Movie review: House of the Devil (2009)

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Cast

  • Jocelin Donahue as Samantha Hughes
  • Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman
  • Mary Woronov as Mrs. Ulman
  • Greta Gerwig as Megan
  • A. J. Bowen as Victor Ulman
  • Dee Wallace as Landlady
  • Lena Dunham as 911 Operator
  • Director: Ti West
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Samantha deals with her troubles by listening to some kickin’ 1980s rock on her personal Walkman.

No spoilers

Samantha desperately needs to get out of her college halls and away from her gross roommate. When the possibility of that is dangled right in front of her thanks to a kindly Landlady (Dee Wallace), she just needs to make a little more money for the deposit and she’s good to go. When she spots an advert for a well-paid babysitting job, it seems like a golden opportunity. But of course, it’s far too good to be true. Or safe…and what’s with the pizza delivery guy? Will she realise the real plan before it’s all too late? Is it really based on true events?

Well, not really. But it is a great movie. Scary yet demure, House of the Devil is a lot more than a typical slasher. The source of its horror comes from the paranoia of the ‘Satanic panic’ of the 1980s, rather than the typical crazed maniac with a knife. Something is definitely stalking Samantha in the vast house with its ominous locked rooms, and it’s probably connected to the moon eclipse that no one will shut up about – but while the reveal isn’t entirely a surprise, the tension is ratcheted up til it screams. In fact, Ti West directs this simple but deadly story with a masterful level of restraint, and a sneaky sense of humour, letting Jocelin Donahue do the heavy lifting in this skeleton crew of a cast. It’s a masterclass in low-key, hugely atmospheric horror that’s perfect for darkening nights in October.

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We get lots of eerie, voyeuristic views of Samantha as she explores this creepy huge house in the middle of nowhere.

With its chilly Autumnal vibe and spot-on music, House of the Devil provides a healthy slice of nostalgic horror for anyone who really enjoys the odd 1980s guilty pleasure. Delivering several of the best ‘oh crap’ moments I think I’ve ever seen in film, with an efficiently brief run time, this is a certified Halloween classic.

And just remember folks, if a job ever seems too good to be true, then it very probably is

Huge Spoilers

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Movie Review: The Endless (2017)

The Endless (2017)

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Cast

  • Justin Benson as Justin Smith
  • Aaron Moorhead as Aaron Smith
  • Callie Hernandez as Anna
  • Tate Ellington as Hal
  • Lew Temple as Tim
  • James Jordan as Shitty Carl
  • Shane Brady as Shane Williams
  • Kira Powell as Lizzy
  • David Lawson Jr. as Smiling Dave
  • Emily Montague as Jennifer Danube
  • Peter Cilella as Michael Danube
  • Vinny Curran as Chris Daniels
  • Glen Roberts as Woods
  • Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

No Spoilers

Two brothers living dead-end lives receive a video from a cult they used to belong to, and are persuaded to make a return visit. Only trouble is, they think it’s a death cult. Weirdly, when they finally arrive there, nobody seems to have aged or really changed at all. Is everyone living really well, are they all ghosts, or is something much weirder than your typical cult horror movie about to take place?

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Just you’re friendly UFO cult…kind of

The Endless is a brilliant followup to Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s strange and engaging 2012 Resolution (2012). It’s not necessary to have seen Resolution first, but there are several links to the earlier film nestled within Endless, tying up some loose ends, though it delights more in unravelling new threads. With a knack for spreading tiny details that add up to huge realisations, it deals with the infinite but keeps it all relatably at ground level. That’s about the best you can hope for in a film tying together Lovecraftian concepts of vast, unknowable monsters, warped space and time, and strange UFO cults and meth heads living out in the back end of nowhere. There’s an uneasy feeling about the land that the cult inhabits (but they’d prefer not to be called a cult, thank you). There’s practically no jump scares here though. The creepy aspect comes down to pure existential dread, as the truth of their situation is gradually revealed.

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Justin and Aaron come face to face with the truth

The real horror hits the viewer alongside the two brothers as they come to understand the terrifying forces at work, but its the focus on this little group of people and their reactions to the insane situation that really make us care. And I cared a lot. The two brothers have a difficult relationship but clearly look out for each other, and this emotional connection, as they struggle to decide what they want out of life, is the crux of the story. If they do decide to leave, will the strange force at work even let them go?

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Drive angry….

While it’s not a typical horror, The Endless is every bit a Lovecraftian nightmare. There’s little gore either, but this film rewards a bit of patience, so if you’re ready to question your sanity, and peek at the secrets behind an eternity of time and space, then I’d recommend you dive right in.

Big Spoilers (including some for Resolution)

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Movie review: Hereditary (2018)

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Cast

    • Toni Collette as Annie Graham
    • Gabriel Byrne as Steve Graham
  • Alex Wolff as Peter Graham
  • Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham
  • Ann Dowd as Joan
  • Directed by Ari Aster

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The Grahams put a loved one to rest…maybe….

Spoiler free

When Annie Graham’s mother dies, you get the sense she won’t be much-missed. It appears that matriarch controlled a vast amount of the family’s daily life, and Annie seems to be building tiny miniatures as a sort of coping mechanism to regain some control (and also to sell as important art pieces). Now that Annie’s mother is dead, her remaining family badly want to reconnect with Annie herself. But is grandma really gone? Her powerful influence still hangs throughout the house, as malevolent as the spirit of the Overlook Hotel, and as sinister – yet humdrum – as the Satanists in Rosemary’s Baby. Just like the Shining, Hereditary operates within a world of almost dreamlike logic and unsettlingly long takes, forcing you to examine every frame for…something that’s not right. Because a deeply sinister threat looms over the household, and the hapless Graham family is soon enveloped by a complete nightmare.

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The overused but undoubtedly horrific image of Toni Collette screaming (even made it onto the official Twitter hashtag).

Hereditary wrings great tension just from the crushing pressure of domestic conformity, of things best left unsaid, keeping the peace within claustrophobic walls. It creates a harrowing family drama that just so happens to involve even darker occult secrets. Secrets so dark that even shrinking them down to dollhouse size won’t make them manageable. The characters simply don’t get the luxury of this heightened perspective until it’s far too late. Annie starts to crack under the pressure of horrible dreams and a painful reality, which chops away at everyone’s sanity, though their father desperately tries to keep it all together. Is the family going mad with grief, or is there really a supernatural threat coming for them all?

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Peter Graham (ALex Wolff) and his unsettling reflection…

Whatever you were expecting, it might just surprise you, despite the huge amounts of publicity that preceded its theatrical release. It’s worth having patience with its slow steady burn, and it looks terrific. The model miniatures are put to amazing use, disorienting and condensing each new horror, so that even the tiny doll version of the deceased grandmother become huge with dread. For the record, this isn’t a typical haunted house story, but it does suggest no one is quite free of the dead either. There are also slightly ridiculous moments, though those absurdities somewhat offsets the constant pressure of anxiety. Even Polanski seemed to understand the ridiculousness of Satanism, with the often funny, but always dangerous, Devil-worshipping neighbours in Rosemary’s Baby.

So let’s try to forget the enormous weight of the hype heaped upon this poor movie. It’s silly to apply such expectations anyway. There’s no way even a film as good as this could exceed them, and calling this ‘better than the Exorcist’ (yeah join the queue) is never going to endear you to fans of that movie (sorry Mark Kermode). Better to judge it, then, on its own considerable merits. This is a brilliantly creepy film, and the miniatures give each scene an unsettling afterburn, where you’re never totally sure what reality you just saw. Events bleed eloquently from one setting to the next, propelling characters into an ever-deeper nightmare world.

Hereditary neatly weaves the guts of Rosemary’s Baby (with its Cultish backdrop) and The Shining (in gliding, ominous mood) together like a gruesome corn doll. I truly hope viewers will keep an open mind about the film, as it has divided reviewers and filmgoers. It is slower than a lot of modern horror films, but if you approach it with an ‘anything can happen’ perspective, and try to let it all in, I think you’ll have an intense and terrifying experience.

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No, it’s not upside-down by accident or anything, this is in the film!

Spoilers ahead

A short note. In a reveal worthy of Lovecraft’s sublime ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’, we learn that their deceased grandmother has been part of a cult determined to raise a powerful demon named Paimon into the body of the next Graham family heir. He prefers a male, though at first poor little Charlie is having to do. Until she’s gruesomely destroyed as part of the ritual, a truly chilling scene. Body stealing is a particularly wicked trope, the ultimate personal violation, and we follow the hapless Peter as he drowns in fear and is a victim of the malice of others. Poor guy never stood a chance. We can assume that he suffered so much in this film precisely to make him a better host, more vulnerable and open to possession. A film that lingers, then. Uneasy and odd, though the final moment is oddly benign…despite the severed heads and naked old people (also a Polanski trait…). Yeah. It’s good. Weird, and good, and we want more of this!

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Creepy little Charlie taking in the view

The good

  • Creeping sense of oppressive dread. Reminds me heavily of the Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and the Witch, among others.
  • Amazing performance from Toni Collette, the rest aren’t so bad either.
  • Those miniature models are exquisite. The scene where Annie breaks them all is wrenching!
  • The standout moment for me is where the son is in bed and…there’s something in the corner above him that you simply don’t register. Until you do. Eeep.
  • Though let’s not ignore the horrific bit when Annie is banging her head on the underside of the trapdoor. ARRRGH.

The Bad

  • Will not please viewers only there for jumpscares and constant gore. Sorry guys, not this time…
  • Very slow pace.
  • The switch from domestic drama to actual horror tropes might annoy others too.
  • Slightly narmy at times, specifically the scenes where possessed Annie float/swims away behind her son, and also her headless body floating into the treehouse, are ridiculous but also kind of work for the film’s dream logic and suffocation.

 

Movie review: Pyewacket (2017)

Pyewacket (2017)

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Cast:

  • Laurie Holden as Mrs. Reyes
  • Nicole Muñoz as Leah
  • Chloe Rose as Janice
  • Eric Osborne as Aaron
  • James McGowan as Rowan Dove
  • Bianca Melchior as Pyewacket

Without spoilers

Mothers and daughters can have fraught relationships, and Leah (Nicole Muñoz) and her mother (Laurie Holden) are no exception. Her father has recently passed away and neither of them are dealing with it healthily. Leah has started getting into the Occult, her bedroom is full of books and moody posters, and although it at first seems like a morbid teen rebellion – and quite understandable – after an epic fight with her mum, Leah angrily storms into the woods and starts slicing into her arm, trying to summon ‘Pyewacket’ to rid her of her mother. Bad move, Leah. At first nothing happens, but then odd occurrences start to mount up. Was her ritual successful, or has she really gone off the deep end?

Pyewacket (it’s fun to type!) fully gets that ‘nothing’ is usually scarier and wrings every bit of tension out of that. It’s closer to Paranormal Activity than the more overt Insidious, using shadow and suggestion to creep us out. The camera makes us very intimate with Leah too; we’re often pressed up uncomfortably near to her face, watching her reactions, the snap of her emotions, sucked right into her point of view. Leah seems to feel trapped in the repetitive routine of School, drinking with friends and moping at home, whilst being driven, sulking next to her mother. It’s clear that she’s still very much a child and her efforts to kick her way out of that role sends her down a darker and darker path.

I found Pyewacket fascinating and sad, and can highly recommend it for some deeply uneasy, mostly very subtle, horror. Like Hereditary on a sliver of the budget. Pyewacket requires applying a little empathy – but then most good horror, the kind that stays with you, does. If demons really exist, then please don’t mess with them. Their deals rarely turn out the way you hope. Just steal your mum’s credit card instead.

WARNING MASSIVE Spoilers in the section below that make more sense after you’ve watched it:

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Movie Review: Devil’s Chair (2007)

Movie review: Devil’s Chair (2007)

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Cast:

  • Andrew Howard as Nick West
  • Pollyanna Rose as Sammy
  • David Gant as Doctor Willard
  • Louise Griffiths as Melissa
  • Elize du Toit as Rachel Fowles
  • Matt Berry as Brett Wilson

Without spoilers:

Some films are so bad they’re good (or good enough). This distinctly odd low-budget feature is one of those. Starring Izzy from Hollyoaks (Elise du Toit), the money-lending bad guy from Limitless (Andrew Howard) and the now very established Matt Berry, I’d been aware of this film for a long time and always intended to see it. Back in 2006, I’d been intrigued by the original trailer that promised a nightmare inducing monster and plenty of gore. Now that I’ve finally caught it for 99p, over ten years since its release, I’m caught between acknowledging it’s kind of awful, but impressed that it mostly delivered on what I was hoping for.

It centres around an unwise investigation into an insane asylum. A bunch of academics and a survivor investigate the ‘devil’s chair’ which apparently caused a big mess several years ago. The characters bicker constantly – it’s always a fine line between that attitude being fun, and making me hate the characters. In this case it leans towards the latter. Particularly annoying is Matt Berry’s ‘Brett’ character (named for Alien’s Brett perhaps) who takes ‘entitled rich arsehole’ to new levels. Maybe it’s more grating because I’ve seen him in other things, but in Devil’s Chair he tries for the funnybone, intentionally or not, and it’s quite jarring compared with the rest of the cast’s efforts. His magnificent voice actually works against him in this case.

In contrast, Nick West’s constant narration about how much he hates the university schmucks drags the whole story down, bashing on and on with his repetitious contempt – we get it, you truly loathe the academics and think you’re better than anyone else there – but it does, at least, serve a purpose.

If you can get past the awkwardness of its presentation, there’s plenty here for gorehounds. Clocking in at 91 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and gleefully straddles that awkward, camp-yet-nasty area that the Human Centipede movies squirm around in. Whilst its monster is pretty great, and the twist even greater, this is definitely not a GOOD flick. But if you can get past the smug-bastard voiceover – which does ultimately serve a purpose – then it’s a bloody good ride into low-budget madness.

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The devil advances. Might be best to watch in a darkish room. Light is the enemy of horror film watching!

Review with SPOILERS below – going to go into detail here about events in the film, decisions of characters. Do not proceed further unless you really want to know what happens. Also don’t read its wikipedia entry, which summarises the entirety of the plot for some reason.

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Monster Mondays: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011 film)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Monster Mondays: Freddy Krueger

One, Two, Freddy’s coming for you,
Three, Four, Better lock your door
Five, Six, grab your crucifix,
Seven, Eight, better stay up late,
Nine, Ten, Never sleep again….

That eerie rhyme remains emblazoned on our inner ear for good reason. It’s ingenious. Capturing everything wrong about dreams, warning even people who haven’t seen it what it’s about. Nightmare on Elm Street was an inescapable rite of passage for children of the 1980s and Freddy Kreuger’s shadow still draws a long, irregularly scratching line into our collective unawareness.

Our favourite dream monster, Fred Kreuger. With looks like these, no wonder he stays in our minds - and our Dreams.

Our favourite dream monster, Fred Kreuger. With looks like these, no wonder he stays in our minds – and our Dreams.

Freddy has lurked in the inner lives of 1980s kids since we first heard stories about his movies in the classroom. The Eyeball remembers listening to them with fascinated horror during ‘wet playtime’ (not nearly as much fun as it sounds), while we read Eagle comics in the corner. We strongly remember a nine year old boy with access to far too many grown up movies callously dissected the unpleasant final moments of the flesh puppet in Dream Warriors, and Johnny Depp’s final bloody gush in the original film. When we finally saw all the films in a lengthy marathon of low-res second-hand VHS vids, (in our teens, Freddy’s favourite age group) then we were hooked.

We didn’t even care that ‘the rest (allegedly) sucked’. OK, Nightmare 2 aside – which was still an unusual piece of film – they’re all exactly what we signed up for. They brim with weird, unnatural deaths, a properly unpleasant monster, and the heroines who we rooted for as they grew in confidence and took on the ultimate disgusting, predatory misogynist child molester. To wonderful, tough Nancy, and those that followed, we salute you.

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Turn around and cast him out! (Image from Bleeding Dead Films – click to see their site)

But still, Freddy (formerly the more low-key ‘Fred’) has remained the real star attraction. He’s repulsive, he’s in love with hating the world, and he’s a fantastic bastard son of a thousand maniacs. There was something perfect about a dreadful tragedy that made sense to the storyteller in us. As they coated more layers of Freddys backstory onto the franchise, the dreams remained an exciting angle to watch it all from. It’s hard to hate any of the movies when they’re so clearly in love with weirdness, and symbolism (Jung that movie!). In a dream, anything is possible, and the Nightmare films used that to their advantage.

They provided an alternative type of horror to to Jason and, just compare them to the recent string of humourless, torturous Saw movies. Imagination, latent teenage sexuality, strong female characters and a mercilessly playful killer. Freddy will stalk you into the daylight. You can never be sure you’ve woken up – a point drawn out until it squeaked in the unlovable remake.

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The original Nightmare and it’s the best! Your mileage may vary, but you’re wrong, buddy….

So why does Freddy hold such a fascination, when he is clearly so very, very horrible? Most intriguing is that he’s based on a series of experiences and research by his creator, Wes Craven. Freddy was born in the creepy man glaring at Wes Craven from the street when he was a kid, and came to life when he read some real life stories where boys had refused to sleep, and when they did, they died without a known cause. Uncanny. The way Freddy’s popularity gets dealt with in the Final Nightmare is also clever, suggesting he’s really a demon who must be contained by the totem of Freddy Kruger.

He’s also absolutely bloody terrifying because:

  • His picture alone terrifies us, especially if it’s one where he’s grinning at the camera (see above – thanks a lot, Rob Englund!) and he does that a LOT.
  • In a continuation of the first point, even Pinhead doesn’t scare us as much as Freddy does.
  • He’s capable of beating up Jason! (Though we do reckon Pinhead could take him in a sequel)
  • Phone-licker. Eeeew.
  • That hat. Those greasy green and red jumpers. Finger gloves. Sartorially the chap’s already a nightmare.
  • Increasingly smug one-liners. Grrr.
  • The charming way he can snip off all his own fingers and have a big laugh about it.
  • You can’t sleep, so it’s an endurance test we can all relate to. The Eyeball would last about two minutes (tiiiired Eyeball, zzzzzzzzzzz-splat)
  • You might never wake up. Even if you think you have. Repeatedly.
  • He can make your family believe you killed yourself, or that you killed someone else.
  • The Police and your parents will NEVER believe you about him.
  • Your only allies are your best friends at school, and they’re being picked off like flies.
  • Or like cockroaches.
  • You can kill him in numerous ways. But be warned that a dog pissing on his grave is enough to resurrect Freddy so he can murder all the plucky survivors from the previous installment, so basically, if you ever run into Freddy, and think you stopped him…not so much. You’re still all gonna die.

Now, we’ve featured him on the Eyeball today because it was Robert Englund’s birthday last week (June 6th) which makes Mr Englund a highly respectable 66 years old. Happy belated birthday, Robert! It’s amazing how Freddy has taken over his life in so many ways, and he’s never quite escaped the character’s razored grip. It seems odd, but in the early 1980s, Englund actually used to play nice characters! Luckily, Englund seems to love that he’s a horror movie legend, and to the Eyeball and millions of other fans, he always will be.

If you want to know more about Elm Street and Kreuger, then the Eyeball very strongly recommends the awesome 2009 documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.

Are you off to bed now? Then…grab your crucifix….and don’t have nightmares….