House by the Cemetery

Young Bob utters the best line of House by the Cemetery when he goes into the basement in search of his babysitter, Anne. A few scenes earlier Bob saw Anne’s severed head rolling down the steps. As he walks down the stairs Bob says (paraphrasing) – “Anne. Are you dead? Mommy says you’re not dead.”

I’ve seen enough horror cinema to know that House by the Cemetery, directed by Lucio Fulci, is an influential movie. It’s an important entry in the Monster in the Basement subgenre and contains an element of sadism that was way ahead of its time. This is not torture porn, but it’s close, and nowadays you can see about a hundred horror movies like this: threadbare plot, cutout characters, sadistic killer and lots and lots of blood.

House by the Cemetery opens with a guy and girl, post sexy-time. Instead of treating his date to a nice motel, maybe with mirrors on the ceiling, the dude takes her to a disgusting, grungy basement. He dies and she gets a knife through the back of the head. Cut to Dr. Norman Boyle, his wife Lucy and their son Bob, who are off to the same house in New England.

We meet another little kid, a girl named Mae who doesn’t want Bob to go into the house. Bob sees Mae’s face in a picture, peeking out of the window of the house they’re about to move into. The house the Boyles are renting – which is a piece of shit – was owned by Dr. Freudstein, a half-assed mad scientist who performed medical experiments on people in the basement.

You couldn’t pay me to spend the night in that place, but the Boyles are made of sterner stuff. The results are predictable. Norm and Lucy hear children crying in the middle of the night, even though their son is fast asleep. There’s an honest-to-God tomb in the hallway hidden under a carpet. A bat attacks Doc Norman and he stabs it about three hundred times before it dies. Bats don’t act that way unless they have rabies, so anyone sane would leave the house, post-haste. The Boyles stay. Of course they stay. They’re begging to be killed, and the thing lurking in the basement is more than happy to oblige.

I’m sorry to say that House by the Cemetery wasn’t to my tastes. It has lots of gore, but the script is a mess and the characters are dumb even by horror movie standards. This could be a translation issue. House by the Cemetery is an Italian movie, and maybe the dub isn’t too good. Still, if you want to see the flick that helped inspired the latest hack ’em up streaming on Netflix, check out House by the Cemetery.

Ravenous

This trailer contains spoilers. Watch at your own risk!

The tagline for Ravenous reads ‘You Are Who You Eat.’ Yes, this is a film about cannibalism, but since it’s set in California in the 1840’s this is also American history and  thus educational. Unlike most of the movies I watch, Ravenous features a cast many people would recognize. The trailer is full of spoilers, so I’d skip it.

Captain Boyd (Guy Pearce) is awarded for bravery during the Mexican-American War; he faked being dead and ended up taking the enemy HQ. The experience left him with blood in his mouth, literally. His disgusted superiors transfer him to a fort in California, near the Sierra Rockies. Led by Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), they’re a ragtag bunch.

The plot kicks into gear when a half-dead Scotsman named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into the fort and tells a hair-raising story about his wagon party being stuck in a cave in the mountains for the winter. They ate the oxen, and then they ate the horses, and then they ate their shoes and then they started to eat each other. Colqhoun ran away before their guide could eat him.

A rescue party is mounted, which leads to a gruesome discovery. Five skeletons are found in the cave, and there were only six people in the party. The rescue mission ends in another massacre, but Boyd manages to escape. His leg is broken, so he eats part of one of his dead comrades to heal himself; in Ravenous, eating human flesh grants you superhuman powers. Maybe it has to do with the Wendigo, or maybe it’s Christians eating the body of Christ every Sunday, or maybe it’s Manifest Destiny. Whatever. An unpleasant surprise awaits Boyd upon his return to the fort, and he’s faced with a choice: death, or a full belly.

The villain is the most interesting character of Ravenous. Part of that is because Boyd isn’t the action-hero type. He spends most of this movie scared shitless. His fellow soldiers think he’s a coward, but by the end of Ravenous Boyd’s weakness becomes his strength, one of this film’s many interesting twists.

Finally: I’d be doing people a disservice if I didn’t mention Robert Carlyle’s hat. Carlyle wears a great black hat that he ditches halfway through the movie. I don’t know what type of hat it is, but it’s a damn shame it went out of style, and I want one.

Ravenous is the funniest film about cannibalism you’ll ever watch, but it doesn’t skimp on the gore. Guy Pearce plays it straight; Robert Carlyle doesn’t. Good writing, good acting, good cast, an off-beat soundtrack – this is the full package. Still, if you aren’t sure whether you’d like a movie about cannibalism, I might err on the side of caution.

 

Vampyres

No naked people appear in the trailer for Vampyres, which is a miracle. This movie is British Eurotrash, although at this point it’s an open question whether Britain is even part of Europe. Vampyres‘ influences are obvious, but it’s way too explicit to be a Hammer production and doesn’t have the visual panache of a Jean Rollin extravaganza.

Vampyres is very ‘No Sex Please We’re British.’ Despite featuring lots of softcore sex, this movie is strangely ambivalent about its subject matter, orgies, bare breasts, lesbians and blood. There’s a scene where Fran and Miriam are drinking wine with that night’s victim, and the orgy is about to commence, and the girls kiss and the guy looks away. You signed up for the orgy, dude, what’s your hang-up?

Vampyres has plot elements but no real plot. Fran and Miriam pick up hitchhikers, kill them and drink their blood. Sometimes they have sex with them. Afterwards, they stage a car accident, carefully placing the bodies of their nude victims in their cars, because people in that part of England all drive naked.

In the opening scene a guy or girl wearing a weird hat (we only see the shadow) kills Fran and Miriam during sexy-time. See what I mean about the ambivalence? The hat is one of the many bizarre touches in Vampyres. We cut to Murray, a beefy middle-aged Englishman checking into a hotel. The elderly manager thinks he recognizes him, and Murray slaps that shit down fast.

The plot kicks into gear when Fran and Miriam bring Murray home to their abandoned castle. Murray does his best to live up to his billing as the male beefcake, saying things like – ‘see here. I find you extremely attractive’ – in a stern voice. You know, the kind of talk that drives a woman wild. Murray may be an older dude, but he gives it his all during the sex scenes. Yes, seeing the liver spots on his back during sexy-time sort of kills the moment, but perhaps the filmmakers determined Murray’s age demographic to be Vampyres’ target audience.

Murray wakes up in the morning with a nasty cut on his arm. During the course of the film, our hero gets weaker and weaker. That could be because he hasn’t eaten in days, or the hours having sex with a woman half his age, or maybe it’s the fact that Fran and Miriam are treating him like a human Slurpee. In one scene the lusty gals use Murray as a prop during their own lovemaking.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I watched Vampyres, but technically this is a horror movie. There are a few interesting elements. The girls kill with a knife instead of with their fangs. I’m not even sure they have fangs, although there is a good biting scene. The ecstatic frenzy in which Fran and Miriam kill and feed is the most interesting thing about this movie.

Anyway, no more hokey recommended or not recommended announcements. Vampyres is a bad movie. If you want to watch it for its historical significance or are in Murray’s age demographic, it’s available on Shudder!

We Are Still Here

 We Are Still Here is a sneaky movie, starting with brooding shots of the desolate New England landscape that scream arthouse horror and ending with the bloodiest gore sequences this side of Lucio Fulci. This movie has been in my Netflix Queue for months, mostly because it stars Barbara Crampton. Full disclosure: Ms. Crampton is my favorite Scream Queen, which made me predisposed to like this movie. I still remember seeing her in Re-Animator and From Beyond, way back in the 1980’s.

Anne and Paul are a middle-aged couple whose college-age son just died in an accident. For reasons I can’t fathom they move to a house in the middle of Nowhere, New England. To escape the memories, I guess? They’re visited by a pair of locals who seem shocked they’ve been in the house for two weeks and are still alive. The locals tell them a story about the first-ever people to live in the house, a family of morticians accused of selling the bodies. According to local legend, the townspeople drove them off. Hint: take a look at the movie’s title.

Anne believes her son’s ghost has followed them because she senses a presence in the house. She’s right, sort of. There are several presences in the house, and they aren’t friendly. When the electrician comes to fix the boiler he’s attacked by one of the ghosts living in the basement. Soot black with chalk white eyes, these ghosts are literally burning up.

Anne invites a second couple, Jacob and May, to visit. May is a self-proclaimed psychic who might be able to contact the entities in the house. May’s son and his girlfriend arrive when the couples are out enjoying a wild night in town (i.e., eating at the local equivalent of Applebee’s). They get frisky on the couch, which stirs up the cinder ghosts.

It is at this point that We Are Still Here goes gonzo. The wild car ride, cold-blooded murder and disastrous séance culminating in Jacob eating a sock are only the beginning. When the locals join the party the blood and brains really start to fly, including a great scene with a knife and a sickle. Yet the movie’s center holds. The end credits are a must because they fill in a few plot holes.

I liked We Are Still Here as much as It Follows, probably the most critically acclaimed horror movie of 2015. The acting and effects are good. This is a simple story, well-told, which is why it succeeds so well.

Recommended!

Sadako vs. Kayako

(Warning: don’t watch the trailer if you plan on seeing this movie)

Sadako vs. Kayako is a Japanese horror movie available on Shudder, a streaming service that specializes in horror cinema. Shudder costs $4.99 per month to subscribe, and if you are a horror fan it’s a good deal. However, I would think twice about subscribing for this movie.

The idea of Sadako vs. Kayako is simple: have the evil spirits of the Ring and Grudge franchises battle it out. I followed the plot without seeing either Ringu or Ju-On: The Grudge, but the Kayako story confused me because at first I didn’t realize there were two spirits in the house.

A few words about the ghouls in question. When you watch a cursed videotape Sadako will appear and kill you two days later. Kayako and Kid Ghost live in a deserted house, and you will die if you step foot inside. Thus, Sadako and Kayako are based on similar memes – if you do X you will die – which turns out to be important.

The plot: college students Natsumi and Yuri buy a used VCR to transfer old video footage to DVD format. There’s already a tape in the VCR. Natsumi watches it while Yuri is texting. Afterwards, Natsumi gets the obligatory call from Sadako on her cell phone. Through a chain of events too complicated to go into, the girls meet Spiritual Medium Kyozo, who seems to be the rock star of mediums.

The Kayako story is much less complex and feels shoehorned into the plot. Four schoolboys enter Kayako’s house and none return in one of the movie’s better sequences. Suzuka, another student, enters the murder house despite repeated warnings. Maybe she’s suicidal? Who knows? There are a lot of characters in Sadako vs. Kayako, and most of them do stupid things. Spiritual Medium Kyozo’s master plan makes no sense. Someone even transfers the Sadako video to DVD and then uploads it to the Internet. Why? Yeah, that’s a good question.

And then there’s the title. Anyone who’s seen one of the many Godzilla sequels knows what Sadako vs. Kayako means. The monsters battle it out! Unfortunately, the fight scenes are dull and the movie isn’t scary. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that Sadako vs. Kayako might be a comedy.

Recommended for series completists only. I am not sure if fans of either The Grudge or Ring franchises will like this movie.

Last Shift

Released in 2014, Last Shift is a decent horror-thriller that I watched courtesy of Netflix Streaming. I’ve been reviewing a lot of older movies lately, so this is a nice change-up. Last Shift looks like it was shot on a micro-budget, but the special effects are decent and the acting is good.

The plot: it’s rookie cop’s Jessica’s first night on the job. She reports to the deserted old police station only to find that she has to spend her first shift in an abandoned building. Jessica needs to stick around because a HAZMAT team is coming to dispose of all the unwanted physical evidence from past cases.

Jessica gets a weird phone call from a distraught woman, which she doesn’t handle very well, but it’s her first shift so cut her a bit of slack. A homeless guy invades the station and pisses all over the floor. The weird shit starts with strange noises and then escalates. We soon discover that Jessica’s dad – also a police officer – was killed by a Charlie Manson death cult, which is why she became a cop. After being brought in alive, the cult leader and two of his female followers killed themselves in this very station. Could this be related to the current strange happenings at the station? Maaaybe?

We learn what’s happening early on in Last Shift, so the movie becomes dependent on jump-scares and freaky shit. The phone calls are from a dead woman. The homeless guy comes back. Stuff starts moving around. The cult head and his two followers appear on TV. Jessica starts hearing a freaky song. And that’s before she starts seeing things…

Last Shift is a good horror movie that does what it sets out to do very well. The writers give Jessica a reason to stick it out, so kudos to them. The movie builds suspense and dread very well and there are lots of jump scares. To me, the crime scene photos are scarier than the monsters.

That said, Last Shift has a few issues. Towards the end of the movie it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. If I was a law enforcement officer, I believe I might catch a couple of procedural errors. Also, Jessica under reacts in a few scenes. When you’re in a holding tank and the lights go out and someone’s shining your own flashlight in your face, and the only other person in the cell is out cold, that’s grounds for any sane person to call backup.

Quibbles aside, Last Shift is solid. Recommended!

Deep Red

Deep Red is a Giallo, an Italian horror/thriller/mystery directed by Dario Argento. Despite Deep Red’s availability in the video stores of the early 80’s, this is yet another movie I missed. As a kid I subsisted on a diet of American slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and thus missed a lot of great horror movies.

The plot: famed psychic Amanda Righetti witnesses a murder in front of a packed auditorium. The catch: the murder occurred decades ago, and the killer is in the audience. Amanda doesn’t seem bothered by that second fact, which is a big mistake. Cut to Marcus and his drunken buddy Carlo, who are hanging outside a bar. Marcus witnesses Amanda’s murder through her apartment window.

Marcus rushes into the psychic’s apartment and finds her body; too bad she didn’t foresee her own death. When the police arrive he tells them he thinks the murderer took one of the many creepy paintings hanging on the walls. Feisty reporter Gianna pastes Marcus’ face all over the front page of the newspaper with the headline EYEWITNESS TO MURDER. This turns out to be yet another big mistake. Later that night Marcus is in his den when we see bits of plaster fall on his piano. The killer is walking on the roof. And then a children’s song starts to play. It’s an eerie, creepy scene, one of many in this gem.

The kiddy song leads to an urban legend about a murder house that turns out to be true. Marcus follows the killer’s trail because – really, I have no clue why. There are a lot of things in this movie that don’t make any sense. Unlike Argento’s masterful Suspiria, Deep Red has a plot, but boy oh boy do the characters do some stupid shit.

Marcus finds the murder house, which has been deserted for years. The realtor’s daughter likes to impale lizards and is a future candidate for the Tanz Academy if I ever saw one. In the house Marcus finds a child’s drawing buried beneath the plaster depicting a brutal murder. In the meantime the killer has been busy. Will Marcus be the next victim?

The body count of Deep Red isn’t high, but Argento makes every death count. Highly choreographed, these murders are works of art. The other thing that impressed me about Deep Red is the ending. I figured out the part about the painting because I have access to the rewind and pause button, so I thought I had the murderer pegged. I was wrong.

Highly recommended!

Shutter

Shutter is a Thai horror movie directly inspired by the J-horror craze of the early aughts. The plot: Tun and Jane are a young couple driving home to Bangkok after partying with Tun’s skeevy college buddies. They’re both drunk, but Jane is the one driving when they hit a young woman. Jane wants to stop and check to see if the woman is all right but Tun yells at her to keep driving.

Afterwards, Jane feels awful and can’t sleep. Tun, who has the uncanny ability to put other people’s misfortunes behind him, has different problems. A professional photographer, he starts seeing weird shit in his photos. Then he has visions, all involving a malevolent dead woman. Jane sees things, too, but – unlike Tun – nobody seems to be stalking her, which is strange since she was the driver. It’s almost like someone is trying to tell her something – as ghosts do. Jane finds a photograph of Tun with a woman named Natre, whom Tun admits he knows.

Shutter takes a hard left turn when Tun and Jane discover that there were no reported accidents the night of their hit-and-run. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that the woman Jane hit was Natre and that she wasn’t – uh, alive. Tun’s visions grow worse as his college buddies start practicing high-diving off buildings. What’s up? Watch the movie to find out!

Shutter exists because of evil-girl ghost movies like The Ring. That said, Natre isn’t an evil spirit; there are evil people in this movie, but she isn’t one of them. Shutter is well-written and visually striking, with foreshadowing that works, a ton of good jump scares and two twists at the end. The first twist isn’t a surprise if you’ve been paying attention, but for me it was hard to watch. The second twist surprised me, in a good way.

My only quibbles with Shutter are that the subtitles aren’t great and Jane is more sympathetic than Tun, the main character. That said, one of the real pleasures of this movie is watching Natre drive Tun crazy. A few of his visions resemble bad acid trips.

Highly recommended!

Night of the Seagulls

Night of the Seagulls is the final movie in Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series. Starring blind Knight Templar zombies riding around on horses, these Spanish-language flicks are vintage 70’s Eurotrash, featuring oodles of blood, gore and gratuitous sex. Unfortunately, the last installment of the series leaves a lot to be desired.

The plot: the residents of an old Spanish fishing village sacrifice seven virgins on seven nights once every seven years to the undead Knight Templars. This state of affairs lasts until Doctor Stein and his wife Joan drive into town. We can tell they’re a modern couple because they have a car and because of the doc’s taste in flashy sweaters. They learn of the fishing village’s nocturnal activities with the help of the town lunatic and a young woman named Lucy, who pals around with them in hopes that she won’t be sacrificed.

A word about the virgins. That’s what I’m assuming because they’re dressed in white, which signals virtue. If I were a young woman in that village I’d lose my virtue, ASAP. Anyway: the ladies are chained to the rocks like in the Perseus and Andromeda legend, which is a nice touch, but instead of a sea monster we get grainy stock footage of the Knight Templars riding along the beach on their horses. They sacrifice the maybe-virgins to a statue of a big frog, which could be a shout-out to Howie Lovecraft.

The plot of Night of the Seagulls is sketchy and it shows. Nothing happens for the first hour and then things start moving. Doc Stein, his wife, Lucy and the town lunatic barricade themselves into a house. This leads to my favorite sequence of the movie, which I believe is repeated in all the Blind Dead films, where one of the Templars lays his bony hand on a young woman’s shoulder and she shrieks like fuck. That never, ever grows old.

I wanted to like Night of The Seagulls, but this movie is pretty dull. There’s a little semi-nudity and gore but nothing to write home about. The Tombs of the Blind Dead, the first installment of the series, features evil sex, lots of gore and a genuinely spooky scene in a mannequin factory, and is well-worth seeing. Night of the Seagulls, not so much.

Recommended for series completists and zombie fanatics only.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon isn’t a horror movie. It’s a comedy that tries to deconstruct the slasher film with mixed results, which may be why I never heard of it. Or maybe I’m behind the times.

A nobody who wants to be somebody, Leslie Mancuso decides to co-opt the legend of deranged person Leslie Vernon. Leslie wants to be a serial-killer superstar and have his name spoken in the same whispers reserved for Freddy, Jason and Michael. Even though most real-life serial killers are borderline imbeciles incapable of forming relationships, Leslie is a charming guy. A meticulous planner who knows all the tropes, Leslie does cardio, reads books about magic tricks and escape artists and focuses his breathing to the point where he can seem dead.

He doesn’t hire a publicist but does the next best thing. Meet Taylor Gentry, who is making a documentary about Leslie Vernon. Taylor’s a wannabe also, which might explain why she tags along as Leslie stalks, terrorizes and kills people. Seeing Leslie and Taylor chat about his plans for mass-murder, it’s obvious they have a real bond. Their relationship is the most interesting element of Behind the Mask, and the way the filmmakers handle it is a real lost opportunity. I didn’t like the twist, but others may love it.

We get the behind-the-scenes stuff before Behind the Mask morphs into a quasi-slasher movie. The characters that don’t get the joke are quickly disposed of. As per usual, all IQs drop twenty points. Watching Taylor fumble for the axe in the shed, I recall Leslie telling her hours earlier how he’d sabotaged the axe in the shed. I guess it’s easy for me, sitting in my living room.

Bottom line: Behind the Mask is a good movie, but Scream did the same thing better. There are lots of in-jokes. Robert Englund makes a cameo as Donald Sutherland – er, Doc Halloran. We also meet Leslie’s serial killer mentor, Eugene. I don’t know who Eugene is based on and I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, so if someone could tell me I’d appreciate it. Leslie looks like a big chicken in his slasher outfit, but I don’t know if that was done on purpose or not.

Recommended!