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John’s Horror Corner: Nightbreed (1990), Clive Barker’s epic dark fantasy adventure pitting the “unnaturals” against the evils of man.

May 14, 2022

MY CALL:  It may not have had the budget to be recognized as such, but for me this is a horror Star Wars (1977) or The Fifth Element (1997) or Legend (1985) as it creates a world I want to spend more time exploring. Great and diverse monster make-up, an excellent and compelling epic story, intriguing world-building and a civilization-razing war. If you haven’t seen this yet, do yourself the favor.  MORE MOVIES LIKE NightbreedFor more of Clive Barker’s world-building horror, I’d recommend the double feature of Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988).

Based this on his novel “Cabal,” director and writer Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Lord of Illusions) is no stranger to crafting underworlds and populating them with twisted angels or sin-feeding fiends rich with mythology. And this film offers a diverse menagerie of monstrosities to scratch any monster movie lovers’ itch. But it also captures a strong sense of dark fantasy adventure.

Haunted by mysterious nightmares of monstrous, demonic humanoids from a world called Midian, Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer; Hellraiser V: Inferno, Fire in the Sky) keeps his therapist Doctor Decker (David Cronenberg; Jason X) concocting hypotheses to explain Aaron’s guilt, his sins, or his need to escape himself. Oddly manipulative and presumptive of Boone’s dreams, Decker feels like he could be a villain of sorts in a movie entirely his own. A subplot has a zipper-masked murderer summarily slaughtering families in their homes, following patterns described in Boone’s dreams. Decker suggests Boone turn himself in for the crimes.

After his tragic death, Boone awakens somehow alive and is welcomed to Midian, which is like a horror Neverland but with ancient laws like a religious faction led by a sage (Doug Bradley; Hellraiser I-VIII, Wrong Turn 5) you’d find in undead Shaolin Kung Fu movie. So many things about this movie smack of a dark fantasy about the rise of a cursed hero. Their underworld civilization is well-realized, a mixture of ancient and medieval, complete with a temple to Baphomet in the most abyssal recesses and prophecies painted on walls—some of which seem to  parallel Boone’s recent history.

This film pulls no punches. We see a man slice open his own face and peel his scalp from his sinew-covered skull while screaming and holding chunks of hairy scalp in his desperate hands. Latex wound work is graphic, mangled and oozy. The monsters come in all shapes and sizes like a horror Star Wars cantina, with all manner of mask and face make-ups, prosthetics, odd appendages, some amorphous, even some puppetry.

The plot yanks Boone back and forth between his new life in Midian, and his former human life with his girlfriend. Amidst this, many humans begin to discover the existence of freaks dwelling below the surface and desire to exterminate them to Biblical scale, and with only the soulless ferocity that we may compare to genocide.

The magic of this movie for me, like a standalone horror Star Wars, is that so many of the characters and creatures of Midian are memorable, have their moments, or have their representation of something of Midian’s way of life.

We are led into an action-packed finale pitting men against unnaturals, creating a collapsing fiery hellscape of Midian’s cavernous city. The battle manages to capture grand scale, and the desecrated ruins of the aftermath smack of Revelations steeped in sacrilege. Yet keeping this story more in line with fantasy than horror, is that the unnaturals are our protagonists and, despite the razing of their only sanctuary, we end with the hope that their new savior will rebuild with them. So this is basically an “episode one” for a dark fantasy adventure epic where the “monsters” turn out to be the heroes with a prophesied, Christ-like savior who must help them rebuild their civilization after their own Revelations-like war with the evils of man. Epic concepts!

Whether you love horror or hard-R fantasy, I offer my strongest recommendation. In many ways, as I’ve said again and again, I liken this to a chapter of horror Star Wars. It packs big concepts and paints a detailed world. It truly hurts me that this was not part 1 of a grand trilogy helmed by Clive Barker’s genius.

John’s Horror Corner: Antiviral (2012), a cultural sickness manifests in this “okay” Sci-Horror Medical Thriller.

May 13, 2022

MY CALL:  Director Brandon Cronenberg’s first film shows great promise in conceptualization and filmmaking, but fails to deliver in terms of story development. A decent movie I guess, but it definitely disappointed my expectations of suspense and horror.  MORE MOVIES LIKE AntiviralFor more medical horror, I’d recommend Fresh (2022).

The Lucas Clinic for the True Connoisseurs has the blaring bright whiteness of scenes from American Psycho (2000) or the Resident Evil sequels’ (2002-2016) laboratories or even Sci-Fi settings like Solaris (1972, 2002). The unrealistically clean and bright décor cultivates a sense of complete artificiality.

New client Edward (Douglas Smith; Ouija, The Bye Bye Man) is an obsessive fan of celebrity Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon; Dream House, Maps to the Stars). During Edward’s consultation with Lucas technician Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones; The Last Exorcism, Byzantium, Get Out), Syd preys on this fixation, eliciting strong emotional and infatuated responses as if deliberately psychologically intoxicating his client as foreplay… before the penetration of the syringe encapsulating a virus. Not just any virus, but the precise extracted strain of Herpes carried by the actress. And why? So that Edward could feel as if he contracted it from her, from her kiss, and feel more connected to her.

As the Lucas company profits selling celebrity viruses to their fanfare, Syd has found a way to beat the company’s security for his own interests. Only… when something goes wrong with his health, Syd faces a unique medical mystery that baffles his colleagues (Malcolm McDowell; ; Halloween I-II, 31) and co-conspirators (Joe Pingue; Maps to the Stars, Dream House) alike.

Director and writer Brandon Cronenberg’s (Possessor) first feature film is not without its merits, but it fell far short of my expectations. Where is the body horror? This story begins rather provocatively, but middles and ends into less interesting tedium with little development. What is intended as thrilling mystery ultimately falls rather flat for me, unfortunately. And whereas this film was never anything near riveting, transformative or wowing, it remains a shame that after such a titillating start it would reduce to this. It began with so much conceptual promise.

The Movies, Films and Flix Podcast -Episode 426: Pitch Black, Vin Diesel and Death Planets

May 13, 2022

You can download or stream the pod on Apple Podcasts, Tune In, Podbean, or Spreaker (or wherever you listen to podcasts…..we’re almost everywhere).

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

Mark and Norbert begin their Riddick trilogy series with the 2000 creature feature Pitch Black. Directed by David Twohy, and starring Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Keith David, Cole Hauser, and some hungry monsters, the movie focuses on what happens when a group of travelers crash land on a planet at the absolute worst time. In this episode, they talk about prison eye surgery, Keith David, and the career of Vin Diesel. Enjoy!

If you are a fan of the podcast, make sure to send in some random listener questions (we love random questions). We thank you for listening, and hope you enjoy the episode!

You can download the pod on Apple Podcasts, Tune In, Podbean, or Spreaker.

John’s Horror Corner: The Sadness (2021; aka, Ku bei), The Purge meets a bad case of rabies in this CRAZY Taiwanese viral outbreak movie.

May 12, 2022

MY CALL:  This film is extremely violent, extremely bloody, extremely cruel, and extremely graphic. I love it!  MORE MOVIES LIKE The SadnessThis would best double feature with Train to Busan (2016). For more non-zombie murderous outbreak movies, consider the likes of 28 Days Later (2002), The Signal (2007) and The Happening (2008).

I’ll give the obvious warning to those who don’t like subtitles, this is a foreign language movie—Mandarin Chinese. At least at the time I saw this, I had no access to English audio.

Quite deliberately parallel to our own COVID realities, this is about a viral pandemic in Asia over which doctors are fearful of mutations and the public is skeptical of the public health “scare tactics” employed during a major election year. The virus is claimed as a media treasure trove of hoax misinformation. That is… until a novel mutation hits the population.

This virus now induces a 28 Days Later (2002)-like rage, where a bad case of rabies from Hell infects the populace to act on the very worst they can fantasize to such end that Train to Busan’s (2016) zombie outbreak feels civil in comparison.

Those infected with this virus seem to access the darkest, most insidious fantasies, urges and compulsions in their subconscious and act on them, devoid of conscience or morals or social awareness. We witness someone dump the contents of an oily scalding kitchen fryer on a man’s head and then claw off his softened blistering melty flesh; we see disturbing things happen to disturbed elderly people; limb-breaking torture with a smile; throats and noses and Achilles’ tendons are viciously torn by animalistic biting; and exploding and slimy bludgeoned macerated heads! Director and writer Rob Jabbaz (Lake Bodom) does well making us feel it when innocents suffer.

All the while, we follow our protagonists Jim and Kat as they try to navigate the infernal chaos and reach each other, relying on the help of the rare remaining compassionate passerby. Excepting some short breaks, this movie is a non-stop deathgasm of gory violence. Gouts of blood jettison across the screen as killers’ faces are awash with sanguine ecstasy. The blood looks REALLY GOOD! And the sludgy blood and latex wound work is outstanding.

This film is extremely violent, extremely bloody, extremely cruel, and extremely graphic. I love it! Completely unfettered murderous madness. Now we know what induced that horrifying “death orgy” montage in Event Horizon (1997). Clearly, they just caught a case of Lovecraftian madness and slipped into the infernal depravity of their subconscious Purge Night after contracting this virus.

For gorehounds and extreme horror fans, this is high well-produced delight. It’s very well made, and unrelenting in its violence.

Happening (2021) – Review: An Immersive and Well-Crafted Film That’s Worth a Watch

May 12, 2022

Quick Thoughts – Grade – A – Adapted from Annie Ernaux’s 2000 autobiographical novel L’événementl, The Golden Lion (highest prize at the Venice FIlm Festival) winning Happening is an expertly crafted piece of filmmaking by director Audrey Diwan. 

In order to make Happening feel like a thriller, Diwan and her cinematographer Laurent Tangy decided that they’d use a cramped 1.37:1 aspect ratio that boxes in the main character Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei – who won a César Awards for Most Promising Actress). The decision was smart because whenever I think about the film I see close ups of Anne as she struggles to get an illegal abortion in 1963 France, while simultaneously keeping up with her college exams which will play a big role with her future as a writer. Beautiful beaches seem claustrophobic, idyllic country roads seem lonely, and dancing at bars feels incredibly un-important. The sole focus is on Anne, and her tense journey.

The film tightens the vice around Anne as the movie breaks itself up into chapters that show us just how far along she is and just how far behind she is at her school studies. With no support, she’s on her own as she doesn’t want to tell her parents, or her friends, who suggest “it’ll be the end of the world” for the single, middle-class Anne. Doctors are no help because if they give her any assistance they could be prosecuted and either go to jail or lose their practice. So, the desperate Anne decides to hunt down Mme. Rivière (Anna Mouglalis), a woman who assists women with their abortions (for 400 francs). From there, things get even more harrowing as Anne painfully deals with the aftermath.

Happening works so well because of Anamaria Vertolomei who is able to convey about 47 different emotions without saying a word. There are no visible weights on her shoulders, but it appears as if the weight of the world is pressing down on her as she walks around her beautiful rural town. Her performance is filmed in long takes that see her dealing with unhelpful friends, lying doctors, and a male schoolmate named Jean who suggests they have sex because she can’t get pregnant twice. Throughout the film she tries to abort the child herself (it doesn’t work obviously, and leads to nothing but pain), while publicly keeping up a stoic demeanor as the world closes in on itself. The cinéma vérité style is used well as the camera feels like a ghost that follows Anne around and is privy to all the private moments that the world never sees. This makes Vertolomei’s performance more impressive as she’s on camera 99% of the time and has to seem totally natural as a film crew surrounds her. You can tell that Anne just wants to scream at the world, but that would end with her being ostracized and potentially put in jail, so instead she sells her belongings  (to get the 400 francs), and internalizes a large amount of anger. 

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I do think it handles the sadness, loneliness, and desperation of Anne incredibly well. Nothing is easy here, and the movie never lets us forget that. 

Final Thoughts – It’s definitely worth a watch and I think it will be an awards contender later this year.

John’s Horror Corner: Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy (1989), a worthy sequel to a perfectly “decent” 80s classic.

May 11, 2022

MY CALL:  Good, entertaining, a worthy sequel, a bit nostalgic even, but certainly not great. This movie will best serve fans of The Stepfather (1987) and other “lighter” PG-13-ish horror fare.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The StepfatherFor more “family therapy” horror, go for Relic (2020), The Dark and the Wicked (2020), The Lodge (2019), Hereditary (2018), Pyewacket (2017), The Witch (2016), Goodnight Mommy (2014), The Babadook (2014), The Uninvited (2009), The Good Son (1993), Pet Sematary (1989) and The Stepfather (1987).

Having apparently survived his stabby demise to his previous wife and stepdaughter, Jerry (Terry O’Quinn; Amityville: A New Generation, Pin, The Stepfather, Silver Bullet) has been spending some time in a mental hospital explaining his proclivities to the in-house psychiatrist. When Jerry makes his escape, I’m given glimmers of hope that this sequel may be a bit meaner and less TV-friendly than its predecessor. But alas, when push comes to stab, the stabs remain mostly off-screen as if to make the ready transition to an 8pm Lifetime Channel thriller just like part 1. I’m not so sure this is deserving of an R-rating.

Whereas part 1 picks up with Jerry recently married to his next victim, this sequel shows us how Jerry earns the trust of a soon-to-be divorcee and her son. Carol (Meg Foster; They Live, 31, Lords of Salem) sells Jerry his new house across the street from her, and she joins his all-women group therapy sessions—as he is working as a therapist somehow.

I enjoyed seeing Jerry repeatedly losing it after moving in with his new wife in part 1, but prefer this journey which includes the skepticism and suspicion of Carol’s best friend, and the development of trust with her son (Jonathan Brandis; It)… even if it is a bit less exciting. I guess the real victory here is that this sequel, despite cycling Jerry through wife number whatever, doesn’t try to reconnect the dots of its source material. Director Jeff Burr (From a Whisper to a Scream, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Puppet Master 4-5, Pumpkinhead 2) most definitely makes this feel like a worthy sequel rather than retreading through familiar waters like so many other sequels.

Still, a little familiarity can be nice. Jerry is back to his temper tantrum shenanigans, and once again, his mania is witnessed by someone (Caroline Williams; Hatchet III, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2Leprechaun 3) who becomes a liability. But where Burr did not upgrade this sequel was in scariness—the scariest part of this movie involves a cat just doing cat things.

When Jerry loses it on his wedding day, I enjoyed his raging, homicidal tantrum. It’s not the slasher fare for which you may have been hoping, but it’s full of fun 80sness. And like Silver Bullet (1985) for Corey Haim or Friday the 13th part IV (1984) for Corey Feldman, the finale makes a worthy child hero of a young Jonathan Brandis.

John’s Horror Corner: The Deep House (2021), a French ‘haunted house’ movie… underwater.

May 10, 2022

MY CALL:  For me this was an interesting watch for reasons having nothing to do with the writing or horror, for which I did not care at all. Frankly, the “horror” aspects of this were boring and weak. Rather this is the movie you watch just to say you watched the “underwater haunted house” movie. And as it turns out, we enjoy a lot of really cool visuals. Just… none of them having to do with good horror.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The Deep HouseIf you have an itch for underwater horror (or creepy Sci-Fi) that was not scratched by this movie, then try Underwater (2020) or even The Abyss (1989).

As much as I like weird, different, unfamiliar horror movies, I was hesitant to place this high in my queue. Sure, director and writer team Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (Leatherface, Inside, Livid, Kandisha) have a strong horror resumé, including some inspiringly brutal extreme French cinema. But in my head, I’m asking myself, how does an underwater haunted house work? Then I read Mark’s review, which does not rave about the haunted house or horror elements in any way, but shines brightly on the film’s non-horror strengths. So here I am watching… and I must admit that when their guide tells them to “just follow the stairs down” to the house, talking to two people treading water in scuba gear, you have my curious attention.

Social media explorers Tina (Camille Rowe; Cosmic Dawn) and Ben (James Jagger; Sound of Violence) travel Europe and record their adventures in creepy abandoned buildings, essentially “modern ruins.” One such trek in France leads them to a lake in the woods, at the bottom of which rests a “perfectly preserved house” from an historic flood. They are led by a harbinger-like character… but, as in The Cabin in the Woods (2012), he’s the type that wants you to go somewhere.

Early in their scuba-diving adventure we learn that Ben’s gadget game is strong, fish don’t care for death metal, and Tina is a rookie scuba-diver. The cinematography tickles your eyes—it’s so different looking from the visuals we expect or know as two divers in murky water approach… an iron-rod fence surrounding a crypt and a grand manor. It’s disorientingly weird because… they just swim over the fence and hover in front of the house. The shots are gorgeous. This alone makes the movie cool. (Mark assesses the photography in more detail)

Weak “surprise” fish, creepy floating doll jump scares, shadows playing tricks on us—the movie takes its time before anything visually substantial threatens Tina and Ben. But eventually, a more haunting presence becomes obvious.

In some ways, this film reminds me of faaaar less intense As Above, So Below (2014) as our divers spelunk deeper through the house finding one disturbing oddity after another, only to eventually find themselves trapped in a way that defies logic.

Really, as a horror movie, this is weak; very poor even. Brutally honest, I know. However, true movie buffs probably need to see this. Not necessarily horror buffs, but movie buffs. Those who enjoy good filmmaking as much as they enjoy good films. Because this film should truly please and entertain a movie buff simply by virtue of the CGI-less underwater shots throughout the film.

John’s Horror Corner: The Dentist 2 (1998), a little bit meaner, bloodier, tooth yankinger, drillier.

May 9, 2022

MY CALL:  A bit bloodier than part 1, but not quite as fun in tone. Still if you enjoyed part 1, you really ought to enjoy this. It’s not like you were looking for Oscar bait.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The DentistFor more feisty “medical horror” movies, consider Re-Animator (1985), Doctor Giggles (1992), Fresh (2022) and The Dentist (1996).

After escaping a mental institution, Doctor Feinstone (Corbin Bernsen; The Dentist, Temptress, Tales from the Hood) makes his way to northern Arizona where he had apparently long-stashed away a safety deposit box with an alternate identity and a stack of cash for a fresh start. But when he encounters a small-town dentist who doesn’t practice good hygiene on his patients, Feinstone’s manic rage is incited, and he murders and replaces him.

My primary criticism of The Dentist (1996) was that it was far too light on gore, especially for a Brian Yuzna (The Dentist, Society, Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Faust, Return of the Living Dead III, From Beyond) movie. Back to direct part 2, Yuzna has returned with a bigger budget, and I’m happy with how he spent the money… somewhat.

Yikes! Drilling into bloody teeth with white chunky tooth dust showering over bloody gums get me every time. At one point, Feinstone slowly tears open his own stitches and digs his finger inside the gash to remove a shiv from the wound in his calf. Very effective for such a simple visual. The gore (what we get) is definitely a graphic upgrade from part 1—it’s just not more frequent. In a way it’s more of the same. But the tooth extractions are meaner, the drilling is longer and more macabre. Few patients (e.g., Clint Howard; Pigster, Ticks, Evilspeak, Ice Cream Man, Leprechaun 2) get away unscathed. The budget is better, but not great. There are still some cheaper, hokier effects to be found. But overall, this sequel was most welcome for me.

The downside is that all the good scenes are in the very beginning (mostly), and very end. Whereas the long middle plays out more like made-for-TV thriller/drama about a temperamental escaped mental patient with an unhealthy crush (Jillian McWhirter; Strangeland) and a mute, tongueless ex-wife (Linda Hoffman; The Dentist) tracking him down. What’s more is that the tone of part 1 was a bit more fun and feisty and playfully cat-and-mouse-ish, doing a better job expressing Feinstone’s mania. Part 2 doesn’t capture that same magic. So all told, this sequel is better in some ways but not in others. Still an enjoyable ride while well-complementing part 1.


The Movies, Films and Flix Podcast – Episode 425: Executive Decision, Kurt Russell and Straws

May 9, 2022

You can download or stream the pod on Apple Podcasts, Tune In, Podbean, or Spreaker (or wherever you listen to podcasts…..we’re almost everywhere).

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

Mark and John Leavengood (@MFFHorrorCorner on Twitter) discuss the 1996 action film Executive Decision. Directed by Stuart Baird, and starring Kurt Russell, Halle Berry, John Leguizamo, Steven Seagal, and a straw, the movie focuses on what happens when terrorists are forced to deal with Kurt Russell (Russell wins). In this episode, they talk about lucky straws, landing planes, and Oliver Platt. Enjoy!

If you are a fan of the podcast, make sure to send in some random listener questions (we love random questions). We thank you for listening, and hope you enjoy the episode!

You can download the pod on Apple Podcasts, Tune In, Podbean, or Spreaker.

John’s Horror Corner: The Sonata (2018), a poor man’s The Ninth Gate (1999) favoring music composition over rare books.

May 8, 2022

MY CALL: An interesting premise with a well-told story. But where is the horror in this horror movie? There’s basically none. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Sonata: Another recent film finding horror in stringed instruments would be The Perfection (2018).

After the death of her long-estranged and transformatively famous music composer father (Rutger Hauer; Bleeders, The Hitcher), concert violinist Rose (Freya Tingley; Hemlock Grove) inherits all that was his, from his music to his sprawling 11th century French estate. With his passing comes the discovery of his most precious, and yet unfinished work: a sonata. But it is cryptically mystified with symbols.

In the spirit of The Ninth Gate (1999), these symbols are meant to open doors between worlds and much labor is required to decipher them. Rose’s agent Charles (Simon Abkarian; Casino Royale) works with her to crack the code and unveil the meaning of these symbols. However, it seems that how her father came to use these symbols is as disturbing as their meaning.

The journey had me ever curious, but never satisfied. There are basically no scares or gore or… this is more like “telling” me a horror story “on-screen” than actually showing me one. Too bad. It’s acted well, shot well, overall made very well.

This is the kind of horror that begins interesting, but ultimately offers way too little, way too late. The premise was intriguing, as were many of the plot points along the way, but it just never delivered at any point during this sluggish movie. Moreover, the “big ending” felt completely unearned. Too bad. I was hopeful. However, as far as the filmmaking is concerned, director and co-writer Andrew Desmond (Galaxy of Horrors segment “Entity”) did well for his first feature film. He just needed more horror in his horror movie.

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