I do love sci-fi done well.

The Device teases us with the possibility of aliens, but doesn't base the film on the search for extraterrestrials like so many films before it.  It first wounds our emotions and forces us to care about the people involved in the story, instead of just throwing some little green men our way.  We come to have a vested interest in who may be getting hurt by what is going on, instead of trying to find out where they came from and what they want.  This change-up in format and technique is welcome and leads to a more personal film, despite the scares.

Abby (Angela DiMarco) and her fiance Calvin (David S. Hogan) are picking up Abby's sister Rebecca (Kate Alden) after the death of their mother.  The two women are set to release their mother's ashes at a family cabin by a lake.  The sisters haven't seen much of each other and it's obvious the duo has baggage, both from their own relationship and the one they shared with their mother. We learn Rebecca had been kidnapped and apparently assaulted by an ex-boyfriend when she was young while at the cabin, so the place understandably has bad memories for her. But Abby wants to try to help Rebecca push past those memories- to put them behind her.  Both sisters are trying to get back to a semblance of normalcy, and think this weekend of closure will help.

After dispersing the ashes into the lake, Rebecca heads off into the woods with Abby anxiously following after her. They find what looks to be a plane wreckage of some sort and Abby then discovers a sphere-like black orb and shows it to Rebecca, who immediately says they need to go back to the cabin and leave the wreckage alone. Something sharp on the sphere jags Abby, making her hand bleed. When she looks up, Rebecca passes out. Back at the cabin with Rebecca safely in bed, Calvin and Abby discuss the device, wondering what it is for and where it came from. Calvin's mind focuses on money, and he can't wait to see what it could be worth.

When Rebecca discovers that the device is in the cabin, she freaks out and starts saying they should not have brought it back with them and that she wants to go home.  Calvin and Abby privately discuss how they can help Rebecca face her demons and move on, as a family.  But that night Abby has a vivid yet eerie dream in which Rebecca warns her they must leave the cabin, disturbing her enough that the next morning they pack up and head home.

Settling into her sister's home becomes a problem when Rebecca discovers that Calvin has brought the strange device home from the cabin.  Arguments ensue about what the device is and how dangerous it may be, and as freaked out as Rebecca is you begin to wonder if she has seen something similar before, and we start thinking there is more to her "kidnapping" than meets the eye.  When Abby receives a call from their mother's sister Linda, it's a heated argument, with their aunt more than just a little pissed that they've been up at the cabin.  She is entirely pissed that Abby took Rebecca there and tells her to send her home on the first bus back to Louisville, which Abby blatantly ignores.

Abby continues to have disturbing dreams at night, with each one becoming more and more upsetting.  She feels certain an alien-like presence is in the room with her,  watching her...wanting something.  She becomes convinced that the device has something to do with it, and begs Calvin to get rid of it.  But Calvin is allowing himself to be completely obsessed with the orb and its powers.  His personality begins changing the more he handles it, and he even starts having conversations with it - or whomever is controlling it.  Rebecca, seeing what is going on around her escalating to dangerous proportions, finally comes forward and explains that it wasn't her boyfriend Chuck that abducted and assaulted her all those years ago....

As in Berg's last film, The Invoking, he has a great talent of evoking a really unsettling vibe just by showing dark woods, empty fields, strange lights, serene lakes.  The tall trees become sinister, a slight breeze foreboding. His characters have interesting back stories and face real-life problems that end up intermingling with whatever type of horror they are facing.  It's not a fast-paced film, and in fact may be too slow for action-hounds who like their sci-fi a little more Aliens than Moon.  But it will get under your skin if you let it.  Which let's face it, we want it to be an unnerving peek into a world we don't understand, just like all other sci-fi strains to do.

The actors in The Device are totally capable and come off as people you would be friends or neighbors with, in particular the two female leads.  They are quite convincing as sisters trying to reconnect and more importantly deal with a long ago trauma that led to their separation.  Their angst about this crossroad in their relationship is one of the best parts of the movie.

Special effects here are minimal, but seeing an alien shrouded in a misty fog enhances the age-old rule of what you can't see is scarier than what is right in front of you.  Sometimes just a quick glance out of the corner of their eye - did they just see something? - is more terrifying than witnessing something the eye is meant to see head on.  This movie is certainly more about relationships and facing truths than it is about alien abductions.  But the building tension of not knowing just what is "out there" leads perfectly into the discovery of what they really do need to be afraid of.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the eerie score by Joseph Molner.  It's absolute perfection in it's subtlety, and I'd love to get my hands on it.

The Device is yet another solid film from The October People, combining unnerving sci-fi elements with a  depth of characters you will actually care about when they face the dreadful circumstances thrown at them for not following their gut instincts and turning back, deciding instead to pry into worlds unknown, with a devastating outcome.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fusions Of Fright: The Parlor Trick

 ~by Marie Robinson

Join us again for another round of Fusions of Fright, Fascination With Fear’s monthly music article!

No artist is ever pleased.
There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.
There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction;
a blessed unrest that keeps us marching
and makes us more alive than the others.

(album cover)
This poem by Martha Graham is the inspiration for the album, A Blessed Unrest by The Parlour Trick. The Parlour Trick is a project that is made from the combined efforts of Meredith Yayanos and Dan Cantrell who are both accomplished composer and multi-instrumentalists. They began collaborating on the album in 2009 in Oakland, California and in 2012, after producing enough for a record, began a Kickstarter for A Blessed Unrest. Since meeting their goal the record has been made available in digital, CD and vinyl formats, although all the vinyl pressings have sadly sold out.

A Blessed Unrest is a mostly instrumental album that aims to capture the tone of Victorian spiritualism, among other things. The album was inspired by Margaret Yayanos’ interest with Victorianism and its darker aspects, such as its attitude towards death and the afterlife and its ideas concerning “female hysteria”. An excerpt from their website says that, “Many of the pieces composed or co-composed by Yayanos are conscious riffs off (t)rapping of Spiritualism and lingering concepts of the “monstrous feminine”.

Photo by Audrey Penven
While the songs all certainly fit together, there are varying styles throughout the album. “Half Sick of Shadows”, “Mare Desiderii”, and “Planchette” are all piano-driven. The first is a single, if the album were to properly have one, and a music video was recorded for it featuring dancer Rachel Brice. “Half Sick of Shadows” may be my favorite track, though it isn’t easy to pick one. It sounds as if it should be played in—well—a parlour, with a crackling fire in the hearth and some quiet evil descending. It could easily fit into some supernatural period-piece film, playing as the title cards roll.

“The Lady of the House of Love” is a song of madness, or perhaps the struggle to prove one’s sanity. The ferocious driving riff gives away to sorrow, desperation and turmoil. It was a rustic, folky and Eastern European sound that sets it apart from the rest of the songs. A music video for this song was supposed to have been made but never seems to have been completed.

Poster by Ellen Rogers
The 8th track, “Leafy Sea Dragon Nursery” is a ghostly tune that one might hear echoing off the walls in an abandoned nursery, long-since inhabited by children or anything living. Among the dirty and discarded toys strewn along the floor, one might pick up a music box, only to open it and hear this music issue forth.

“Sheol” is another favorite of mine for its strange and powerfully atmospheric qualities. A particularly eerie track, it is composed from the theremin, a brilliantly creepy instrument that is controlled without even having to be touched. The sound is incredibly unique and is an automatic mood-setter. The scene I have pictured in my mind for “Sheol” is an empty and vast field covered by a night sky black and sequined with stars. But there aren’t just stars up above… you find yourself gazing up in awe, transfixed by the flashing colors of light and the sweet, though unsettling, sounds that echo over the land, wondering—and secretly fearing—that you aren’t as alone as you think.

A Blessed Unrest is a beautiful and haunting debut album from The Parlour Trick, and hopefully not their last. You can stream their entire album for free at their bandcamp (http://theparlourtrick.bandcamp.com/album/a-blessed-unrest), and learn more about them on their website (http://theparlourtrick.com/). You can watch the video for “Half Sick of Shadows” below.

The Parlour Trick: "Half Sick of Shadows" (Starring Rachel Brice) from Theremina on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

COLD IN JULY (2014) : Unpredictable Noir Thriller Hits All The Right Notes

If you were wondering what kind of actor Michael C. Hall would be after Dexter and what kind of films he would choose, Cold in July is your answer.  Crime dramas never seem to go out of style, and casting Hall as an everyman that finds himself embroiled in a home invasion-turned conspiracy was a brilliant choice on director Jim Mickle's part.  Mickle is the force behind such horror fare as Mulberry Street (2006), Stakeland (2010), and the recent, well received remake We Are What We Are (2013), so he knows his way around the genre.  And while I certainly wouldn't call Cold in July a horror film, Mickle's experience made him a shoe-in to be both co-writer and behind the camera for this adaption of the 1989 Joe R. Lansdale novel.

Set in 1989 east Texas, the movie opens with Richard Dane (Hall) being awoken in the middle of the night by his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw, The Hills Have Eyes '06 - in case you can't recall where you've seen her!) when she hears a noise in their home.  Hall jumps up and quickly fumbles around until he finds his father's gun and cautiously creeps into the living room in the dark where he proceeds to surprise a burglar and in a fit of panic, shoots him dead.

As we were watching this, my husband quickly said that was exactly what he would do, because if someone breaks into your home, they mean you harm.  And I agreed.  Gone are the days in which people would try to call the police or see who the intruder is before killing them.  Nowadays it's just BAM!  It's all about protecting your family and home.  Shoot now, worry about the consequences later. 

Oh and what consequences they are.  With a claret-stained couch, blood splattered walls, police throughout the house and a frightened family at his side, Richard learns that the man he shot dead is Freddy Russell, a wanted felon.  Officer Ray Price (co-writer Nick Damici) also informs him that Freddy's father, Ben, is also a career criminal who has just been released on parole.  Sufficiently rattled, Richard tries to console his wife and young son and they attempt to move on from the horror of that evening.  He and Ann are seen cleaning the bloody walls, picture frames, clocks, scrubbing stained carpet, and finally removing the stained couch.  Rarely are we privy to what actually happens after a violent death in a house.  The police don't clean up for you.  They don't send someone in.  YOU do it.  An atypical reminder of real life, well played here by Hall and Shaw.

But Richard just can't let that horrible night die.  Still reeling over having shot a man to death, he shows up at the cemetery for the county-paid burial just in time to see them covering the gravesite.  When he turns back to drive away, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) is at his car door, quick to make a veiled threat against Richard and his family, in particular his young son.  He rushes to the school to pick up his son, and upon arrival at home he notices the doors are open.  Rattled to the core he goes to the police, who set up protection for him as several officers lie in wait in the nearby woods to pounce on Ben and arrest him if he makes a move.  Trying to sleep, Richard senses something wrong and rushes out of his bedroom to find the stationed guard out cold and his son's room locked from the inside.  Cops rush in, but Ben has made his escape through a window - and they discover he had been inside the house in the attic crawlspace the whole time. 

Where the film switches gears a bit is when Ben is apprehended just over the Mexican border and brought back to Texas, seemingly closing the chapter on Richard's nightmare.  But then at the police station making a final statement, he discovers a picture of Freddy Russell on the Most Wanted wall of shame - and realizes that is NOT the man he shot dead in his living room.  Officer Price shuts him down, saying he must be mistaken - it was dark, that the man he shot was definitely Freddy Russell.  But Richard again can't just let it go and eventually finds his way back to the station again, only to see Office Price and a few other officers leading Ben Russell out of the station and loading him into a car.  Richard follows behind and parks out of sight when they stop at an abandoned train station and dump an unconscious Ben Russell on the train tracks in the way of an oncoming train.

Confused and torn, Richard realizes something isn't right.  The man he killed was NOT Ben's son, and now the cops are obviously hiding something and trying to cover it up.  So he rushes out and pulls Ben off the tracks just in time.  He takes him to his father's secluded cabin, waits until he comes to and proceeds to tell him the unlikely story.  At first Ben reacts with complete disbelief - until he accompanies Richard to the cemetery where they unearth the body of what Ben thinks to be his son.  Upon the discovery that the man in the grave is unknown to him, Ben believes Richard and they start to devise a plan to uncover the truth.

Ben calls a fellow Korean War vet friend of his, private detective Jim Bob Luke (played by the always charismatic Don Johnson), who after some digging reveals that Freddy Russell was involved with the Dixie Mafia, has a price on his head because he turned state's evidence against them and has been in the Witness Protection program as of late.  The unlikely trio of Ben, Jim Bob and Richard take off in Jim Bob's caddy in search of clues, which has them landing head-first in a jumble of criminal activity when they discover Freddy makes a living by participating in snuff films.

This is a film that at first feels a lot like Cape Fear, until it doesn't.  I'm not saying it morphs into 8MM, but it's obvious at the beginning of the movie that Richard's family is in danger from Ben, who is anxious to rectify the death of his son.  But then the tables turn and the two become allies in a conspiracy that will drag them into the dark bowels of the human condition.

I loved seeing Michael C. Hall in a role that allowed him to show true emotion, instead of being just a cold-blooded, soulless serial killer.  He is as skilled at playing a run-of-the-mill family man as he is a heartless murderer, and he's got wonderful range to go along with his expressive eyes and talent for speaking without saying a word.  Sam Shepard is his usual low-key self, which serves him well when addressing Hall's character with a cold, unfeeling vengeance, yet he is able to turn a corner and befriend Richard when he realizes he's a good man who was taken advantage of just as much as he was.  And what can I say about Don Johnson that hasn't already been said?  It's so fun to see him play a bombastic character like this.  He's always able to rein in the swarm just enough to be utterly engaging and likeable. 

I also must mention the score, which smacks of John Carpenter (though composed by Jeff Grace) and feels absolutely 80's with its synth vibes following all the action on the screen in chilling perfection.

If you like films like the aforementioned Cape Fear, A History of Violence, and the more recent Prisoners and Blue Ruin, you're bound to enjoy this pulpy thriller.  I can't wait to see what Jim Mickle has in store for us next!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dark Arts: Christopher McKenney

Welcome back for another helping of Dark Arts, a monthly feature designed to stimulate your imagination and generate inspiration!

Today we turn our eye to photographer Christopher McKenney. I couldn’t turn up any information on him other than he is a horror surrealist photographer from Pennsylvania. No matter, we will let the faceless apparitions in his photos speak for themselves.

Hooded figures and cloth-cloaked spectres lurk in the fields and forests of McKenney’s work, and they are plotting something evil. Don’t follow their beckoning finger, don’t listen to their raspy words, no good can come of it. But it can’t hurt to just stop and look… right?

You can see more of Christopher McKenney’s work at his website,HERE.


Little Signs

The Calling


The Righteous Will Be Saved

The Hiding