The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is a curious oddity indeed as Universal once again struggles to fire a hit outside of the ‘classic’ monster films that they had become synonymous with. Described as a B Movie murder mystery horror, this film crunches and clunks its way through numerous genre changes in gear that it never really hits its stride. Some elements lay sway to the screwball comedies of the era, but freezes more than sizzles with its dialogue.
With Patric Knowles handed a top billing role (following his support performance in The Wolf Man) as Private Investigator Jerry Church, hired to investigate a series of murders by someone who labels himself as Rx. What is bizarre about the narrative is that it picks up after five murders have already occured which feels like a missed opportunity to build up the suspense.
Church is indeed a hot shot investigator who is at odds with his desire to do what he does best and settle down with his new wife Kit (one of the original scream queens Anne Gwynne). He is ultimately drawn into the mystery however as we too are struggling to comprehend what is actually going on.
The comedy moments aren’t enough either to lift the audience out of the confusion and fall flat, coming across as befuddling rather than bemusing.
By the film’s conclusion the script somehow manages to side step a suitable conclusion with Church placed in a dire situation without showing how he is able to escape his plight. It then wrangles a conclusion that is just as perplexing as its premise, leaving me to wonder what I had just watched.
It’s one silver screen lining is the red herring element with the great Lionel Atwill lurking mysteriously in the shadows (Man-Made Monster, The Mad Doctor of Market Street). If only his presence was felt more strongly throughout the movie. It’s absence of mystery is heavily felt and with more work on the screenplay, Universal could have had a very different film on the hands. Missed opportunity.
100 years ago the Roaring Twenties came into effect with a social and economic boom that pushed the boundaries of experimentation and exploration dubbing it the crazy years.
Cinema has evolved greatly during this time and spawned Robert Miene’s silent horror in German Expressionism, which is still considered a classic among some critics.
While the tides have shifted and the boundaries of what is classified as horror has twisted through the years, moving numerous debates and discussions along the way, we come to a time when originality can be hard to come by, or perhaps the audience has become too critical and our perceptions have changed.
Can the films of today cause a deeper development in the genre that we’ve come to love and like the films that were born a century ago stir the insanity again and break new ground in the process?
Let’s look at what 2020 has in store and see if indeed it will deliver.
This film has led some early reports to compare it to Alien but in the ocean deep instead of the far reaches of space. It does boast Kristen Stewart in the cast who may divide audiences and has been a bit hit and miss of late in her film choices but she is supported in this instance by Vincent Cassel, who is known for choosing experimental films. Does this then mean that this team of underwater researchers will uncover not only a few beasties but also break new ground in the process?
Prediction: Neither sink or swim. A drifter that will entertain some but not cast anything new into the cinematic landscape.
Jan 24 – The Turning
Based on Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw and produced by Steven Spielberg, it stars Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate) and Finn “Can my hair grow any longer?” Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and bears close scrutiny as director Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) is set to release an interpretation of the novel in Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, his follow up to the successful The Haunting of Hill House.
Prediction: Director Floria Sigismondi will no doubt bring some artistic visual flair that is evidence from her music videos, but could possibly fall foul of “popcorn syndrome” – Light, fluffy with a bit of crunch and serves the masses, but ultimately has no substance.
Initially I was really excited about this release, being a fan of the Ju On franchise, plus Nicolas Pesce’s work with The Eyes of My Mother, and Piercing. Both movies have pushed the boundaries of comfort and shot in stylistic fashion that I was keen to see where Pesce would take The Grudge. Early reports haven’t been favourable however, so it could be another disappointment in the first month of the new decade.
Prediction: Could be another franchise instalment too many. The name alone will pull in the numbers, yet may not hit the mark on the scare front.
Jan 31 – Gretel and Hansel
It’s been over 200 years since The Brothers Grimm fashioned the fairy tale about a cannibalistic witch that kidnaps two children roaming in the woods. The fact that it is still resonates today is a testament to the strength of the storytelling and it will be interesting to see the story told from the perspective of Gretel played by Sophia Lillis (IT) who has already proved compelling as the young Beverly Marsh.
Prediction: Better than your average fair without necessarily offering anything new or compelling with the horror genre.
Some may argue its place in this list, but it is billed as a psychological horror and director Robert Eggers has already made a name for himself in the artistic expressionism world within the genre with his debut feature, The VVitch, a film that also divided audiences. American audiences have already seen the movie too as it was released there last year, but as yet Australian audiences are still to see Eggers’ sophomore outing which pits Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson against one another in a battle of wills and sanity in a remote and confined island.
Prediction: Will wow audiences looking for the alternative and alienate those more into the mainstream. Either way, both audiences will applaud the performances and Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke will paint a stunningly beautiful canvas.
Feb 13 – Fantasy Island
Blumhouse Productions are about to shake things up again by breathing new life into a cult 70s tv series. With a star-studded cast – Michael Pena (Crash), Maggie Q (Nikita), Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). On an island where your fantasies come true, only to turn into nightmares and the guests must figure out its mystery in order to survive.
Prediction: Another success for Jason Blum and the team which will connect with the cinema-going public. If it’s played right, it could offer a fresh take using a blend of fantasy and horror that could also spark a franchise
Feb 21 – Brahms: The Boy ll
This one is a bit of an oddity. Whilst its predecessor was a middle of the road affair and proved to be better than expected. It did feel like a one-off movie that didn’t necessarily warrant any further journey into the world of Brahms. A sequel is here though and will pick up with the doll being discovered by another family.
Prediction: A flop that will fall by the wayside and may not even make a blip on the radar.
Feb 27 – The Invisible Man
Another Blumhouse movie, this time in collaboration with Universal to resurrect their monsters franchise after the abysmal Tom Cruise vehicle from a few years ago. In what is potentially a ripe and current topic being explored in domestic violence as its central theme The Invisible Man boasts a cracking cast with Elisabeth Moss taking lead duties. It’s also in great hands with director Leigh Whannel steering the ship following his successful movie Upgrade from last year, plus Whannel is a storyteller, so expect a decent script to boot.
Prediction: The first big success of the year bringing the Universal monsters franchise back on track and paving the way for future projects with The Bride, Renfeld, The Invisible Woman, and Frankenstein.
Mar 20 – A Quiet Place Part 2
The question is whether director John Krasiniski can repeat the winning formula from the first movie. This War of the Worlds style feature with an audio twist is more sci-fi than horror, but with the family in plight scenario held a strong connection with the audience. How will this translate now that there is an absent father?
Prediction: Cillian Murphy will provide some much needed gravitas to the narrative which will be strong enough to lift the audience through with some decent ups and downs to wrench up the tension.
Apr 3 – The New Mutants
Since Disney took over Marvel operations, The New Mutants has been stuck in production, deemed a little dark for the House of Mouse questioning how to distribute it. The feature comes across as The Dream Warriors crossed with the X-Men and centres on 5 young mutants held in a secret facility against their will. It also boasts a cracking cast with Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Split), and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things).
Prediction: Despite several delays I feel that this film is gonna connect in a big way and pull in a lot of people. It just depends on how dark Disney are willing to go with it.
Apr 17 – Antlers
Little is known about this movie other than it is based on a short story by Nick Antosca the creative mind behind the Channel Zero anthology series. The screenplay must have some potential to have caught the eye of Guillermo Del Toro and put his name down as producer.
Prediction: With Keri Russell in the cast to provide the fantasy elements in reality, this could well be the surprise hit of the year.
May 15 – Saw reboot
Currently titled The Organ Donor starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella this reboot of the Saw franchise will see the return of the Jigsaw Killer, but without Tobin Bell… I think? With director Darren Lynn Bousman at the helm once more following his turn overseeing parts 2-4, he is no stranger to the world.
Prediction: Will put bums on seats for the shock gore factor alone, but will the buddy cop drama approach pay off? Time will tell.
Jun 11 – Candyman
This is gonna be a tough one to watch for me as I am such a huge fan of the original movie and like Freddy, Candyman would haunt my dreams for a long time after viewing. A lot of that has to do with the strength of Clive Barker’s short story coupled with Tony Todd’s personification of the titular character. Part of me is willing for this to be a success though as I can see room for the movie to be delivered to a modern audience using folklore and mythology at its core, and the storyline itself can transcend easily through the ages. It will be interesting to see a female perspective in director Nia DaCosta to follow Helen’s journalistic investigations.
Prediction: Jordan Peele has attached his name to this project and is clearly passionate about the story, but one can’t help but feel this is one step too far in rekindling the old flame that resides within the Candyman story.
Jul 2 – Ghostbuster: Afterlife
I know it’s technically not a horror film, but I’m including this in the mix for its nostalgic value in me the original movie paved the love of horror that I have and opened the door to many more glorious visions in the genre ever since. The original team will return in some shape or form, but primarily the film centres around a mother and her two children who set up on a farm only to discover something paranormal lurking in the town.
Prediction: Another film that will be resting on the merits of the first film, and while it’s great to see Jason Reitman take on the franchise following in his father’s footsteps, one can only hope that there will be enough comedy, horror and sci-fi to capture that old magic, but I think it will just be a glimmer rather than that sparkle.
Jul 10 – The Purge 5
Supposedly returning for the final instalment the 12 hour no holds-barred, crimefest ignited something in the movie-going audience. It has seen five feature length instalments and 2 seasons.
Prediction: More of the same, so if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love it. I for one think the films are fun and enjoyable and it will be interesting to see how James DiMonaco will conclude things.
Jul 30 – Morbius
Sony has promised to take the Marvel universe into dark territory before with Venom and here they intend to do so again with Morbius, the Living Vampire. Jared Leto will no doubt bring the goods for the titular role and is in good company with Matt Smith, Jared Leto, and Tyrese Gibson.
Prediction: Director Daniel Espinosa provides great entertaining and solid movies, such as Safe House and Life, and I see no change here to his formula, but still question if they can go dark enough to make it compelling for horror fans.
Sep 11 – The Conjuring 3 aka The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The Conjuring universe has progressed in leaps and bounds since its initial release in 2013. There has been the odd blips, but essentially the films continue to entertain and scare audiences. This latest film will once again see the Warrens at the centre of proceedings, this time with one of their most publicised cases that bore witness to Arne Cheyenne Johnson claiming that he was possessed when he murdered.
Prediction: Solid acting, tight storyline, but may fall down with its delivery and exposition. Unfortunately Director Michael Chaves didn’t deliver with The Curse of La Llorona, so I fear that this may end up in a similar way, but am still willing to give it a chance.
Sep 17 – Last Night In Soho
Not much known about this one, but Edgar Wright has a knack for tapping the pulse of classic films and adapting their essence for a modern audience. This time around the psychological horror is inspired by Don’t Look Now and Polanski’s Repulsion both high in my all-time favourite lists
Prediction: A killer cast in Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, and Terence Stamp, this could be the ‘big hit’ of the year.
Oct 15 – Halloween Kills
In 2018, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jason Blum attempted the impossible, the resurrection of Michael Myers that would connect both fans of the original and connect with a new audience. By delving into the subject of trauma and the impact that this has on its victims, Myers became both topical and harrowing. His sheer brutality and the force in which he attacks his victims made his carnage all the more disturbing.
Prediction: The name and sheer presence of Myers will bring the audience to the screens, but can they still make him relevant? They can’t rest on the nostalgic nods this time around. It’s a fine line to walk on, for if they get it wrong, they could find their final instalment, Halloween Ends a tricky sell.
TBC – Army of the Dead
For sheer shits and giggles, and action-pumped mayhem from visual storyteller Zack Snyder, about a group of mercenaries who decide to rob a casino during a zombie outbreak, this film concludes our list.
Prediction: Starring Dave Bautista, Army of the Dead will be entertaining if nothing else. A perfect answer for those just wanting to get their kicks and not have to think too deeply.
This quote that is taken from Dante’s Inferno, a clear inspiration for Lars Von Trier’s latest movie could equally be a word of warning to those cinema-goers that struggle to relate to the filmmakers vision. With supposedly over 100 walkouts at Sundance and cries of disgust from some critics, some could be deceived into believing that this is once again another artsy film as a means to provoke this kind of reaction from the audience.
As the film unfolded, I found Jack’s journey an interesting one as the further he gave into his compulsions and acts of murderous intrigue, the deeper and more fascinating his character became. Matt Dillon’s poise as the titular character hinges on devoid emotion as Jack is hardwired into the mechanisation’s of the human body. He has no connection to these victims that he picks at random and purely sees them as part of his science experiment. Actually, Jack describes himself as an architect, or a creator, but as the viewer we can identify that he is in fact a lost soul, struggling to find his place in the world. His journey sees him adrift and constantly changing his direction and his ‘vocation’ as a result. Even his spiritual guide into his descent into hell, Verge (ably played by the late, great Bruno Ganz) contradicts Jack’s every move and hypothesis for the things he does.
At one stage he strives to connect with one of his victims, Simple (Riley Keough) but he frustrates at her lack of intelligence, at least to reach his level of so-called intellect, which leads him to not only degrade her mentally, but he then plays the ultimate sexual and physical degradation by removing her breasts with a knife. This could actually be the point where some of the 100 cinema-goers walked out of the screening, because despite not actually seeing the act, the performance is so believably harrowing (a testament to both parties) that it is understandable that this could have been too much for some, if not most. And that’s if they managed to stick around for the disturbing scene that depicted Jack shooting down a couple of children with a hunting rifle.
If I’m honest, the running time of 2 and a half hours had me balking a bit at the prospect of sitting through society and politics meshed in a tangled perspective from a serial killer, but ultimately the experience was a stark and realistic examination of just how fucked up everything is. If humanity continues on this trajectory, we are in for a deeply unnerving and insane world that will is fast pulling us into the recesses of hell.
Von Trier will always be a tough sell, but this macabre overview of the dark soul of humanity as it plunges into its darkest hour, is an honest and gut-wrenching portrayal that harbours some powerful performances from all the cast. At times The House That Jack Built even leans into some humorous aspects of the mayhem, not often seen in Von Trier’s work, which was a surprise to see. Maybe he’s softening in his old age… but then again, maybe not.
It’s subject matter will not be for all and will pull away from the realism on-screen, but by now most people will be familiar with Von Trier’s 30 years of work behind the camera.
You’ll either be completely transfixed, disgusted, or bored by this latest offering, depending on your stance of the afore-mentioned director’s style.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, January 16, 2019 – MidWest WeirdFest announces its first programming wave for 2019 today. The third annual festival – a cinematic celebration of all things fantastic, frightening, offbeat, and just plain weird – takes place March 8-10, 2019 at the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
“This year’s fest line-up is set to delight fans of cutting edge horror, sci-fi, underground, and documentary cinema”, says festival founder and programming director Dean Bertram. “We’ve put together a heady and eclectic mix of speculative genre offerings, underground strangeness, and paranormal revelations: From a psychedelic Manson Family reimagining and a post-apocalyptic dance-off epic, through tales about a reanimated electrokinetic teenager, haunted stoners, and inept buddy superheroes, to a bonkers lake monster adventure and the most in-depth Bigfoot documentary ever produced. And that’s just from MidWest WeirdFest’s first programming wave of 2019!”
Discounted festival passes are now on sale at: www.midwestweirdfest.com. Individual tickets to each film will go on sale closer to the festival; both on the fest’s website, and directly from the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Full program details and filmmaker guests will be revealed in February.
The first seven feature films announced follow:
FP 2: BEATS OF RAGE (director: Jason Trost)
Despite hanging up his boots following the events of the cult classic “THE FP”, JTRO must return to the blood sport of Beat-Beat Revelation one last time. JTRO and KCDC – his mystical hype man – will quest deep into The Wastes, a land decimated by the Beat Wars, to compete in the ancient Beat-Beat tournament, called “Beats of Rage”, face AK-47, and, hopefully, save the world. Imagine a MAD MAX style future, where battles to the death are fought via the video game Dance Dance Revolution, and you might have an inkling of the crazy and hilarious post-apocalyptic world of THE FP.
THE INVISIBLE MOTHER (directors: Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman)
When lesbian stoner Marcy returns to her grandparents’ home to help care for her mentally declining grandmother, she discovers they are being terrorized by a malevolent force from a Victorian post-mortem photograph. THE INVISBLE MOTHER is a giallo-styled, terrifying descent into supernatural terror.
LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER (director: Ryland Tews)
The eccentric Captain Seafield hires a crew of specialists to help him plot revenge against the creature that killed his father. After several failed attempts, Seafield is forced to take matters into his own drunken hands. What began as a simple case of man verses beast, soon turns into a rabbit hole of mysterious unknowns and Lovecraftian hijinks. LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER — banned in four lakes!
THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS (director: Lonnie Martin)
Convinced there’s more to the Manson murders than meets the public eye, counterculture journalist Paul Krassner embarks on an LSD tinged investigation of the last of Manson’s disciples: Brenda McCann, Sandra Good, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. What he finds could change how the world sees the 60s… if he lives long enough to tell the story. A riveting, speculative, and psychedelic journey into one of the darkest byways of 1960s Americana.
ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT (director: Seth Breedlove)
From Small Town Monsters, and MidWest WeirdFest alumni filmmaker Seth Breedlove (THE MOTHAN OF POINT PLEASANT, THE BRAY ROAD BEAST), comes this enthralling documentary examining the history of the Bigfoot phenomenon. ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT was filmed coast to coast during 2018 and features witnesses and investigators of the elusive creature. Prepare to go deeper into the Bigfoot subject than you’ve ever gone before.
REBORN (director: Julian Richards)
A stillborn baby girl is brought back to life by a morgue attendant using electrokinetic power. On her sixteenth birthday she escapes her captor and sets out to find her birth mother leaving a trail of destruction behind her. Don’t miss this stunning modern twist on 70s and 80s horror classics like CARRIE, FIRESTARTER, and THE FURY. Stars genre legends Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR, BEYOND THE GATES) and Michael Parle (STREETS OF FIRE, THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT).
ZEROES (director: Charles Smith)
After leaving a Halloween party dressed as ninjas, Kenneth and Ray – two drunken roommates – thwart a robbery and their heroics go viral. No litterer or public urinator is safe until an actual serial killer begins to ravage the city. Our inept crime-fighting duo, with the help of the enigmatic and insanely wealthy Gary, must catch the killer before Kenneth’s crush Kate becomes the next target. Hilarity abounds in this superhero spoof.
There are some films where the director and writer make choices that make you go: “These guys are invested. They are deliberate. They are proper film-makers, and they know what they’re doing”.
And then sometimes you realise “nope – it really was an elephant with a paint brush all along”.
And that was exactly what went through my mind when I watched Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Or Puppet Master 23 (or whatever number the franchise is up to now).
Although it IS easy to mock such a long-lived series, it does play on a sort of primeval fear of being sliced by a small sharp blade moving very quickly (and in this case – where the “monster” stands at a foot tall, it has to do a LOT of fast slicing). But that’s pretty much it for the scares.
As a horror fest it very much falls into the gore category – and not a lot of it clever. In fact, some of it is pretty tasteless in a “I bet you believed this was hardcore when you thought of it, but it’s really pretty effing stupid. And your execution is even worse” kind of way.
The movie does start off with an earnest attempt at dialogue between characters where the acting is decent and the direction very considered – everyone gets their own clean shot all the way through, no dirty frames or unnecessary camera movement.
But then you realise they are not being minimalist, they’re just being frickin’ basic.
Starring Thomas Lennon (a perennial “oh THAT guy” actor if there ever was one) as Edgar – a recently divorced lead character who decides to sell a creepy doll he finds in his recently deceased brother’s bedroom. You assume the brother was killed in the previous film, but it’s hard to tell as the order in which the films have been released don’t go in a linear in-film timeline. Plus, some of the sequels are considered “non-canon” and others re-boots…
Anyway – Edgar – a 45-year-old comic book artist is soon pursued by incredibly hot twenty something girl-next-door archetype Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), because if these films can’t be the deluded projections of middle-aged straight men, why make them? (We also get to see her breasts in a make out scene later, so in case you had any doubts…)
Together Edgar, Ashley and the best friend character – played by Nelson Franklin – go to a puppet convention to try and sell their doll at a hotel that was the site of a notorious Nazi murderer getting shot by police for reasons I can’t really remember (because – upon rewind – it wasn’t explained…)
Anyway, from there all the puppets come to life and blah blah blah, you can guess the rest. At one point one of the characters suggests to all the surviving hotel patrons (after the initial puppet attack) that they split up and lock themselves in their various hotel rooms until the authorities arrive. Not only did the writer write that, he also had every character think it was a good idea…
The movie also has great slabs of missing moments that forces you to fill in the blanks, NOT in a cool “we’re challenging the audience to be engaged” sort of way, but because the film-makers have no idea how to make a movie. Or they ran out of money. Or both.
Speaking of “oh that guy” moments – it also stars Michael Pare as a detective. For any child who grew up watching American film & TV in the 70’s, he is Eddie from Eddie and the Cruisers and the John Travolta wannabe from The Greatest American Hero. Yes, that’s how old he is. He was trying to be a knock-off of Saturday Night Fever John Travolta, not Pulp Fiction John Travolta. Truth be told it was his voice that gave him away. Although his face has had some pretty good work, considering he’s older than Tom Cruise!
Speaking of which Barbara Crampton is also in the film, who is no stranger to 80’s B-grade horror flicks, and appears to be making something of a comeback of late with this movie, Replace, and Beyond the Gates.
The Littlest Reich is a 90 minute stretch you won’t get back, unless you’re into gore for gore’s sake, or teenagers wanting to have a sleepover/video night.
Apart from that – if you’re a fan of dolls in horror – be sure to check out the excellent podcast on the subject which can be found here!
Cruising down the freeway, with music blaring on the car stereo, we are introduced to Jax, as she sings along in a slightly off-key manner and seemingly without a care in the world.
But who is Jax? Why is she drifting through the desert with a devil-may-care attitude?
This beautifully shot short film, which has been making a mark on the festival circuit and setting tongues wagging enters into the viewers world with an aimlessness that echoes the ever-expanding landscape which marks its setting, somehow lures you in and with each passing frame, we discover more and more to Jax’s complex character.
With Academy Award nominee, Colin Campbell at the helm, this film is in safe hands as he crafts together a story which unfolds smoothly and each reveal feels natural as a result.
Writer Rakefet Abergel has a firm grasp on her creation of the titular Jax, and it should come as no surprise that she takes on the lead on-screen too.
Her shift from naivety and innocence, to a strong, dynamic confidence is a believable one, and in many ways the viewer is left feeling sympathetic to her plight, which is a testament to Abergel’s craftmanship.
A well crafted story that hinges on Jax’s character.
Thankfully both writer and director have the make up to produce a complex figure that is definitely not who she seems.
The journey is an enduring one but with a destination is well worth the wait.
Jax In Love is still doing the festival circuits at the time of writing.
Do yourself a favour. If it’s in your neighbourhood, check out one of the following festivals and catch Jax In Love and many more:
Aka: The other horror movie released alongside It this past week.
Is John R. Leonetti the polar opposite of Mike Flanagan?
Where the latter has been going from strength to strength, knocking out three pretty solid movies in 2016, with Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Before I Wake, Leonetti has struggled to transfer his impressive skills as a cinematographer to the director’s chair.
After helming mediocre material with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2, Leonetti had the chance to redeem himself with what on paper looked like a winner in Annabelle.
Unfortunately, he missed the mark by an epic margin and failed to deliver the scares. So much so, that when it was announced that there would be a prequel movie in the works, people were left scratching their heads, but Annabelle: Creation director, David F. Sandberg proved those naysayers wrong.
Leonetti would follow up with Wolves At The Door, a harrowingtale of the Sharon Tate murders, which should have been a confronting film of one of the most notorious crimes in Hollywood, but once again rode the line of safety and never offering anything new or stimulating to lift it above the ‘norm.’
With horror movies breaking records in the light of the recent It movie, there is a high expectancy to bring the goods and offer something compelling.
On paper, Wish Upon already sounds like a weak proposition with its premise of a girl who discovers an ancient Chinese box that can reward you with 7 wishes but holds a heavy caveat that with every wish, a blood pact must be served.
There’s further promise with some strong support players in Ryan Phillippe and Sherilyn Fenn, but instead of produced what could have been this generations answer to The Craft, we’re provided with a feeble attempt within the teen horror market that would barely make an impact on the small screen.
Joey King (The Conjuring, Independence Day: Resurgence) tries her best to carry this film as the lead, Clare Shannon, but ultimately she was let down by a poor plot that left us sadly wanting.
It’s little wonder that the International market were left pondering what to do with this film once it had tanked in the States, and one can’t blame them for trying to sneak it under the radar by riding on the coattails of It.
There are worse movies out there, but we’re now used to seeing high calibre efforts on the big screen and in order to impress, genre filmmakers need to lift their game and not rest on their laurels.
Here’s the thing about the golden age of drama we’re currently living in: it has put movies on the back-foot. Which would be a really good analogy if The Endless were a boxing movie.
But it’s not. It’s not even a horror movie – but we’ll circle back to that.
Back to high end TV drama and their ability to craft complex story-lines and characters over a solid (but not too long) period of time. It’s clear these days movies (with their relatively short 2-3 hour sittings) are losing ground as a “competing” format.
It did have cinematic-ness in its corner (which is a real word, no need to look it up) until CGI balanced that ledger too. Sure as a science and an art-form computer imagery is still evolving, but if done right, big screen special FX can be just a mouse click away for even the tiniest micro-budget film.
So what do these two developments have to do with The Endless – the latest offerings from Indie filmmakers Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson?
Well for a start it has the 5D aesthetic of an Indie offering (although no doubt it was shot on a much bigger gauge) but towards the end it has surprising quality special FX for a movie that initially looks so sparse, it almost feels like a found footage film!
And secondly it is an adjunct to Moorhead and Benson’s 2012 effort, Resolution. By that I mean The Endless takes place parallel to the events in Resolution (and literally about a block away from it).
So yes – TheEndless is a cross-over film. And this brings me to an interesting thing film has done to “push back” against the serialised superiority of TV drama. And that’s franchising, i.e. Movies that aren’t sequels per se, ‘cause not all sequels respect or even acknowledge films in their own canon (James Bond much?) but rather ‘share the same universe’.
Marvel are the current bar setters of this trend, and movie studios everywhere are following suit (lack of originality will ‘always’ be a universal constant with Hollywood).
But it also appears independent filmmakers don’t need an excuse to franchise off their own bat. Which would have helped to know in advance when events from The Endless crossed over into Resolution.
But on with some actual review stuff! The Endless centres around 2 cult “survivors” (played by Moorhead and Benson themselves). They are brothers trying to subsist in an ‘ordinary world’ that cult living failed to prepare them for.
The younger brother especially (Aaron played by Aaron) feels rudderless and out of sync, and retains more good memories about the compound they grew up in, and as such convinces his older brother Justin (played by Justin) to go back and visit for a day or two.
This is after they mysteriously receive a VHS tape featuring a woman who used to babysit them there (played by Callie Hernandez of Blair Witch and Alien Covenant fame).
And this is where the first confusion sets in, as all the characters we meet ‘appear’ to be roughly the same age. Throw in the fact that the boys themselves seem to have left the compound in the 90’s (if news footage of them exiting is to be believed) yet they themselves look to not have aged a day in 20 years.
Yet continual references by Justin to his younger brother that there appears to be a “spark” between him and their former sitter seem odd, as Hernandez looks several years younger than both of them. Yet no one makes any attempt to explain these discrepancies in any sort of story-telling capacity; and so you’re left confused. No doubt this is a deliberate ploy from the filmmaking duo who brought us the Bonestorm segment from VHS Viral, but unfortunately it does tend to come across as if the film is gleefully disappearing up its own mythos (something re-enforced when it crosses over into Resolution).
Now despite all this, The Endless does evolve at an intriguing pace and is a sci-fi page turner that has the courage to be both sparse and visually spectacular where it needs to be. Something ‘is’ going on at the compound, and you ‘do’ want to see it to the end.
The movie’s central theme is time, whereas Resolution was story. Where & when they cross over – once you know what’s going on – does work.
But is it a horror film? Not by a long stretch. Is it worth seeing? Definitely.
The beating heart of writer, director Le Binh Giang’s debut feature, Kfc is laid bare with no holds barred and all guts, no glory.
At least not for the characters portrayed in this gritty, violent, and sadistic world, we find ourselves in.
With a short running time of 69 minutes is certainly not to be scoffed at as Le manages to cram enough twisted, blood-fuckery to warp the mind and melt the soul.
Straight from the off-set, we’re provided with the confronting images of violence and mayhem that will flow through the narrative like a gushing artery, with a guys casually talking with a motionless figure before ripping up a coke can and stabbing them in the neck with it.
Said character is mowed down outside of his abode by a passing vehicle and from here-on-in, we’re sentenced down into a whirlpool of loathing and disgust that leaves the head reeling in response to the grotesque that is on display.
That’s not to mention the necrophilia doctor and his accomplice that deliberately hunt for their victims in their ambulance by smashing into them and dragging their bodies away to be defiled and cut to pieces.
In some ways this film reminds me of Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, minus the beauty of Rio.
There’s no shying away from the brutality of Kfc, but does paint a similar picture of the rough terrain and gang mentality, where only the most deranged will survive.
The films focus is on a trio of sadists, who inflict their cruelty on the world around them without any inflection of emotion, which only adds to the haunting carnage that they leave in their wake.
And it’s only when emotions play a part and brim to the surface with themes of love/lust, anger, and revenge that these three accomplices fall apart.
The energy of the piece propels you forward and there’s enough material to keep you engaged without feeling too violated.
Le Binh Giang manages to craft a cyclical tale with some key observations on how parentage and society can have a serious negative impact on the way we carry out our lives.
Anarchy and chaos will reign but only for a period of time before something or someone else comes along to wipe you off the streets and a new world of pain will begin.
The director apparently wasn’t able to graduate from the University of Ho Chi Minh, due to the extreme violence in Kfc, and although it may not be suited for the faint-hearted, it certainly offers up a fresh take on the body horror genre and could very well propel Le Binh Giang onto greater things as a result.
As discussed in our latest podcast on Annabelle: Creation, the Conjuring universe is certainly expanding and this latest entry into the world feels like the first to make its mark.
Cinematic universes are fast becoming the next big thing – you can’t create a movie these days without looking beyond the movie that is being produced in order to explore untapped story potential.
Annabelle: Creation is no exception and a lot has been resting on the shoulders of this film to succeed in order for The Conjuring Universe to leap ahead with its grand plans.
Already committed to the franchise is ‘The Nun’ spinoff, heading to cinemas mid-next year, plus a stand-alone film centered on ‘The Crooked Man’ from The Conjuring2, plus a third outing on the supernatural investigations led by The Warrens.
Overseeing this universe from a writing perspective is Gary Dauberman, who not only has cast his vision across the numerous films slated, but contributed towards the much-anticipated It movie, due to be released in the coming weeks.
What is notable however in Dauberman’s writing is his fascination with the occult and those that practice or delve into the dark arts.
Despite its obvious flaws, Annabelle’s beating heart centred upon ‘Satanists’ and that of a woman from an undisclosed cult projects her twisted soul into the titular doll and thereby exacting its demonic will upon the afflicted family.
What has this all to do with the Manson family murders, I hear you cry?
Well, sandwiched in-between the release of Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, Dauberman worked on a little movie called Wolves At The Door, a tough, hard-hitting drama horror based on the Sharon Tate murders.
Those who are unfamiliar with this case, there were 5 victims in total, murdered in the home of Sharon Tate, wife to director Roman Polanski at the time and who was 8 months pregnant when she was killed.
The murders were carried out by four of Charles Manson’s ‘family’ by climbing into the estate and carrying out one of the most brutal and documented crimes in Hollywood.
It’s a dark subject and perhaps due to its historical context makes the viewing all the more harder to take on-board despite its lenient running time.
The connection doesn’t just stop with this movie though, as a more obvious relation is at play in Dauberman’s writing in the form of this guy.
Eric Ladin’s detective character, Clarkin was last seen in the Annabelle movie, charged with overseeing the murders that took place at the start, and would be called upon by Mae to discuss the ‘ritual’ behavior that was carried out.
“Crazy people do crazy things sometimes.”
A line that he mentions in passing to sum up all the horror that has unfolded and would be repeated again in Wolves At The Door, when Clarkin is again called in to investigate a break-in that has all the hallmarks of satanic beliefs and the precursor to the Sharon Tate murders.
His appearance may be minor in both films, but is there more to be uncovered in this character?
Does Dauberman have any plans to explore this character further? Could we expect another spinoff following Detective Clarkin’s investigations?
With the expanding universe, anything’s possible, right?