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Written by Inkubus

I’ve often reflected how the influence of Art is a key component missing from Modern Horror. The Xenomorph we all know and fear came from the painted nightmares of Swedish surrealist H.R. Giger, the Screamer is said to have influenced the Ghostface Killer mask.  For a further rundown of art’s musings over the genre, I would highly recommend 2017’s Tableaux Vivants for a look at 60 such portraits and the films they inspired.

In the summer of 2020, The Medium video game appears to correct that oversight with the recent trailer dropping, adapting Polish painter, Zdzislaw Beksinski’s frightening paintings.  In the same season of the same year is when The Cell celebrates 20 years (8/17/2020).  This film appeared to feature as many artistic influences as possible into its near two hour runtime.

The sight of chains freaked me out upon watching my first Hellraiser movie, so the sexual perversion of their use in this film did little to alleviate such apprehension, especially as they pulled so tightly to suspend human flesh in the air. Despite a previous scene showing the villain having drowned his victim, this was the true introduction to his villainy – the former showed what he did, that latter why he did it.  Even re-watching this film so many years later, I had to look away from the screen, recoiling from such a grisly display.

Typically, in Horror or any film that assumes a particular aesthetic, it is color that makes the impression to set mood.  Instead, the use of white in this film, from the K9 to the bleached state of the victims is used to ghoulishly haunting effect.

I remember critics remarking that because of Vince Vaughn’s comedic history they couldn’t take him seriously in this role and relegated his involvement to stunt casting. I take the opposite stance since, for me, every role after this film simply serves as a reminder that he starred in The Cell.  I’ve always felt that comedy actors do well in dramas – see Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” – and I thought that Vaughn did a serviceable job in this film, never distracting from either tone or plot.

I was happy that they just dove into the mechanics behind entering one’s mind as an accepted reality, that they didn’t get bogged down in techno babble or exposition of the technology.  There is a time and place for the virtual journey into the cerebral frontier, such as The Matrix or a good adaptation of the Lawnmower Man, but for the Cell, I’m happy that they focused more on the story and not so much the science.  The suits do look like Twizzlers, but it was made by Eioka Ishioka (who passed away in 2012), the same costume designer as Vlad Tepes’ suit from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  I do like that the two participators are suspended in the air while their minds are linked.  It’s an eerie callback to the killer’s suspension from chains for sexual release. Also, it does give the technology that space age feel as though they are in a weightless environment.

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Since the 90’s, special effects have been criticized as dominating films to the point Stephen King is quoted as remarking that “story supports effects instead of effects supporting story”. Similarly, an argument can be made that at times The Cell becomes too indulgent with its usage of famous art that serve no plot function, e.g. the Horse Split, the Three Women of Odd Nerdrum’s Dawn painting, Mother Theresa and her Hallmark card, etc.  As the director is quoted as saying “The thing about this film is it’s an opera, and there is no such thing as a subtle opera.”  I don’t believe that the script was penned as an excuse to pack in as much gallery portraits as possible or is an hour and fifty minutes of a music video.  I just wish the director would’ve used each art piece he seeks influence from to develop the story or the character.  The imagery doesn’t always portray the killer’s psychology or the psychologist’s therapeutic technique.  If he wasn’t going to utilize subtlety, he should have implored restraint.  He later added “Anyway, I missed the whole plot, just been talking visual all along, ah, where are we?”

Once in the killer’s mind, his depiction as the master of his domain is a hauntingly accurate depiction considering the previous scenes of suspension rings in the back of his body, which unwittingly foreshadowed to the audience his royal appearance to come.  Even the name, King Stargher, is a daunting title for a movie monster.  When rising and descending from his throne, the violet robes receding from the walls and tracing along the room is hypnotically unnerving.

As tiresome as the “we’re still in the dreamworld” trope can become (The Matrix, DS9 Season 7 episode 23 “Extreme Measures”), this film not only flips it when the psychologist realizes that she’s “already in”, but does so in a cleverly visual way.

  • King Stargher
  • Horned Stargher
  • Court Jester/Vatican Clown  
  • Serpent Stargher

It is interesting to think that a single actor would assume many distinct monstrous characters.  Unlike a Freddy Kreuger or a Pennywise that turn into manifestations of their victims’ fears, the figures that Stargher assumes are all avatars of his own warped psyche, his own inner turmoil.  Vincent D’Onofrio really does put in his all with this role.  He’s soft spoken and understated when he needs to be and malicious and heartless when the scene demands it.  Along with the visuals of the film, D’Onofrio’s performance is worth the price of admission.  It’s a shame that his acting as well as the movie’s stunning artistry are what have gone overlooked all these years.  Speaking of…

One invalid criticism that has been levied against the film is its attempts to persuade the audience to sympathize with the killer.  My intention with the following statement is neither to flaunt my Horror insight nor to divide the lines between fans within Horror and those without.  Having said that, even as an adolescent seeing this movie in theaters, I at no point felt remorse for the serial murderer and I chalk up this long-held misconception to a bad read on the film.

So off-base is this “critical analysis” that it can’t even be regarded as a Jekyll & Hyde dynamic.  The villain is not split down the middle between binary good and evil, where both halves are at war over his soul, or the repressed impulses of his Dark Passenger are manifesting in a heartless butcher.  If there is any distinction, it is between who the antagonist was when a victim as a boy and what the man became as an adult victimizer.  If anything it is the good that is repressed, not the evil.  Furthermore, along with using the film’s plot to force Alice down the rabbit hole of the Mad Hatter’s mind, this film does address the nature of evil.  When referring to Stargher, even Jennifer Lopez’s character remarks “The Dominant side is still this horrible thing”.  The Vince Vaughn detective states “I believe a child can experience 100 times worse the abuse than what Gish (a different killer) went through, and still grow up to be somebody that would never, ever, ever hurt another living being.”  Thus, these serve as acknowledgement that the abducted criminal is firmly in the driver’s seat to the point of its reference as a “thing” and a condemnation of what the killer has become, respectively.

Along with exploring the psychology of the killer, the film does not qualify the villain’s innocence, it questions it.

The critics probably missed that pesky detail that would’ve debunked their headline before they pressed a single word of their denunciation.

These same professional critics wouldn’t give a second’s hesitation towards throwing Horror under the bus and condemning Scary Movies for inspiring violence if it meant their jobs were on the line, yet they would balk at the notion that continued mental trauma and physical abuse can cause psychopathic behavior.

There are classics and icons worth praising for their plot and performances, respectively, and then there are some Scary Films that Horror Fans view with the understanding of their heavy material and without your typical fanfare because they’re a hard watch.  I can see where people would be fans of Hannibal Lecter not because they or the film glamorizes cannibalism, but because of Anthony Hopkins’ acting chops (excuse the pun).  Conversely, John Doe, the serial killer of Se7en, has and will likely never enjoy such admiration because of the cold purity of his calculated evil.  The 2 decade critique of The Cell’s villain portrayal is a dark cloud that has unjustly hung over its head.

The motif of “the eyes of a killer” was something applauded in Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, yet ridiculed in The Cell 9 years prior?

This film’s premise and the fact that it wasn’t fully effectively executed makes it primed for a remake.  Hollywood needs to be issued a Cease and Desist order of such wholesale dependence on Remakes in general, let alone in the Horror genre.  When you consider that so many remakes can’t outdo the original and even tarnish the films they attempt to emulate, why not fix the problems of a film that went wrong and take the credit when you get it right?

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The Dead Ones

Reviewed by Killer Kelly

Synopsis

The Dead Ones – For four outcast teens, summer detention means being assigned to clean their high school after a horrific incident. But they are not alone; a macabre gang wearing guises of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse – Famine, Pestilence, War and Death – has locked them inside and is hunting them through the school’s ravaged hallways. As the four students battle to survive, each must confront the supernatural echoes of past traumas they have struggled to forget…and may be condemned to relive.

Starring Sarah Rose Harper, Brandon Thane Wilson, Katie Foster, Torey Garza and Clare Kramer, the movie was directed by Jeremy Kasten

The Dead Ones

Review

The storyline was great. It was a good idea and although confusing at the beginning, does get better as it progresses. Soon after The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse show up (which is right at the beginning) their identity becomes pretty clear. Whether their unveiling was meant to be a big dramatic twist at the end, I’m not sure, but the ending DOES have a cool turn of events.

The acting was pretty good too. Mouse (Harper), lives up to her namesake. Timid, non-confrontational and just trying to get through their ordeal without issue, she still proves to be a significant character throughout. Scottie (Wilson) plays the tough guy. He’s hot-headed, but able to use logic when required. Louis (Garza) is the polar opposite. Wild and impulsive, he acts first, thinks later. Yet, he does share Scottie’s short temper which becomes more problematic as the movie progresses. Emily (Foster) is a tiny bit cuckoo and no longer taking her meds. This becomes evident from the outset with her erratic behaviour.

All four play their roles well and, despite the odd eyebrow-raising dialogue choice, are pretty convincing. Clare Kramer, who many will recognise from Buffy, plays the teacher overseeing the students.

What else?

The Dead Ones

There were some continuity errors throughout. The pic above, showing the poor student losing control of her bladder, is a prime example. The scene after this shows her with dry trousers, then again with sodden trousers but wet patches in different places. You might argue I’m being pedantic but I don’t sit there looking out for these errors. It was just too brazen to ignore. Better editing would have identified/remedied this but it’s not something I’d class as a major flaw.

There were some great effects throughout this movie that deserve a mention. Certain injuries and ailments looked real enough and for a low budget flick that’s pretty commendable. There’s also guts, gore and a whole load of firepower which, as you can guess, can produce some pretty nasty-looking injuries. However, in the same breath, there was just way too much CGI for my taste. Call me old fashioned, but I much prefer props and makeup over computer generated stuff, especially when the CGI is painfully obvious. For instance, the ghosts that frequently appear. Their movement and actions are creepy as hell. But, the excessive CGI just curtails the scare factor and takes away the immersiveness of the movie.

Controversial?

The prospect of a school shooting might seem a bit close to the bone for some. However, Director/Writer Kasten has provided the following statement;

“This is my sixth and most personal film: a ghost story about a school shooting. It doesn’t shy away from violence, either emotional or physical. It’s explicit, but not exploitative; instead it takes risks and invites discussion. I was warned that a movie about a school shooting might engender unavoidable reaction, but I’ve always believed it’s important for genre films – despite their often-graphic intensity – to be relevant. I shot The Dead Ones in my hometown of Baltimore where I knew I could capture the gritty quality I wanted. To cast the local teens, I worked closely with Pat Moran,
who produced John Waters’ early films and went on to win multiple Emmys as a casting director.

As our main location, we found a decommissioned public school that had been built in the 1930s. Working with young actors to
elicit emotionally gruelling performances on an ambitious production with a limited budget was the best possible reminder of the challenges – and rewards – of being a genre filmmaker. Although it’s set in the aftermath of a high school shooting, my intention never was – or will be – to trivialize
this real-life horror that increasingly plagues our world. Instead, I wanted to create a disturbing reflection of modern adolescence. The Dead Ones is a film with a message of hope for outsiders.”

— Jeremy Kasten

About the Director

Jeremy Kasten

Jeremy Kasten is an American film director, producer, screenwriter and editor, best known for his visceral, cerebral, and often psychedelic approach to modern horror. His 2001 directorial debut THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS, starring Seth Green, Alice Cooper, and Ted Raimi, has been hailed by Dread Central as “one of the best mind-f#@k movies ever.” His 2007 neo-noir re-imagining of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ splatter classic THE WIZARD OF GORE starred Crispin Glover, Brad Dourif, and Jeffrey Combs was called “one of the most shocking, entertaining and best horror films of the year” by Film Arcade. Kasten has also contributed to the acclaimed horror anthology films THE THEATRE BIZARRE and THE PROFANE EXHIBIT. His other features include the 2005 zombie thriller ALL SOULS DAY: DIA DE LOS MUERTOS and the 2006 ‘vampirism as addiction’ shocker THE THIRST, which was called “the bloodiest vampire movie ever” (DVD Crypt).

Conclusion

In summary, I’d definitely recommend The Dead Ones. Whilst there are minor elements I wasn’t a fan of, the movie as a whole was pretty good. Great storyline, believable acting and a fair few nice effects. What more could you want? The only thing you need to be conscious of is the sensitive nature of its theme. Other than that, check it out!

Here’s the trailer.

The film will be available on DVD/Blu-ray and VOD/Digital on September 29, 2020 via Artsploitation Films.

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Clownface

Reviewed by Killer Kelly

Well, I really don’t know what to say about this one. I’m trying to think of some positives to weigh against the negatives. You know – try and balance it out. I gotta admit though, I’m struggling. I mean the artwork looks great! There’s a lot of nice colours in it. That tagline is pretty sweet too. However, one thing Clownface didn’t do was put a smile on my face.

Synopsis

A deranged young man, donned in a clown mask made of human flesh, terrorizes a small town with a series of abductions and murders. Neighbors Jenna (Hannah Douglas) and Owen (Richard Buck) search for their missing friend Zoe (Dani Tonks), who may be the latest victim of this local urban legend known as Clownface.  The movie is directed by Alex Bourne.

Well, the synopsis sounds great. Check out the trailer below, that looks great too! But the movie itself… it just wasn’t.

Clownface

Okay, maybe I was a little too harsh with my initial statement. The movie does have some positives. It’s just a shame that the negatives far outweigh them. Lets start with Clownface himself. That guy is creepy as hell and if the movie had been executed better he could well have had the potential to be even more terrifying.

Unfortunately, the acting is mediocre at best and cringeworthy at its worst. We’ve mentioned a few times that whilst low budget filmmaking can suffer from a number of hurdles, poor acting doesn’t have to be one of them. It’s not all doom and gloom, with Hannah Douglas’ performance keeping the movie going. But, overall the acting is pretty substandard.

There’s more…

If this was the only issue, the movie wouldn’t have been so bad. But, the editing left a lot to be desired. There were audio issues throughout, problems with scene fluidity and some blatant errors concerning the SFX. However, the makeup department did a great job with a certain scene involving the removal of a face. There were also some good death scenes but others failed to hit the mark.

The best thing about Clownface would have to be the soundtrack. Gothic Punk band, Lesbian Bed Death, deliver the hard rock in droves. With a small cameo in the movie, the band certainly give the failing flick a boost.

Have a look at the trailer and see what you think.

Clownface is available on demand and DVD now.

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Written by Macauley Jones

The Lost Boys has got to be one the best vampire movies of the 80s. Maybe even of ALL TIME! (Well, for me at least). The Lost Boys holds a lot of nostalgia for most of us and I’m sure, like me, you’ve watched it plenty of times. But, one thing that’s always bugged me is how ambiguous that ending is! Ever since I was hit with the punchline that precedes the closing credits, my mind was in overdrive!

The remainder of this article is riddled with spoilers. But, seeing as most people have seen The Lost Boys ending you should be cool to read on. If you haven’t, WHY?! Stop reading and GO WATCH IT!!!

A lot of fans will be aware that The Lost Boys ending could have been entirely different. There was a scene at the end of the movie that never saw the light of day. But that’s not what I’m referring to. However, just so we’re all up to speed, here’s the original screenplay for you to have a read over.

Sounds cool, right? But, because Grandpa’s punchline was so impactive, Schumacher et al. decided that this scene wasn’t necessary and it was never filmed.

Now, back to my theory.

As a teenager watching the end sequence I always thought it was a bit peculiar. Grandpa walking into the darkness, heading over to the fridge. Not really bothered that he’s just drove his car through his house and destroyed the head vampire. He just wants his ‘root beer’. He takes a swig and says “One thing about Santa Carla I never could stomach; all the damn vampires.” and that’s it! The end?! I genuinely thought it was going in another direction. I was almost certain that Grandpa was going to be a vampire too! And do you know what? I still think he might be!

Hear me out…

Lost boys grandpa - quickmeme

We first meet Grandpa at the beginning of the movie when he’s ‘playing dead’, yes? Well, maybe he isn’t just pretending. As we see later in the movie, those who have not fully turned lose their energy in the sun, but don’t burn. Starr, Michael, Laddie, all three of them can’t stay awake after being exposed to the sun’s rays. Maybe Grandpa is the same. Went outside to check if Lucy and her kids had arrived, felt faint and went for a snooze. What if Grandpa, like Michael, hasn’t fully turned into a vampire yet…

Don’t worry, I got more!

Later we learn that Michael can’t stand the light and has to wear sunglasses to alleviate the pain. Well, so does Grandpa! He plays it off by implying he’s only wearing them because he ‘got lucky’. But, what if he wears them because, like Michael, the light hurts his eyes. Throughout the movie we only really see Grandpa inside or driving to the Widow Johnson’s house at dusk. True, there’s a scene when he’s repairing a fence post outside during the day, but maybe he’d just had a ‘root beer’ and was feeling energetic.

And, speaking of his ‘root beers’…

The Lost Boys

Grandpa is very specific that the second shelf in the fridge is his. He states “That’s where I keep my root beer and my double-thick Oreo cookies.” But, when we see him drink one at the end, the liquid looks curiously red. Now, that may be down to the red lighting in the room. Or, it could be blood! We see Grandpa drinking his ‘root beers’ quite a few times in the movie. Maybe he’s just an old goat that likes a tipple. Or, maybe he’s trying to keep the bloodlust away by drinking the crimson life fluid! Where would he get blood, you ask? He’s got a room full of dead animals…

The Lost Boys

My theory – Upon moving to Santa Carla, Grandpa somehow turned into a vampire (I still haven’t figured that out yet…) But, rather than give in to his bloodlust and kill (thus turning him into a full vampire) he alleviates it by drinking animal blood. The Lost Boys lore states that you only become a full vampire after you’ve “made your first kill”. Maybe Grandpa refuses to kill people. He keeps the blood cool in the fridge to keep it fresher for longer. But, since blood has a shelf life, he has to keep replacing it. Hence, the taxidermy cover!

We never see Grandpa in front of a mirror, he doesn’t seem the church-going type and how did he know to burst through the wall in a sea of stakes anyway?! Was it just good luck? Or did his vampiric senses help him see/hear that his family were in danger?

Is the big twist of The Lost Boys ending really that Grandpa knew about vampires all along? My teenage brain couldn’t accept that. For me, Grandpa IS a vampire!

What do you think about The Lost Boys ending? Are there any points to counter Macauley’s claim? Can you think of anything else to support it?

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Redwood Massacre: Annihilation

Reviewed by Mike Macabre

Independent horror constantly shows us that it can rival the efforts of its mainstream counterparts. With awesome special effects, great acting and stunning locations, many could easily be mistaken for a big budget flick. In fact, only recently we’ve reviewed such movies. The terrific acting in The Legend of the Muse, the stunning scenery in The Faceless Man and the great effects in both are prime examples. Redwood Massacre: Annihilation literally has all of the above.

Synopsis

A stranger obsessed with the unsolved Redwood murders, convinces a group of bereaved family members to venture into the wilderness in hope of proving the existence of the infamous killer. Their quest for truth sees a sinister turn of events, as the hunters become the hunted. A blood-soaked fight for survival ensues when they find that the tales of the axe-wielding maniac are very real.

Redwood Massacre: Annihilation

Review

The movie opens with a massacre. The Burlap Killer strolls amongst a sea of bodies, slicing and dicing survivors amid a cacophony of wails and screams. It’s a solid opening, giving viewers a reminder of the Burlap Killer’s brutal, unrelenting nature. This is then followed with another murder by a different killer! However, he’s just as sadistic as our main antagonist.

After this prologue we’re treated to some great cinematography. It has to be said, Scotland is an absolutely stunning place. With rolling hills, winding streams and endless landscapes, you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque location. Yet, the vast majority of the movie takes place in an underground military bunker. I mean, it makes sense. The beauty of the Scottish countryside would definitely detract from the brutal murders occurring throughout the flick! Director David Ryan Keith certainly made the best decision on that front.

Whilst we’re talking about good decisions, let’s focus on the acting!

Who’s who?

Redwood Massacre: Annihilation

The film is made up of a stellar cast each bringing a unique aspect to the storyline. Danielle Harris plays her role as Laura Dempsey superbly. A constant presence throughout the movie, Harris’ convincing portrayal of a kick ass fighter is certainly one to watch. With her confident demeanour and determination it’s easy to fear for the Burlap Killer himself as opposed to his potential victims. This is exacerbated even further when you incorporate Gary Kasper. With his huge, imposing frame and menacing persona you can’t help but yearn for a face off between him and the antagonist. Add to that the huge arsenal he brings with him, it’s not your bog-standard slasher! However, the man-mountain also has a softer side when it comes to his friends. The camaraderie displayed throughout the movie is a joy to behold.

Jon Campling is great in his role as Tom Dempsey, Laura’s father. He’s driven, yet easily swayed and is happy to let his daughter lead the way. Damien Puckler plays Max, the mysterious stranger who convinces the party to go and find the masked killer. His motives are clear from the outset and he lives up to these expectations as the movie goes on. Finally, Tevy Poe‘s portrayal of Jen is the only time the director conforms to stereotype. The flirtatious friend of Laura is a standard mould seen in the vast majority of slashers, yet, she still plays a good part and ultimately I think the movie is perfectly cast.

The Effects

Redwood Massacre: Annihilation

As you can probably expect if you saw the first film, Redwood Massacre: Annihilation is rife with blood, gore and great effects. Given the small cast, we do have to wait a considerable amount of time before we get to the brutal killings, however, this just serves to build suspense. There are some great props used throughout and the creative murders are a credit to the makeup department and special effects team. There’s dismemberment, evisceration and, as you can guess, bucket loads of gore!

Overall, this movie is certainly not one to be missed and I would highly recommend it to everyone. Even if you haven’t seen the first one, you can quickly grasp the concept!

Check out the trailer here

Redwood Massacre: Annihilation is coming to DVD and Digital on October 20th from Uncork’d Entertainment.

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