Quickie review: Satanic panic

To provide some context for the spirit of the times that House of the Devil was set in, here’s a discussion about Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) from a reliable source – the New York Times

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A 1980s newsreader discusses the outcry over the ‘evil influence’ of kids role-playing D&D in their parents’ garage…

Moral panics are a recurring theme, and have since moved onto computers games and music videos, and then back again to videogames…kind of. But The outrage over Dungeons and Dragons promoting devil worship is a kind of perfect storm of Satanic Panic and ‘moral majority’ paranoia that seemed so rife in the 1980s.

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Some kids undergoing instruction from their Dungeon master…

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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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Quickie Review: Visions (2013) short film

Visions by Seraph Films LLC (2013)

Cast:

  • Molly Jackson, Nicholas Jaqua, Leslie McKeller, Jon J. Peterson, and Liv Southard.
  • The film was written by Gene Blalock, the company’s founder and the film’s director, Andria Chamberlin
  • Director of Photography, and writer/producer James Boring.

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Poor Debbie is trapped in her own body, apparently held prisoner by a demon. Her parents are getting desperate at the end of an exorcism. The priest is unimpressed, claiming that drugs are not the answer and that she needs ‘godly counsel’.

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But there’s something about the doctor that’s just a little bit…sinister. Perhaps it isn’t the priest who looks like a demon we should be worrying about. Is there something worse than the devil going on? And is Pop Goes the Weasel ever not scary?

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A little slower and not such a bamn! Payoff! kind of film, have a wallow in its atmosphere and admire how they cast two very creepy authority figures.

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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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Quickie review: Aphex Twin ‘Come to Daddy’ (1997)

In 1997, Danish dance act Aphex Twin made considerable waves with this bleak but memorable horror movie masquerading as a music video.

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Borrowing the phrase ‘come to Daddy’ from Hellraiser, it concerns broken childhoods and a new, terrifying god borne from the screams of a dead TV screen.

There’s so much nightmarish about it, the despair of the tower blocks, the hapless grandma and her dog. The old lady’s dog appears to start all the trouble by weeing on the broken TV in the first place. What is it with dog wee resurrecting horror icons? It crawls out and grows really fast, and then screams at this poor old lady for a good minute….

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Weird. That’s even without getting into all the kids with the same face of Richard D Jams (Aphex Twin himself). CTD_children_same facesThey gather round the newly born creature, which has an Aphex Twin face and a Doug Jones/monster from Rec-type body, almost feminine, definitely terrifying.

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It sure sounds Satanic, or devilish, and he plays up that look here. An urban pact with the devil, this is a nightmarish video embodying a guttural scream of outrage at our own deranged existence. In 1997, it was still preferable to the Spice Girls….

 

 

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: February/The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

February/The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

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Cast:

  • Lucy Boynton as Rose.
  • Kiernan Shipka, as Kat
  • Emma Roberts, as Joan
  • James Remar, as Bill
  • Lauren Holly, as Linda
  • Emma Holzer, as Lizzy

Director: Osgood Perkins (the son of Anthony Perkins – yes, Norman Bates himself)

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No spoilers:

Boarding schools are ripe for demonic possession and dastardly plots in general, given the potent mix of hormones, schoolgirl-age jealousies and extreme isolation. ‘February’ takes that scenario one step further, as we follow young ‘Kat’ during a lonely winter break at ‘The Bramford School’. We also also follow the story of ‘Rose’, who’s hitchhiking through the snow with a kindly older couple. As Kat’s unease grows worse during the break, and Joan’s paranoia increases, it’s well worth holding on to learn how these stories converge and how it all links back to the sinister forces lurking in the chilly, semi-abandoned school.

Making a big positive out of its low key vibe, February (also known as The Blackcoat’s Daughter) steadfastly refuses to rush towards its most shocking moments, preferring instead to chill you with endless views of untouched white snow, then glorying in the pitch dark shadows within the frigid school’s buildings. With a muted, groaning soundtrack designed to stimulate unease (but, sorry guys, on the first watch it nearly sent me to sleep) calling this movie ‘bleak’ would be an understatement. It’s dark yet pale and it’s deeply unhappy, and that’s just the schoolgirls. It has surprisingly sympathetic adults too, who are simply unable to comprehend the true darkness at hand.

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And oh boy, is there a lot of darkness, in the film and the plot. Expect no primary colours from this at all, just austere shades of bright white and municipal blues, though it has dodged the grimy greenish horror filter that a lot of genre films used to favour. It does make the inevitable splashes of scarlet blood pop from the screen, which works well, and hopefully you’re still watching by then.

So  even if I prefer little more warmth and glee in my horror movies, I really want to love this film more than I do, and there is plenty to appreciate. The ending’s gut punch resolution is definitely worth hanging on for, and requires some attention to the subtle clues and a spot of emotional empathy to really figure out – why the fuck did she even do that? Recommended, if you want a low key, creepy horror. In fact, February has kind of grown on me. So if you give it a try, just remember that it saves most of its boldest moves for last. Worth sticking with.

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With Spoilers:

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