Retrospective: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981)

Tags

, , , , ,

Celebrating 40 years since it’s initial release comes this exploitation flick from Director William Asher, can now be considered something of a forgotten gem, with some marked commentary on homosexuality, the oedipus complex, and twisting our expectations of the slasher genre.

It’s a curious tale that plays to the extreme and borderline incestious protection of an estranged mother figure towards a nephew. It is this relationship that borders on the strains of inappropriate behaviour.

The story is focused on Billy (Jimmy McNichol), a basketballer with promise of a future career in the sport is held back by his Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrell) in order to contribute to maintaining the house; a guide for fuelling her sexual desires.

Things turn sour when Cheryl invites local repairman, Phil to fix their tv set, she ramps up her lustful needs by forcing herself upon him. When this is not  received in kind, Cheryl turns to rage, murdering Phil in cold blood. This is witnessed by Billy, so Cheryl tries to convince him that it was self defence as Phil was trying to tape her. 

The story doesn’t wash up however when it’s revealed that Phil is gay, leading chief detective, Joe Carlson to believe that their is a love triangle involved between Phil, Billy and the basketball coach, Tom. This throws Billy into suspicion as a possible suspect, which isn’t helped by Joe’s narrowmindedness.

In the reversal of damsel in distress horror tropes, Billy is on the receiving end of evil pursuit and his only ally at this stage appears to be his girlfriend Julia. This relationship itself puts Julia into the firing line from Cheryl’s jealousy and amps up the complexities of the interweaving narratives towards a bloodied and crazed conclusion.

There is a heck of a lot of social commentary on display here disguised as an exploitation horror flick, which is why the film probably deserves more attention and love that it received. Yes if alls into shlocky territory, but the entertainment and intellifence that is on display is well worth your time.

  • Saul Muerte

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is currently screening on Shudder.

Retrospective: Werewolves on Wheels

Tags

On paper, this flick leaps off the page with it’s fierce title and promise of a pack of motorcyclists like the infamous Hell’s Angels who are consumed with lycanthropy.
It feels like the kind of movie that would be jam packed with ferocity and lascivious behaviour. Unfortunately this proclamation couldn’t be further from the truth as the viewer is presented with experimental filmmaking as was typical of the early seventies, and a meandering of hope in pursuit of the boundaries of humanity. 

In many ways, this could be depicted as a variant of those who challenge authority and question the American Dream through the eyes of outlaws who take up more than they bargained for when they encounter a curious cult.
These hooded priests lead them into a deep, drug infused state, where they lose all senses, and have a curse placed upon them. Once infected, members of the gang start to turn into werewolves at nightfall, rampaging through the vast landscape.

The film escalates as the lead players try to find an end to the curse, only to be thrust into a time loop, throwing everything into question.

I’m usually a big fan of experimental filmmaking but this one left me trailing in the wind like a tumbleweed being tossed around in no man’s land. I really wanted to connect with this film, and there were elements that could easily have drawn me in. Instead though, there wasn’t enough substance for it to pay off, and appeared to focus on resting on its premise, with an Easy Rider’s vibe. A missed opportunity that could warrant another rewrite, with an amped up narrative that lives up to that cracking title.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Malignant (2021)

Tags

, ,

Here’s the thing.

I’m a huge fan of James Wan’s previous work and in particular when he skews his lense with horror gaze.

There’s little wonder that he has so finely tuned his craft that franchises have been born from his visions, be it Saw; Insidious; or The Conjuring. I have no doubt that given the box office pull that Malignant received that there is a high chance that this too will go through similar motions.

There are a number of critics that have lapped up this latest outing from Wan, citing it as a bonkers masterpiece, but I personally struggle with this depiction, as my response to the film was one so jarring and disjointed that I felt constantly thrown out of the narrative, grappling to find something that I could connect with.

I guess that this detachment I felt was primarily the same reason that some people were praising the film. Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper have fused a number of subgenres together to create a unique style in their storytelling. One of the most notable of these subgenres is giallo; an italian thriller and visually stunning movement that was spearheaded by Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci to name but a few.

I can’t fault the attempt in developing these styles to create what appears to be its own thing, and perhaps this is where the applause comes in, but scratch beneath the surface, the film suffers for having more style than substance. The narrative just doesn’t stick and the dialogue is incredibly ropey.

The concept itself reminded me of a hyper-realistic version of Stephen King’s The Dark Half with the whole conjoined twins thing, where the rejected disembodied twin’s dark energy resides from within, drawing forth all its negativity to enact revenge against those who conspired against him. 

In this instance, Maddison (Annabelle Wallis) is having nightmares of people being killed only to find that the next day that these dreams are reality. She is also on the verge of a breakdown, where she is slipping from the world and questioning everything that is going on around her. We slowly learn that there is more than meets the eye with her visions, and Maddison along with her sister, Sydney Lake (Maddison Hasson) try to uncover the truth behind it all, Their quest leads them to a crazed and unthinkable conclusion that may put both their lives at risk.
 

The Diagnosis:

At its heart, Malignant is heralded by a visionary director in James Wan, who continues to push the boundaries of filmmaking. And here he presents a palette of genres in the offering.

The result however is a curious mix that never fully resonates on screen; a case of where the heart and mind doesn’t necessarily communicate with each other.

There are glimmers of brilliance, but too often this is overshadowed by the visual flair which is laid on thickly, It comes down to a question of taste, and for me, for once Wan’s latest outing was too hard to swallow.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Halloween Kills (2021)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

It seems an age ago when David Gordon Green and Danny McBride did the impossible and reignited a struggling franchise, bringing a much more brutal Michael Myers to the screen in Halloween

The main question posed to the creative team here though is, could they repeat the success of its predecessor?

To answer this, I draw on the Surgeons 6 rules to making a good sequel.

1. ​​Identify the ideas, themes & executional elements that make the first film great.  Or at least good.  Or at least worthy of being sequelised.

Part of its appeal alongside the sheer force of The Shape carving his way through Haddonfield once again, juxtaposed by the fragility and strength of Laurie Strode, magnificently portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis, was how the film played to the damaging effects that trauma has on humanity, and how some condition themselves to the impact that this has had on their lives.

Where Halloween 2018 leaned into early stages of trauma through the eyes of the Strode family, who are in complete denial, numbed to the exposure that Laurie’s turmoil has taken, or through the taking on the pain and guilt of surviving such an ordeal, the latest outing needs to take this to the next level, Anger and Bargaining. The only problem with these emotions is that there isn’t a lot on the dial to play with. Each character that embodies these emotions invariably meet their grisly end as a result. Not that this completely squashes the narrative however, as the re-introduced character of Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) who leads a vigilante group on a mission to end evil and kill Myers for good. It certainly shines a light on the consequences that a mob mentality can have when confronting trauma. Brute force against brute force will always lead to ruin where there are no winners.

It’s biggest strength is in its central antagonist, Michael, who never holds back, continuing the theme from the 2018 feature. As it should be. He is and will always be the draw card to the franchise, and I’m glad to say that he never disappoints, arguably his portrayal here is one of the finest in the franchise.

It’s other strength from 2018, is with Jamie Lee Curtis.. Every moment she is on screen, you are willing for her to bring the same exhaustive performance. However, she is subjected to a more minor role, still an important one, as between her and the wounded Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) provide hope through acceptance, through what will be the final step in moving through a traumatic event.


2. Pay homage and do not violate/ignore said ideas and themes and elements                                                  

Here, Green still pays homage to the franchise as a whole, using elements that have played key roles or images that have been instilled from previous films, such as Halloween III: Season of the Witch, with the skeleton, pumpkin, and the witch. The creative team have proven before that they are lovers of the franchise and here is no exception to that rule. So, for this, they continue to immerse the viewer and expand on that sense of nostalgia without causing damage at all.

3. Introduce new/expanded themes, ideas and elements that will NATURALLY ALIGN to your first ideas, themes & elements.
As mentioned, the new elements introduced in this movie expand on the themes of trauma, most notably anger. This feels like a natural cause of action following the 2018 feature. The second part of this trajectory is through bargaining, a trait that is mostly seen through Karen (Judy Greer), in many ways the heart of the movie, pleading with her mother Laurie to listen to reason, desperately trying to save the life of the prison inmate, wrongly identified as Michael. This only makes her actions bittersweet in the face of the movie’s climax, a step that needed to be taken in order for the survivors, whoever they may be, to heal.

4. DO NOT rehash the first film and just give people “more of the same”.

This is where the movie starts to fall down a little.
While it tries to push the story arc along, it fails to resonate a beat and quicken the pulse at all. It is happy to play with the same kind of energy, but in doing so falls flat and starts to feel like it is a filler movie between Halloween and what will ultimately be Halloween Ends.It struggles to shift outside of this and doesn’t deliver as a result.

5. DO NOT-NOT rehash the first film by giving more of the same…. BUT “BIGGER”.

It could be argued here too that they’ve tried to go bigger, and who could blame them, and in part Michael falls into this category. I would counter this though by saying in the very action of attempting to go bigger, they lose sight of the integral components, and the raw energy captured before. It feels a little flat in its execution and disconnects from the viewer.

6. Be a good enough stand-alone film by itself.

And for its final hurdle in our 6 rules for a great sequel, Halloween Kills stumbles.
It fails to be viewed as a stand alone movie as it relies too greatly on its predecessors. It is these movies that allow the feature to stand tall, but take away these crutches, there isn’t a lot left on show.

The Diagnosis:

So, where does that leave things with Halloween Kills?
Well, it manages to execute 3 out of 6 rules successfully, which falls in line with my gut reaction.
I marked it as a little over average and falls short of the previous movie.

Yes, it’s a filler and it might feel more satisfying once Halloween Ends completes that cycle.
Until then, we’re left with a vaguely entertaining movie that tries to satisfy the core fans, some of whom will be content, but others will note the lack of impact that came in 2018.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Dead & Beautiful

Tags

, ,

Director David Verbeek leans heavily into the latter part of the film’s title. Strewn with stunning images throughout the Rotterdam cityscape as its backdrop in most places, whilst tantalising with the ‘Dead’ component.

Five rich socialites have gravitated to one another out of their boredom and unfulfilment of life’s medicrity and strive to spice up the dull elements with a shared mixture of experiences that challenge their vices and pushing them to the edge in order to feel something and awaken their dormant souls.

One night out quintet of rich kids descend upon a group of people who practice an ancient ritual that centres on the dark arts and a sacrifice. The group black out and wake to find a corpse and each bear a set of fangs. Instantly they are subjected to the notion that they have been turned into creatures of the night, forced to carry out vampiric means to satiate the growing thirst for blood.

The film flicks and flutters through their stifled emotions as the group becomes restless and unable to comprehend or handle this new way of life. With no guide rope to aid them in these new experiences, they are left flailing into the wind, reaching out for anything that may ground them.

Verbeek successfully captures the strengths and weaknesses of the characters  as they both fall into each other’s embrace or thrust them apart with their responses or actions, amplifying their paranoia or loss of control. All of which slowly builds to a conclusion that leaves you questioning the blurred lines of reality.

The Diagnosis:

Beautifully shot and complex characters intertwine through a deliberately slow narrative giving room to build up the central characters.

It’s a film that plays with manipulation and human conditioning at its core, where nothing is as it seems.

Like the key players, the audience is subjected to a fixed point of view that unravels and is picked apart to the point where you not only feel the trauma of the group, but just when you think you have it figured out, takes you in a completely different direction.

– Saul Muerte

Dead & Beautiful is streaming on Shudder from Thursday 4th November

Retrospective: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Tags

, , , ,

I didn’t realise that Dark Night of the Scarecrow had been initially released as a straight for tv movie forty years in 1981. The film whenever I first watched it back in whatever time that I had initially stumbled across it, (possibly when perusing through the aisles of my local video store) had always seemed to be polarised by the image of Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake) decked out in full scarecrow disguise to hide from Charles Durning’s Otis and his hoodlums, only to be gunned down in cold blood. 

Upon my most recent viewing, there was evidence to support this low-budget style approach to the production values, but this does not belie the quality and impact that the narrative has on its audience. 

This in part is down to the combination of the screenplay by J.D. Feigelson who essentially invented the Killer Scarecrow subgenre, and the direction of Frank de Felitta, (a screenwriter himself behind Audrey Rose and The Entity) who was able to tap into the eerie tone of the film to present a dark look at small town America and the corruption that can occur deep within.

The whole film plays out as a power complex within the community and how Otis exerts his power to dominate the social scene. He also has a troublesome yearning for the young Marylee Williams; feelings he tries to keep buried but he is also harbouring some jealousy over her friendship with the mentally challenged Bubba. Bubba is actually a sweet and gentle giant, misunderstood by the locals who regard his friendship with Marylee as unsuitable. So when Marylee meets with a mishap from a savage dog, ‘naturally’ people suspect the worst. Cue the afore-mentioned ‘witch hunt’.

The rest of the film plays out as a revenge flick, when a curious scarecrow turns up to haunt and kill off Otis’ crew one at a time. But is this an apparition, or has Bubba come back from the dead?

The film is tightly knit together and weaves enough mystery and intrigue out of the confines of a small community that is ripe with foul play, festering at its core.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Pit (1981)

Tags

, , , ,

Mark this one for the curiosity basket, as Canadian Horror film The Pit is something of an odd film.

The film follows the journey of a strange little boy Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders) who is an outcast in society due to his peculiar ways, often the subject of ridicule among the neighbourhood. His only friend is his teddy bear, who he has imaginary conversations with. We actually hear the dialogue between Jamie and the stuffed toy throughout the film serving as an inner consciousness to Jamie’s darkest desires. The movie has also been known as Teddy in some cases due to this component of the film, but it is the pit that is the centre to the mystery and the creatures called Trogs that lurk within. 

As Jamie’s wild obsessions begin to manifest along with his sexual awakening, he is driven to rid those who have tormented him in the afore-mentioned pit. Each time he does so, the manner in which he lures the bullies to their fate becomes even more ridiculous to the point that it starts to abandon the suspension of disbelief. It is such a jarring thing that I found it completely removed me from the film. 

One redeeming feature is through psychology student Sandy O’Reilly (Jeannie Elias) who is the main focus of Jamie’s lust and just so happens to be his babysitter. She provides the hope that maybe Jamie can be sedated through her kindness and understanding but only if this act is not misguided as deeper emotions from our wayward boy.

There is something in the subject matter here that could warrant another look and I’m intrigued by the novelisation that the film is based on called Teddy by John Gault which supposedly allows for a stronger character development (always an important thing for me) and a much darker tone (again, something that as a horror fan entices me in). So it would have been more interesting had they decided to stick closer to the novel and the original screenplay despite heralding a pretty cool ending that switches the focus nicely. As it stands though, The Pit always feels a little out of place and hard to connect with, much like our lead antagonist, Jamie. 

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Admittedly it’s been a while since I watched this film ahead of writing up this retrospective and as such the cobwebs of familiarity had gathered clouding to the point that i had forgotten which 70s erotic horror film I was about to discuss,

This led me to initially think that Daughters of Darkness had little impact on me but when I came to research the film once more, I was instantly flooded with its striking and stylised images captured by Director Harry Kümel and his cinematographer Eduard van der Enden. I suddenly remembered that feeling of watching an effective European feature that projected a juxtaposition of harsh and fluid scenery and characters that ooze a psychologically unhinged gothic vampire tale loosely based on the infamous historical figure Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

The film is heavily entrenched in surrealism and expressionism with a curiously noir aspect in places. Set primarily in the Belgian coastal city Ostend, a character in itself and a place I’ve been fortunate to visit so there was a spark of physical and visual nostalgia created when I watched the film.

The film follows the misogynistic Stefan (John Karlen), born of aristocracy as he travels through Europe with his newly-wed wife Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) to introduce her to his mother. 

He appears apprehensive about doing this as though his attitude towards women stems from this fear or apprehensive relationship he has with his mother.
What struck me is that the film, despite its aggressive approach to women, who are often the subject of sadomasochistic views, actually is a feminist film, with a strong message about women establishing their own identity in the wake of degradation. This is none more evident than through the character Valerie.

It is with the arrival of Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig – The Day of the Jackal) along with her secretary Ilona (Andrea Rau) that this is truly awakened in Valerie. At first cautious about this charismatic Countess, but similarly finding her charms irresistible, Valerie begins to see her husband Stefan in a new light with a brutally sadomasochistic encounter. Furthermore Stefan becomes sexually drawn to Ilona too and in doing so, pours forth his animalistic, aggressive side with fatalistic consequences leading the trio of Stefan, Valerie, and the Countess to clean up the mess, but it doesn’t stop there. In order to really cleanse their souls further drastic actions must occur and bring Valerie into a further awakening.

What becomes apparent by the film’s conclusion is that Daughters of Darkness is not to be judged on face value. It may not be to everyone’s taste but its a visual treat that resonates with the time but there is definitely more going on beneath the surface.  

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Medium (2021)

Tags

, ,

Once more the Asian horror scene rocks the foundations of the genre, this time hailing from a Thai/South Korea production of The Medium and garnering critical acclaim on homegrown shores. Now it has the opportunity to awaken the soul for a ‘western’ audience with the streaming platform Shudder.

The Medium could easily be misjudged however, due its preambling of the story, presented as a dramatised documentary in the vein of a found footage film. The film is shot by a team of documentarians drawn to a north eastern town in Thailand to film a local medium, Nim (​​Sawanee Utoomma) who channels the spiritual deity of Bayan. Bayan has been possessing females in Nim’s family for generations. Interestingly though, (and this is a potentially clue to how the film will end) is that the intended possessed was supposed to be Nim’s sister, Noi, who turned her back on this tradition in favour of Christianity. The rest that follows could be heralded as the fears transpired by spiritual damnation or confused devotion to a conflicted cause. Either option is doomed to a corrupt and foul conclusion.

The film struggles to connect with its audience at first as the screenplay draws out a slow burn through observing Nim’s niece Mink, who starts to show signs of curious behaviour and the hallmarks of multiple personalities. This does not worry Nim however, who initially believes that these traits are the signs that Bayan is about to transfer his soul from her into Mink. Such a promise compels the film crew to start following Mink with some shockingly curious actions from Mink, leading them and the villagers to believe that all is not as it may seem. The more they try to contain her though, the more wild and crazed her actions become to the threat of those closest to her.

The creative team of Director Banjong Pisanthanakun and screenwriter Na Hong-jin finely craft a film that builds in atmosphere and tension, managing to keep it on the right side of dramatic flair without seeping into ridiculousness.

The conclusion is driven with such pace that for those who watch will question who will survive the ordeal when faced with an unknown entity hellbent on destroying them all.

The Diagnosis:

There is plenty to fire the coils of curiosity, but it is a slow ignition to get the heat truly sizzling, and as such takes a while to pull the audience into its simmering turmoil. The advice here is to let yourself soak into the narrative and you’ll be rewarded with a rambunctious and bloody end.

  • Saul Muerte

The Medium is currently streaming on Shudder

Retrospective: Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

Tags

, , , , ,

The last quartet of movies to be released in October by Hammer Films Production in their 70s evolution would pit their new blood, new generation actor Ralph Bates in the lead for their reinvention of Robert Louis Stevenson’s short novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Their bold approach to the story, especially for its time, would fuse a gender-bending with Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders of the late 19th Century.

It’s setting would combine the gothic themes of yester-year upon which Hammer forged its name with this twist in the tale that was an extremely modern approach to storytelling.

Charged with steering the direction was Hammer regular, Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit, Scars of Dracula) alongside screenwriter Brian Clemens (Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter; The Professionals) who between them managed to tread the fine line of humour and horror with what is essentially a delicate subject.

As the title suggests, Dr Jekyll is set on finding the elixir of life using female hormones due to their longer life expectancy when compared with men. In order to do so, much-like Dr Frankenstein looks for fresh cadavers to perform his experiments upon, so employs known grave robbers Burke and Hare (Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin) to carry out the deed. 

When the need for more fresh cadavers arise, Burke and Hare take to killing women in the name of Jekyll’s science.

Things take a drastic turn for Jekyll however when his experiments transform him into a female version of himself who he calls Mrs. Hyde (Martine Beswick). Part of the film’s appeal and one which allows for a stronger sense of believability is that Beswick has a strikingly familiar appearance to Bates. The idea is well executed and the shifts and changes in the narrative are incredibly advanced for its time, marking this film as a significant movie in the Hammer Films canon.

To hook the audience further, there is the potential love interest between Jekyll and Susan Spencer (Susan Brodrick), and similarly the seduction of Susan’s brother Howard (Lewis Flander) towards Mrs. Hyde. Both relationships are predominantly on the tipping point of danger as the murders increase and police start honing in on their suspect.
Can Jekyll find the formula to reverse the transformation, or will it ultimately lead to ruin?

Looking at the movie now, it has admittedly aged but there is something incisive about the way Hammer Film Productions and its creatives chose to deliver the narrative that lends weight to the final product. The performances are on point and direction cutting to the point that this film should be praised and is one of the last great films that the production company released in its final years before they would be resurrected again in the 2000s.

  • Saul Muerte