Retrospective: Bloody Moon (1981)

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It’s probably criminal that a self-confessed Surgeon of Horror, that I have now just sat down to watch a film by Jesús Franco, a Spanish director whose work spanned over 170 films and garnered a reputation in the field of exploitation and B-Movies.

The film under the retrospective gaze is Bloody Moon, which celebrates its 40th Anniversary since its release, fits perfectly into this description. Part of its appeal / repulsion, depending on your stance comes down to the heavily stylised nature of the film.
Bloody Moon is incredibly clunky and on many occasions the editing of the narrative is fractured and sparse, which can alienate the viewer through the series of seemingly unrelated scenarios that are strung together.
What does work well however is by creating a prologue that deliberately skew our perspective of our lead suspect, Miguel (Alexander Waechter). Miguel bears a horribly disfigured face and due to this he is already ostracized from society. When he tries to hide his features from a woman during a sexual encounter, by masquerading as someone else, it naturally goes wrong. Feeling rebuked again, Miguel loses his temper and stabs the poor victim to death with a pair of scissors and is institutionalised in a mental institute for his crime.

Five years later, Miguel is left in the care of his equally disturbed sister, Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff) who runs a youth boarding school of languages on the Costa Del Sol. It is the school camp / campus setting that has likened this film to other slasher films of the time, like Friday the 13th.

We have our central heroine, Angela (Olivia Pascal), who arrives at the school and immediately becomes the subject of Miguel’s infatuation. So when the body count then starts piling up then Miguel immediately falls under suspicion. 

Despite its displaced narrative, there are some moments when the bouts of the extreme are satisfying for fans of the genre, namely the power saw scene. There is however, a harrowing moment that swiftly follows this when a child who tries to save the girl from the killer grind, and is mowed down by a car as he tries to escape.

Bloody Moon is nicely tied up through an admittedly maniacal conclusion that is handled with a heightened sense of melodrama. It deserves your time, for it is both entertaining and twists and turns its way along while amping up the gore factor at timely moments. So if you can forgive the clunks and awkward delivery, there is a decent slasher film lurking beneath the surface.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Spider Woman Strikes Back

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Not to be confused with some kind of Marvel spin off, or even a follow up to the Sherlock Holmes feature some years before, The Spider Woman Strikes Back is a stand alone feature from the Universal vault that starred Gale Sondergaard, who also featured in the afore-mentioned Holmes film, The Spider Woman.

Sondergaard is given reign to flex her acting muscles and prowess as the local town’s wealthiest person Zenobia Dollard, and with that she carries a huge amount of privilege and entitlement of the land and those in her community. 

Zenobia also hides behind her supposed blindness to get people to think she is a weak and ailing old woman, when she is anything but.

Our lead protagonist is Jean (Brenda Joyce), a young woman new to the town to become Zenovia’s personal assistant. It’s not long before Jean suspects that all is not well in the household, and that something sinister has occurred to her predecessors. Just as she starts to uncover Zenovia’s sinister plan, she finds herself ensnared with her life in danger.
Her only hope may lie in her only contact in town, Hal (Kirby Grant) to discover the death serum, concocted by spider venom and Jean’s blood. 

Rondo Hatton is on hand to provide the lumbering muscle to protect and do Zenovia’s bidding, but he doesn’t offer much beyond this stereotype that he was now attached to.

Universal had grand plans to start a new series involving The Spider Woman, but much like The Jungle Woman, which was launched in a similar timeframe, it never registered well with the audience.
This may have something to do with the lack of enthusiasm from director Arthur Lubin, who strongly opposed the idea of directing a horror feature, but was forced to do so by Universal or else lose his contract.

Mostly though, The Spider Woman Strikes Back suffers from a convoluted script and little substance.

It’s a shame though as I could sense from watching the film that Sondergaard would have relished the opportunity to revisit the role.

As such, it has slipped into obscurity a little and Universal were beginning to suffer from trying to climb out of the shadows of Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. to make a mark on the horror genre further.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Omen III: The Final Conflict

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It’s been nearly 45 years at the time of writing this article that Damien Thorn first graced the silver screen, crafted by the mind of Director Richard Donner from a screenplay by David Seltzer. The story of the antichrist, starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, and Patrick Troughton would carve its place in horror film history and spawn a further three films, a remake, and a TV series in its wake.

This year sees the 40th Anniversary of the third instalment, Omen III: The Final Conflict, starring Sam Neill as the antagonist, Damien.
Controversially, I find this movie one of the strongest in the series and have vivid memories watching it when I was younger. Some fans of the series connected more with the sequel, Damien: Omen II over this film, but I still find, having recently gone through the entire franchise, Omen III the stronger movie. Perhaps this is because of Neill’s magnanimous presence, but there are also some notable moments that put the audience off kilter, in a good way, and allow the film to shine through as a result.

Possibly the most troubling point played with is the hunting down and meticulously cold-blooded killing of baby boys, born on a certain day, predicated to be Christ reborn. As a father, these ideas are always a tough watch.
The strongest component for me is the symbolism attached to the fox hunting and the blooding of reporter Kate Reynolds son, Peter, grooming him to be a disciple of Damien. Also, the moment when Damien unleashes the hounds on one of his assailants. Some may see it as comical, but I really enjoyed the concept of the priestly pact of assassins, attempting to bring down Damien with the Seven Daggers of Megiddo. 

Equally as compelling is Kate’s character, played by Lisa Harrow. There is a strong character arc at play here with her tackling her journalistic instincts, driving her to understand Damien more, but ultimately luring her into his web of demonic destruction. The scene in which Damien draws Kate in with sexual intimacy before sodomizing her, is the height of convulsion and a significant turning point for Kate.

Its weakest component to the film has to be its ending. The 1976 feature had such a strong finale with Damien turning to the camera before striking that wicked grin. And Damien: Omen II’s fiery end held an impactful conclusion. So it’s a shame that Damien’s demise should falter, admittedly at the hands of Kate, but to fall down before a Christly apparition seems a little too twee for my liking. It would have been nicely played had they kept this more ambiguous and leaving the downfall down to the interpretation of the audience.

As it stands though, it’s a great addition to the franchise, even if it does fall short of The Omen, but that was always going to be a tough act to follow. 

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Blood and Lace (1971)

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Before the slasher craze would strike in the 80s and both Voorhees and Myers would don their respective masks…

Before even Halloween or Black Christmas would sew the seeds of what was to come in the world of celluloid horror, Blood and Lace would grace all the hallmarks of what typifies the sub-genre.

Initially considered to be too gratuitous for the cinema audience by the MPA (Motion Picture Association) Blood and Lace would find a home as a regular slot at drive-in theatres, where it would garner a following.

As the film opens, we’re greeted with the now familiar trope of the killers POV as they stalk through a house and centre in on the intended victims lying in bed, being clobbered by the weapon of choice; a hammer, and then setting the house on fire.
The sole survivor, the woman’s daughter, Ellie (Melody Patterson) is then sent off to an orphanage to be raised by the crazed Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame) and her odd-job man, Tom (Len Lesser). This is where the level of sinister and fuckdom begins as Mrs. Deere is a crackpot, who keeps her dead husband on freeze, believing that it will keep him alive. She is also fuelled by money, working the children in her care to the bone, and for those who she pushed beyond the limits, keeps in the freezer in order to keep up the head count and receive her welfare checks.
Tom is no saint either, with eyes on the young females that come through the orphanage to satiate his sexual lusts. In fact, it’s hard to actually find anyone to like in this movie, as our lead protagonist, Ellie is suitably off-kilter and hard to connect to for obvious reasons when the full scope of the story is revealed. We also have a lingering, sexual predator in Detective Carruthers (Vic Taybuck), who has a curious interest in Ellie, that reveals itself in a couple of ways in the films climax, pushing the boundaries of taste and decency.
This twist in the storyline isn’t necessarily a shock moment, as you can sense it coming from a mile out, but the fact that it still travels there, leaves you feeling completely disturbed.
A sign of a movie leaving its sticky residue on the mind of its viewer and potentially where it still resonates when viewed today, despite its slow methodological pace, cheap budget, and standard script.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

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Here is another movie that completely slipped me by and had generated a lot of buzz at the time of its release. 

On face value, it could easily slip into the ranks of mediocrity, but there’s a great deal of intelligence brewing beneath this mockumentary slasher.
My prejudice was also combined with a familiarity to a 1992 Crime mockumentary called Man Bites Dog, where a film crew follow the life of a serial killer, recording his every move. Man Bites Dog is also highly regarded by this reviewer as I deem it to be one of the finest Found Footage style films ever.

In the case of Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a similar tale is told, where a film crew, led by Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her two cameramen, Doug and Todd, follow Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesai) who claims to be from a local urban legend and encourages them to document his rise to infamy.

There are a couple of elements that lift this fly-on-the-wall black comedy above the ranks of similar movies, chief among these is the tongue-in-cheek knowledge that filmmakers Scott Glossermann and David J. Stieve about their subject matter.
The writer and director team channel all the usual slasher movie tropes and delightfully ridicule them with a nudge and a wink to its audience. To cement this further, the storytellers have cemented their world where known slasher killers, such as Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers and the crimes that they have commited have actually taken place and are treated as historical events.

The stroke of genius comes in casting of Robert Englund as the Dr. Loomis-type character, on the hunt to track and bring down Vernon. Englund hams this up so aptly, including some deadpan down the barrel looks into the lens when he spouts his lines or retribution.

The humour is suitable macabre and on-point bringing to light what we all come to love about this sub-genre, and in doing so, the job of building up the character of Leslie Vernon and he’s mythology is an easy one to portray.

The first half of the movie allows the narrative to build on this exposition and nicely shapes up the characters involved, before flipping the lid on the voyeurs and subjecting them to the game that Vernon is playing.

At this point, the pleasure comes in letting the scenario play out to its more than satisfying conclusion accompanied by a heartening round of applause from this reviewer.

I can clearly see why it was so well received within the horror community and would happily watch it all over again.

The question arises though with talks of a potential sequel on the horizon, with strong talks from the creative team about resurrecting Leslie Vernon again, whether this a lightning in a bottle moment or if they can recreate the magic once again.

Time will tell. Hopefully BFTM will come about soon and delight us again.

Come on Glosserman… Please make it happen.

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is currently screening on Shudder Australia.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Lucky (2021)

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Saturday night on Shudder:

It’s Saturday night! Time for a venture onto the Shudder platform with their latest Exclusive and Original feature.

This week’s focus is on Lucky, directed by Natashsa Kermani (Imitation Girl) and starring Brea Grant (Eastsiders), who also took on writing duties for this movie.
Brea stars as May, a self help novelist, who is being stalked on a nightly basis by a threatening figure in her own house.
On face value, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lucky feels like a standard made-for-tv feature due to its low budget and slow pace in delivery, but the deeper you delve into its narrative, the more complex and smart it becomes.

The character of May is an intriguing one, and as our lead protagonist, serves as a portal into the universe that is created around her. The intricacy involved in the narrative however also rests on this point of view; because we view things through May’s perspective, we are reliant on this depiction of the events that surround, but here’s the ticker… May is a trauma survivor, and trauma itself is an incredibly complex thing. No one person experiences trauma the same way, and as such, can experience fragments of these memories that have mentally scarred her discernment of the world. Like her, the audience is left to put these pieces together and figure out why she keeps seeing this violent presence each night and why those around her become distant and withdrawn, especially her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh).

If you have the patience to journey through these fractured events that May is traversing, it can lead to a climax that has been building throughout the film towards a revelatory conclusion.

Some may spot that conclusion coming, and the dots that are formed slips easily into predictability but in some cases this allows the viewer to scrutinise the message further and for this reviewer, that feels like the most relevant expression that Kermani and Grant are aiming for. A subject that is ripe for conversation and through Lucky have provided a mode of thought that feels like a strong and passionate project on behalf of the creative team.

The Prognosis:

Don’t be misguided by the “artsy” mode of delivery that this film goes for.
Nor the low-budget style of direction that the feature is subjected to.
Lucky is a relevant and poignant film that strides to tackle or expose a subject that we should all be paying attention to and discuss. That subject is trauma and not only the shockingly commonality that violence has become in society, be it domestic or otherwise, but also the absence of support or understanding that is out there for survivors of a traumatic episode.
Often, those victims are termed lucky for surviving their ordeal, but the mental scars that are left over have a resounding effect on all facets of their lives. It can be an isolating experience where it feels like no one can understand what they are going through, and yet with so many cases, why are we not able to address and confront these issues together?
This may sound like a deep analysis of what is on show, but it’s a subject that absolutely needs to be addressed and I think that both Kermani and Grant have produced a solid, entertaining movie that takes on this tough issue and presents a solid representation of what it means to be forced into a world where the remnants of trauma is with us in every waking moment of our lives.

  • Saul Muerte

To listen to the audio review please click the link below:

https://anchor.fm/saul-muerte/embed/episodes/Movie-review-Lucky-2021-ernl7v

Movie review: The Dark and The Wicked

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There is an ongoing belief that isolation can have damaging consequences on the human mind. While there are those that repress their emotions and adamantly believe that by placing a rift between ourselves and society or community, we are less likely to encounter any harmful or negative experiences and therefore be safe from the dangers that the world can expose.

And yet the fear of being alone or dying alone is incredibly prominent in some circles and can signify the feeling of a life not yet lived or to the full.
This is why it is often the subject in horror films and can stir the trepidation of being stranded or stuck in the middle of nowhere, far from any hope or signs of life, tormented by an evil presence.
Sometimes this is done well but often can fall prey to horror tropes and jump scares with little or no lasting effect on its audience.

The Dark and The Wicked, the latest Exclusive and Original feature from Shudder is happily from the former and delivers a deeply psychological and disturbing feature.

Set on a secluded farm, two siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott. Jr) return to the family homestead to help their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) with their dying father, whom we are told is at death’s door.

Their mother though appears distraught and disconnected from everyone, and warns the siblings that they shouldn’t have come. Before long, she snaps, cuts off her fingers and then hangs herself.
The siblings are then left trying to figure out what could have possessed their mother with the help of their father’s nurse (Lynn Andrews) that a demonic spirit is trying to take the soul of their father.

Spun out by the overwhelming and perturbing manner in which their mother took her own life and the threat that there may be something dark and sinister lurking in the shadows, that is driven to bring all those in the vicinity into its wake.

Are they experiencing a group hallucination? Is there more to the mysterious priest (Xander Berkley) or has something else taken up residence among them?

The Prognosis:

Director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) is clearly drawn to the subject of isolation, fractured lives and what the fear of the unknown can have on the psyche.
Here, he crafts and wrangles out every last ounce of agitation from a small, yet strong cast by wallowing them through grief and the brink of despair until they are consumed by their emotions.

It is a slow-burn, but the strenuous ordeal through which both its leads and the audience is drawn through is well worth the payoff.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Absentia (2011)

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The first time Director Mike Flanagan fell into my periphere, was when I watched his 2013 feature film, Oculus (admittedly this had a lot to do with its star Karen Gillan) and was blown away by his vision. 

I’ve been a huge fan of his work ever since and watched every one of his movies and tv shows preceding this.

There was however, one glaring omission from this modern auteur’s work that I had neglected and that is the subject of this retrospective… Absentia.

Now celebrating 10 years since its initial release I intended to remedy that error and I’m thankful to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

Despite its minimalist approach due to an admittedly refined budget, Flanagan proves his mastery even at this early stage of his career, weaving in a supernatural tale that chills and mystifies. These traits are all too familiar to Flanagan’s craft and have perfected over time.

Absentia’s tale is a tangled one that lures you into its obscurity and ensnares you, much like its subject; a tunnel or underpass at the end of a typical suburban street.

The conundrum presented could sit perfectly in the canon of Twilight Zone tales, where we are presented with a pregnant woman, Tricia (Courtney Bell) whose husband, Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown), has been missing for seven years. With the period of time that has passed, Tricia can now declare Daniel, dead in absentia and finally out things to rest and potentially settle down with her new partner, Det. Mallory (Dave Levine).
She is joined at this time by Daniel’s younger sister, Callie (an excellent Katie Parker), a former drug addict and estranged from her family.

All is not as it seems however, as Tricia begins to have hallucinations of Daniel in her house, and Callie has a strange encounter with a “homeless” man (played by the always sublime Doug Jones) in the afore-mentioned tunnel. These strange events push Callie back into her drug use again, and the paranoia and anxiety rises to the surface, as she’s convinced that someone has broken into the house.

So, when Daniel suddenly returns one day, everything gets flipped upside down and inside out, starts a chain of oddities, leading each of the characters down a path of no return.

For me, Absentia has cemented my admiration of Flanagan’s films. It was a reward to see how his style and creativity began to formulate. And even though it is in its most simplistic form, all the hallmarks of his work are evident.
Most importantly, Flanagan is a storyteller, first and foremost. A man who is able to tap into the imagination, creating worlds that are finely incubated, and the fact that he has grown in stature over the years is a testament to his ability in this field.

If like me, Absentia, has missed you by, I highly recommend giving it your time.

Currently screening on Shudder Australia.

  • Saul Muerte

Related links:

Mike Flanagan hits 3 horror home runs in 2016 – pt1: Hush

Mike Flanagan hits 3 horror home runs in 2016 – pt2: Ouija: Origin of Evil

Mike Flanagan hits 3 horror home runs in 2016 – pt3: Before I Wake

Gerald’s Game

Movie review: Doctor Sleep

Series review: The Haunting of Hill House S1

Retrospective: Jungle Captive (1945)

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The third and final outing for Paula Dupree aka The Ape Woman for Universal would revert back to the mad doctor scenario.

This time the twirling moustache award goes to Mr. Stendahl (Otto Kruger) who successfully pulls a rabbit out of the afterlife, resurrected its once lifeless form.
Riding on the euphoria of his achievements, Stendhal then trudges off to be the next Dr. Frankenstein to reanimate the corpse of Paula Dupree.

To do his dirty work however, Stendahl calls upon his lumbering assistant Moloch (Rondo Hatton) to snatch the body from the city morgue, but in his efforts kills the attendant on duty.

Now, not only has a murder occurred, and a body stolen, but Inspector Harrigan (Jerome Cowan) suspects another doctor, Don Young when he discovers a medical smock belonging to the young practitioner at the morgue.

All does not bode well for Don when it is discovered that his fiance, Ann (Amelita Ward) has provided a false alibi.

When Ann suddenly disappears, Don must now prove his innocence, find his gal, and the true murderer.

It is little wonder that this film would inevitably fall flat on its face and kill off any hopes for any further misdeeds from the Ape Woman.

Whilst Kruger puts forward a strong performance as the dastardly doctor, Universal produced another misfire, which never manages to muster up any hopes of creating a monster to be feared from the Ape Woman.
There are too many leaps in the script to ignite any identity of its own, and too often tries to ride on the shoulders of previous incarnations in Frankenstein’s Monster or The Wolf Man.
This is even more stifled in the third outing by not only losing its initial lead in Acquanetta, and even losing its first choice replacement in Betty Bryant, who was dropped two days into the shoot, but mainly due to subjecting the creature into the background, thrusting the maniacal doctor front and centre and in doing so, casts the Ape Woman into the shadows.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Sator (2019)

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It’s clear to say that Sator was a labour of love for director Jordan Graham who would take six years to complete.
Apparently, this was due to budgetary limitations, and when you are the writer, director, and producer of your sophomore outing in the field, this is completely understanding. Being a lover of the craft, especially one where the vision is clear and the passion evident, I can only applaud Graham’s efforts.

The slow-paced, stylized depiction of Graham’s vision however will not suit everyone’s tastes, and perhaps consider it too “artsy”, especially for mainstream horror lovers.

Shot entirely in black and white, Sator emphasises both fields of being a low-budget film, but looking smart because of the association to ‘highbrow’ entertainment.

Essentially this film is a supernatural occult horror that uses the subject of a broken family as its heart, slowly being ripped apart by Sator, an entity that eats away at each of their souls before it can claim them.

With any known demonic force, it will find the weakest chain and begin to wear it down until it breaks loose and exposes the frailty of us all.

It may be laboriously slow in the manner of its delivery, but Graham’s depiction is masterful in places and the essence of it is incredibly strong and harrowing.

The choice of setting also cements this further as the family are based in a desolate forest, isolated from the real world with only each other to depend upon, but combined with this separated from reality.
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The Prognosis:

It’s said that isolation can lead to depression and dissolution will set in with doubts and self-loathing, all fodder for demonism to take hold and seep its way into the humanity mainstream, fracturing any hope of surviving.

Here Jordan Graham crafts a deeply dark and disturbing tale, which will resonate for some, or find the stylisations too much to bear and ultimately turn them off.

  • Saul Muerte