Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Goosebumps (2015, Rob Letterman)


Look this film needed more monster blood. Come on people how do you make a Goosebumps movie and not have monster blood? Oh well at least this film was entertaining and had Slappy. Also R.L. Stine has a cameo so brief that you will miss it if you aren’t paying attention. I also loved Jack Black playing Stine because he is hilarious and it works perfectly. The film is a bit hit and miss at times but that’s okay.

Also the main trio of kids made smile. Zach, Hannah and Champ come off as normal kids who become wrapped up in extraordinary situations. Stine reveals that he not an average person after a funny egging on by Zach and Champ where they compared him to Stephen King. Plus Slappy appears and unleashes all of the characters from Stine’s books, leading to chaos in the town and monster attacks.

Despite some elements not working this was still a mostly funny and enjoyable flick. Black is great in multiple roles and the kid actors are likable and not annoying. Plus the last act owes a bit to Army of Darkness, which is fine. Too bad I didn’t bother to go see this in theaters as I love the book series and I’m hoping for a sequel.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: The Others (2001, Alejandro Amenábar)


Tragic, eerie, and semi channeling The Innocents, The Others is a movimg horror drama. It’s anchored by Nicole Kidman, who reminds us how talented of an actress she really is, at times carrying this movie. Also it helps that the kid actors are good, and that the film has style and grace. It guilds up its atmosphere slowly and carefully.

There are also strong religious elements, as Grace home schools her children and is devoutly Catholic. Her servants are led by Mrs. Mills, who is equal parts charming, creepy and grandmotherly. Without saying anything truly spoiler filled this movie offers a unique and fascinating take on the ghost haunted house style flick. Few movies like The Others come along in a while, and when they do its best to tune in.

Darling (2015, Mickey Keating)


When a suspicious elder lady (hey look it’s Sean Young) tells me that the last person she hired met a bad end, it would be enough to make me run the other way. Darling (Lauren Ashley Carter), a young woman, is desperate enough for cash that she ignores the warning and agrees to house sit a freaky house in New York City. Without that you don’t have a movie that is creepy, eerie, and full of surprises. All shot in glorious black and white, and featuring some freaky hallucinatory moments that add to the film.

I also like how tightly paced and well made Darling is, which works to it’s advantage. The film is also divided up into chapters, and manages to pay homage to Roman Polakski’s classic horror films and The Shining. It has a lot in common with a few others but those influences, which the director Mickey Keating builds upon, shape the film while also feature Keating putting his own stamp on the horror genre. The visions are scary and I almost waited until daylight to finish this one. I’m always glad to find a hidden gem during my Horrorfests, and this is one such film.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Castle Freak (1995, Stuart Gordon)


How to know you’re in a horror movie: you have been blinded in a car accident, your parents are played by Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, and Combs’ haunted ex professor is moving the family into a huge Italian castle. This is Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak, an exercise in slow burning fear that, although a bit too slow, is still creepy and entertaining.

I mean you have a movie where a deranged monster escapes and the family hangs around, because…why not? Sure later on they can’t leave but the minute I found out the castle had a rather serious issue I would be running far, far away. Yet when the blind daughter, played by Jessica Dollarhide, tells her parents someone is in the castle they dismiss her as hearing things. The fact that her parents are fighting only complicates things and adds to more problems later on.

One thing I like about Gordon’s work so far (I’ve seen his two other Lovecraft inspired films from the 80s) is that he embodies his movies with a sense of dread, plus gore. The creature effects here are nasty and brutal enough, and the last act is suspenseful. Despite its flaws Castle Freak is a solid entry in the “Don’t go in the house” type of movie, which by the 90s seemed to be on life support for some reason.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Byzantium (2013, Neil Jordan)


Every vampire movie focuses on the cost of immortality, as the creatures of the night live forever by subsisting on the blood of the living. Neil Jordan has made horror films before, and his elegant and stylish Byzantium, while good feels a tad familiar. As if it’s a female based version of his 1990s vampire epic Interview With the Vampire, a film I did enjoy. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton play daughter and mother vampit’s who are forced to move from place to place.

What Ronan’s young Eleanor mistakenly does is establish a connection with a young local man who falls in love with her. Its clear that her mother, Clara is controlling yet wishes to keep her safe matter the cost. This is conveyed also through rather compelling flashbacks which also feature Jonny Lee Miller and Sam Riley.

However Byzantium has the same problem and issues that Interview did, although I prefer Byzantium slightly. Each movie is a bit too cold and moves too slowly at times, and certain scenes don’t work even though the cinematography is stunning. Later day vampire movies have raised the bar a bit, and so I might not be properly appreciating this movie enough. I doubt it, though.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: The Cars That Ate Paris (1974, Peter Weir)


This is a rather strange and yet intriguing movie. It is sci-fi, horror, and satire all rolled up into one cult low budget film package. Peter Weir before he hit it big in Hollywood created some interesting and unique movies that were centred in Australia or around Australians. The Cars That Ate Paris is one such film, and its title and subject is rather obvious. Well at least at face value.

Arthur is a young man who survives a car crash that kills his brother and leaves him stranded in the small town of Paris, Australia. He quickly discovers that no one leaves Paris, and also finds himself caught between the rebellious youth and the ruling elders of the town. This film despite weak acting and some questionable moments still is a bleak apocalyptic window into a society gone mad, ruined by their obsession with the auto.

The last act reminded me of Mad Max, which I’m sure was inspired by this movie. Weir has always been a director with something to say, and with Cars he delivers a good film that always kept me wathing. If one sits through the slower parts one is rewarded with a movie that has a crazy final act and even a funny scene out of a western. I would love to read the essay on this film written for its Criterion release.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Session 9 (2001, Brad Anderson)


Like many films set in creepy places, Session 9 is a well made slow burn that gradually builds up to events unforgettable and terrifying. There is one scene that reminds me of The Shining, and another that made me think of The Haunting (1963). Also one scene is a great reminder of why fear of the dark is man’s greatest fear. Brad Anderson turned from romantic comedy to horror with ease, and this is a well assured modern horror classic

Gordon (Peter Mullen) and Phil (David Caruso) are asbestos removal company workers tasked with clearing an insane asylum. The asylum has been closed for years and Gordon, desperate for money, agrees to clean it out in a week. Others employed are Mike, Hank (Josh Lucas) and Jeff, Gordon’s nephew. The asylum is eerie by itself, but coupled with the team members’ fragile emotional states the place becomes a house of horrors, again. The inmates run the place now, it seems.

Aside from the finale, which I was not a fan of, I thought this movie was fantastic. I’m still behind on modern horror and this was a blind spot for me for years. Sometimes it’s good to find a horror film that gives a window into the dark recesses of the human mind and soul.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Insidious (2010, James Wan)


The opening shot is grainy, as if out of focus, centering on a children’s bedroom. The camera pans away from him sleeping blissfully, going towards the closet, quietly detailing everything happening. Only to rest on a freaky older lady, not moving, staring into the darkness. The music picks up and the title card slams onto the screen, violently. INSIDIOUS. From this point on I was bloody terrified. James Wan is a master of horror, crafting nightmares with ease.

Poor Renai and Josh (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) are parents dealing with their son being in what appears to be a coma. In a great twist on the haunted house genre he is in fact haunted, which means that the family is still in trouble no matter where they move. Wan is offering his own take on classic horror films such as Poltergeist and Burnt Offerings, movies where a family unit comes under attack from malevolent spirits. One scene where Byrne deals with a man invading her room left me scared to the point where I stopped the film midway through.

If anything the main complaint about this film is that by the last act you are so numb to the frightening elements that the film stops having the scare effect on you. There is a demon ghost that reminded me of the infamous face from The Exorcist and several other moments that encouraged me to sleep with the lights on. Oh and one hell of an ending that I did not see coming. This is probably his best film, even though I still have one other horror (this film’s sequel) and several other non horror films to see from Wan. I’m glad he’s become famous yet I’m bummed that he’s going away from horror.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Hostel (2005, Eli Roth)


Literally this is a nice homage/quasi remake of the 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with some notable twists. A trio of friends travel to an Eastern European hostel and discover unknown terrors. Jay Hernandez is the main leader of the trio which also includes one other American and a guy from Iceland named Oli. Eli Roth lures us in with the first, quiet fun half, only to dive into a second, brutal act.

One scene that is blood curdling is when a man proceeds to cut a girl’s toes off. You don’t see it happening, though, and the scene is shot in a way that pays homage to the famous Chainsaw Massacre moment when Leatherface clubs someone and slams the door shut behind him. Another scene involves creepy and brutal torture, displayed in unflinching realism. Which is what the film got unfairly criticized for, along with other similar movies of that time period.

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I’m sure that better writers have dived into Hostel, Saw and other horror films that depict torture as being awful and morally wrong. Others, however, argue in favor of these movies being a mirror into American horror after 9-11 and the use of torture on terror suspects. I feel that such movies are, for better or worse, in line with the later. Particularly with the movies commentary on Americans, consumerism, and even class and social politics. Even if such thoughts are obvious or not quite well illustrated.

Despite this film’s flaws I think Hostel is an engaging slasher film with more bite than many of its breatheren. The slasher was mocked for being dumb so Eli Roth and James Wan, among others, decided to make the genre leaner, nastier and smarter. I think they succeded, and I would prefer more films like theirs than usual mindless fare, even though I do enjoy the dumb ones, too.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Jacob’s Ladder (1990, Adrian Lyne)


For some reason psychological horror thrillers were a big thing in the late 1980s and 1990s. They were usually well made and had a higher pedigree than many lower budget horror films. Jacob’s Ladder was one of them, and it’s a great and freaky journey into the psyche of its main character, played by the famous actor Tim Robbins. Robbins does a fantastic job of conveying man on the verge of madness, haunted by his past. Adrian Lyne does a fine job of visually presenting these nightmares and giving us a window into Jacob’s shattered mind.

Dealing with his troubles are his girlfriend, Jezzie, played by Elizabeth Peña and his chiropractor, Louis (Danny Aiello). Neither though really has answers for what is going on with Jacob, and even his own old army unit fails to give him any peace. One scene where Jacob is wheeled through a hospital is quite freaky, and there are other eerie moments that make the viewer wonder what is really going on.

My only major complaint about this film is that I already knew certain major details. I wish I could have seen this in theaters back in 1990, as I’m sure that this movie surprised many movie goers. I consider this to be a well made horror drama, one that is much tragic as it is scary. Also it’s too bad that even decades later Vietnam and other war vets suffer from the traumatic events of war.

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