Janelle Monáe stars in Antebellum directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. The duo directs a horror/ thriller centring around a modern day black woman who finds herself trapped on a 19th century Southern slave plantation. Now I have to say I loved this film, thought it was a very original concept, the cinematography is amazing it and had one of the twistiest twists I’ve seen in a long time (Obviously not gonna spoil such a new film). But as much as I enjoyed it for its originality, it does feel a tad under developed on pretty much everything. Monáe is a pretty seasoned actress but doesn’t have much to work with, in the role of academic Veronica. There’s some needless scenes inserted into the film seemingly for the trailer teases and every character could be fleshed out ten times more. Antebellum lacks a clear message, it’s so unsure of what wants to say or why it’s saying it which is probably the most disappointing thing of all. It’s a film with massive potential but lacking the directors to see it through. But hey that being said I found it intriguing and a great addition to the genre.
Michael O’Shea directs this chilling, coming of age drama about two alienated kids living in the New York projects, with a shared bond of vampires and horror films. The film follows troubled teenager, Milo ( Eric Ruffin), who is prone to violent outbursts and ritually kills people and sucks their blood, until his stomach turns on him. Guess little kids shouldn’t drink blood, who knew. Milo’s obsession with vampires and blood manifests from childhood trauma, as Milo wraps his murderous tendencies in the vampire myth to set himself apart from the thugs who stalk his building and their own form of violence. The vampire fascination acts as a form of escapism from his life of neglect in the projects. Milo’s blood obsession gets thrown into chaos with the introduction of fellow loner, Sophie (Chloe Levine) who stirs something new within him ,love. The Transfiguration is a tender and tragic love story, combing the vampire elements of Let the Right One In with the emotional impact of Moonlight.
William Crain directs another famous work of literature, with a very very loose adaptation of the Jekyll and Hyde story. Dr. Henry Pride (Bernie Casey) is a doctor working on a cure to reverse long term liver damage with the regeneration of cells. Shock horror things do not go as planned, and Henry gets bitten by a lab rat testing out his serum which has a ghastly effect on him – turning him into a white monster. Henry also volunteers at the free clinic which also doubles as a thrift shop? Here he treats prostitutes, sure where else will we get the needless nude scenes that last ages? One of his regulars/ love interest, Linda (Marie O’Henry), cites how Pride only volunteers here to clear his conscience by helping out the black community once a week. A community which he seems to separate himself from. Linda draws attention to how he’s a black man pretending to be white in a white world and how he probably drives a white car (which is later revealed to be true).
It is at the clinic where where he gets the unethical idea to trial his experimental drug on sex workers. So, the film basically follows him in his quest to try this drug on pimps and prostitutes whether they agree to it or not until he’s taken down by the police. It’s a strange film altogether with one of the misleading titles ever. The title’s ‘Dr.Black’ never appears, once Pride injects himself with the serum his inner dualism splits into two people. His evil persona turns his skin white, his hair and eyes lighten, and he becomes the monster the black community have been criticising him for appropriating, the white man. Other blaxploitation films usually present the monster as a black avenger and as a figure who represents black pride or resilience, but here it is more complicated as Henry turns into an evil white monster who is hellbent on to help cleaning up the issues within his community but actually is just trying to get rid of the black lower class thus presenting himself as a controversial figure in black horror. Overall, this is a goofy film that takes itself way too seriously and has a serious pacing problem. The plot is just downright ridiculous and the whole thing just veers off into ripping off King Kong by the end. Not a patch on Crain’s previous smash hit, Blacula.
“For a lot of my life, I’ve struggled with being believed. The truth doesn’t always come with a receipt. Sometimes all we have is our word.”
J.D. Dillard directs this creature feature / survival film that centres around a lone survivor, Jenn (Kiersey Clemons), who washes ashore on a small island after her boat sinks during a storm. Over the next few days, Jenn discovers the graves of people who have previously visited the island and quickly realises that she is not alone here, as a creature surfaces every night from the ocean to feed. What follows is a nightly game of cat and mouse as Jenn must use her wits to survive and escape the island and this deadly creature. Sweetheart is an extremely lean and mean film, clocking in at around 82 minutes total but packs a decent punch. Sweetheart just jumps straight into Jenn washing ashore and adapting to island life, there’s not a minute wasted here.The film is short and simple, operating mostly with a single character in a single location set up but manages to keep your attention throughout even though this is a castaway type story with little dialogue. This is a film that has a limited budget but never feels as such, the creature design isn’t the best but Dillard operates with the ‘Jaws effect’, by only giving the audience a glimpse of the creature during the first half of the film for maximum effect, one scene in particular where Jenn’s uses a flare gun at night which perfectly outlines the creature rising from the water in a deep crimson. Clemons does a great job carrying the film alone for the most part and is a great example of a resilient, black final girl who utilises all she can in order to survive.
“It’s easier to build strong children than fix broken men
While Gerard McMurry’s first film, Burning Sands, is technically classified as a drama, McMurray certainly proves that he has some serious horror chops with this terrifying glimpse into the horror of college hazing. Set in Frederick Douglass University, an historically black college, the film follows a group of male freshmen who are trying to pledge themselves to the fraternity house, Lambda Lambda Phi. All five men must undergo the ruthless hazing process in order to prove themselves worthy of a coveted spot in the ‘brotherhood’. Ah toxic masculinity the greatest monster of all. Zurich (Trevor Jackson) a bright student who for some reason, maybe down to his own father not joining the fraternity while he was a student, is desperate to drop everything in his life in order to join LLP including his girlfriend and studies. Zurich and his fellow pledges must survive ‘hell week’, a tradition that subjects newcomers to severe beatings and humiliation. Things go from bad to a complete shit show when the sadistic frat boys take it too far and things quickly spiral out of control. Burning Sands is a masterclass in dread, as each scene oozes with the possibility that anything could just combust at any second and renders its audience completely shell shocked by its conclusion.
The brutal hazing of the new pledges resembles a form of slavery, the irony of it all is that this brutality is occurring within the Frederick Douglass University, the namesake of legendary abolitionist and a site of black cultural and intellectual freedom .The desperate need for acceptance within this ‘brotherhood’ in exchange for essentially one’s freedom and individualism is a worrisome concept especially in a college environment when students are out in the world discovering themselves and dipping their toes into adulthood. It is a harrowing sight seeing these five young men go through countless beatings and humiliation to join a frat house with such disregard for their own bodies. Each man has his own reasons for joining of course but at its core they seek to be accepted by other men and crave the opportunities that aligning oneself to more powerful men can provide while either in college or in the future. The desire to be part of something important drives these young men to accept repeated forms of dehumanisation, simply because the fear of being called “not a real man” is far more dangerous and harmful than any broken bone could ever be . The real terror here is the lengths that these young men will go to in order to prove their masculinity. And for that reason alone, Burning Sands is definitely the scariest film on the list so far.
But you are responsible for the lives you’ve taken… for the dreams you’ve turned into nightmares.
Rusty Cundieff’s, Tales from the Hood, is an iconic urban anthology series from the mid 1990’s that is still as sharp and current as ever. Broken down into four short stories where the themes deal with issues that affect the black community. The stories are framed by a creepy albeit chatty funeral director, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III), who chats away to a trio of drug dealers looking for drugs at the funeral home. Simms chats away to them, explaining the stories behind the bodies in each coffin.
The different segments detail real life issues that affect the community against the backdrop of horror and biting humour, such as police brutality, domestic abuse, institutional racism, and gang violence, respectively. My favourite tale being the third segment which centres around a racist Southern governor/ former Klansman, who has taken up residency in a former plantation house, a site of countless atrocities against slaves. The souls of these slaves were placed in little dolls by a voodoo queen, where they ‘awaken’ when the ignorant, racist governor moves in to seek their bloody revenge. This segment has some impressive scenes with stop motion animation and filled with powerful imagery reflecting the racist history of America then and highlights that not a lot has changed now. Tales from the Hood is one of the strongest horror anthologies, mainly due to having the one director with a singular vision. Every segment has great performances, each one well written with sharp social commentary that maintains terrific pacing throughout. Unlike other anthologies there is no ‘bad or boring episode’ each one is just as good, important and relevant today as it was in 1995 which I guess is the real horror of these stories, the cyclic nature of these issues. But hopefully in the future we can all break the chain and choose when this nightmare ends? Who knows it’s Sunday I’m feeling optimistic.
Black Box directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour is a sci-fi/ horror, released as part of ‘The Welcome to Blumhouse’, 8 film deal on Amazon Prime. Black Box centres around a recently widowed father, Nolan (Mamoudou Athie), who is struggling to raise his young daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine) after losing both his wife and his memory in a car accident. After months of frustration, Nolan seeks out an experimental treatment from neurologist, Dr. Lillian Brookes (Phylicia Rashad). Nolan begins to remember fragments of his past but it’s a past that does not line up to what his friends and family have told him. He begins to question himself and the man he is/ who he was before his accident while digging further and further into his dark subconsciousness. Black Box may some obvious comparisons to a great episode of Black Mirror or Jordan Peele’s Get Out, as both visually convey similar sunken places within the Black subconsciousness but Osei-Kuffour is a capable writer/director that can stand on his two feet with this unnerving feature, and one that showcases a promising career in horror with its creepy ass imagery. All the performances here knock it out of the park, but particularly child actor Christine, as Ava brings adds a devastating quality to the film as she tries her best to leave little reminders for her dad and tearfully begs him not to forget her.
Black Box excellently conveys the true terror of what it feels like losing your memory, your mind and what it means to lose a piece of yourself within these lapses. Dr. Brookes’ experimental ‘black box’ is a computer program of the virtual reality-type, that collects and projects core memories into a a patient, forcing Nolan to relearn how to walk in his own shoes, remap memories in a skin that just does not seem to fit, as something feels unfamiliar but also uncanny at the same time. Nolan embarks on a journey to find himself again which leads him down a dark and twisty path. Black Box is a truly terrifying horror dealing with the fallout of head trauma and how this trauma within one’s own mind can manifest into a repressed monster from the depths of a person’s damaged core memories. Which leaves you questioning who or what you are deep down.
Although lacking in traditional horror and scares, Kasi Lemmon’s directorial debut, Eve’s Bayou is a beautiful Southern Gothic drama that has an air of being eternally haunted. Our narrator, a young girl named Eve (Jurnee Smollett) sets up the narrative with a chilling introduction, “Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, some imprinted indelibly on the brain. The summer I killed my father, I was ten years old”. The film charts the dissolution of Eve’s family life through the eyes of a young child, with elements of magical realism in the form of Eve’s psychic aunt played the captivating Debbi Morgan and a local voodoo witch, Elzora (Diahann Carroll).
The events surrounding the film all take place during a sweltering summer in 1960’s Louisiana. Eve’s family are the ideal picture of a perfect family, to the outside world they are blessed with wealth and own their land, her parents are respected around the community and throw lavish parties. Her father, the local doctor, the charming Louis (Samuel L. Jackson), is celebrated by his neighbours and idolised by his daughters, however Eve’s image of her perfect family is tainted when she discovers that her father is constantly unfaithful to her mother which drives her to wish him dead through voodoo. Turns out dad gets around doing them house calls and he is anything but subtle. The rest of the film deals with how Eve and her relatives deal with the fallout of this reveal and how everyone’s memory reflects a different image of the past to suit what they want to see rather than what happened. Characters constantly try and manipulate Eva’s perception of the past to keep the rose-tinted glasses firmly on for themselves. Emphasising how two sides of the same story can be vastly different in the eye of the beholder, which becomes clearer with the film’s ambiguous ending. Eve’s Bayou is a work similar to that of Faulkner, Harper Lee or Tennessee Williams in how Lemmons’ perfectly captures the stifling atmosphere of the south and how that creates a claustrophobic environment as toxic family secrets spill out in the open air.
Colm McCarthy’s, The Girl with all the Gifts, is a sci-fi/horror that turns the zombie genre on its head. The film is set in a future where a fungal infection has whipped out most of the human population. If one becomes infected, you turn into an uncontrollable cannibalistic zombie of the 28 Days Later Speed variety. Our girl with the gifts is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a bright young girl of the hybrid second generation, a type of child who has been exposed to the infection and who craves human flesh but when not triggered by they can still think, talk and live like a human child. The children are kept under strict restraint in shocking conditions, isolated in an army base to be experimented on by the cruel Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) in the hopes of finding a vaccine. After a terrifying outbreak occurs at the base which leaves Melanie, Caldwell, and some other survivors on the run, in search of another facility before they are picked off by the many ‘Hungries’ they encounter on the way.
The Girl with all the Gifts, deals with the themes of agency and difference in relation to a modern zombie apocalypse. Melanie constantly questions Caldwell’s methods on the road and draws attention to how truly unhuman most of humanity is, while society still views her as the monster when she really isn’t that monstrous compared to other folks in the film. Caldwell constantly asks too much from Melanie, who everyone seems to forget is a sweet, curious girl at heart. The film’s interesting conclusion completely shatters the hero/Jesus trope of cinema by having a defiant Melanie essentially doom humanity (as we know it) but not giving up her own life for the greater good (whispers the greater good), and in doing brings forth the dawn of a new age where humanity as we know it is done for. But hey that might not be a terrible thing. McCarthy subverts our expectations of the zombie genre by shining a more empathic light on the Hungries by asking us what if we, the humans, are the problem? And this is simply nature’s way of cleaning house. Just like Romero and Boyle, McCarthy has inserted an iconic film into the zombie canon, one that speaks to me more and more during these dark, Covid times.
“I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom. Without these things, I am nothing. So now, I must shed innocent blood. Come with me.”– Candyman
Bernard Rose directs a masterful thriller centred around the fear surrounding an urban legend and the effects it has on the community who have created a bogeyman-like entity. Candyman revolves around a young graduate student, Helen Lyle ( Virginia Madsen), researching urban legends for her thesis with particular interest surrounding one local legend about a figure named Candyman, played by the wonderful Tony Todd. The legend states that if his name is said in front of a mirror five times he’ll appear and kill you using his hooked right hand. The legend originates from the Cabrini-Green project, a predominately black neighbourhood that is ravaged by crime and antisocial behaviour. The residents of Cabrini-Green believe the legend to explain away their circumstances in the neighbourhood. Since all the crime that occurs here is placed upon the mysterious Candyman figure leaving the residents to hide in fear, unable to change their fate. The lack of outside help from police and the government further adds to the isolation of the neighbourhood fuelling the legend and the criminals who piggyback off it. Candyman is definitely not without its faults as it involves the depiction of a black serial killer who comes across rather predatory. Candyman’s background reveals he that he was killed by racists around the 1800’s for simply falling in love with a white woman, but when he comes back from the dead he chooses to punish his own people in a housing project rather than, well, actual racists?
This aside the film does draw attention to the systematic racism that occurs around us every day from the top down, the lack of police presence in the projects, how the city just isolates a whole community, essentially abandoning them to a life of crime and even Helen’s unwanted presence in Cabrini in the first place. Helen just glides through the projects shielded with white privilege that aids her the entire film a luxury none of the characters of colour get to enjoy. Candyman is a modern classic, that uses the bases of a ghost story to draw attention to the very real social-economic issues that can plague a community for decades. It also has a wonderful score by Philip Glass and is anchored by a magnificent performance from Todd as the cool as ice entity who haunts the tower block.
Wes Craven directs this updated 90’s Blacula tale with Eddie Murphy in the lead role as Maximilien ‘Max’, a vampire from the Caribbean islands who comes to New York City in search of a mate, in the form of the half human, half vampire Rita (Angela Bassett). Rita is a headstrong cop working on a murder case, mainly down to the arrival of Max, and is unaware of her inner vampiric nature. The film follows Max on his quest to turn her with the help of his ghoul, Julius, played by the hilarious Kadeem Hardison (Def by Temptation). The story is simple enough albeit if it makes zero sense to anyone other than Max and is by far nowhere near Craven’s best work. Angela Bassett kills it as Rita, a curious cop with a question mark over her past. Bassett really is this film’s one saving grace as her character is fully fleshed out, realised female lead that ends up saving herself rather than waiting around for her passive, hollowed out love interest, Detective Justice, (yes his actual name) played by Allen Payne. Eddie Murphy is basically being Eddie Murphy in various roles which do generate some laughs, particularly him as the white Italian gangster but he has seen better roles. Vampire in Brooklyn is a little anaemic on horror or comedy and doesn’t really add to or update the vampire horror but one that doesn’t use up too much brain power in the process so perfect for a lazy Sunday like today.
Joe Cornish directs Attack the Block, a cheeky horror comedy, about a group of teenagers that must defend their council tower block from alien invaders. The London night sky is decorated with beautiful fireworks, when a gang of hooded teenagers, led by Moses (John Boyega) decide to mug nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home. At the same time, the night sky becomes ablaze as meteorites begin to hit Earth, unleashing a sea of aliens crash-landing all-around South London. The timing could not be worse as this invasion means that Sam and her hooded assailants must put their differences aside and work together to survive the night. Attack the Block is a hilarious and touching social commentary about how hard life on a council estate can be, especially for a young black man. Cornish quickly reveals the tough lifestyles these kids have, peeling back their tough exterior with humour by reminding us that they are most importantly kids beneath these threatening hoodies. And while this does not excuse their dangerous and threatening behaviour, it shines a light onto why they act this way. The character of Moses highlights the perils of living in a place like this as he is hunted by not just alien creatures but also the figure of the tower’s crime boss, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) who seems intent on dragging Moses into a life of crime selling drugs around the block, a cycle which Moses, seems intent to break by defending the block in an attempt to redeem his previous crimes by the end.
The film highlights just how fast these kids have to grow up on the estate when it’s relieved that Moses is just 15 and basically alone in the world apart from his friends who he acts as a guardian to. The young cast do a terrific job here alongside Whittaker whose character sways back and forth in her feelings towards these kids (well to be fair they rob her). But it’s this honest portrayal that makes her interactions with the kids more engaging, as Sam is a forgiving person but never lets them forget the trauma that they have inflicted on her. Attack the Block is a sharp social commentary about life on a council estate, aliens and alienation in youth culture wrapped up in a charming action adventure horror.
A charming comedy horror that draws attention to the vampiric nature of gentrification that occurs in urban communities, as a horde of literal vampires break into the real estate industry to devour the Bronx and its inhabitants by purchasing local businesses with notions of replacing them with overpriced cafés, thrift stores with a never ending selection of hummus. Obviously, the vampires then go on to kill these people on top of killing the sense of community in the area so it’s double trouble. And shock horror all the vampires are old white people who constantly attack and drain the blood of minorities in these underprivileged areas, where the promise of a life changing sum of money proves to be too much for most of the local business owners. Stay woke y’all.
The story follows three teenage boys, led by ‘Lil’ Mayor’ Miguel (Jaden Michael) who are on a quest to save their beloved bodega from foreclosure. The kids stumble across the vampires’ plan and must enlist the help of their neighbours, including a strangely comedic performance from Method Man who plays the local priest, to save the Bronx from the undead and trendy shopfronts. The story is simple enough and the social commentary is as subtle as a brick but the message behind it is well handled and makes for an interesting horror premise. This is a film with real personality and was just downright enjoyable to watch from Netflix. We all need a little more joy these days. It’s a light-hearted horror that is both fun and funny and just filled with really great performances from everyone, particularly the young actors had wonderful chemistry together and their friendship was definitely a strong point. There are some nice nods to previous vampire films like Nosferatu director F.W Murnau, Salem’s Lot and Blade which give the film a meta quality to it. The Bronx itself feels like a character in its own right, as this melting point of diversity from the jump. The vamps comment that the Bronx is a perfect place to set up shop as it’s a place that “nobody really cares about when people go missing” but their plans become thwarted due to the outpour of community spirit in the neighbourhood’s time of need. As the people of the Bronx rise up and reclaim their neighbourhood, the level of community spirit here would melt anyone’s cold dead heart. So check this out on Netflix now if you need a little warm coming of age comedy horror in your life.
“Uppity? With you? My dear, talking to you means I look nowhere but DOWN!”
– Diana ‘Sugar’ Hill
Sugar Hill is a fun zombie blaxploitation film, set in New Orleans and follows Diana ‘Sugar’ Hill played by the wonderful Marki Bey, as she enlists the help of Baron Samedi ( Don Pedro Colley) to enact her revenge on the mobsters responsible for the murder of her fiancé. Sugar strikes a deal with the Baron, who lends her his army of the dead to slowly pick off the gangsters one by one. It’s safe to say that these guys don’t have a chance in hell as A. they’re up against Sugar who is pretty fierce herself, the Baron who is basically a god and a horde of reanimated zombies and B. they’re actually very incompetent as both gangsters and general humans themselves which makes all the killings pretty easy. So, while there’s no real tension in regards to who will win this fight, it’s just a really entertaining film with a great black heroine at the lead that makes for a refreshing watch.
The return of the Voodoo zombie is another interesting element to this film, as unlike the Romero zombie, these ones are more preserved bodies than rotting flesh and display strange alien-like eyes with an unnerving fixed smile that sets them apart from other films and it works really well because they genuinely are terrifying. Their bodies are in New Orleans as a result of the slave trade, taken from New Guiana and left to die in the fields due to sickness so when summoned by the Baron they arise as if planted in the fields wearing potato sacks and chains reminding us of their brutal past. The Baron now takes over as the role of master here, reversing the narrative of the past by punishing the new ‘master’ of the area, mob boss Morgan (Robert Quarry) in the present. Sugar gives the Baron a run for his money when it comes to payback and comes up with some very inventive ways to punish those who have wronged her and all while wearing a stunning white catsuit and afro combination, creating the ultimate image of a badass horror heroine. Sugar Hill is a fab and funky revenge film that presents us with a different image of the zombie in American cinema.
“Honey, I’ve given you something there’s no cure for“– Temptation
James Bond III (honestly his real name) directs Def by Temptation, the title alone makes me roll my eyes already. A story about two young men in New York City who become entangled with a demonic succubus, who spends her nights stalking men in bars and well let’s say she’s quite the maneater. James Bond plays Joel, a young soon to be pastor, who escapes from the quiet life of North Carolina to pay a visit to his friend K (Kadeem Hardison) but the visit brings him more problems in the form of the demon, Temptation (Cynthia Bond) rather than some much needed R & R. This film should just be called ‘Creeps of New York, Get Their Comeuppance’ because pretty much every man in this film that approaches a woman in a bar seriously need a course in ‘how not to be a total predator’. Safe to say there is a lot of toxic masculinity floating around this film with a load of creepy men objectifying women endlessly (you’d miss the 90’s), so it feels pretty good when these dudes meet their bloody ends at the hands of the vampiric Temptation.
Like 1974’s Abby, the theme of female sexuality is represented as something tempting, alluring but ultimately deadly and something that must be feared and eradicated. But unlike Abby, I didn’t get the sense that there was some deeper feminist subtext as the succubus character is a very one dimensional villain when compared to the more fleshed out male characters, as the focus pulls towards the friendship between Joel and K and the age old motto of ‘bros before hoes’. Also this could be because by the third act we take a more Christian turn when Joel takes on the succubus with the help of the good book which provides us with a flashback to a very young Samuel L. Jackson as his father. This scenes with his father and the origin of the demon seem a bit wishy washy and added last minute to give Jackson something to do for his whopping 5 minutes of screen time. The overall aesthetic of the film looks great, all down to cinematographer Ernest Dickerson (Bones, Demon Knight), who gives the film a cool 80’s flair with its lightening, costuming and set designs. The acting stands up and the succubus kills were fantastic and were a very visually appealing pay off to the endless creeps present throughout the film. Only downside is that it kinda lags by the third act as it takes its more religious turn. But for a Troma picture it could have been a whole lot worse so all in all it’s a decent enough 90’s horror detailing the true terror of dating in the Big Apple.
Coming straight off the heels of The Exorcist’s success (so much so that Warner Bros sued for copyright infringement) comes William Girdler’s Abby. Abby is a Blaxploitation horror dealing with an African sex demon, Eshu, who after being released from an ancient relic possesses the body of the titular Abby played by Carol Speed. The film introduces Professor Williams, played by Blacula star William Marshall, explaining to his ragtag bunch of students all about his upcoming trip to Nigeria and spewing a lot of exposition about a trickster demon named Eshu. We skip to Nigeria where the good Professor inadvertently releases a demon from its vessel and from some unexplained reason the entity makes it all the way back to the States to possess the young body and soul of the Professor’s god fearing daughter-in-law, Abby. Why is this happening we do not know. But the rest of the film follows Abby’s transformation from a good church going girl to a sex crazed succubus with quite the potty mouth.
Abby is an entertaining Exorcist influenced cash cow with more holes in the plot than a wheel of Swiss cheese. The film does keep good pace with Abby becoming possessed early on, wasting no time by getting to the meat of the film and has a string of great kills. The demonic effects and gore look great. Overall, it is a good possession horror that gets to the point and does the job. ‘Simples’ as the meerkats say.
While it is pretty evident the film is going for the ‘black exorcist’ market, I think Abby can also be viewed as a feminist battle cry, unapologetically putting the fear of god or more so the fear of black female sexuality on the big screen for white audience members to squirm uncomfortably in their seats. At the turn of the 19th century black women were viewed by society as immoral, hypersexualised beings, whose bodies were a source of ‘temptation’ to white men. This disgusting and backward view allowed for the exploitation of black women’s bodies for the next two hundred years and this underlying fear of black female sexuality never really disappeared. And we all know that female desire for sex is always viewed with fear and as something that must be controlled, especially within horror. Fast forward to the mid 70’s and we get a brave little film that is unafraid to portray a black woman obsessed with sex and one who goes out onto the world demanding it and ripping men apart in the process. To me this was quite revolutionary for the time. Abby is a film that does reaffirm some dangerous tropes but similar to Blacula, it places Abby in a position of power for once in her life allowing her to let go of upholding the image that the men in her life want her to project: that of the nice, dutiful, church going pastor’s wife. And perhaps in them doing so, suppressing her own sexual desires to the point where it burst forth in the form of the demon as an act of revenge on the patriarchy.
Be afraid, be very afraid boys.
“No, pop. I don’t think your past is dead. It’s alive…” – Patrick Peet
Snoop Dogg stars as gangster Jimmy Bones in this attempt at a revamped Blaxploitation ghost story hybrid. Director Ernest Dickerson’s Bones attempts to dip its toe into ‘gentrification horror’ but let’s face it this ain’t no Candyman. Four teenagers led by big brother Patrick (Khalil Khan) invest in a dilapidated manor (how they can afford a down payment without alerting their parents, I’ll never know but sure look). These urban teens with their noughties street wear, (ah the nostalgia but damn nothing from here ages well) , have big dreams of turning this desolate space into the next big nightclub on the wrong side of the tracks. Little do they know the manor is the site of the murder of an old crime boss of the neighbourhood, Jimmy Bones, who returns from the grave to wreak his revenge of those who have wronged him. Bones has all the elements needed to make a great urban haunt film, but everything seems half baked and lacks the vision to completely knock it out of the park. The film is undecided in where it wants to fit tonally, is it a ghost story, is it a revenge tale, is it newly vamped Blaxploitation? No, it’s a whole lot of nothing which is disappointing as it has the bare bones of a great story (I’ll try stop with the puns).
There is also the massive pacing problem that occurs here, we do not get to see a fully regenerated Jimmy until an hour and three minutes in. There are some clips of his decomposed body regaining its fleshy function after every time a dog kills someone? Also why is there a dog here at all? Is it simply to give Ginger Snaps actress, Katharine Isabelle, something to do for the first half? Again, who knows. Sad to say Snoop Dogg meanders as the villain, he simply lacks any sort of imposing presence or real menace that would warrant you breaking into a sweat and literally just floats around with a smirk on face and not a lot else. Let’s face it Snoop Dogg is playing Snoop Dogg just dressed in 70’s gear. The symbolism of the derelict manor rotting the surrounding community is lightly touched upon. But it is disappointing that this theme is not capitalised on more. We are led to believe the ghost of Jimmy awakens at the very start of film, as a result of the teenagers entering the house in hopes of breathing new life into this space for commercial use. But it is a slow aul process to get Jimmy to fully rise so the message here is lost. When Jimmy does rise and begins to stalk his prey, we flash back to an nostalgic look at the old streets in this now rundown neighbourhood but nothing really develops alongside these nostalgic scenes in relation to his quest for revenge. Surely if Jimmy Bones cared for his community which now has become ravaged by the effects of drug related crime it would be a far more satisfactory story to avenge the fall of the neighbourhood as well as your murder since the two seem to go hand in hand? Basically I just wanted more of everything. There is the added subplot that Patrick’s father, Jeramiah (Clifton Powell ) was Jimmy’s former friend has spent years and a lot of money to escape the neighbourhood he grew up in. He states his reasoning was a bid to give his family a better chance at life. His rejection of who he is and where he comes from would have been an interesting added complexity but again this was something that is left to dry out rather than be explored. The whole thing feels like this Bone should have just been left buried out the back somewhere. Ok I’ll stop.
Ganja & Hess is a vampire film like no other. No lie I was often like “wait what is going on?”. Contrary to the title which was aiming to cash in on the growing Blaxploitation genre and a not so subtle nod to marijuana as an allegory to how marijuana can bring a little consolation to a disappointing life. Ganja & Hess is an experimental art film that is a more of a mood piece than a stereotypical commercial vampire film a kin to Blacula. The story follows the affluent academic, Dr.Hess Green played by Duane Jones (Night of the Living Dead), who becomes afflicted with vampirism due to being stabbed with a cursed dagger by his unstable assistant George Meda. The story follows Hess’ struggle with his vampiric tendencies and a love story slowly unfolds with the assistant’s widow, Ganja Meda played by the magnetic Marlene Clark.
Gunn wanted to showcase a different, more nuanced image of black culture so opted to portray an image of an elevated, successful, black academic which went against the usual deceptions of the black lead in most Blaxploitation films and in American cinema in general. Ganja & Hess reimagines the vampire film and likens the curse to that of drug addiction and the struggle that goes on within an individual, and deals with themes of alienation and religious isolation . James Hinton’s cinematography has a surral, nightmarish quality to it to reflect how distoratating the thirst for human blood truly is, the power that addication plays on the mind, body and soul.
Hess’s constant craving for fresh blood and his immortal existence leave him feeling empty and detached. It is only with the introduction of Ganja, that he begins to feel again and wants her to join him in sharing this eternal existence. While the pair embrace their vampiric nature for a time but just like a new hit that comes and goes, this blissful hedonistic life only satisfies him briefly, until Hess becomes despondent once again and seeks salvation in arms of the Church.
Gunn evokes a surreal sound scape filled with gospel music and echoing coupled with unusual, strange camera angles that give the film a real sense of imbalance to this world and creating a visually rich (albeit confusing) film. It is a film that challenges you with how this story is presented and how things unfold. Gunn definitely goes against the grain, in regard to a traditional narrative and flips the vampire gerne on its head. Surprise surprise it did not go down well with audiences at the time! While Ganja & Hess is certainly a slow burn and not everyone’s cup of tea, it is an iconic piece of black indie cinema and black horror. And certainly goes down in history as a vampire film that peels back the layers of a now tired subgenre and injects an element of individuality and rawness that still to this day has not been matched.
Dir. Stephen Norrington
Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill– Blade
In a pre-Matrix world came Blade, an early Marvel adaptation that revolutionised both the action and the vampire film by combining impressive stunt sequences and horror into one. Wesley Snipes’ Blade marked one of the first black superheroes onscreen and paved the way for other Marvel successes down the road. Snipes stars as the title’s Blade, who happens to be both a vampire and a vampire hunter at the same time. Blade being a vampire hybrid himself allows him to pretty much have all the benefits of a vampire without the negatives; he has super strength, he can walk around during the day, garlic does not affect him and he has cool leather outfits that come with being a vampire. The film follows Blade as he tries eradicating the world of vampires in a bid to avenge his own mother who died during childbirth due to a vamp attack. Blade immediately had my attention in its opening scene set in a vampire blood rave at a slaughterhouse, because of course 90’s vampires would be raving in blood. GENIUS.
It is a weird film in the best way in how it blends its horror, action, and gothic elements together to create a real meaty, well thought out world. It is a bloody and brutal film that gives it a real bite (mind the pun there) and never shies away from going down the goriest route possible. Peppered with brilliant performances from the cast such Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff, Donal Logoe and N’Bushe Wright, it’s safe to say it is Snipes who steals the show. Snipes’ Blade is a badass, charismatic antihero and his performance is anchored by this ferocious physicality and who comes across as a prototype Wolverine in ways. While the CGI and some plot points seem a bit ropey now in 2020 it never takes away from the how fun this film is mainly due to Snipes and the excellent action sequences. More vampire blood raves I say.
You shall pay, black prince. I shall place a curse of suffering on you that will doom you to a living hell. I curse you with my name. You shall be… Blacula! – Count Dracula
William Crain’s Blacula, is the blaxploitation horror that kickstarted a whole wave within horror that remained a constant through the rest of the decade. Is it a perfect film in how it handles representation? No. But it’s still a great film, anchored by an excellent performance by William Marshall. Crain manges to inject some topical quips about the faults within the LAPD regarding black victims and the lack of urgency in investigating these crimes . A police officer remarks how the first few vamp attacks must be the result of the Black Panthers. Good aul’ institutional racism alive and well.
Marshall stars as the titular Blacula, a cruel name given to him by Count Dracula in the 18th Century after he curses him with an eternal life doomed to be a vampire. Marshall plays an African prince named Mamuwalde who travels with his wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee), to Transylvania to seek Count Dracula’s help in abolishing the slave trade. Safe to say Dracula is not keen on ending slavery. Who knew that would happen? The Count starts boosting about buying Luva as a ‘compliment’, and curses Mamuwalde to live forever trapped as a vampire named Blacula, imprisoning him in a coffin. Robbing him of his name, his life, and his liberty. We flash forward to the present day, the early 1970’s in L.A where a gay couple have purchased all the antiquities of Count Dracula’s castle, inadvertently releasing Blacula onto the city. Blacula goes forth, feeding on predominantly black victims before he falls for Tina (McGee, in a double role) as a reincarnation of his wife. Blacula is a very strange film to unpack, on the one hand the vampire curse passed down from Dracula is a form of enslavement to punish Mamuwalde seeking freedom for slaves and acting out of turn. Mamuwalde is punished by this white man and condemned to become this animalistic creature that cannot deny its blood lust. Essentially making him less than man. This idea is reinforced in the costuming of Blacula, where he resembles more of a wolf man, a more animalistic form than the traditional ‘sexy, seducing’ image that we normally associate with the vampire genre. The film then follows the character of Blacula subsequently passing the exact same form of enslavement he once was against onto other black souls.
Alternatively, this is the first time where we have a black character in horror who is the powerful monster rather than just being portrayed as ‘monstrous’. Making Blacula more of an antihero, doomed to this life through circumstances not in his control. Marshall adds a dignified quality to the role and never drifts too far into the overly camp territory as he successfully manages to convey the dichotomy within Blacula. This is a vamp who is torn between the addictive desire for blood and his beloved Tina. The romantic storyline allows Blacula to redeem himself by showing that there is still a piece of humanity left within him, realising that once he lost his love again there is no place for him in this world without Tina. Ultimately Blacula is a moving tragedy set against the backdrop of a horror. Where the figure of Blacula/Mamuwalde becomes a symbol of black pride and resilience rather than a staple monster.
Damn this was a bleak watch but one that surprised by how it got under my skin. The Lodge, written and directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, is another entry into the new cinematic world that is “arthouse horror”. Following in the footsteps of obviously Ari Aster’s breakout hit Hereditary and other modern horror heavy hitters like The Babadook, The Witch and Goodnight Mommy, the latter of which was also written and directed by Franz & Fiala. The Lodge shares a lot of the same themes with its predecessor albeit slightly more understated on the horror aspect. These ‘slow cooker horrors’ are slow burns that take their time ramping up the tension with its dark and atmospheric cinematography, eerie choice of music and specifically focus on family tension on the cusp of boiling over. The slow cooker horror mixes all the above together and is nothing without three necessary ingredients: grief, mental illness, and trauma.
The Lodge begins bright and airy as Laura (Alicia Silverstone) meets up to talk with her husband Richard (Richard Armitage) , who announces that he wants to make their separation official and get a divorce so he can marry his new younger girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). Laura takes the news well as she returns home to shoot herself in the head, a move that came out of left field so fast and furious it was reminiscent of the opening of Scream – So I knew we were onto a winner here less than ten minutes in. Six months later the kids are still hostile towards their dad’s girlfriend. Richard wants the kids to finally get to know Grace, so he invites her to spend the holidays with himself and the kids, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) in their country home. The lodge is an isolated cabin that seems perpetually plunged in darkness with jagged corners and endlessly long corridors thanks to cinematographer Thimios Bakataki. This lodge is where the coldness from outside always seems to trickle indoors no matter how many times you light the fire. And surprise the cabin happens to be miles from town and now covered in a beautiful blanket of snow as the Winter weather begins to quickly turn.
What could possibly go wrong? Well father/ boyfriend of the year Richard, rushes off to go back to work taking the car, leaving his new girlfriend alone with his frosty kids who go out of their way to ignore Grace’s efforts to bond. The three are essentially trapped in the lodge as things begin to take a sinister turn for the worse. On top of the extra pressure of being a soon-to-be stepmom, who’s kids exhibit an open dislike towards her on account of them blaming her for their parent’s separation and their mother’s subsequent death, Grace herself comes with quite the chequered past. Grace grew up in a Christian cult lead by her father, she was the sole survivor of the cult’s mass suicide at age 12. So, you can imagine the sort of childhood trauma she had to come to terms with and you can sense just how uncomfortable she is in the house not only surrounded by traces of Laura but Laura’s Catholic iconography. The religious imagery brings about reoccurring nightmares of her past, so it is safe to say she is on edge in her new maternal role. Grace relies on her daily meds and her dog Grady to maintain a sense of balance and order in her life. Once Richard sets off the trio all fall asleep watching films, Grace awakens the next day to find the power gone and everything missing from the decorations, to the food in the fridge, their warm clothes, her meds and even Grady. The house appears to be wiped clean, as if all traces of themselves have been erased. Without power, food, transport or charged phones things start to look bleak for the three as hunger and paranoia sets in and elements of the supernatural start to come into play.
The Lodge is a well-crafted psychological thriller that is unafraid to cut deep to the core and genuinely shock its audience not with outright horror, which some horror fans may feel disappointed with, but instead with a degree of horribleness that took me by surprise. There is no escaping that The Lodge seems to have borrowed heavy handily from Aster’s Hereditary and I have no doubt that it will be plagued with comparisons whether intentional or sheer luck but the strength of the story itself outweighs the striking similar visuals which allows it to stand on its own two feet. Plus, for me The Lodge’s ending doesn’t go off the deep end the way Aster’s films tend to explode at the end but manages to implode in very controlled and claustrophobic manner.
The action centred around The Lodge consists of an unsettling level of cruelty that befalls Grace especially as a person that has already suffered from past trauma as these occurrences begin to affect her grasp on reality as she struggles within the environment. The twist revealed early in the third act is certainly disturbing but not unpredictable, however the last 20 minutes that follow definitely surprised me at just how quick things turned from bad to worse leaving you with a sense of utter devastation afterwards. While the story of The Lodge seems, a tad lean and it lags slightly in the middle the film is anchored by the three strong performances notably Keough, who has now established a name for herself in indie horror. Keough brings a quiet vulnerability to the character of Grace, as a person who is overwhelmed from the jump as she tries to be accepted by the kids but whose face is often difficult to fully get a read on her in order to know what she’s truly thinking.
It is a film that leaves its audience with a lot to unpack afterwards. There is the question of morality in the face of extreme pressure, the idea of pushing someone to the very edge to right a wrong. There is a debate to be had about the representation of mental illness here, I for one thing that The Lodge is an improvement compared to past attempts such as Lights Out. The Lodge explores both the power and problematic nature of belief. The religious element within the film highlights just how delicate the line is between organized religion and fanatic dogma and emphasises the pressure each puts on the minds of young people. The Lodge offers a chillingly refreshing take on the cabin in the woods isolation film while it draws our attention to the new major themes that have been embraced by arthouse/ modern horror such as grief, trauma, and familial tension. It picks apart these ideas of the supernatural and the trope of the mentally unstable woman and turns them upside down to great effect.
Now that we’re several weeks into quarantine here is a list of some very on brand horror to add a dash of extra stress to our daily lives
1. Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelle, 2019)
Unfortunately, Bacurau’s Irish theatrical release was derailed due to Covid-19 but thankfully it had a virtual release on MUBI to save the day. Bacurau is a psychedelic acid trip come quasi-Western holding a mirror up to the current ultraconservative Brazilian political system. The narrative, centred around Teresa’s (Babara Colen), return to her rural Brazilian village of Bacurau days before the death of her grandmother. After the matriarch passes unusual things start to happen in the village. The water in the village has dried up and now controlled by corrupt authorities via a truck and often used to threaten the villagers to stay in line, soon all the phones lose signal, the villagers notice that the village is no longer on any maps thus cutting them off from the world by removing every trace of Bacurau from GPS and coupled with a UFO like drone that pops up one day which hovers over the inhabitants watching their every movement ensuring that nobody leaves. It becomes clear that this little village is under attack and the residents of Bacurau rise up and reclaim what is theirs.
This is one of my favourite films to come out of 2020 (I know the numbers are low at the moment) but it feels like a satirical hallucinogenic trip into a dark dystopian future one that I am 100% here for. The script itself is quite bare bones but operates under the rule of less is more and boy does that work well . There is quite a lot of very detailed political allegory here specifically to modern Brazil and for the most part I’m not sure I fully got the ins and outs because I obviously do not live in Brazil but the general themes of corruption, the isolation of small towns and capitalist greed appeal to wider audiences across the globe and is an ideal watch during the current self-isolating climate. It’s a bloody, surreal Western hybrid that combines a black mirror like storyline with some Leone/Jodorowsky-esque visuals.
4/4 – Bacurau available to watch on MUBI for a limited time.
2. REC & REC 2 (Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza, 2007 and 2009 respectively)
Much like the format of Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 Halloween 2, REC 2 picks up immediately after the events of the first film. This means that both REC & REC 2 are best watched back to back as the plot twist of the first film which while revealed late into its third act seems quite random and introduced a bit too late in the game. This later makes sense when REC 2 picks up and goes into greater detail surrounding the plot twist of the first instalment. This film’s narrative is centred around the unique combination of sub genres within horror and sets itself apart in the zombie genre, creating a fresh perspective with the introduction of new technology which helps shake up the characters and locations that are occurring simultaneously . This second wave of new characters are far more realistic, most have a decent head on their shoulders, as they are trained professional so are better equipped to face the zombies in the building which adds an extra layer of suspense as this second lot seem to have a fighting chance unlike the first group.
REC is a Spanish found footage film set mainly in an apartment block in Barcelona. The found footage format is introduced by tv presenter, Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), who is documenting working life after hours in a fire station along with her cameraman, Pablo. The station receives a call out to a building so a team of firefighters, Ángela and Pablo head out to investigate. The team and the residents quickly get sealed into the building by the authorities, as they are told of a contagion in the building and thus begins our standard issue zombie/ contagion film as the residents are quickly picked off one by one and the infection spreads. Now REC is a pretty standard issue found footage zombie horror which annoyed me. The characters are unlikeable due to their own stupidity. I really dislike when characters in horror films act like they have never seen a horror film or know the basic rules of how infection spreads, honestly have these people never had a cold? I think that what irks me the most the downright negligence of basic hygiene here. Just when I think REC is a wasted watch director, Jaume Balaguero, throws in a delightful curveball, the introduction of demonic possession and the Vatican. The combining of two sub genres this late in the game was a risk, it defiantly added some fresh blood to a genre that was getting over done by 2007 after the success of 28 Days Later but for me it was a tad too late into the film but when watching REC 2 straight after it became a much better film as director, Paco Plaza, goes deeper into the religious elements within this contagion film and breathed new life into the genre. It feels that these two films would have been better combined into the one. As much of REC feels like you are very much going through the motions of a zombie found footage flick before you are rewarded with new meat in the form of REC 2 which has an abundance of plot twists and takes the found footage format to new and interesting heights and surpassing its predecessors in every way from camera work to effects. The REC series spans on another two films and I have yet to complete it but for the most part the end of REC and continuation of the story in REC 2 is a game charger in a dated genre and worth the watch. In my old age I just do not have the patience for bad quarantine characters who do not have their head in the game and do not know how a virus is spread. Pass the hand-san por favor!
3. The Room (Christian Volckman, 2019)
No no this film has no mention of Tommy Wiseau there is only so much horror we can endure during this global pandemic. Instead this film follows young couple, Matt (Kevin Janssens) and Kate (Olga Kurylenko), as they move from the city to a secluded run-down mansion in upstate New York. On paper the plot sounds boring: couple moves into creepy house, creepy things follow. But I was pleasantly surprised here, when Matt and Kate move in it is revealed that a double murder occurred here ( obviously not informed by the retailer hence why it was a steal). Soon the couple discover a hidden room that grants an unlimited number of wishes. What could be better? The pair soon have an never ending supply of cash, famous works of art and bottles of champagne as the house is quickly filled with heaps of beautiful things but the one thing they want but cannot naturally have is a child. Enter the room! Secrets and rules are eventually revealed as the film goes on, the main one being that what’s created in the room cannot leave the house. While lacking in much traditional horror, The Room leans more towards sci fi action than supernatural as I originally thought before watching which was a nice surprise. The actors who played Matt and Kate do have great chemistry initially, but the steam seems to run out midway through the film and you start to care slightly less about them and their relationship. However, it is a decent watch and the concept of a room that gives you whatever you but with the catch being one cannot leave speaks to my self-isolating heart.
2/4 – The Room available to stream on Shudder
4. The Platform (dir. Galder, Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019)
Most films but particularly horror films tend to have characters in dire situations and throughout the course of the story, makes its audience’s mind wander and question; what would I do if I was in this situation? How would I act or cope? Could I kill someone in order to survive another day? This is what will be running through your head the entire 93 minutes that make up The Platform. A Spanish feature set in a square tower like prison, with an empty square set in the middle of every cell on each floor with many above and below you. Everyday a platform is lowered laden with food that descends upon each floor staying for a few minutes at each level allowing the two cellmates per floor to eat. The lower the platform descends; the less food is left for the unlucky people below until it eventually it is empty before it makes it to the final level. The rules; people are allowed to bring in just one object, to store food is forbidden and quickly punished, prisoners are assigned to a new level every month, their lives in fate’s hands as anything beyond 50 is considered a death sentence. Our protagonist is Goreng (Iván Massagué) who checked himself VOLUNTARILY into the prison for a fast pass diploma and to kick his smoking habit, two birds one stone, right? Goreng’s item is the novel Don Quixote how thoughtful. His cellmate is a psychotic little fella named Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), who is in here on a murder charge and his item is a self-sharpening knife, how practical.
Much like the naïve character of Don Quixote, Goreng’s journey mirrors that of the hero’s in the novel. Goreng entered the prison wide eyed and innocent thinking it would be a sort of detox but quickly realises that there are only a few ways to survive in this world if you happen to be placed on the wrong level. After learning first hand the true hardships that come from hunger and the effects the tower has on people’s psyche, Goreng repeatedly tries to make the prison a better place for the community below him rather than just himself. The lack of food turns people selfish as they metaphorically pull the ladder up after them instead of sharing the food equally among the levels and not so metaphorically shit on the unfortunate people below . The Platform is rife with social commentary and an extremely relevant watch in today’s current pandemic as we routinely see panic buying and people purchasing way more than they need meaning there will not be enough for everyone in the future. It shines an ugly light on humanity throughout as Goreng is constantly trying to uphold his moral compass in the tower but succumbs in order to survive. The Platform is a brutal and unsettling watch but a fantastic one peppered with so many layered characters throughout acting as angels and devils to Goreng during his journey. A difficult watch at times as systemic greed and individualistic selfishness dominates the story, as the majority fail to help their fellow man but it does end with a glimmer of hope hinting that all is not yet lost.
4/4- The Platform available on Netflix
5. Housebound (Gerard Johnstone, 2014)
This New Zealand horror comedy tickled my fancy as it’s protagonist, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly), a repeat young offender gets sentenced to house arrest at her mother, Miriam’s, house. After Kylie gets caught attempting to rob an ATM, she is fitted with an ankle monitor to ensure she does not leave the house and her 8-month sentence begins in the confines of her childhood home. She considers her mother and stepdad to be dumb bores and does not hide her animosity towards them in their own house, dictating the use of the telly, eating everything she can find and generally just being downright rude and unhelpful. The first 20 minutes of Housebound is tough to get through as Kylie is just so awful and unlikeable it does turn you off watching but if you keep going with it, her hard exterior softens slightly and she morphs into a fierce horror heroine. Miriam thinks the house is haunted and claims she’s seen things in the past but Kylie, always the negative Nelly shuts her down constantly until she starts to have doubts herself and remembers more and more from her childhood.
Housebound takes you on a roller coaster ride of genres as initially we think it’s a straight up haunted house film but then takes several twists and turns as a murder mystery enters the mix. There is nods to early Sam Rami and Wes Craven throughout the film. The humour works well as it’s not too burden down with joke after joke instead opts for a mix of deadpan and a lot of sarcasm lightly scattered among characters. It is an entertaining watch and one that is very relatable right now if it feels like the walls are closing in on you and the folks are melting your head.
2/4: Housebound available to stream on Shudder
6. 10 Cloverfield Lane (dir. Dan Trachtenberg, 2016)
A psychological thriller and the second part of the Cloverfield series sees Michelle played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Howard (John Goodman) engaged in a claustrophobic battle of wits in an underground bunker waiting out a mysterious chemical attack on Earth. After a fight with her boyfriend Michelle drives off upset and crashes her car only to wake up in a bunker with Howard, her rescuer/ kidnapper who tells her the world is under attack and they must stay here underground indefinitely. Trapped she must tip toe around Howard’s unpredictable nature in hopes of getting an opportunity to escape. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a brilliant isolation film that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish, just when you think things cannot get any worse for Michelle things routinely go from bad to apocalyptic. At the end of the day our quarantine could be worse, I mean you could be stuck with Howard…
7. Shivers (dir. David Cronenberg, 1975)
Well this film is a Covid-19 audience’s worst nightmare, not a single pair of gloves present in examination scenes, no facemasks and a blasé attitude to social distancing when the infection is revealed. Big amateur hour levels in this film. While watching Shivers I wondered if after this lockdown is lifted, we will all turn into mindless sex zombies at the first smell of freedom… we can only hope.
Cronenberg’s feature debut is this glorious little B movie, video nasty that follows a parasitic outbreak in a high-rise luxury apartment building located on an island. The residents fall victim to a grotesque tape worm that makes it way around the building turning its victims into zombies with nothing but sex on the brain rather than eating brains on the brain. While Romero changed the face of the zombie genre, Cronenberg decided to give it some extra razzle dazzle and by razzle dazzle I mean up the gross out body horror element by adding a slimy parasite that is passed through sexual encounters (not much consent present) and sprinkling it with every god damn sexual taboo known to man from incest to turning minors. Only Cronenberg aye?
Shivers is an interesting zombie film because it goes against the grain of the genre here. The outbreak is neatly explained via a manmade parasite with the intention to spread to the world rather than a unexplained event or freak accident. The zombies themselves do not lose all sense of being and are not rendered mindless cannibals, they maintain their personalities and the ability to speak, plan and act. These zombies crave something other than just human flesh but desire carnal relations with anyone no matter race, age or relationship or familial status. There’s no nice way of watching this as the zombies go around raping and turning people into more zombies. The sexual attacks are not graphic, but you get the picture. Shivers is a bold and disturbing directorial debut but one that maintains amazing pace with a never dull moment as the horde grows infecting the building with sexual depravity.
The most challenging thing about writing a review of Bong Joon-hon’s Parasite is the awkward fact that I am encouraging people not to read reviews about this film but instead go in blind and let this sensory overload wash over you and to bask in the bizarre, brutal and breath-taking cinematic experience that makes up Parasite. Yes, it’s been called a masterpiece, yes it will probably go down as one of the most thought-provoking films of the year or subsequent decade and yes that may sound like it’ll be over hyped and I may be the fiend who cries wolf. But will it matter? Absolutely not. Because as much as the word “masterpiece” or the phrase “the must-see film of the year” gets thrown around a lot, Parasite is the film that will put real meaning back into all those empty words and promises to the cinema goer. I’ll try keep this short and sweet and relatively spoiler free only discussing light plot. What we have here folks is a deliciously jet-black comedy rife with social satire wrapped up in a truly beautifully crafted film.
For the people who may have over hyped the level of panic that is created in the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems, they need to see how the master does it in Parasite. Joon-ho and co-writer Han Jin-won have created a nail-biting piece of cinema, a dark comedy of manners that will have you leaving claw marks in your cinema seat from stress. Parasite starts off slow by introducing us to Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) and his family, the Kims live in a subterranean flat on the edge of the poverty line and the narrative follows this group of crafty con artists as they try to rise up towards a better social standing. The Kims are cunning and practical and this adult family do what they must in order to survive, be it fold pizza boxes for cash to opening their windows and exposing themselves to chemicals during a neighbourhood fumigation in a bid to nab some free extermination to rid their pest problem. Upon receiving a strange gift their fortune begins to change dramatically. Kim Ki-woo is given a cushy opportunity from his childhood friend, an English tutoring gig at the home of a wealthy teenage girl. And thus, the Park family enters the mix. Armed with some decent forged papers and an inherited skill of being a natural charmer Kim Ki-woo quickly gets hired by the Parks and it isn’t long until he starts paying the favour forward so to speak. Soon the pair of families quickly become entangled within each other lives.
Parasite is a highly original concept with a remarkably constructed production design. This film has got more levels to it than Shrek’s onion. The wealthy Parks live in a beautiful, modernist multi-story house with an open plan kitchen area overlooking the pristine gardens fortified from the outside world. Shout out to the location scout on this film- my god what a find. While the Kims live in squalor, living hand to mouth from the depths of the city their subterranean flat cruelly just provides enough sunlight for them to see a world that is literally and metaphysically out of their reach. As the film goes on, we learn that things are not as they seem as the Kims stumble upon just how low desperate people will stink to in order to survive. What follows is a chaotic series of misfortunate events that start off harmlessly enough but then quickly snowballs into complete and utter pandemonium reaching a Greek tragedy like conclusion as the toothpaste simply cannot be put back in the tube.
Joon-ho’s film deals with a growing class divide emphasised via vertical camerawork to show the distance between the two families’ social status. This divide is not just within South Korea but the world, as Parasite shares thematic similarities with Jordan Peele’s Us and Hirokazu Kore-ede’s Shoplifters. Highlighting that this ever-growing class divide is literally plunging the poor or disenfranchised below ground to be out of sight and out of mind. It is worth noting that Shoplifters and Parasite have both consecutively won Cannes prestigious Palme d’Or. So, watch out world Asian cinema is knocking it out of the park. Parasite for me is a shoe in for best foreign language picture at this year’s Oscars and I would love to see it break Hollywood convention and snatch Best Picture or Best Director too. From its sharp script, masterful direction, stunning production design and the most charismatic cast ever to grace the big screen it’s easy to see that Parasite will go down in history as one of the most entertaining and thought provoking films of the year and potentially the next decade in regards to its tackling of social commentary relating to the elite upper class absentmindedly stepping on the underprivileged again and again. The greatest thing about the film is there is no evil family here, no right or wrong person as the actions of these people are not driven by malice but survival for the lower class Kims and ignorance on the side of the wealthy Parks who do not even realise that they surround themselves entirely around people who serve them.
Parasite asks a question drawing attention to the notion of kindness among the rich, as the Parks’ kindness is noted among members of the Kim family before reaching its mind bending third act. The Kims ponder over their actions, the Kim patriarch, Kim-taek (played by the brilliant Song Kang-ho) points out why would they not be nice they’re rich? Why wouldn’t the rich be nice? Parasite follows sets of families, from different classes living and working in close quarters to each other but where one set must constantly be overly careful to not cross the line, overly polite when their ‘superiors’ repeatedly cross that line blurring the boundaries they do not set themselves. It is always the Kims that must be overly nice to their wealthier counterparts as to not draw attention to the invisible line that divides them making the Parks uncomfortable of the wealth gap between. That is the faux niceness of the rich that enrages Kim-taek, the privileged Parks make the rules and repeatedly break them and still greedily want everything from their poorer counterparts but always at arm’s length. The film is a multi-facet combination of genres; comedy, drama and horror all working together to highlight the toxicity of living in a capitalist culture where we literally consume and discard people from lower classes without as much of an afterthought as long as it’s disguised in a nice and polite manner to avoid making the elite uncomfortable.
Catch Parasite in Irish cinemas from 07/02/2020
Within the first 20 minutes of The Witch Robert Eggers made a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with within horror. Eggers’s The Witch, alongside Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows paved the way for a new age in modern horror, introducing mainstream audiences to the idea of ‘sophisticated horror’. Genre films blessed with a wide enough theatrical release to show the world an elevated, toned down style of horror cinema often emphasising the breakdown within a family or relationship dynamic showing the horror as a symptom of this.
Eggers’s first film set in a 1600 Puritan colony showed that he was unafraid of a challenging shoot using mostly natural light, shooting mainly outdoors in a forest and who can forget the most challenging element of all: Black Philip the goat who tormented the cast and crew on and off set. Whereas the tasks required of The Witch were hinting that Eggers is a bit of a masochist. It is safe to say The Lighthouse certainly proves it with its rough weather conditions during shooting, rocky landscape and the use of pesky seabirds makes The Witch and Black Philip look like a walk in the park. To make things a little harder Eggers decided to shoot on black and white 35mm with an unusual aspect ratio of 4:3, Eggers certainly had his work cut out for himself but it’s clear to see all the pain and anguish I’m sure this set oversaw was well worth it in the end as the final product is a bizarre mingling of genres taking inspiration from an unfinished work by Poe and the theatrical style of the likes of Beckett and Pinter examining how two men slowly lose their sanity as the isolation of their situation overwhelms them. Basically it’s Waiting for Godot but by the sea and they just drink kerosene, fart, cry and there’s a bird that has it out for Pattison. Truly something for everyone.
Set in the 1890’s, we are introduced to our two characters Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattison), a young man on a contract job as a wickie for four weeks on a remote island off the coast of New England. Winslow is sent to assist the full-time keeper, Thomas Wake (Williem Dafoe) an older superstitious former sailor who has lost more than a few social ques as he potters around farting in front of his new colleague constantly drinking on the job much to Winslow’s displeasure. Throughout the film Wake makes Winslow carry out all the mundane and arduous tasks that he does not want to do himself instead opting to solely tend to the light within the lighthouse unwillingly to share the work. Winslow grows suspicious of Wake coveting the light for himself and refusing to share duties fairly. The four weeks on the isle get abruptly extended due to a sudden storm possibly caused by Winslow’s rash actions towards a gull. The storm causes their mutual dislike to turn into a volatile drunk love/ hate affair as the two have only each other as the weeks bleed into supposed months of isolation while rations and more importantly alcohol dwindles as the concept of time becomes obsolete and both men start losing their grip on reality. Winslow begins to grow suspicious of Wake as his behaviour and obsession over the lighthouse becomes more and more bizarre as he catches Wake naked worshiping the light and suspecting he may not be alone up there. Throughout The Lighthouse Eggers evokes some elements and imagery from the Prometheus myth but with a more Lovecraftian flair to it, Pattison’s Winslow mirrors the god Prometheus as he tries to steal a glimpse of the light for himself resulting in clashes with his Zeus like counterpart in the form of Wake.
There is a bi-polar like nature to the film regarding the concept of perspective. The Lighthouse is mainly seen from Winslow’s perspective after all he is the newcomer with fresh eyes open to observing the aging Wake’s odd behaviour. However, most of the scenes are skewed due to both characters being blind drunk causing the audience to question the reliability of Winslow as a honest observer at all. Both men distrust each other greatly and this is magnified under the influence of alcohol resulting in violent outbursts then cutting to crying or laughing then repeating the cycle again making it difficult to tell who can be trusted here. This distorted view that haunts The Lighthouse is emphasised in Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography, the camera drifts from room to room with it’s tight, box like aspect ratio of 4:3. The narrow, controlled camera work mirrors the distorted vision these protagonists are trying to present to each other reflecting Egger’s intention to withhold or hide information from his audience. The camera repeatedly scales the length of the lighthouse, slowly gliding up and down tall and narrow, showcasing the great distance between the two men and how after a while the lighthouse itself morphs into an almost omnipresent being that both men become drawn to like moths to a flame. It’s light casts down on the guilty Winslow shining a light into his past.
Dafoe and Pattison both give powerhouse performances here, Dafoe masterfully handling many lengthy tongue twister filled monologues undertaking the difficult syntax of the time like a duck to water or more like a pirate to the sea. His gruff sailor’s accent is both foreboding and melodic, sure I could listen to Dafoe put a curse on my head all day long. Thomas Wake is a salty, grumpy old timer who relishes in winding up Winslow at the dinner table and the scenes of the two together getting drunk around the table are some of the best in the film. Pattison matches Dafoe in performance going toe to toe with one of the greats again proving himself to be a force to be reckoned with onscreen, as his Winslow slowly becomes unhinged violently lashing out reacting to Wake’s constant orders and nagging. The film juggles with perception versus reality, god versus man, young versus old, Eggers has some key themes that he dances around, but The Lighthouse is very much about the journey to madness and the effects of isolation and how a touch of alcoholism, especially the effects of kerosene can fuel good old fashion paranoia simple as. The Lighthouse is more focused on the atmosphere and style than the what may or may not be happening to our characters onscreen which may cause some audience members to be confused genre wise feeling that they were cheated of a traditional horror with scares but it’s clear from both his films that Eggers is a director that does not make life easy for himself and one that is not too concerned with simply being boxed into one genre or one style of film-making . It’s a dark, moody, oddly comedic farty film that will have audiences both laughing out loud one moment and slightly repulsed the next.
Catch The Lighthouse in Irish cinemas from 31/01/2020
In celebration of International Dog Day, I decided to take a look at some of my favourite doggy horrors and have realised that maybe man’s best friend isn’t so friendly after all…
1. Cujo (dir. Lewis Teague, 1983)
‘Shockingly’ the first to kick off the list is based upon yet another Stephen King novel. Cujo, the tale of the cute St.Bernard turned killer beast all down to a single bite from a rabid bat. Cujo then goes on a blood soaked rampage finally setting his sights on mother and son, Donna ( Dee Wallace) and Tad (Danny Pintauro), trapped in their car. The pair face off in a game of wits against the crazed rabies infected Cujo whilst fighting the elements as their time exposed in the hot car leads to the very real possibility of death by dehydration.
The film is a perfect example of an isolation movie were the premise is summed up in one or two lines and on paper sounds like it does not have much to offer. But in the simplicity of the story lies the brilliance, at the end of day dogs especially really really big dogs are scary all on their own but a rabies induced one is downright terrifying. It’s simple plot works down to two main things, one being the incredible cast, Wallace and Pintauro, who was just six at the time did a fantastic job portraying genuine fear in a realistic situation. Second being the use of real special effects mainly with the dogs, it should go without saying that the use of real dogs is what makes this film so suspenseful but the effects crew applied a combination of sugar mix and eggs whites to the dogs faces to create the truly menacing ‘rabid look’. Cujo works so well to this day as it is entirely real and believable , it is not beyond the realm of possibility for a once cuddly and cute dog to turn rouge and use it’s brute strength against us. Teague highlights this in an early scene in the film when Tad’s dad states that there’s nothing to be afraid of because monsters are not real (technically correct), however vicious dogs on the other hand…
2. White God (dir.Kornél Mundruczó, 2014)
Watch this at one’s own risk, for there will be tears upon tears upon tears. This Hungarian drama is shot more like a documentary through a dog’s eye as it deals with how harsh and cruel humans can truly be to ‘man’s best friend’. White God is centered around a young girl Lilli recently a child of divorce being forcefully separated from her mixed breed dog, Hagen. Hagan is taken away by animal control due to a nosy neighbour and Lilli’s father refusal to pay for his dog license. White God follows Hagan’s journey as he is repeatedly abused by the humans he encounters causing him to finally snap and rise up with hundreds of other fellow stray dogs in a dog rebellion seeking revenge upon the humans that have wronged them.
White God can be read in many ways, the dogs can represent the underclass of the city and how they are treated or it can be taken straight up as humans suck by being cruel to innocent creatures like dogs for no real reason except as a form of entertainment. Mundruczó and his cinematographer Marcell Rev do an excellent job in framing these brutal dog fighting sequences with just the right cuts that evoke the most visceral audience responses ( note that no animals were harmed in the making of this film and these scenes were shot with dog trainers using a combination of hand held cameras to create the dizzying effect of the fights ). It is also impressive that there were no CGI dogs involved, all the street scenes where filmed with real dogs many of whom were from actual shelters and the majority thankfully were adopted because of this. White God is a tough watch but a necessary one showcasing how humankind can view animals like dogs and other pets as just pieces of meat, not for eating of course but for entertainment and once that job has been fulfilled they can be discarded. Just be sure to hug your good boy after this watch.
3. Frankenweenie (dir. Tim Burton, 2012)
Shifting the tone to something a touch lighter number three is the black and white stop motion animation Frankenweenie. Based on the 1984 Disney short of the same name also directed by Burton, this Frankenweenie expands the original story about a boy and his dog. The premise deals with a young Victor Frankenstein and his beloved dog Sparky, when Victor’s dad encourages his son to try out for baseball and leave the lab for a bit everything goes awry when poor Sparky gets knocked down by car chasing Victor’s first home run ball. Terrible luck the Frankensteins. But all is not lost when Victor enlists the help of a mad scientist to reanimate Sparky with electricity but word of Frankenstein’s shocking discovery travels fast and the town’s children start reanimating their beloved pets with disastrous results.
It is clear that Burton knows animation and knows how to use it to tug on our heartstrings. The choice to make it black and white is a refreshingly bold move , one that draws you in more so than if it were in colour. The use of black and white is one of many nice callbacks to horror cinema throughout the film. Frankenweenie is a wonderful extension of his original idea from the eighties both funny and touching, dealing with the universal pain we have all felt as children: losing your first pet and that desire to just bring them back no matter what. It is a film about outsiders and not fitting in (even though I will never understand how bringing back your dead dog and others deceased pets makes you a freak?).
4. Baxter (dir. Jérôme Boivin,1989)
This French drama features a white pit bull, the title’s Baxter who uses voice over narration to tell his story. Baxter is quite violent and antisocial exhibiting murderous tendencies in search for his new owner and boy is it very French. Baxter is given to an elderly lady by her daughter and grows tired of her frailty, longing to be owned by the young couple across the road. In a fit of rage Baxter kills her and ends up being cared for by the couple until they have a baby and he gets neglected by them.
Baxter finally finds his favourite master (third times a charm) in the form of a young boy named Jean. This is almost an anti dog film as Baxter is a twisted take on the ‘a boy and his dog narrative’ seen in other films like Lassie and Frankenweenie as Jean teaches Baxter to sit and stay, he also tries to teach him to kill. See Jean is a bit of a sociopath and a big fan of Hitler , he calls his own girlfriend Eva Braun and now is in the market for a Blondi of his own. Baxter likes Jean’s firmness with him and respects him as his master but Baxter deep down is truly is own master up until he cannot refuse a direct command losing his autonomy.
Boivin’s Baxter is an extreme example highlighting the dark underbelly of a dog’s love for it’s master hinting that it may not be love after all but a fear of us humans driving them to obey.
• Alien 3 , dir. David Fincher, 1992
• The Thing, John Carpenter, 1982
• The Hills Have Eyes, Wes Craven, 1977
• I Am Legend, Francis Lawrence, 2007
Since the 8th August is now officially international cat day I decided to take a look at some of the best cat related horrors over the years. Below consists some films portraying cats as noble domestic heros, crazed feline villains, characters of comic relief or a source of unimaginable tension either way there’s many kitty related horrors to go round that are simply the cat’s meow.
1. Pet Sematary(dir. Mary Lambert, 1989)
Kicking off this list is none other than the original Pet Sematary, one of many on this list written by one Stephen King. Pet Sematary is centred around the Creed family who have recently relocated to the quieter more rural Maine escaping the bustle of city life. Unbeknownst to the Creeds their new home just so happens to back onto a creepy pet sematary filled with the deceased pets of the local children who are typically mowed down on the dangerously busy highway facing the Creed’s front garden. Questionable real estate issues aside the family move in with their two young children and grey British shorthair, Church. Soon however the call of the road takes poor Church and afraid to break the news to his children, father Louis Creed along with the help of his neighbour Jud embark on a journey to go deep into the real pet sematary in order to bring back the beloved pet back from the dead. Things do not go to plan as Church does indeed come back from the grave but with a new bad attitude and stinky coat. What follows is the age old morality tale of best let sleeping dogs, cats and dead children lie because sometimes dead is better…. Pet Sematary has slowly become an 80’s cult classic, toeing the line between genuinely terrifying with it’s final slasher scene and absurdity of a killer toddler.
2.) Cat People (dir. Jacques Tourneur 1942.)
A 1940’s low budget American horror from RKO pictures, sets itself apart from other monster movies mainly being dominated by Universal at the time, by barely showing the monster in order to heighten the mystery and tension-certainly down due to the budget. Cat People is the story of Serbian woman, Irena who moved to New York. She believes that she is descended from a race of cat people who turn into cats when aroused or angered. She meets a Oliver, nice boy at the zoo one day by the panther enclosure and the pair shockingly get married soon after. Irena is consumed by the fear that she is one of the cat people so in order to prevent a transformation the pair never consummate the marriage. Gentleman Oliver happily obliges for a while but then insists his wife sees a psychiatrist for her cat delusions. Irena’s frustrations get the better of her as she grows jealous of Oliver and his female work colleague, resulting in a well shot stalking scene. Cat People blends genres by mixing elements of horror with stylistic noir choices of the times. For a film that had no real star power, no budget it was mainly producer Val Lewton that made it the classic it is today.
3.) The Black Cat (dir. Lucio Fulci, 1981.)
This gothic Italian masterpiece from Fulci is loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story. And boy is it delicious. The Black Cat is pretty loose on narrative but big on style as the film follows an elderly man who has psychic abilities to call up spirits of the dead to possess his cat. Said cat is then sent off to murder the man’s enemies one by one until it turns against him. While this does sound rather silly as a cat is not the most intimidating thing ever let alone a horror monster, it actually works really well. This little pussy is bad and not afraid to claw your eyes out. Fulci’s film is big on gore and has a fair amount of varied cat attacks. It’s an atmospheric gothic horror with a terrific score and a film that may make you nervous around cats for a while afterwards.
4.) Cat’s Eye (dir. Lewis Teague, 1985.)
An American anthology film consisting of three stories all involving the same grey tabby tom cat written by Stephen King. In the first two films the cat is present briefly as they stories unfold, but he constantly hears the disembodied voice of a young girl calling for help. It contains some nice King Easter eggs throughout including a nod to Cujo and Christine. The third sees the cat, named General whose owner is Amanda played by an adorable Drew Barrymore. At night while she sleeps Amanda is attacked by a small troll. General routinely has to break into the house after he is put out by her mother to save Amanda from the troll. Cat’s Eye is a pretty good anthology film, with a decent cast speckled throughout and showcases our feline protagonist in all his heroic glory as the loyal protector of this little girl.
5.) Sleepwalkers (dir. Mick Garris, 1992.)
The ultimate cat horror once again from the mind of Stephen King. We have shapeshifters, incest, cats, Leo from Charmed and even an Enya theme song, honestly what more do we need? Starring Brian Krause, Alice Krige and Madchen Amick, Sleepwalkers follows a mother and son who are shapeshifters that require the life force of virgins to survive. In their true form they resemble werecats and are not that attractive if I’m honest. The only thing that can take these monsters down are domestic house cats, the cats can see them for their true selves and the film’s fiery climax sees dozens of cats attack the pair with glorious results. It’s campy, it’s cringe and has become a cult classic mainly due to our feline hero Clovis, the deputy’s loyal cat.