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Halloween Horror Movie #9 The Devil’s Rock

Searching through the offerings on Shudder I stumbled across this 2011 film from New Zealand. The description caught my attention and with low expectations I streamed the movies.

The Devil’s Rock, set during World War II, follows two Kiwi commandos. Ben and Joe, as they land on a channel island to destroy a big gun as part of that allies’ plans of confusion and deception before the D-Day invasion of Nazi Occupied Europe. Ben is distracted by persistent screams coming from the blockhouse and decided to expand their mission into rescuing the tortured prisoners of the Germans. Inside the concrete fortification they discover a charnel house, blood stained walls, more screams, and everywhere violently torn apart corpses. Uncovering the mystery and the German’s plots is a tale of terror, violence, and patriotism.

A low-budget movie The Devil’s Rock exceeded my expectations. The filmmakers understood the limitations of their production and made the use of their limited recourses. A limited cast, very restricted use of special effects, and an understanding of what can be done with practical effects all served the story well. The script is in fairly decent shape. I do think it could have benefits from one more pass, as there are a few elements that do not quite flow smoothly. All said though this movie worked, presenting a tense situation, conflicting characters thrown into a situation that tests all of them, and it even raises a few questions about how far is acceptable in service to your country and your ideals. This is worth your time to stream this horror season.


Halloween Horror Nights 2017: A Report

Saturday night a friend and I drove to LA to take in Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Night for 2017. We had managed to attend for a few hours last year but this year wanted to make a proper ruin on the event. Armed with ‘Head of the Line’ passes that allowed us to skip the main lines at the attractions we endured LA traffic, arriving about 40 minutes later than expected.

Let me tell you if you plan to do this, particularly on a weekend night, the ‘Head of the Line’ pass is the way to go. The mazes had long waits in the lines, often 80 or even 100 minutes. Given those sort of lines the best you might hope for is to visit three or four mazes in the night, while our passes allowed us to see all eight with time to spare.

The mazes and the open-air maze that is part of the terror tram attraction were all fun. Naturally we are talking professional special effects and make-up and performed that really enjoyed their gigs.

While all eight of the mazes were indeed fun, there are a few I want to shout out as being a cut above the crest.

Ash vs. The Evil Dead. This maze nailed its property, actors made up as deadites and some wearing Bruce Campbell masks, brought the fun and fear of the series to life.

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning. This maze walked you through many of the memorable moments from the classic film. Special effects recreated the images of the twin girls being suddenly replaced with their bloody corpses, the rivers of blood, and Jack Torrance popping out of the walls with an axe is sure to wake you up.

FX’s American Horror Story: Roanoke. I confess I have yet to watch this series, though it is in my queue. The atmosphere and oppressive mood were terrific and it was a memorable maze.

In addition to making sure you have a ‘Head of the Line’ pass, if you go be prepared for walking. Lots and lots of walking. My iPhone reports that I covered 6.5 miles and I can assure you very little of that was backtracking and being inefficient.


Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Last night’s plans for board and card games fell apart and turning lemon into lemonade I took the opportunity to see Blade Runner 2049.

Blade Runner 2049 as the name suggests is a sequel to 1982’s classic SF film Blade Runner. The original movie was set in Los Angeles 2019 and concerned a policeman, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, who was a Blade Runner, someone who hunted down and killed rouge androids called replicants. Through the course of first film Deckard learns empathy for the replicants and eventually flees with one, becoming a fugitive himself. It is a source of endless debate if Deckard is truly human or a replicant himself. (The director Ridley Scott is adamant that he is and Harrison Ford is equally adamant that Deckard is human.) Now is it thirty years later, and we are again following a policeman/Blade Runner as he pursues a mystery concerning replicants from the original film and an impossibility of their existence.

Where the first film’s foundation lay in ambiguity Blade Runner 2049 deals with more explicit information, but doesn’t sacrifice the deep philosophical questions that drove the original including what is it that makes us human. To explore these questions in addition to the replicants, the writers have added digital artificial intelligences creating a world that is awash with people who aren’t considered ‘human.’ The Film’s protagonist is ‘K’, and he status as a replicant is made clear from the earliest scenes of the story. That he is hunting his own kind is one of the sources of tension for the story. As he uncovers secrets and mysteries about the events of the original film, K discovers truths about himself and the world around him.

Clocking in at two and three quarters hours Blade Runner 2049 is not a short film, but it did not feel overly long. This is a movie comfortable in its pacing, and well footed enough to slow down and explore ideas and characters without fearing that it might bore the audience. (Though that itself makes it a movie for everyone. There were walkouts about halfway through last night’s screening. However the original Blade Runner failed at the box office and because a classic, revered and studied to this day.) A tricky aspect to crafting a sequel is what do you do about the fact that world has moved on since the first movie? Even in 1982 setting Blade Runner in 2019 was overly optimistic about technological advances and now the original simply is impossible. The filmmakers solution was to treat the Blade Runner setting a parallel time-stream and continue forward along it, ignoring reality’s conflicts. (Though I wonder how many of the younger audience member’s understood the significance of the CCCP in the world-building.) With frequent nods to the original film and even the original novel, Blade Runner 2049 is a respectful and intelligent film from the man who directed last year’s equally smart movie Arrival. I can’t wait to see what he does with Dune.



Halloween Horror Movie # 8 House of Dracula

Okay, not everything I watch is going to be a chill your blood, tense your muscles, classic of the horror genre. I mean I did watch The Norliss Tapes after all didn’t I?

Anyway, House of Dracula is one of a slew of sequels that Universal Studios produced in their very successful and famous series of horror films running from the early 1930s through the 1950s. By this point in their run the films were produced as ‘B’ features, meaning that they were intended to play as a second film in a double feature bill. B features, in addition to being lower cost were also shorter and House of Dracula clocks in at a very slim 67 minutes. In that one hour seven minutes the studios packed into the plot Dracula, naturally his name is in the title after all, the Wolf-man, Frankenstein’s Monster, a mad scientist, and a hunchback.

The plot goes something like this. Dracula, seeking a cure to his vampiric condition, seeks out the services of a brilliant doctor, Edlemann. Edlemann, who has two nurse assistants, one the hunchbacked Nina, is working on a breakthrough treatment using a compound grown from a mold. (See ripping of breaking science for bad plot devices is nothing new.) On a following night Dracula has come seeking treatment, and to snack on the blonde non-hunchbacked nurse Milza, Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf-Man, has also come to the brilliant doctor seeking a cure for his condition. (There must be an ad running the Monsters Quarterly.) Unwilling to wait for the doctor to complete his appointment with Dracula, Talbot rushes out and get himself locked up in jail. Edlemann comes to the jail, sees the transformation from man to wolf-man and thinks, hey I’m brilliant, and I can fix this. He brings Talbot back to his cliff-side home and clinic but when Talbot learns that he’ll have to spend the full moon nights locked up, he throws himself off the cliff. Really this guy has less patience than I do waiting on book publishers.) The good doctor goes down to save him finds him in wolf form, is nearly killed, but then the moon sets saving the foolish physician. While exploring the caves at the base of the cliff they discover the Frankenstein Monster V3. (This is Glenn Strange as the monster, following Lugosi who followed Karloff.) Wouldn’t you know it, it lives and the good doctor, ever the friend to all things monstrous, bring it back to the lab to restore it to full health because killing it would be murder. Okay we’ve got all three major monsters in the story, but then Dracula misbehaves, mingles his blood with Edlemann’s, and gets killed in the least climatic destruction of vampire ever. The doctor’s corrupted blood turns him into a Jekyll and Hyde. Edlemann manages to operate on Talbot, reversing the werewolf curse, murder a servant, and enrage the peasants. They of course chase him back to the cliff-side clinic where he revives the Frankenstein Monster V3 and then gets killed by Talbot. The Frankenstein Monster V3 goes after the peasants; he never got along with them, but dies when the clinic burns. Talbot, now safe in a full moon, has a happy ending with blond, living, and non-hunchback nurse Milza.

If this sounds like a mess of a plot thats’ because it is. This boys and girls is what happens when you have no unifying theme for your story, it is reduced down to a bunch of stuff that happens.


Halloween Horror Movie #7 Prince of Darkness

In my opinion Prince of Darkness is the last film John Carpenter made that I enjoyed from start to finish. His films after this one, starting with They Live are all flawed in such a significant fashion that I cannot ignore the miscues and illogic to enjoy the movie.

Prince of Darkness is a horror film that focuses on the personal level while exploring themes that are cosmic. When the last remaining Guardian Priest, a member of a Catholic sect known as the Brotherhood of Sleep, dies, it exposes a secret society within the Church and a mysterious canister that they have been guarding for two thousands years. The Priest who uncovers this, played by Donald Pleasence and never given a name, turned to a physics professor, Birack, played by Victor Wong, to prove the truth of the canister, and its terrible revelation about the nature of God. Birack recruits a number of gifted post-grad students and a few colleagues for the weekend long examination of the thee canister at its hiding place, an old church in downtown Los Angeles. Very quickly after their arrival things turn ominous, they are threatened by the homeless in the area, the canister starts showing new and unexplainable properties, and the translation of the Brotherhood’s documents illuminate a disturbing history. While the film’s ending seems to promise a happy resolution with the evil defeated and banished, the very final images suggest that at least one survivor will not be able to leave things as they are and though that meddling unleash the doom that they had fought and died to prevent.

As I have stated, I enjoy this movie. I like the cast, I like the atmosphere, I like the slow wind up to a final act that is anything but slow, and I like that even when the characters are at cross purposes they all proceed from a foundation of trying to do the right thing. That said there are issues I have with the film and the logic of the story truly does not stand up to close scrutiny. Spoilers follow as well critique so some may not want to proceed.

In my opinion, gleaned from watching the films and listening to various audio commentaries, Carpenter is more drawn to style, mood, and image than he is to consistent world-building or attentive backstory. For example it is established that the Guardian Priest lived in the church alone, he ventured out once per week for groceries and supplies while checking on the canister everyday. Judging from the sheer number of candles lit in the basement the man’s sole job was placing, lighting, and replacing candles. In the early evening we see the team eating take-out Chinese food and pizza. It is presumed that meant they ordered the food and yet when things go south and people are being murdered there’s not even ‘they cut the phone’ to explain the lack of calling out for assistance. The canister we are told holds the offspring of a god, the anti-god. He buried the canister on Earth in the Middle East before he was banished. Christ was not a divine but a humanoid alien come to warn us about the godling in the bottle. IF he was an alien and the aliens knew about the godling in a bottle why did they leave it with the savages of Earth? That seems pretty irresponsible.

Those issues aside this is one of my favorite Carpenter films and when I got the chance to get it on Blu-ray I did not hesitate. It is film for the season.


The Liminal Case of Monster Movies

As I review my library for films to view during my Halloween Horror festival the issue of categorization moves to the front of my thoughts. Horror is a slippery thing to define and precisely what counts as a horror movie varies from person to person. Is The Silence of the Lambs the first horror film to win Best Picture, or was it a thriller? More to the point of my personal film festival is the classification of the sub-genre of horror, the monster movie.

There is no doubt that some monster movies are also horror movies; Frankenstein in most of it variations is a horror movie, Alien is an SF, Horror, and a monster movie that spawned an entire cycle of imitators. I think the original Godzilla/Gojira is a horror film the enormous monster a stand in for the horrors of war and atomic weaponry. However not all monster movies are horror films.

If we examine the Godzilla franchise it is clear that to me that at some point it stopped attempting to horrify and instead sough to thrill instead. Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster does not seek the make the viewer feel dread from the monster’s impending but excites the audience with a massive battle of giant monsters while making just enough commentary about pollution to have some social relevance.

I think that horror is always personal and by that I do not mean that it is merely individual taste but also that the subject of the dread and terror is experienced on a level that is subjective and intimate. In Gojira there are plenty of scenes where we are masterfully introduced to minor characters that are sketched quickly and competently so we empathize with them as they face the unimaginable horror of a giant radioactive monster. This gives us the horror of the movie and not the man wearing a rubber suit stomping a miniature city.



Halloween Horror Film #6 Coherence

Sunday afternoon my sweetie-wife and I went out for a San Diego Film Geeks presentation of the 1972 Italian crime movie What Have You Done to Solange? That was enjoyable and salacious but it left me wanting a shorter movie for my later night Sunday Night Movies feature. Most of the shorter horror films in my library are of the classic Universal period and were ones I have watched recently but I wanted something newer. Browsing the selection on Shudder I stumbled about this low-budget SF/thriller Coherence. Decent rotten tomatoes score (88%) and it looked interesting

Coherence is the story of a dinner party, the friends collected for the evening all have tensions pulling at them but seem gamely dedicated to having a good time. Strange events being occurring, cell phones shattering in their hands, power-outages and more, as a comet is passing overhead. When they notice that there is one house that seems to have power and lights while the entire neighborhood is blacked-out, pair of the men venture to it in hopes of contacting relatives. This is when the SF aspect takes over and this film becomes the stuff of a Twilight Zone episode. That perhaps is the best point of reference for this movie, as being very low budget (IMDB reports $50,000) this story is driven by the characters and not special effect or cinematography. Frankly I was surprised by the quality of the story. This movie worked very well and I am not going to discuss its details because this is one best watched, like hobbits returned to Isengard, unspoiled.

There are two flaws that bothered me in the movie. First off, I understand the need to keep the camera work simple, but the focus going in and out from an ‘auto-focus’ mirroring effect became quite annoying, and secondly a comet is terrible explanation for the events. Comets are nothing more than dirty snowballs in space. With just five minutes though I devised a better rationale that would have changed nothing in the actual production.

Those flaws aside, Coherence, was a good film, taunt and tense, with properly dark turns. If you have access to the streaming site Shudder, give it a view.


Halloween Horror Movie #5: The Thing from Another World

Saturday night a friend, who gets into the season as I do, after our early evening games and funs, watched The Thing from Another World (1951) TTFAW and often referred to as simply The Thing, though that can lead to confusion with John Carpenter’s excellent remake 1982’s The Thing.

TTFAWE is a true classic of the SF/Horror genre. An Air force supply plane is sent to a remote artic base that has made an incredible discovery, a crashed flying saucer. An attempt to salvage the spacecraft goes awry but the team is able to recover an alien corpse for study. Naturally the course turns out to be seriously less dead than expected. Complicating matters a sudden and severe artic storm not only cuts all radio communication but also with the artic temperatures even lower, traps the team inside the base’s shelters. What follows is a game of hunted and hunter with both side trading off in those roles. Armed with a Geiger counter the human have limited ability to track or sense the alien threat. The atmospheric and plot similarities to Alien (1979) are unmistakable but that is not to say that Alien is a mere copy, rather this is the idea expressed decades apart by very different filmmakers and very different cultural contexts. To the best of my knowledge this movie also sports the first full-body burn stunt. That had to make audience jumped back in 1951.

In 1982 when John Carpenter released his remake the world had changed so much that the heroic vision of both scientists and military men had degraded so far that the new story became drenched in cynicism. Again that is not in itself a bad thing; it reelects the mood of the culture that birthed the remake. I own copies of both movies and enjoy both. It is fascinating to watch them as distorted mirrors of the times and the people.

TTFAW is a movie I simply do not watch enough and this weekend’s rematch brought back all my happy feels for such a well-crafted film.



Halloween Horror Movie # 4

I remember seeing this film on its original theatrical run back in 1981. In those days I was still a sailor in the United States Navy and was fairly new to San Diego. Downtown, which was much grittier back in those days, held a number of run down grind-house movie theaters and one was the Balboa. (The Balboa is still there, though now it has been renovated into a nice venue and this month I will be there to see Eddie Izzard live.) I do not recall ever seeing a preview for this film, but the poster with the declaration ‘from the creator Alien” seduced me into the theater.

Dead & Buried is a curious horror film. Produced after Alien and Halloween it has both a creepy atmospheric style coupled with explicit gruesome on-screen ‘kills.’ In addition to two elements it also has a very 70s sensibility presented in a drenched in paranoia and coated in cynicism. It even ends the film on a freeze-frame, a device that was very popular in the cinema of the 70s but along with split framing, very quickly fell out of favor in the glassy fast paced 80s.

The story is about a small town cop, Dan Gillis, whose has returned to his home town of Potter’s Bluff along with his wife Janet. Tourists and other people just passing through the coastal Rhode Island community are waylaid by the locals and brutally murdered. During the horrific acts of violence the townsfolk display no emotion and record everything with still and motion photography. With corpses piling up and vanishing Dan quickly finds himself working a mystery that soon extends beyond the natural as people reports seeing the murder victims now walking around the Potters Bluff. Increasingly Dan suspects that his wife is involved and with the assistance of Dobbs, the town’s undertaker and coroner, he attempts to discover the horrific truth behind the small scenic town.

I really like Dead & Buried. The film has only a few jump scares relying principally upon tone, mystery, and the brutal attacks to create it sense of dread. (Though it must be said that the first jump scare is one of cinema’s best and I shall not spoil it by describing it to you. If you have seen you know exactly what I am referring to and if you have not you are in for a startle.) The films was a modest budgeted affair but boasted talent, among the actors you have James Farention as Dan Gillis, Jack Albertson as the quirky undertaker Dobbs, and a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert England in a small supporting role. Behind the scenes you have Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, the authors of Alien, writing the screenplay, and legendary effects wizard Stan Winston producing the make-up and special effects.

Not a movie for everyone, particularly if on-screen violence and murders much like a slasher film is not for you, Dead & Buried is an underappreciated horror movie that straddles the interest cinema of the 70s and the 80s.