Horrorfest 2015/Let’s Get Criterion Presents: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970, Jaromil Jireš)


Made before Buffy and many other female heroines, Jaromil Jireš’ strange and whimsical film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is an exercise in magical realism. It is also a horror movie, a coming of age story, a realization of innocence ending and a journey into fantasy. Despite its flaws Jireš manages to keep things together, molding elements into a unique whole. It also helps that the film has a strong performance from Jaroslava Schallerová as Valerie, a young girl trying to understand her place in the world and figure out where she came from. Her search for her parents is a trip down the rabbit hole into a world that may be mostly in her imagination. I prefer to read the film as literal just because its more fun, but also since doing so helps me further grasp what Jireš is trying to accomplish. I also viewed this film during my Horrorfest and was able to purchase it from Barnes and Noble thanks to their 50% off Criterion sale.

In fact this movie requires multiple viewings, something I have not yet accomplished despite owning the movie. Schallerová is sweet and kind as Valerie, never despairing even when she is handed over to be burned alive at the stake! There are other characters in this film that are either nice or creepy, and Valerie’s interactions with them determines the course of her journey. The movie does operate in the guise of a carnival, and there are hints that some of the people involved are actors or magical characters. Not to mention its strong fairy tale elements, as this movie can be classified as such and is also shot and scripted that way. One thing I was uncomfortable with is that the movie does have a young girl experiencing a sexual awakening, although I’m guessing that 1970s Europe had a less prudish reaction. Regardless this is a strong aspect of the film and cannot be ignored.

I’m not sure I got the ending, and I don’t know if I fully understood all that happened. Yet for some of its flaws (not all of the acting is well done, and I feel that some parts don’t work or fit) that this is a near great film from a director I want to see more from. As for the film’s extras I did not bother to explore them further, however the movie has a decent amount for a relatively obscure (at least to me and other Americans) 1970s Czechoslovakian film. Considering that I do not own enough foreign movies I’m glad that I added this one to my collection. One last thing: this movie is gloriously shot and has some amazing visuals. One cannot help but admire old school cinema, crafted before the days of digital.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Nightbreed (1990, Clive Barker)


A good way to tell if you are in a horror movie is that David Cronenberg is your psychologist. Plus you are having recurring nightmares of murders and a place that is not found on any map. If you also encounter a strange man who ends up carving off his own flesh and speaks of a mystical place known as Midian, the very place you have been searching for, well you are most likely in a horror movie. Clive Barker created a cult film in Nightbreed, a twisted yet oddly captivating and moving fantasy horror movie about a man’s search for a place to call home.

Boone is the name of that young man, troubled because he is being framed for crimes he has never committed. Midian happens to be something truly else, a community that is almost out of this world. Only Barker, the creator of so many gruesome and yet intriguing films and books could give birth to something as inspired and fascinating as this film. Lucky for me Netflix had the director’s cut which was released by Scream Factory, and thus I was able to witness Barker’s vision as intended. Studios never care about the artist and what they are trying to accomplish.

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Even after I saw this film I still was not sure what the creatures of Midian were, and I’m not sure if they were really good or not. Compared to a twisted mask wearing serial killer, rednecks and corrupt local law enforcement the beings of Midian are saints. Also its too bad that Craig Sheffer never became a big star, as he’s great in this movie as Boone. Matching him rather well is Anne Bobby as Lori Winston, his girlfriend, who does not understand what is going on with Boone and searches for him despite it clearly not being a good idea. Cronenberg manages to be rather creepy as Boone’s psychologist, Dr. Decker-although I cannot say more about what occurs-and he really should have been in more movies, as he is that rare director who can act.

I also liked how the film uses so many different creature effects, and of course Doug Bradley, who famously played Pinhead, makes an appearance in this movie. I also prefer the alternative ending, which is the one that is used for the Netflix copy of this film since it is the director’s cut. I know of the original ending and it sounds weaker by comparison. Although just like Hellraiser this film falls short of greatness, I still think of both films rather highly and I have so far enjoyed Barker as a director. Its worth noting that both Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions were both meant to be franchises, and yet it was Hellraiser that ended up being the series, for better or for worse.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Starry Eyes (2014, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer)


After some thought, I realize something: if one digs further within themselves, a proper understanding of Sarah emerges. You feel her desperation and frustration, the willingness to do whatever it takes to become a star in Hollywood. Her friends don’t get this and they really don’t care, existing as parasites draining her life force. Masterfully played by Alex Essoe, suffering from a mental disorder and unsure of reality, Sarah is easy prey for the aptly named  Astraeus Pictures. This is not the first or last time someone has a dark commentary on Hollywood and stardom, yet despite Starry Eyes‘ flaws Essoe is captivating. Events unravel in disturbing fashion, and her roommate and friends only comprehend too late who they were dealing with. Oh and body horror comes into play because hey becoming a different person requires sacrifice, loss of innocence, and oh yeah some body parts.

Also the difference between hiding your dark side and embracing it becomes clear in brutal terms. This is a creepy movie, utilizing such classics as Rosemary’s Baby and All About Eve, resulting in a nightmarish film that I’m still pondering. I wonder if a second viewing wouldn’t make me appreciate this film more, or if I would notice more flaws. I do hope that Essoe gets more parts thanks to this movie, and that Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have more to offer the horror genre. If Sarah could do it all over again would she make the same choices? Is rebirth truly worth the price of one’s soul? How many successful people have paid a price that only they know about to achieve the American dream of stardom? There might not be any answers to these questions.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Dead Silence (2007, James Wan)


 

Poor Jamie (Ryan Kwanten). He escaped his home town yet he is forced to return because of grisly events. Upon coming back he finds out that the homecoming is also ugly: hardly anyone is left. His father, Edward (Bob Gunton) is wheelchair bound and just as evil as he remembers. Also the ghost of Mary Shaw lingers over the town, existing as a mystery that Jamie must unravel. He needs to recall one thing: “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw / She had no children only dolls / And if you see her in your dreams / Be sure to never ever scream.”

James Wan’s Dead Silence suffers a bit from plot holes and some weak acting. Yet it’s still a relatively creepy and even scary movie that thrives on people’s  (myself included) fear of puppets. Mary Shaw (played expertly by Judith Ann Roberts) though is terrifying herself: after all, she had herself made into a puppet after her death. I also dig Wan’s 1970s horror ascetic and Donnie Wahlberg chews scenery as a detective who is the center of normal in this crazy movie. I also loved the ending despite many critics not liking it or the film at all. That’s too bad since Wan has a unique style is and is a gifted horror filmmaker. Oh well.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Twixt (2011, Francis Ford Coppola)


Despite no longer being at the top of his game Francis Ford Coppola still manages to make films worth seeing. Twixt  despite its weak aspects is still watchable and not too bad, either. The cast helps, with Bruce Dern as a local sheriff, Val Kilmer as an alcoholic writer and Elle Fanning as a mysterious girl wandering around town.

Kilmer plays Hall Baltimore, a writer in town who with the help of the local sheriff uncovers material for a new book. He also derives inspiration from his weird dreams featuring the undead and Edgar Allen Poe. In a way Coppola is using this film to comment on authorship and trying to create new works, something that is difficult. Even so this doesn’t excuse the film’s uneven pacing and sketchy characters.

Although I was engaged at times the film doesn’t quite work and I’m reminded that sadly Coppola isn’t who he used to be as a director. Baltimore seems to be too much of an apt representation of Coppola, which is a shame because we all remember the man who give us masterworks in the 1970s. Perhaps it’s best for the legends to hang it up before they run the risk of fading away.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour)


There is an Iranian city named Bad City. It is not a great place to live and trouble abounds everywhere. In this wild west setting also lies a skateboarding vampire. If this appeals to you, well then this is your movie. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a magnificent and beautiful combination of different genres, all centered around horror and the western. Shot in glorious black and white, no less. This does have the feel of other dramatic films, and director Ana Lily Amirpour builds upon those influences to craft something unique.

The Girl (Sheila Vand) is a woman with no name. There are few insights into who she is or why she lives in a desolate place, yet we get a terrifying image of her nature early on. Arash (Arash Marandi) is the young man who falls under her spell, resulting a tender and dangerous romance-dangerous for him because of her predator nature. The scene with the two of them in her apartment is lyrical in a romantic sense: two lonely souls, bound together, which is how so many people connect in this world.

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As much as I love this film the last act does kind of borrow/steal from another modern classic, Let The Right One In. However I prefer this film (it’s long title also amused me as much as it was intriguing). I rather enjoy that it’s an Iranian that gives us an exceptional feminist driven horror film given the nation’s culture. I also note this due to online friends encouraging myself and others to watch more films directed by women. This movie is a fine move in that direction.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Critteriffic


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Sure this was supposed to be part of my viewing from last year. Doesn’t matter because I do what I want anyways. Critters 3 and 4 came as a double bill part of a four pack that I found at my local library. Neither are particularly good, yet I actually dug one a little bit. I like to finish franchises anyways, for better or for worse. The series isn’t Oscar worthy but it is fun to watch. For some reason the 80s and 90s had a lot of franchise horror, although that seemed to be the norm for Hollywood, period.

Critters 3 is not a good movie. It’s easy the worst of the series and is mostly notable for featuring a young Leonardo DiCaprio in one of the main roles. As the son of a douche bag who wants to drive off his tenants so he can build a shopping mall or something. After having the Critters take over a farmhouse and a small town an apartment building is a huge step down. Imagine if this had been a big budget film where the Crites invade a whole city. Too bad that never happened.

Still this film does have its moments and the cast isn’t bad for a poor showing. They make this crappy movie watchable and I did like some of the kills. Also for some reason (SPOILER) The film ends on a cliffhanger. I like that Terrence Mann and Don Keth Opper appear in all of the series. That’s welcomed consistency.

Now oddly enough Critters 4 was a step up and works okay as an ending to the series. Well at least it was supposed to be, since nothing ever seems to end in Hollywood. Opper and Mann return along with new additions Brad Dourif and Angela Bassett as members of a crew that finds Charlie in space. I overlooked the obvious Alien/Aliens ripoff moments and sat back and enjoyed the fact that for the first time ever the Crites were actually in space. And that this movie has a few surprises, including one I did not see coming.

Even though like the rest of the series the low budget feel is quite apparent, I still enjoyed the fourth movie. The first two entries in the series are the best, however I still recommend even seeing the last two, just to see how things shake out. Also I am a fan of even bad sci-fi, especially since we don’t get too much of the actual stuff these days. Comic book movies don’t count.

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Horrorfest 2015/It’s Hammer Time Presents: The Woman In Black (2012, James Watkins)


These days Daniel Radcliffe seems to like being in horror movies. That’s good because he is fantastic in both of the ones he’s done-particularly in The Woman In Black, from Hammer Studios. The famous horror studio returned in time to give Britain a very good, creepy and well crafted horror film. It’s great to see that they haven’t lost a step and thus film is a nice throwback to their glory days. Having famous character actor Ciarán Hinds as the other star is a quality choice, as he brings gravitas to the proceedings.

Radcliffe is a young lawyer who journeys to a small town on business concerning a large estate. The house sits outside the village and is imposing, empty, and possibly haunted, of course. This calls to mind other previous and famous horror films, although James Watkins, the director, does a fine job of not depending on horror cliches or homages.

Also I like that this film doesn’t need jump scares or gore to be effective. Old school ghost films are something I have a soft spot for, and Watkins has a keen eye for unsettling moments. I also like that I was unable to guess the ending, which is always a plus. Whether or not the sequel is worth seeing, I’m not sure. I might check it out regardless. I do look forward to more Hammer films in the future, as I’m a big fan.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Almost Human (2013, Joe Begos)


These days low budget is no excuse for weak or bad horror films. Why George A. Romero made a career out of low budget horror films. So Almost Human is disappointing, a film that could have been good or at least passable and yet falls short. I’m not sure if they were going for found footage or realistic style filmmaking, either. It doesn’t really matter. Every year I watch at least one or two horror films that I don’t care for and they trick me with promising storylines.

Seth is this douche bag who loses his friend Mark to a big flash of blue light. Years later Mark-wait no, a being inhabiting Mark-returns to slaughter people because why not, I guess? Things spiral from there. The gore at least makes events less boring, and the film rips off fascinating and better horror films in the process. Also I hated the ending. Stupid movie is stupid.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Creep (2014, Patrick Kack-Brice)


This is one horror film where jump scares are used to hide the real freaky parts. Creep hides it’s terrors, luring the viewer into a sense of calm and then unleashing moments that are quite scary. There is one scene that I cannot reveal more about that made the film live up to its title in a big way. This is a film that despite the usual limitations of found footage style filmmaking is still a really good, maybe even near great, horror film. I like ones that dig under your skin and linger on after the end credits. Those types are usually more scary than ones that are either too obvious or are trying too hard.

Patrick Kack-Brice also benefits from his main star, Mark Duplass, who is great in other material and shines here. Without Duplass continuing to lead on the audience and make you wonder the level of crazy hidden beneath those warm grins of his, the film would never have worked. He gives a performance that is chilling, effective and unnerving. I was surprised by how good Creep was, and I recommend this film as an example of how to create something that makes a normal walk in the woods so damn nervous and unsettling.

 

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