Maybe it’s because I just saw Stranger Things and coming down from an IT high, but this film just seemed to miss the mark for me. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark follows the old folk tales we have heard before but great to see it get a filmic depiction of the cartoon series I remember as a kid called Freaky Stories, which I heard from a friend of a friend of mine was very enjoyable with little twisted tales like the woman had spiders in her beehive hair doo. This movie emulates these old folk tales with the fantastical contribution of monsters designed by Guillermo del Toro.
It felt as though this style would work better as a Netflix or Stan episodic series as elements didn’t know where they wanted to be. It definitely felt half-baked like they were still mixing the ingredients together.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark follows a group of kids living in the suburbs of USA in the mid 1960’s, while breaking and entering an old mansion they steal a book from a dead girl that causes all manner of spookiness to ensue.
Scary stories are written in the book as they appear to devour those who were there when the book was taken. Mischievous hijinks abound.
The monsters were great but with a half-baked ensemble from the get go. It was difficult to get hooked. Take two episodes of Stranger Things with a glass of IT twice a day to wash out the taste.
Dr. Richard Lovegrove and Anesthesiologist Kelsi Williams
If you haven’t already come across Tubi yet, you’re missing out on some little gems from this online streaming platform. And best yet. It’s free.
We’re going to be looking at some of these movies in a regular feature that we’ll call Trash Night Tuesdays on Tubi with a weekly recommendation. First up: Dollman.
When Charles Band formed production and distribution company Full Moon Features, he had one goal in mind: To create horror, sci-fi, and fantasy movies on a low budget with a quality look and feel. Surprisingly, one of their earliest films spawned a cult franchise in Puppet Master and tapped into the home entertainment scene. With its use of small scale figures running amok in a larger world, it was somewhat fitting that the movie would come to represent a metaphor of the production outfit.
Using the same principles, Band then took to creating another film series that features intergalactic space cop Brick Bardo who whilst in pursuit of his greatest enemy, Sprug, inadvertently travels through an electric band that shrinks him to 13 inches in height and transports him to planet Earth.
Bardo (played by Tim Thomerson who was already cast in another film series Trancers spearheaded by Band as the hard-boiled Jack Deth) is an archaic representation of testosterone-fuelled, no shit, full-attitude masculinity with the Dirty Harry vibes that was typical of action films from the time. For some, this may appeal to their appetite for action and adventure on a small scale, but possibly more interesting to me was the appearance of Jackie Earle Haley (A Nightmare On Elm Street) in one of his earlier roles and he certainly stands out as Braxton Red, a low-life thug who runs a group of degenerates in the Bronx, New York. Braxton is suitably unhinged and when on-screen adds enough menace to the fold to give Bardo a challenge and keep the pace of the movie going.
It won’t set the world alight, but its short running time (79 minutes) ticks along nicely enough with and lifts it above your run-of-the-mill low budget flicks of its time.
TheDead Don’t Die is a classic example of how marketing can abuse the cinema-going public into flocking to the cinema in anticipation of a certain type of movie based on its trailer, only to be completely underwhelmed. Packed with an awesome cast in Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, and Danny Glover, to name but a few, we’re led to believe that the film would tap into a beating, bloody pulse, with rampaging zombies and killer comedy lines akin to Shaun of the Dead. In some ways, it felt like “they” were trying to market an independent, off-beat film and project it into mainstream culture to ride the coattails of a genre that is hot property right now. You could argue, that this is the job of a production distributor, and if they are comfortable with pulling in the punters and forego the negative backlash, then so be it. In this humble writers mind, it sets the movie in a bad light and the shadow that this may cast will be forever enveloped in darkness.
Those who are more familiar with director Jim Jarmusch’s work though, may have gone in with a more open mind and curious to see how he would weave a horror-themed element into his minimalist narrative. There’s a reason that big-hitter names are constantly drawn to his style of work as Jarmusch favours character development and eccentricity tends to be brought to the fore among a slow-yet-comedic pace. Movies such as Night on Earth, Dead Man, and Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai resonated with the cinema-going public in search of an alternate view on the celluloid screen. So, I was hopeful that TDDD would pep along and perhaps add something to the genre that would offer something fresh to the mix. Unfortunately the offering is stale and weak in comparison to Jarmusch’s early work and there is nothing new on the slab to satiate fans of the genre. It’s almost ironic that the look and feel of the movie is reminiscent of B-Movie horror films of the 50s, (possibly an area true to Jarmusch’s heart) in that TDDD is trapped in this time and place and feels content to sit in its world, unwilling to conform with modern trends and interests. Similarly, its leads Chief Cliff Robertson (Murray) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Driver) are stuck in the middle-town sentiments, that they are the rest of the town are doomed to the post-apocalyptic zombie crisis that has fallen on them. In fact, it’s the bumbling hermit (Waits) who is content in living amongst the wild and restless that may outlast and outwit them all, which in of itself poses some interesting questions. Questions that by the films conclusion, most viewers would have lost interest.
The acting was strong and a stand out for me was Caleb Landry Jones (Get Out) as the gas station attendant and is fast becoming an actor to watch, but ultimately there wasn’t enough substance to grip my attention.
For horror fans, this movie is D.O.A.
For Jarmusch fans, it’s full of nods and references, but it isn’t on par with his best movies. One for completists only.
Two years ago, I walked into an auditorium to sit down and watch It: Chapter 1 with some horror-loving friends, some of whom were devoted Stephen King fans eager to see what a modern adaptation would look like. I was admittedly a little apprehensive, as I had strong pangs of nostalgia from the 90s mini-series starring Tim Curry, which had its scares but was ultimately let down by its weak ending, which left room for improvement. Further reservations were also abound by my underwhelming reaction to Mama, Andy Muschietti’s directorial feature debut, but I was willing to forego any misgivings and not judge on a token outing from the director and I was also open to seeing Pennywise in the 21st Century and how he would relate to the current cinema-going audience.
It turns out that Warner Bros. marketing team tapped into the social platforms of the “connected” generation and elevated the dancing clown into the pop culture mainstream, thanks partly to the look that was generated by the production team and Bill Skarsgård respectively. Whilst the movie itself didn’t resonate with me the same way it appeared to with the younger demographic, as I found the film lacked in decent scares, resorting to jump scares and it didn’t shift into dark enough territory for me, and Pennywise never terrified or disturbed enough, so I was left wanting as a result. It did however tap into one of King’s strongest elements in his writing and that is in its young misfit characters that unite against a common enemy that was imperative for the movie to have any chance of impacting at all. Here, Bill, Beverly, Ben et al had such a strong connection, that we were willing to go along for the ride for good or ill.
Fast forward to today and the passing of time has seen some changes in the Surgeons team. Some have left for other ventures or simply shifted into a whole new reality, and on this occasion I found myself without my usual horror-loving fiends alongside me and would have to face Pennywise on my own, a juxtaposition to the comrade of adult characters in the film, who depend on one another to defeat Pennywise once and for all.
My expectations were considerably low this time around following the first movie, but I was pleasantly surprised by this second instalment. The scares were still absent, but the adventure packed scenario that The Losers were confronted with this time around were made for entertaining viewing, mainly thanks to Bill Hader (Richie) and James Ransome (Eddie) who churn out strong performances and in many ways overshadowed the more A-list actors, James McAvoy (Bill) and Jessica Chastain (Beverly) who could have just phoned it in and weren’t really able to add much depth to their characters despite the near 3 hour running time.
So if character development isn’t packed into the time frame, then what exactly fills the narrative? It has a fairly weighty narrative, and to Muschietti’s credit, he manages to sandwich in a fair amount of the original story or concept into his version with a few notable exceptions, and in doing so, I was happy to one again be taken along the journey to its CGI-filled conclusion. One that was questionable but still managed to tug at the heart-strings in the quest for victory.
Pennywise still failed to scare despite Skarsgård’s unique portrayal and Chapter 2 feels content to rest on a more feel-good, fun ride to conclude the Loser’s Club’s adventures against the dancing clown. Horror fans will once again feel robbed of what could have been a dark and destroying creature that feeds on our greatest fears, but will be entertained nonetheless.
The ultimate test will be if it resonates with the audience for the production distributors to warrant another visit to Derry and spark an ongoing franchise into the mythology of Pennywise. Time will tell.
Like comedic relief, Bill Hader has the best lines, but it felt like the director was playing for laughs rather than decent scares.
IT chapter two is a fun romp sadly ending in just one more film about the fear devouring Macroverse entity who appears to cheerfully as a psychotic clown. Bill Skarsgard reprises the role as the young’uns return to Derry, Maine 27 years after thinking they had defeated IT. The adult cast all delivered stellar performances channeling their younger personas but Bill Hader’s Ritchie was a personal favourite. As a fan of the 80’s miniseries I personally liked the updated take on this terrifying journey.
CM Punk is on the precipice of leaving the wrestling ring and embarking on a career in horror movies, including the much-talked about remake of Cronenberg’s Rabid by the Soska Sisters.
First up though is Girl On The Third Floor, which sees Punk as a married man about to embark on a home D.I.Y. project of an old Victorian house in time for his pregnant wife to move in, but not all is as it seems within the house, including its token living component. Surprisingly, Punk was incredibly convincing in the lead role (Don Koch) who appears to be the dedicated, hard-working husband but slowly reveals that he is a guy used to getting his way in business and the bedroom, and is easily led astray by his many vices. Punk is used to putting his body through the extreme measures in both his martial arts and wrestling years, and at times his facial expressions channel those of Bruce Campbell’s Ash as he is pitted against otherworldly sights.
When Don meets the mysterious neighbour Sarah, he succumbs to temptation, and ends up with more than he bargained for when he treats her as a one night stand. Just like his renovations, Don soon finds the walls tumbling around him and his life falling apart, revealing some disturbing sights, hidden within the house.
Director Travis Stevens weaves a world that oozes slime, puss, and blood that seeps into the crevices and delicately shifts between mystical suspense and body horror that ticks along at a decent pace. The shifts in tone and narrative position are equally strong, as the audience continuously shifts their perception of the characters, none-more-so than Don’s wife Liz, who comes across as a little vapid and overbearing until she is given her moment to shine and present a more rounded, complex character facing a tough dilemma that thrusts her front and centre and taking charge of the situation.
Stevens serves up a promising debut feature that questions our discernment of the characters at play, and challenges our preconceived ideas by lifting the lid on what we wish to remain buried. In doing so, he exposes our inner thoughts and desires and rips them apart so that there is nowhere to hide. Can we face those demons and is there strength in us to change our ways or be forever damned?
Every so often a film will come along that can be truly classified as unique and Bruce McDonald’s (Pontypool) latest feature can proudly sit in this category. Like a glass of smooth whiskey, Dreamland scintillates the senses and warms the cockles as it seeps into the bloodstream. As expected from its name, McDonald provides a narrative that draws you in deep and hypnotises you into a state of transcendence.
At its heart, Dreamland is a hitman with a heart movie, but what makes it stand apart is how the storyline transfuses Eastern European mythology with a Far-East culture and spiritualism. This injected with a cool jazz music that would make Martin Scorsese swoon, we are carried through a journey where the audience can drift along with relative ease knowing that we are in the safe hands of a more than accomplished director.
It’s not just about style though, as the substance is grounded by some heavy-hitting performances from Henry Rollins, Juliette Lewis, and Stephen McHattie in his dual role of the afore-mentioned hitman, Johnny and jazz trumpeter The Maestro. McHattie is magnificent in his portrayal of both parts and adds weight to McDonald’s composition.
When hitman Johnny learns of children being smuggled and sold off to a collective group, he endeavours to free them of their torment and quit the business ahead of high-profile wedding. There is trouble ahead, but more than Johnny possibly bargained for as the wedding guests are from a vampiric bloodline, with the groom resembling Count Orlok, who has a blackened heart set on making one of the kidnapped young girls his blushing bride.
Dreamland is a simply glorious film that entices you into a beautiful world with a rich soul. It is a mystical journey that sends the audience beyond the physical realm and transports you through a dark and disturbing land whilst surrounding you with an invisible ray of light to shepherd you to a sublime conclusion.
One of the reasons I love the Sydney Underground Film Festival so much, is that each year you can guarantee to view some of the most off-centre films from the industry. No matter how hard you try they refuse to ‘fit-in’ to the mainstream, perfectly content to live among the strange, surreal, or bizarre. This year, Fingers can proudly sit among this prestigious group of outcasts, described by SUFF as a ‘quirky and off-the-wall jam’.
We all have our phobias, and for Amanda, it’s fingers. So when she is confronted by a fellow worker who is missing one of his digits, she freaks out and spirals into a world that she is forced to endure and overcome her demons.
Fingers soon blurs the boundaries as we are presented with Dr. Scotty, a self-help psychologist, who aims to guide Amanda on her journey; Two masked hit-men; and a curious old dude played by Michael St. Michaels who some viewers may recognise from The Greasy Strangler. Each of these characters come with their own curiosities that slowly seep to the surface and sheds light on all our of our oddities that we try to keep buried beneath the surface. In doing so, the characters must own up to their “weaknesses’ and embrace them. For without them, humanity will never grow and become trapped in their own personal hell.
Whilst Fingers may not suit everyone’s tastes, those that relish the strange and quirky souls of human life, will find great satisfaction from this little gem. If you can push beyond the first 20mins, you will find yourself absorbed into the narrative and willing to plunge into the dark and twisted mind of director, Juan Ortiz (Jennifer Help Us). Particularly striking was Jeremy Gardner as the unhinged hit-man, Talky, who tord the fine-line of madness, mayhem, and vulnerability with effortless ease.
It’s been 5 years since director Richard Bates Jr released Suburban Gothic, and his latest feature, Tone-Deafharnesses a similar blend of wit and horror from its lead actors that has become closely associated with this auteur. Those that enjoyed Bates Jr’s approach to the celluloid form will appreciate the inclusion of this movie in this years’ Sydney Underground Film Festival.
Tone-Deaf offers a topical insight into the gulf that divides the Baby Boomer generation and the Millennials. Robert Patrick is magnificent as disgruntled home-owner, Harvey with an axe to grind with the current generations’ attitude or neglect towards all that his generation has built or established.
On the other side of the divide is Olive, who is going through her own crisis after losing her job and splitting from her dead-beat boyfriend. At first Amanda Crew’s portrayal of the struggling Millennial comes across as sipid, and I found it hard to engage with her, but once she holes up at Harvey’s Airbnb, she soon starts to shed some of her harsh exterior and we soon warm to her. Which is a good thing too, because once Harvey goes nuts, we need to champion for someone in the narrative.
Speaking of Harvey, when we’re first introduced to him, I found it a little jarring too as we’re greeted to the first of many soliloquies as he addresses the audience, but at least it doesn’t go to Clint Eastwood Gran Turino grumbles. In fact, Patrick’s performance is more on the lighter-side of darkness as he delves into the melancholy, which allows us to warm to Harvey despite his obvious affliction.
As the movie plays out, we’re treated to a see-saw of oppositions that continually ebbs and flows without the slightest hint about who will come out on top. The humour peppers along and provides reprieve from what could be construed as a bleak outlook but Bates Jr clearly has fun ridiculing the obvious disconnect between the generation gap. Whilst the horror is slight, this home invasion thriller manages to entertain and delight through the ensuing conflict.
Set among the forest of buildings that is New York, director Larry Fessenden retells one of horrors best written tales ever written by not only shifting the setting and the time period but the focus of the subject. One is reminded of the quote “An intelligent man knows Frankenstein wasn’t the monster. A wise man knows that Frankenstein was the monster?”.
Amidst a dusty warehouse apartment with a shonky makeshift lab we find Alex is struggling to bring his creation to life together with his partner, Polidori, (famous for writing “The Vampyr” in 1816 as part of a contest including Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley).
The strong motif of PTSD plays throughout the film complimented by the cinematic angles and camera movements, as much of the film is achieved using POV shots, which made a far more honest portrayal of the beast, the monster … Adam. Though this film was shot on a budget, this is not at all apparent besides some tight shots during a roof top fight scene but it does not detract from this brilliantly eerie film.
Donald F. Glut takes on both writing and directing duties to oversee an adaptation of his collection of short stories, which serves as a ‘love song’ to Mary Shelley’s creation. It’s hard to believe that Shelley’s novel celebrated its bicentenary last year, and Glut certainly knows his subject, pouring into every crevice of his source material to pay homage to and draw out four stories.
Our first story, “My Creation, My Beloved” set in Bavaria, 1887, is probably the most faithful with a Frankenstein descendant, who is a cross between the scientist and deformed assistant, Igor, continues in his ancestors obsession for resurrection and beauty, only to be thwarted in his own lustful pursuit. Excellent performance here from Buddy Daniels Freedman as Dr Gregore Frankenstein.
The second tale, “Crawler from the Grave” feels like the most fun, and finds ourselves in Switzerland, 1910 and sees John Blyth Barrymore (Full Moon High) as Vincent, another Frankenstein descendant who is hunted down by a disembodied hand from the grave.
Our third story, “Madhouse of Death” felt the weakest of the quartet of tales in my humble opinion, but this could very well be down to taste. Set in Los Angeles, 1948, the story also serves as a salute to the golden era of Hollywood and the film noir detective films with Sam Malone et al, and for that I commend its approach. Essentially we see a detective take on more than he gambled when he uncovers an old house full of crazies and home to a gorilla.
The last tale ends strongly, and in many ways one after my own heart, as those who know me can attest, as it is the most closely associated with the Hammer Horror films that I grew up with as a kid. With “Dr. Karnstein’s Creation” set in Transylvania, 1957, we’re presented with a clever fusion between Frankenstein and the most infamous creature of the night, Dracula complete with torch wielding locals hellbent on turning the tables on the mad doctor who resides in the castle. Another fine performances in this section, notably from Jim Tavaré.
You can tell that the creators are a lover of their subject and embellish Mary Shelley’s story for a modern generation whilst still staying faithful to its origins. Director/writer Glut carves up four fantastic stories that reawaken the macabre moments that made Frankenstein a household name in horror and celebrates 200 years, highlighting the reasons why this ageless tale will never die.