Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Holidays (2016, Kevin Smith, Gary Shore, Matt Johnson, Scott Stewart, Nicholas, McCarthy, Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns)


From past experience I have enjoyed anthologies. Holidays is another fine modern entry into that sub genre of horror filmmaking, and this one has a batch of talented folks creating short films that range from excellent to slightly disappointing. Usually that’s how anthologies go, anyways. This one isn’t among the best ever but it’s still pretty good, maybe even almost great in some regards.

The first two segments are among the best in the film, which centers around, well, holidays. Valentine’s Day is equal parts Carrie inspired and dark comedy mixed with shocking bleak moments and a hilariously awesome ending. St. Patrick’s Day, which follows, is at first eerie and features a sinister ginger girl. Yet in this oddly wonderful segment, things are not what they seem.

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The next two are less great yet stil work to certain degrees. Easter is creepy and makes you think twice about the Easter Bunny in a horrifying way. Mother’s Day is too much of a rip off of Rosemary’s Baby, yet I did like the payoff. However despite an ending that leaves one with more questions than answers the eerie and sinister Father’s Day is a nice unnerving recovery.

Despite being made by Kevin Smith his segment Halloween is a bit too crude and unsatisfying to be good. I liked some of the humor but I prefer his feature length film style, as he doesn’t seem to work well in short form. The film finishes strong with Christmas, which is a bleak comedic take on the holiday and stars Seth Green as a man who finds out what they mean by “Christmas is hell.” The last segment, New Year’s Eve is twisted beyond measure. I love it.

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The film has an entirely feminist driven perspective that I found unique considering the horror genre is usually described as being aimed towards males. Ashley Greene is the other main star in this film, as most of the cast is relatively unknown to me. I would love to see more films like this that have a twist on famous days or certain aspects of American and world culture.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Campfire Tales (1997, Matt Cooper,┬áMartin Kunert, and David Semel)


Overall this isn’t a bad anthology even though some of the tales are stronger than others. Also the overall wrap around story has what is now considered to be a cliche twist. I wanted to really like this film yet Campfire Tales is not consistent and has only really great story out of the whole bunch. Too bad since focusing on urban legends is a cool idea. Which reminds me that I need to watch Urban Legend at some point.

The film opens with a good yet very short tale, called The Hook. It’s a nice creepy beginning and is also notable for staring Amy Smart and James Marsden before either one became famous. This segways into the main wrap around story, called The Campfire, which stars Christine Taylor as one of the four young adults that share stories after surviving a car crash.

Now the best story of the bunch is The Honeymoon, which stars Ron Livingston and Jennifer Macdonald as a couple that have the misfortune to break down in the desert. It’s a really frightening entry and is mostly responsible for the film’s barely fresh rating. This is followed by People Can Lick Too, which although merely solid/good has a nice buildup leading to an eerie conclusion and is a modern day twist on an old tale.

Unfortunately the last story, The Locket, is really boring which is a shame considering it stars Glenn Quinn. Nothing of note really happens and the twist is rather awful in terms of being a bad attempt at shock value. Better anthology choices exist out there although Campfire Tales is not a complete waste of time.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: V/H/S/2 (2013, Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard)


Having enjoyed the first installment I eagerly viewed the second entry in the V/H/S/ series, which built upon the rather solid first film and was a notable improvement. Also like many other horror sequels this one ups the scares and the level of crazy, resulting in a more consistent movie that works better. Despite its share of critics I rather enjoy the found footage style of film making as it takes the viewer front and center to what is happening, thus making it harder to look away from the awful events happening onscreen. While I enjoyed all of the segments one stood out greatly among the rest and one was a tad slow, although once it got started it was rather freaky.

Of course just like all anthologies there is a wrap around story or a narrator who is presenting these events to the viewer in a certain order. In this case you have “Tape 49,” which is the frame narrative and involves Larry and Ayesha being hired to find out what happened to a woman’s son. Even though this tale is not as good as the others (okay its better than the first tale, but not by much) I still liked how it concluded and it provided a halfway decent explanation for why two people would stay in a seemingly abandoned house, digging through videotapes. Even though this is a DVD and Blu Ray era the idea of V/H/S tapes containing footage of awful events, operating as a gateway into the dark corridors that should perhaps not be explored is a rather neat idea, even if its very 1990s at this point and is rather dated.

“Phase I Clinical Trials” is the first official story, and at first I was not impressed. However it does have some rather effective jump scares and its properly creepy and has an unexpected conclusion. One of my favorite things about ghost stories is how the person refuses to leave even when they should, but how does one escape when they are being haunted no matter where they go? The eye implant looked rather freaky and alien, too, and it offered a halfway decent commentary on experimentation and documentation leading to something the person involved did not sign up for, much less expect. “A Ride In The Park” is a nice, terrifying second story involving zombies in the great outdoors. I liked that this story took place during the daytime, as it added to the overall tension level, and it plays out as a tragedy and a nightmare. Oh and the zombie attacks at the picnic cause flashbacks to the classic birthday party footage from Signs.

Yet the best story and the most famous one of the bunch is “Safe Haven,” which ends up being a quickly paced and really messed up tale about a documentary crew that has the misfortune to investigate a cult at the group’s eerie compound. What transpires inside after a slow burning opening gives way to a descent into madness, extreme amounts of gore, and a conclusion that reminds me of several famous horror movies. This tale is largely responsible for the film’s really good rating, and has been discussed ever since this film came out. If stretched to a longer film this entry could have been turned into one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made, yet it works best in a short format. Too bad the camera dies just as things are getting interesting…

Finally the last installment is “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” which is also a mad dash to run away from evil forces seeking to destroy people for reasons unknown. Even though the aliens have the look and feel of your typical gray bodied monsters its still a fairly unnerving episode, one that also has a brutal ending. Especially for us dog lovers. Why horror movies kill off dogs I’ll never understand, and for some reason that’s more disturbing than the death of onscreen characters. Which might be a not so good commentary on humanity. Anyways V/H/S/2 showcases mostly the best of found footage films, and is an entertaining, mostly scary, and crazy anthology horror film that comes recommended.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Amicus Double Bill-Tales From The Crypt (1972, Freddie Francis) and The Vault of Horror (1973, Roy Ward Baker)


In the 1970s the Amicus Studio emerged as a rival to Hammer Studios, although they featured more anthology movies than Hammer Studios ever did. Thanks to my public library I was able to view two films from them in a double bill package, as these films were the result of EC Comics, although Tales From The Crypt (1972) only had two stories from those comics. Both films are quite good and really entertaining, although I prefer Tales From The Crypt over Vault Of Horror (1973), even though Vault has the better cast. Each film has ghoulish tales that focus on wicked people paying for their sins in horrible ways, all powered by the supernatural or at least suggested as being the work of some evil power. Tales From The Crypt was directed by Freddie Francis, while Vault of Horror was directed by Roy Ward Barker. Both men also did work for Hammer Studios, and Francis also famously worked on the horror classic The Innocents (1961).

Just like many anthology movies Tales From The Crypt opens with a group of people brought to a certain place by a mysterious person for reasons unclear until the end of the film. The Crypt Keeper is such a person in this case, and he tells each of the people in the group how they died. The first tale is .”..And All Through The House,” which was later featured in the Tales From The Crypt TV series and is one of the best segments in the film. The killer Santa is really creepy, and this tale is well crafted and very freaky. Easily the stuff of nightmares, and starring famous actress Joan Collins as a woman trapped by her crime and deserving of her awful punishment. “Reflections of Death” on the other hand is a tad dull, even though the twist is a good payoff. Still after following the first great segment this episode left a little to be desired.

Now “Poetic Justice” on the other hand is the top episode, and is also my favorite as well, especially since it stars legendary horror actor Peter Cushing as a nice sad old man who is ruined by a pair of horrible rich neighbors. What occurs in the end is chilling and rather gory, and a reminder that revenge is a dish best served cold. And being dead is rather cold indeed. This episode and “Reflection of Death” were both taken from the EC Tales From The Crypt comics, while “…And All Through The House” was from The Vault of Horror, another EC Comics release.

Now “Wish You Were Here” is nice and proper creepy, taking from the classic story of The Monkey’s Paw and featuring a gruesome and nasty conclusion. I rather enjoyed this one as well as “Blind Alleys,” each which featured horrible endings. “Blind Alleys” covers the cruel major who runs a home for the blind and discovers what happens when you anger the blind by cutting off their resources and driving them to seek retribution. How they manage to construct a maze of razor blade lined corridors, which reminded me of a trap from the Saw series is a tad curious, yet I suppose when one drives people to rage and anger they are capable of anything. And that a starving dog has no true master….

Overall Tales From The Crypt is a nice addition to the collection of anthologies, and makes me want to view more such films. As does The Vault of Horror, which I also liked and which I will now discuss. Unlike Freddie Francis I am currently unfamiliar with Roy Ward Baker’s work, although I imagine that its more workmanlike and less interesting than Francis’ movies. Still The Vault of Horror is another fun and well made anthology movie, although this one as noted earlier has a much better cast, particularly Tom Baker, who famously portrayed The Forth Doctor on the classic TV series Doctor Who. Also present is Curd Jurgens, who was a Bond villain in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

Unlike Tales, Vault takes place in an sub basement that five strangers have been forced to go down to, even though none of them choose it. There is no way out, and so the men drink and mention strange dreams each one has been having. Instead of a figure that brings them together these men end up in the same place all by themselves. Most of the film’s tales are from the Tales From The Crypt EC comic save for the second story, “The Neat Job”. None of the stories here are as good as the top two in Tales, although a few come rather close and overall Vault is more consistent in tone and style.

Opening with “Midnight Mess,” Vault begins as strongly as Tales did with an unsettling and eerie story. Harold tracks down his sister over an inheritance, only to discover too late that there is a reason the people do not go out at night in a quiet yet weird little town. This story has some bite to it, if you know what I mean. Followed up by the semi-weak yet still humorous “The Neat Job,” where Terry-Thomas marries a young woman and proceeds to find out that marriage is not all its really cracked up to be. Unfortunately for him, this realization happens only after he’s driven his poor wife beyond mad.

“This Trick’ll Kill You” is a bloody tale of why one does not mess with things they do not understand, as Sebastian (Curd Jurgens) and his wife played by Dawn Addams only figure out to their own horror. The morality of these tales and how people who pay the price for their misdeeds is a strong element of the EC Comics, and is present in every episode. Particularly also in “Bargain In Death,” where Michael Craig’s Maitland’s supposedly foolproof scheme results in treachery, death, and more death. Sometimes money is not worth losing one’s life, or one’s head for that matter.

 

Closing out the film is “Drawn and Quartered,” which stars Mr. Baker as Moore, a painter that is forced to seek revenge on three men who wronged him, one of them being played by Indiana Jones actor Denholm Elliot. Although he achieves what he set out to do, Moore forgets that there in the world of voodoo magic you must be careful that it doesn’t come back to harm you in the process. Something that the painter forgets to his detriment. The Vault of Horror is another good anthology film, and since Amicus created other anthology horror films I’m looking forward to seeing others that they have to offer. Hopefully they are as good as the two I viewed back in August.

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