General Cemetery

General Cemetery is the second Peruvian horror movie I’ve seen in the past week; the first was Secret of Evil. I watched both flicks courtesy of Netflix Streaming and will say that General Cemetery is a better movie than Secret of Evil, which is not the same thing as saying it’s a good movie. General Cemetery is a hard movie to classify, part found-footage, part young-girl-possessed-by-Satan and part evil-demon-wreaks-bloody-vengeance-on-a-gang-of-dumb-teenagers.

The plot: Andrea is a fifteen-year old girl whose father dies. Luckily, she has her friends and schoolmates to support her: Gabriel, who we know is a jock because his hat’s turned backwards; Julito, who everyone calls ‘Fatso’ and whose only personality trait is that he’s heavy; and Pablo, who films everything. Finally there’s Andrea’s best friend Mayra, whose aunt has given her a Very Special Ouija Board. Pablo is our main character. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to come across as sympathetic. At the movie’s start he tries to film up a girl’s skirt, so to me he seemed creepy rather than likable.

Andrea and her friends attempt to contact her father with a homemade Ouija board. It doesn’t work. They then decide to take a road trip to the cemetery where he’s buried and try again, this time with the Very Special Ouija Board. For some reason Andrea brings her little sister Evita along. Unless Andrea read the script, there’s no sane reason for her to do this. The ritual at the cemetery produces results, if you call Evita becoming possessed by Satan results.

The possession scenes are hilarious. The Scooby Crew chases after the possessed Evita. When they catch her she hisses and they turn tail and run away. This chase sequence is repeated three or four times and you can clearly see a few of the characters laughing. We soon learn that everything that’s happened is the result of a revenge plot, which I will not reveal because spoilers.

Besides a few jump scares, General Cemetery isn’t scary. The cemetery itself is certainly large and impressive, but I didn’t think it was scary. That might be because I don’t believe in ghosts. The plot is fairly complex but falls apart at the end. As one of the characters says – ‘but I didn’t do anything!’

Too bad life’s not fair.

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Grave Encounters

You know you’ve watched a special movie when there’s a disclaimer at the end saying: no rats were eaten during the course of this film. Grave Encounters isn’t the best haunted insane asylum movie I’ve seen – that would be Session 9 – but it is fun, especially if you like found-footage.

Grave Encounters does not break any new ground. The cast and crew of paranormal reality show Grave Encounters spend the night in the Collingswood Psychiatric Hospital. They set up cameras to record spooky footage and talk to people about how the abandoned hospital is haunted. When the groundskeeper locks them in for the evening they are never seen again…until the footage of their Night From Hell ™ is found by the authorities.

One of the best things about Grave Encounters is how the characters are in on the joke. The Fourth Wall stays intact, but the cast and crew are engaged in the act of creating fiction. Lance and co-host Sasha don’t believe in the supernatural, so they’re just making shit up as they go. Lance slips the landscaper a twenty to say he’s seen a ghost. His actor friend Houston Gray does a schmaltzy psychic act. T.C. and Matt are the crew.

The problem is that Collingswood really is haunted. Wheelchairs move. An invisible entity pushes T.C. down the stairs. Invisible fingers play with Sasha’s hair. Matt the camera guy vanishes. When the groundskeeper doesn’t let our heroes out in the morning they break open the door and find endless miles of corridors. Soon afterwards, the ghosts start to manifest physically, and that’s when the real jump scares start.

Grave Encounters does a fine job of poking fun at found-footage tropes. None of the characters believe in the supernatural. The interviewees are awkward, with one guy asking where he should look while another curses on-camera. A bored Matt and T.C. toss a football back and forth. The words Death Awaits are spray-painted on the entranceway and instead of being scared, everyone laughs and thinks it’s hokey.

Recommended for found-footage fans.

Secret of Evil

Set in Lima, Peru, Secret of Evil is found footage. The plot: four idiots vanish after spending the evening in a haunted house; afterwards, the authorities find the footage of their night from Hell. There are about a million of these types of movies out there. Sometimes it’s an insane asylum, sometimes it’s an abandoned prison, in this case it’s a haunted house. The IMDB entry for Secret of Evil says that the movie cost $300,000 (est.) to make, which might explain the popularity of this subgenre.

The story begins with a dude in a lunatic asylum. Lunatic asylum dude stares at the camera, babbles nonsense and then starts throwing stuff around. We then cut to our youthful (college age?) heroes, who interview a bunch of actors playing historians and folklorists. They learn three stories about the evil infecting the house. The stories are garbled and I had trouble telling them apart, but that might have been the subtitles. Or maybe I was tired. Or I might have been playing Chess on my phone because parts of this movie are really dull. Anyhow, we learn the house is a Bad Place.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why our youthful heroes want to go into the house. One of them mentions a school project, while the other makes it seem like they are budding reality stars. They  bribe the guard to get in. That didn’t make much sense until we learn that the house is across the street from the American Embassy, so I’m guessing the Americans pay the guard to ensure nobody sneaks into the house (like they’re doing) to spy on them? The house is a piece of crap in the middle of a modern city, so I don’t even know why it’s still standing. One of Secret of Evil’s many unanswered questions.

The usual hijinks ensue. If you watch found footage movies, you know the routine.  They set up the cameras, which shows us things the kids don’t see. Check. The characters have very basic personalities; they’re mostly annoying, so that we’ll root for them to die. Check. There’s the woman who yells at everybody, the surly camera guy, the quack psychic. I kept expecting the psychic – who is twice the age of our youthful heroes – to say ‘Come into the light, Carol Anne.’

Our heroes wander aimlessly around the house. The quack psychic opines. There are some good jump scares, but a few of the effects made me laugh rather than shriek – not a good sign. The scariest part of Secret of Evil is the creepy nursery, because ghost kids. The last ten minutes dragged, because who cares? The Boss Ghost looks like the malevolent spirit from The Woman in Black.

Secret of Evil is available on Netflix Streaming. If you enjoy found footage movies, there are worst ways to spend an hour and twenty minutes of your life. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Fascination

Directed by my favorite Euro Trash director Jean Rollin, Fascination is an interesting twist on the story of Countess Bathory. Filmed on a zero budget, Mr. Rollin’s movies feature awful acting, minimal plots and lots of semi-nudity and soft-core sex. His films are almost always visually striking and Fascination, filmed at a chateau, is no exception.

Fascination opens with a montage of bizarre images. A female hand opens a book, almost fondling the pages. A pair of women dance on a bridge to the tune of a gramophone. Two overdressed ladies stand in the midst of a very bloody slaughterhouse, where we learn that in 1905 ox blood was a popular cure for anemia amongst the rich. They drink a toast in champagne glasses while one of the young women rubs the blood all over her lips, the first of a series of not-so subtle hints that everyone in this movie is crazy.

Our hero is Marc, who is a thief. Dressed in a bowler hat and red-and-black striped jacket, Marc is the picture of sartorial splendor. Alas, the ne’er-do-wells he’s working with try to pull a double-cross and he takes the lone woman of the gang hostage. She pulls off her shirt, offering herself to him, and our hero responds by bursting out laughing. Insulted, she knees him in the balls and runs off.

Marc hides in a chateau populated by a pair of crazy women. At first they act normal, but as the movie progresses it becomes obvious they’re toying with him. Part of this is Marc’s own fault. Although a sharp dresser, he isn’t a killer. The return of Marc’s murderous ex-partners puts a crimp in his plans of escape. One of the crazy ladies brings the loot out to the thugs, which leads to the best sequence of the movie.

Thinking that the gang’s left with the money (they haven’t), Marc’s free to leave the chateau, but after hearing the crazy ladies talk about a midnight gathering he decides to stay because…I’m not sure why. My best guess is that he’s curious, thus echoing the movie’s title. If you want to know what happens next Fascination is streaming on Shudder.

I wouldn’t call Fascination a good movie, but I liked it. It’s not scary and there’s not much blood, but there is lots of sex and some stylized violence. This film looks good and even sort of has a plot. Please note that this is a French movie with English subtitles. Fascination isn’t for everyone, but I had fun watching it.

Hostage to the Devil

Hostage to the Devil is not a movie about exorcism, nor is it based on Malachi Martin’s book “Hostage to the Devil,” which deals with exorcism. This is a documentary about Malachi Martin himself. Full disclosure: I read Mr. Martin’s book “Hostage to the Devil” last year and formed definite opinions about the author.

Hostage to the Devil makes no claims to being unbiased about its subject. The movie is full of sincere people talking about what a great man Malachi was, making it clear that Mr. Martin attracted a band of devoted followers. Demonologists (Lorraine Warren) and conspiracy theorists (Art Bell) make appearances or pay tribute. There are clips of Mr. Martin being witty. The lone dissenter states that Mr. Martin was a huckster who started believing his own horseshit; he also thinks Mr. Martin had an affair with his wife, making it unclear if he’s a lunatic.

Mr. Martin was no longer a Jesuit when he wrote “Hostage to the Devil” and cashed in on the success of “The Exorcist,” but if this documentary is to be believed he and his posse went around performing exorcisms in New York City for years. The movie shows us footage of a few ‘possessed’ people being exorcised, which is disturbing in that we are watching the mentally ill being exploited. Mr. Martin does not appear in this footage, so I don’t know if he participated in these exorcisms.

Unless you are obsessed with Malachi Martin – and apparently some people are – Hostage to the Devil is a bore. The documentary tries to build suspense by reenacting an encounter Mr. Martin had with The Devil in Connecticut, and there are those who believe Satan murdered him. What can you say to that? I’m sorry Mr. Martin passed away.

If you want to learn more about Mr. Martin’s beliefs concerning exorcism I’d recommend his book “Hostage to the Devil.” Mr. Martin was a traditionalist, in that he thought Vatican II turned back the clock (before Vatican II, the Catholic Church conducted its services in Latin) and unleashed Satan upon an unsuspecting world. The book rails against such social ills as belief in evolution, sexual expression, self-exploration, yoga, the counterculture, women’s rights, etc., etc., etc. It’s quite a long list. Mr. Martin also believed The Satanic Panic of the 80’s really happened. Ironically, despite Mr. Martin’s professed hostility to New Age beliefs, the book “Hostage to the Devil” is at its core a New Age book because of the author’s willingness to believe anything couched in religious jargon.

I’ve seen a number of good horror documentaries over the past few years, including Cropsey, The Imposter, Killer Legends, Lost Soul and Room 237. I’ll even throw My Amityville Horror in there, because of Mr. Lutz’s onscreen charisma. Unfortunately, Hostage to the Devil was not one of them.

Not recommended.

The Blair Witch

 

The original Blair Witch Project is the most famous movie ever made about three people arguing over a map. I rewatched it a few months ago and had trouble staying awake, but the first time I saw the movie it was scary as hell. The footage was so amateurish it looked real. The camera shook. I couldn’t hear a damn thing. I didn’t know what was going on, just like the actors.

There is no element of the supernatural in the original Blair Witch Project. Everything that happens has an explanation. People who get lost in the woods become disoriented, losing track of time and traveling in circles. Yes, someone was messing with them, but that could have been anyone. Ghosts don’t pull out people’s teeth or hang stick figures on trees, but lunatics sure do.

Love it or hate it, The Blair Witch Project was a game-changer in the horror industry, triggering a flood of found-footage movies. It was only a matter of time before someone made a direct sequel. Unfortunately, the new Blair Witch is found-footage in name only. It looks professional. Sometimes the camera gets fuzzy and that’s it.

The plot: six attractive young people go into the woods. By doing so they are reenacting an ancient ritual, the stupid young sacrifices venturing into the unknown and dying horrible deaths, a la Cabin in the Woods. Our hero James sees a video of a frantic young woman racing through a deserted house on YouTube and thinks he recognizes his long lost sister Heather. Reasoning that maybe she’s been wandering around the woods for sixteen years, James decides to lead a rescue party consisting of his friends to find her.

Jim’s joined by best buds Peter and Ashley, along with a woman named Lisa who’s doing a documentary (déjà vu!). They equip themselves with GPS trackers and a drone. To me, the drone is the best thing in The Blair Witch; it’s an original touch, and when I saw it I held out hope for the movie.

Hope dwindled as our heroes visit the folks who put up the YouTube video. I’m not sure if Lane and Talia are brother and sister, boyfriend and girlfriend, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter. They display a huge Confederate flag in their living room, which creates some tension as Peter and Ashley are African American. Still, when Lane and Talia insist on joining the rescue party James agrees, another in a series of increasingly stupid decisions.

When our youthful heroes enter the woods the filmmakers break all the rules that made the first Blair Witch successful. There is a force and it is supernatural. James and his compadres grow much, much dumber. It would be interesting if this were another effect of the Blair Witch’s godlike powers, such as her ability to disable GPS trackers and control time. But I don’t think so.

A bug bites Ashley. Maybe it escaped from a Dave Cronenberg movie, because it sure doesn’t belong in this movie. Lane and Talia turn out to be frauds, hanging fake stick people from trees. They’re doing this because – I don’t know why. Does it really matter? In this movie plot points don’t pay off, scenes are cut and people’s actions are never explained. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the trees. Trees are deadly in The Blair Witch. A tree falls on one of our heroes and another decides to climb a tree – in the middle of the night, with an injured foot – which goes about as well as you’d expect.

The plot lurches onwards. We catch a few glimpses of the Blair Witch, and she looks like just another CGI movie monster. The Final Girl enters the Blair Witch Bed & Breakfast and ends up crawling through a mud pit, which is as close to a sex scene as we get in this movie. And then it’s all over.

I am not going to claim to be a fan of the original Blair Witch Project, which I saw in the theater, but there’s no denying it broke new ground. The Blair Witch is just another in a long line of horror movies about dumb kids getting themselves killed.

Not recommended.

Incubus

incubus

Incubus is a B-movie, with B standing for bad. One of the dirty little secrets of the horror industry is that most B-movies are bad. Off the top of my head I can only think of three B-movies I really liked: Dead and Buried, Night of the Creeps and Return of the Living Dead. I’m sure there’s more than that, but the bad far outweighs the good. However…I made a 2017 New Year’s Resolution to watch a certain number of horror movies, so now when I start watching a movie like this I will usually see it through.

Incubus is about a shape-changing sex-maniac demon terrorizing a small town. Our protagonist Dr. Sam Cordell lives in a Gothic mansion with his teenage daughter. The thing that struck me most about the mansion is the mind-blowing wallpaper, which makes me wonder if the set designer was dropping acid. Dr. Cordell’s version of doctoring consists of him grabbing people’s faces, which he does about every ten minutes.

Dr. Cordell might have been a sympathetic protagonist back in the early 80’s, but today…not so much. The best word I can use to describe him is squicky. We learn that after his wife died he married an 18 year old – about his daughter’s age – but after catching her cheating he fought with her lover and then got into his car and chased her down. It’s not clear what happened afterwards, but Incubus gives us several close-ups of him standing over her dead, bloodied body. Since the good doctor’s not in jail, he either didn’t kill her or he has a sharp lawyer. Incidentally, knowing this tidbit makes the scenes where Doc Cordell kisses his daughter – which he does a lot – take on an unpleasant dimension.

Dr. Cordell – who looks to be in his late 40’s – meets a woman who is the spitting image of his dead second wife. The demon’s rampage continues because the small-town sheriff is in way over his head. Jenny, Doc Cordell’s daughter, is dating Tim, who keeps having nightmares about his mother being tortured by monks. He thinks he might be the killer, and spends a lot of time running around looking sweaty. His grandmother tells Doctor Cordell that the members of her family were witch-hunters and tortured Timmy’s mother to death. That would have been around, oh, 1964.

Incubus grinds on. Jenny is alone in the gothic mansion all the time. The sheriff doesn’t institute a curfew. Doc Cordell’s courtship of the woman half his age proceeds. And then it ends. Incubus was made in the early 80’s, but it has a truly 70’s ending. This movie is unpleasant in so many ways, and you shouldn’t watch it. Even the wacky scene in the movie theater, where Bruce Dickinson (from Iron Maiden!) and his band Samson make an  appearance, can’t save Incubus.

Not recommended.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is the best movie I’ve seen in 2017. Granted, so far I’ve only watched three movies, but this one will be hard to beat. The title describes the plot as a father-and-son coroner team tries to discover what killed Jane Doe, found half-buried at a crime scene. Austin and Tommy Tilden are finishing up work for the day when the sheriff wheels Jane in and tells them he needs a cause-of-death, ASAP. Austin (the son) cancels a date to help his dad out.

It’s a good thing he does because Jane presents quite the puzzle. She has a substance under her fingernails (peat) not native to the area, an artificially elongated waist and her body has been subjected to all sorts of abuse that can’t be seen on the surface. Performed in a creepy basement that went out of style in the early 50’s, the autopsy starts out weird – with an insect flying out of Jane’s nose – and descends into delirium by degrees. As Austin and Tommy delve deeper, the radio starts playing bizarre songs, the family cat meets an unfortunate fate and morgue drawers slide open, discharging their occupants.

Please note that there is an autopsy in The Autopsy of Jane Doe, so squeamish folks should take care. There are lots of jump scares, including a creepy rendition of Let the Sun Shine In, but the autopsy – horrible, yet mundane – is unsettling enough on its own and takes center stage. It’s only at the end that The Autopsy of Jane Doe becomes more of a conventional horror movie.

I must confess that I spent most of The Autopsy of Jane Doe waiting for the titular character to move or sit up. Upon rewatching the movie I saw and heard details I didn’t notice on the first viewing. Without resorting to spoilers, I’d suggest paying attention to the camera’s gaze, because the director conveys what is happening there.

Highly recommended.

Devil’s Pass

Does anyone remember Renny Harlin, the man who directed such classics as Die Hard 2, Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Deep Blue Sea? He’s at it again, directing Devil’s Pass, a movie I never heard of. I’d like to tell you that I saw the credits and was like, damn, it’s Renny Harlin, I have to watch this. After all, Mr. Harlin is responsible for more than a few classic cinematic moments, most notably Samuel Jackson’s inspired speech in Deep Blue Sea. Alas, it’s not true. I didn’t see his name until the end credits.

The plot of Devil’s Pass: five young filmmakers decide to travel to the Ural Mountains of Russia to visit Dyatlov Pass. Nine hikers mysteriously died in 1959 at Dyatlov Pass, which is now the epicenter of all manner of crackpot conspiracy theories. It appears that the Russian government is still covering up something…I guess? As one of the characters points out, our heroes had to state the purpose of their visit when they applied for their visas, so if there were mysterious secrets the Russian government was hiding the easiest thing to do would be to deny those visas. But I suppose that would be suspicious so the next best thing to do is let our headstrong youths into Russia and then (mild spoilers) try to kill them, thus drawing international attention to the area. Yeah, that part’s not too clear.

Anyway, our heroes – two women and three guys – are all stupid, attractive young people. Holly is so obsessed with Dyatlov Pass she dreams about it and her buddy Jensen is a conspiracy theorist and filmmaker (this movie is supposed to be found footage, although it looks way too good to be found footage). Denise is the audio engineer, although there are times she doesn’t stick her boom mic in people’s faces and you can still hear them fine. Luke and Ryan are hikers and sure are handsome. None of them have personalities. Holly’s obsessed, Jensen has a crush on Denise who hooks up with Ryan, and Luke reads Kurt Vonnegut.

The early scenes are fine. The Russian town’s cars are all covered in a few feet of snow and there are dogs everywhere. Instead of the typical scene where a native warns them not to proceed, the bartender gives our heroes a shot of the local rotgut. We learn this is the same rotgut the 1959 hikers drank before embarking, although how the bartender knows this is a mystery.

The first half of Devil’s Pass builds slowly. Romantic tension brews, because there’s nothing like hiking all day in subzero temperatures to ramp up the ole’ sex drive. Strange Yeti footprints appear around the tents and then vanish into thin air, which is impossible. The others suspect Holly and Jensen of fucking with them, maybe because there’s no other sane explanation.

Our Scooby Gang – one of the characters even refers to Holly as Velma – soon finds a door buried under the snow. Three of them make it through that door, and that’s when Devil’s Pass falls to piece. This is the second X-Files inspired movie I’ve seen in the past few weeks (the first was Honeymoon, highly recommended for people who enjoy body horror). I can’t proceed any further without massive spoilers, but what happens next makes no sense at all if you think about it. Unfortunately, I do think about it.

Devil’s Pass is still recommended, because parts of it are fun and hey, it’s Renny Harlin!

Rabid!

I watched David Cronenberg’s Rabid on New Year’s Day, and it was the perfect palate cleanser to a long, shitty year. Fuck you, 2016! Along with Black Christmas (the 1974 version), Rabid perfectly captures the spirit of the end-of-the year holidays and should be required viewing. Fuck you also, It’s A Wonderful Life!

Black Christmas is full of fun family exploits, if your family is from Hell: a drunken Margot Kidder making fun of her virginal sorority sister while everyone watches; the sorority’s house mother being more concerned about her missing cat than her missing charge; the homicidal maniac displaying his latest victim in the attic window like an oversized Christmas ornament with nobody noticing or caring.

Rabid is a different type of holiday movie. Those who work in retail are all-too-aware that the passing of Thanksgiving signals a sinister transformation in the general public. As the holidays loom ever closer, seemingly normal folks become frenzied lunatics, frothing and screaming and fighting and acting like the infected in Rabid. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the worst, with people lurching around like drunks on a three-day bender, running on Jack Daniel fumes, airplane glue and Red Bull.

If you love the holidays I apologize…but it’s still true.

The plot of Rabid: Rose (Marilyn Chambers) and her boyfriend Hart get into a motorcycle accident. Luckily the accident occurs near Dr. Keloid’s clinic. Yes, the good doctor runs a plastic surgery clinic, but Rose won’t survive the trip to the hospital. Most of the people in Keloid’s clinic are repeat customers, seemingly addicted to plastic surgery. Interestingly, Cronenberg’s wonderful The Brood features characters addicted to psychotherapy.

Keloid uses an experimental plastic surgery technique, paired with a healthy dollop of pseudoscientific psychobabble, to graft skin onto Rose’s burn wounds and thus save her life. I sure don’t understand what he does, but best not to sweat the details. The gist of it is that Rose wakes with a fleshy needle penis embedded in her armpit. Piercing people with said fleshy needle penis gives Rose blood and sexual pleasure and turns her victims into frothing, raving maniacs who infect others with their saliva.

The plague spreads to Quebec, where authorities cordon off the city and shoot anyone who’s infected. A stone-faced doctor says to a television interviewer – ‘this may not be palatable to your viewers, but – ” Indeed.

Many of the deaths are quite lively, let’s put it that way. Still, life in the big city goes on as normally as possible. When a crazy attacks, the men in the hazmat suits shoot him and throw him in a dumpster. Passerbys do a fine job ignoring the hassle and getting on with their lives, which I believe to be very realistic. Yes, it’s the zombie apocalypse, but people still have to get to work.

Rose bunks with a friend in Quebec, who’s begging to be killed and doesn’t know it. Rose doesn’t want to kill her so she goes to places like the mall and sleazy movie theatres seeking prey. She tells a creep at a porno movie, ‘I like these type of movies but am afraid of being hit on by creeps.’ The creep puts an arm around her shoulder, she leans into him and it’s Game Over.

One of the interesting things about Rabid is that it’s unclear how aware Rose is that she’s a monster – or if she even is a monster. Earlier in the movie she accidentally kills a woman in a hot tub and hides her body in the freezer, so there must be a kernel of self-awareness. Still, as Rose tells her boyfriend when they meet up again (a meeting that does not go well), ‘none of this is my fault.’ And she’s right.

So whose fault is it? Rabid doesn’t blame anyone. Doctor Keloid was just trying to save Rose’s life. Rose needs blood to stay alive. Life is complicated and then you turn into a frothing maniac and the guys in the hazmat suits shoot you and you die.

Highly recommended!