Goodnight Mommy

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*Spoilers beyond!

When your trailer is proclaimed as the scariest ever, you’d better back that shit up by making an equally terrifying whole. That trailer went viral in 2015, and as a horror fan it was a bold claim that I needed to verify. What I will say about the trailer is that it makes the movie look like something it isn’t. I didn’t find the trailer scary in the slightest but it did look ominous and interesting and had enough potential to make me want to see the whole thing. Now that I have seen it, did the final product live up to that potential?

Well…. no. Goodnight Mommy does have an interesting premise but misses out on creating any real sense of paranoia or dread. There is maybe a single page’s worth of dialogue in the entire movie, no real action appears until the final twenty minutes of an unnecessarily stretched running time, none of the ideas it purports are explored, and the whole thing is simply dull. We have meandering, lingering shots of empty rooms, the Austrian countryside, and people sitting, staring, walking, and we have unsympathetic and ultimately uninteresting characters leaping to conclusions and exhibiting behavior that seems to have no plausibility or reason. If we compare it to a movie such as, say A Tale Of Two Sisters, the difference in quality is vast. You could argue that it is an invalid comparison but it’s clear the makers desperately wanted to make something in that vein. A Tale Of Two Sisters makes use of its absolutely gorgeous cinematography and colour palette, and isn’t merely there to remind us that the family is isolated. The performances in Goodnight Mommy are sterile, while A Tale Of Two Sisters is visceral, and perhaps most crucially the Asian film is genuinely unsettling and scary.

Goodnight Mommy tells the story of two brothers who apparently live alone in a large house far from civilization, until one day a woman claiming to be their mother returns home from an operation. She is shrouded in bandages and seems to be grumpy and detached compared to when she left. The boys are left to their own devices but they begin to wonder if the woman in their house is an impostor – naturally they leap to the next logical step of torture (in fairness they do try to reach out to a priest, but he takes them home – knowingly). There is a supposed twist, but it’s unclear if the viewer was meant to know it before the official reveal or during one of the several unofficial reveals, or even during the first ten or 15 minutes of the movie where it is fairly obvious anyway. Several notable clichés are invoked such as the good old ‘outsider comes to the rescue only to be distracted at the crucial moment’ and the ‘almost escapes but is caught by something which would never happen in reality’. It’s muddled and plain and boring, and it isn’t redeemed by a better final twenty minutes. There are ideas, there is potential, and some of the scenes towards the end might even cause a hardened horror fan to cringe, but there isn’t enough to recommend. It’s a case of wanting to grab the filmmakers by the shoulders and scream in their faces ‘you’re doing it wrong! I know you’re better than this!’

By all means, watch this if you were genuinely creeped out by the trailer – I mean, check out the many many glowing reviews this has received by better people and clearer voices than me and mine. I can’t say I was disappointed by this as I wasn’t expecting much, but in the end this is a fairly tame thriller that both abandons and under uses its ideas. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie!

Hansel And Gretel

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I’d had this recorded on my box for about five years but finally got around to watching it in a futile attempt to make space. I’m glad I did because Hansel And Gretel is yet another unique and beautiful thriller from South Korea which, while not reaching the heights of Chan Wook Park or Kim Jee Woon, is still a film which raises many questions and merges stunning cinematography with ugly violence.

The film follows Eun Soo, a twenty something man who seemingly fears commitment or settling down with a family. In the film’s opening moments he is arguing on the phone with his girlfriend who is recently pregnant, while driving to visit his own sick mother. The argument causes him to crash his car, and he wakes up some time later in the middle of a dense forest. A young girl finds him and beckons him to follow her home, and as he is lost, hurt, and disoriented he has little choice. Upon reaching the house, things are a little bizarre and tense – the house is filled with kids toys, games, sweets, and chocolate, and the parents of the three children seem overly cheery yet nervous. Before long Eun Soo finds himself unable to leave the forest as if he is trapped by some mystical force, and a series of odd events make him question who the children really are and if he will ever escape.

Naturally I don’t want to give too much of the plot away; the film has twists and turns and constantly forces you to question who the victim is, what the motive is, what the reason for the situation could be, and how it will turn out for everyone. All is eventually revealed and in true Fairy Tale style we… well, we get an ending – decide for yourself if it is a happily ever after. The performances from the children are particularly good – again making you question their purpose, and the film cleverly holds back from anything too obviously supernatural until the final minutes. Special credit to Shim Eun Kyung as the eldest daughter for her mature performance. There is a dream-like quality to the film – from the sets to the cinematography, the music, and the moments where the characters seem to lose track of themselves, it does feel like stumbling into a modern, dark fairy tale where no-one can be trusted and everything is trying to eat you. The film lulls, enchants, and intrigues like all good stories should and each shot is set up to look pristine and artful. This isn’t a tale of woodcuts and creatures, more a child’s vision of an ideal world which engulfs and corrupts whatever and whomever it contacts.

Hansel And Gretel may be more difficult to get your hands on than other adult oriented fairytales such as Pan’s Labyrinth but it’s one to grab if you can find it and indulge in another dark fable which reminds us why we love such stories in the first place. Let us know in the comments if you have seen Hansel And Gretel!

Baskin

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A Turkish horror movie about a bunch of cops who somehow end up in Hell? Sign me (the hell) up! Except, that’s not really what happens. This is a Turkish Horror film – yep, but one which has more in common with the surreal elements of Lynch and Dali. It follows a bunch of cops, but they’re all assholes. Whether or not they end up in Hell is up for interpretation, like the rest of the movie. Basically I was going in expecting Aliens, but ended up experiencing a cross between Vinyan and Triangle – watch the latter, not the former.

What the balls am I talking about anyway? The opening of the film is promising, evocative of Argento, and of Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness. A young boy wakes in bed, disturbed by female moans coming from his parents’ bedroom. After creeping through his house, a withered, robed arm emerges from the boy’s bedroom and he screams – standard nightmare fare. The film cuts to what appears to be a remote and rundown restaurant where five policemen are talking about football and their sexual histories. There is a brief altercation with the staff where it becomes apparent that the cops may be abusing their power. Additionally, one of the cops suffers a momentary psychological breakdown. Also; frogs. A call for support comes in from another patrol, and the group heads off in their van to help and on route the group comments on the local lore and spooky stories surrounding the village they are driving to. After a few bumps they reach their destination – which turns out to be their FINAL DESTINATION!

It’s a film of two halves, as the old cliche goes, building up the characters, such as they are, and then throwing them into danger. The second half is clearly the more interesting and vibrant and violent. It’s where the director pulls down his fly and whips out six inches of tricks for his and our pleasure. The ‘Hell’ is almost a Clive Barker vision – from the perspective of mixing pleasure and pain, not of demons. It is a place of madness, inhabited by hooded, savaged, bandaged figures who writhe, fuck, torture, and tear. Director Can Evrenol isn’t outlandish with his visuals, perhaps due to budget constraints than creative preferences, but does lend a memorable darkness and gory finale. The place is a type of Hell, but it could just as easily be a building filled with cult members or good old fashioned movie crazies. What they want is unclear – the script spinning off vague poetry and debauched philosophy. The interesting moments for me are where time becomes loose and the film starts to collapse in upon itself – several characters seem aware of this slippage and the film bounces about between time and space leaving the viewer grasping for solid ground. The chief bad guy hints at fore knowledge of the characters and events and there other multiple hints that the film is only going to end one way – I don’t know if what happens was meant to be a twist as it is a fairly familiar trope which I called out about fifteen minutes before it happened. Still, I do enjoy stories of this nature, where time becomes a toy of some greater force.

Gore fans will flock to this, but it isn’t your standard slasher fare – it does have more in common with the more stylized and artistic films of the 70s and 80s – look to Italy for more famous work, but it doesn’t revel in carnage or come close to the levels of blood letting of recent US hits. The performances are fine too, the only standout being Mehmet Cerrahoglu as the creepy little leader – this is surely partly to do with his appearance as well as his acting ability, though there is some Col. Kurtz channeling in there. It’s a film which will find a cult audience and do well with critics, and it will be good to see where Evrenol can go next – anyone who aims for a unique or, at worst, different from the mainstream, visual and storytelling approach gets my vote, even if those approaches have been witnessed on the genre fringes for decades.

Have you seen Baskin? Let us know in the comments!

Race With The Devil

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It’s Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, motorbikes, and devil worshippers – what more could you possibly want? Yes, it’s another one of those American attempts at a Hammer movie and although it isn’t going to win any awards or top any lists it’s still plenty of fun.

The two couples in this movie are not quite yuppies but they definitely symbolize the ‘city’ in the good old fashioned city vs country trope which appears all the time in horror movies. Oates and Fonda are (not brothers, I could have sworn they were) owners of a Motorcycle shop and have just splashed out on what classed as a fancy RV in the 70s. Rather than hop down to Florida for a few weeks on a beach, they load their motorbikes onto the back of the RV, load their wives inside (and an annoying dog) and hit the road for a spot of camping and dirt riding (of the motorcycle and sexual variety). After pulling over in a random field they stick on the Barbie, make some cocktails, and enjoy staring up at the stars and shooting the shit. As the little ladies get ready for bed, Oates and Fonda stumble upon some hippy ritual with masked weirdos and exposed titties. But wait, this ain’t just any old ritual, it’s a good old fashioned sacrifice! And now they’ve been spotted – run!

You can gauge the paths the film is going to tread from fairly early on – the vague, non-committal answers from the local townsfolk, the suspicious glances, and investigations into demons and witchcraft. As with all these films there is deception and chasing, but this one offers less horror and more action than you would expect. In many ways this feels like a halloween episode of CHiPs or Knight Rider than an actual horror film, but that’s no bad thing from where I’m sitting. The endless Zulu-like parade of bad guys makes you think that half the State is populated by evil devil worshippers and the way they just keep coming after the four campers is quite funny – the public chases and massive amounts of damage are sure to draw a hell of a lot more attention to their antics than if they had just let the witnesses get away and rant to some cops in the big city who wouldn’t be arsed to investigate.

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Like I said, this ain’t gonna light anyone’s fire too brightly, but it makes for an entertaining evening for fans of the genre or the stars while remaining an interesting relic of days gone by. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie.

The Last Exorcism 2

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Nell returns in this interesting sequel to the found footage hit which doesn’t do enough to answer the questions viewers would have been asking after the credits rolled on the first movie. The film drops the found footage, leaves behind the documentary style, and instead adopts a more traditional approach as we find Nell trying to re-integrate with society by moving in to a halfway house for teenage girls. Rather than getting any explanation on what happened at the end of the last movie or what has happened to Nell or other characters in the interim, we pick up some time after with an apparently possessed Nell lurking in a random house. After recuperating in hospital, she is taken in by the kindly Frank, makes friends, gets a job, and begins to move on with a new life of freedom and individuality. It isn’t long before hooded figures begin stalking her, strange phenomenon breaks out in the house, and somebody finds clips of the found footage depicting the previous film on Youtube and all Hell breaks loose, literally.

While the film does contain the odd (tame) scare, it simply doesn’t have the heart and soul of its predecessor. While Part I was a genuine attempt to tell a powerful, disturbing story with twists and turns, Part II is clearly a cash-in with little regard for its central character or for existing fans. It’s a shame because there are a lot of things that work here, and Bell once again throws every ounce of her being into the performance – creating a horror icon deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Carrie, Freddy, or Michael Myers. We have strong supporting work too in minor roles – Watson as Frank is a sympathetic figure and Julia Garner’s Gwen tows the line between good and evil. The idea of Nell trying to move on is commendable, the setting opens the doors for many ideas which never come to fruition, and the conclusion is pleasingly nefarious. What doesn’t work is the gaps in the story – we could have had Nell attempting to recount where she has been, or some sort of additional closure. The omniscient hooded figures and just-introduced characters who seem to know Nell and her demon don’t have enough history to make us interested, and the Order Of The Right Hand, apparently sent to help Nell are completely useless in their jobs and again appear out of nowhere with no back story to allow us to care.

Fans of the first film will likely want to catch up with Nell and see how everything turns out, but I imagine most will be disappointed. While there is a glacial tone and the gnawing sense that things will soon go wrong, and while certain characters are ambiguous enough for us to question their intentions, these things are inferior to how they are executed in Part 1. Stick around for the last 10 minutes and enjoy it for another excellent performance by Ashley Bell.

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Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Last Exorcism Part 2 and if you felt if lived up to its predecessor!

The Last Exorcism

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Horror moves in ever decreasing circles; one big idea comes along, is successful, and then breeds ever more numerous and more inferior spawn. The same can be said for other genres, and film and art in general, but it’s rarely more true, obvious, and barrel-scraping than in horror. As the genre dragged itself from the tattered, splattered remains of Torture Porn, the spectre of Handheld began to loom large. Paranormal Activity brought back the low budget innovation and shocks of The Blair Witch Project and updated its post-grunge malaise into the tech-obsessed, tech-scared new millennium. The ever decreasing circles rapidly became a noose to the point that shaky-cam and found-footage became terms which strangled imagination and left viewers dangling in disappointed, unexpected boredom. In general, I’m more forgiving of these films, even those which rely on obscure jump-scares and long periods of quiet before sudden deafening bangs in lieu of genuine tension and frights – as long as the premise is good, the idea interesting, and the filmmakers work with heart rather than greed. But like those long periods of quiet, every so often after a long period of similarly uninspired dross there comes the sudden deafening bang of quality.

The Last Exorcism looks from its trailer, from its premise, like just another found-footage film. It bears all the hallmarks of the sub-sub-genre, and it has its fair share of shaky camera work. However, thanks to some genuinely stunning performances and an honest attempt at tweaking the tropes and conventions and doing something more than just ticking boxes, it ends up being one of the best horror movies of the last few years. We have periods of silence but also genuine tension, and we have jump scares working along side surprising frights and moments that will chill. We have a strong cast and an assured director in Daniel Sturmm who knows exactly when to give a glimpse of what’s lurking inside his box or tricks, and when to rip the lid off.

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The film follows a loose documentary style formula, with a disillusioned Minister who has lost his faith plying his trade as a travelling exorcist. Sick of himself, sick of the people he meets, sick of religion, and sick of tricking people into believing he is saving them and thereby perpetuating their beliefs he decides to bring a film crew along on his last exorcism – he is going to show the world that he, and many like him are, a fraud. Accepting a request from a backwater town, he and the crew travel to the Sweetzer family farm to cast out the demon Abalam who, it appears, has taken over their sweet and innocent teenage daughter, Nell. Marcus explains to the camera that he has seen many patterns and similar cases over the years, and as he prepares for his mumbo jumbo and ritual, he tells us how to perform a fake exorcism. Having done his job and headed for home, things take an unexpected turn as Nell somehow tracks him down and is in a worse state than before his exorcism. From this point, the film unleashes all manner of scares and tricks as we are left to second guess motives and next steps. The plot twists and turns, offers a few red herrings, and nothing is clear until the final moments.

What I enjoyed most about the film is the performance of Ashley Bell as Nell. This is clearly a highly talented actress who should go on to future stardom. Her performance is visceral and charged with emotion, filled with subtle little ticks and looks, and she easily conveys naivety, fear, and possessed rage. It’s a performance which reminds me of Weaver in Aliens, Hamilton in T2, and Sheryl Lee in Fire Walk With Me in that it is full blooded, wildly energetic yet focused, and almost takes on a life of its own outside of the confines of the film. She deserved an Oscar nod for her work here, and it’s a shame she wasn’t recognised. Horror fans may be sick to their guts of found footage and exorcism films, but The Last Exorcism is the cream of the crop and shows what can be achieved in this style.

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Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Last Exorcism and how it ranks alongside other exorcism movies.

Street Trash

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A cult ‘classic’, Street Trash is a film I have known about since my childhood but somehow was never able to get my hands on till recently. I’d seen small bits and pieces of it before and had read various accounts calling it deliciously gruesome, offensive etc – all the things I look for in a horror movie, naturally. Having finally seen it I can’t say that time has been good to it in most respects, from the dated effects to the unfortunate misogyny. The film’s rampant disregard for women is in truth the only offensive thing here, and while yes we are supposed to be dealing with Street Trash and other assorted dregs dredged from society’s rim, it nevertheless feels like it is reveling in its attitudes.

Like any number of other 80s horror movies, Street Trash deals with toxic waste, or ooze, or some sort of chemical mistake. While some movies use this formula to turn hapless victims in to zombies, here the stuff (in the form of a new brand of alcohol) turns our already near-zombified morons to mush, hissing, melting, and occasionally exploding into colourful puddles of cartoon gore. That’s the biggest letdown of a film I had heard so much about – the low budget is obvious and the effects are poor in the few instances they are actually shown. In many cases we simply get reaction shots of the victim’s tortured face, or the sickened grimaces of bystanders, while squelching, farting sounds bubble into our ear holes. There are a few interesting moments and deaths which would have been more potent at the time of release, but it doesn’t come close to the quality of effects or inventiveness of many other films from the same era.

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Having said already that the film treats the female characters mostly as meat or figures of ridicule or hatred, it’s ironic then that the script is the highlight of the film. The dialogue is well written and peppered with one-liners, many dated, many funny, and it fizzes along when it needs to. It’s a shame then that the story is not interesting, the characters unappealing, and the plot bounces around in different directions which all end up going to the same unfortunate place. There are some funny moments and with a higher budget or better effects some of the kills would possibly be rightly seen as classics – where else are you going to see a man melting to nothing while sitting on the can, and then accidentally flush himself away? Other positives include some of the performances – Mike Lackey as the hero (?) is basically excellent, and the city looks ugly and hopeless. In an attempt to make some sort of epic comparing all layers of society as monsters, we get a large cast of characters who sort of intertwine, from Fred and his brother who live in a junkyard with a variety of other hoodlums, to the broken and crazed Vietnam vet Bronson who claims to be King of the yard, to the obese actual owner of the yard and his receptionist, to a burly cop trying to cut out the crime Bronson and his bunch are unleashing, to an Italian American mobster cliché who is having a feud with a mouthy restaurant doorman. With more time and effort, this could have been a gore-filled, low rent Pulp Fiction for the 80s, but instead it comes over as a series of skits. I dearly wanted to like and even love Street Trash, but aside from some good ideas and bad intentions, it doesn’t work. It’s passable, cheesy entertainment that I would still recommend all horror fans see, but unless you grew up with it I can’t see it converting too many new fans.

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Let us know in the comments what you think of Street Trash – is it one of your favourites, or should it be confined to the scrap heap?