Horrorfest 2014 Presents: The Ninth Gate (1999, Roman Polanski)


Although more of a thriller than a horror movie, The Ninth Gate is rooted in both the supernatural and reality, something that Polanski did with Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and Repulsion. Johnny Depp portrayals a book dealer and collector who is hired by a rich collector named Boris, played by Frank Langella to prove his copy of a book written by the Devil is not a fake. Even though the reasons are never revealed, Depp’s Corso presses on with the search, brushing past increasing dangers and witnessing horrible things in the process.

This, like all of Polanski’s films is rather well made and is engaging throughout. However it almost falls apart in the second act and the ending is a tad unsatisfying, and the film could have been shortened by at least 20 minutes. The mystery woman (the rather gorgeous Emmanuelle Seigner)  that aids Corso is a little too convenient and the film itself dives into silliness in certain parts. Yet I was still mostly entertained and the film has the hallmarks of many of Polanski’s best works. A much better modern Polanski thriller is The Ghost Writer, a film that has a better cast and is more tightly paced.

 

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Phantoms (1998, Joe Chappelle)


Too bad the creature storming a remote Colorado ski town takes on the knowledge of its victims. The people it mercilessly devoured went to their gross goo covered graves thinking they had been eaten by the devil. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, although maybe when one is being eaten whole by a monster one lacks the time to think properly. Such is Phantoms, a campy yet surprisingly enjoyable horror film that has gotten endless bad reviews since its release. And of course praise in the form of “Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms, yo.”

Before he started directing quality movies and winning Oscars Ben Affleck bounced from one poorly reviewed film to another. Nevermind that Phantoms is actually good, undeserving of the hate it received. You have Rose McGowan being gorgeous, Affleck offering steely resolve, Peter O’Toole wonderfully hamming it up and Liev Schreiber acting creepy. All in one monster movie filled package that wisely borrowed from other previous and better films.

You have references to Tremors and The Blob remake in addition to some scenes reminding me of 28 Days Later which is funny considering Phantoms came first. Sure there is some awful dialogue and the ending is weak and a tad standard by modern horror conventions. However the film maintains a good level of atmosphere and it also wisely keeps the monster mostly under wraps. Every year I view one horror film that actually turns out to be a gem that wasn’t fairly received, and this year I think its Phantoms.

Horrorfest 2014: Presents: A Field In England (2013, Ben Wheatley)


Wandering through the English countryside a group of deserting soliders flee a battle gone horribly wrong. Having witnessed death they seek comfort and shelter at a distant ale house. Only too late do they realize that two men have commandeered them for a dark purpose: the finding of a great treasure. Having escaped one master they are now under new management; one of them says of their new lord, named O’ Neil, “It does not surprise me that the Devil is an Irishman, though I thought perhaps a little taller.”

This is only the beginning of their horrors, both seen and lurking beneath the surface. A Field In England has many of the grace notes of a Ben Wheatley film, only in this case he dials up the surreal factor to new heights. Part drug trip part nightmarish journey into a fresh green hell, filmed in glorious black and white, this is a jarring and harsh movie. There is even some grin inducing bleak humor, followed by sharp and nasty violence. Each man falls prey to their own nature, with one of them transforming. Into what, well….that is a bit unclear.

As in all of Wheatley’s films truths emerge and people’s real selves are unwrapped, as if they were nasty presents from a demonic Santa. Chaso erupts and lives are changed forever. That stark final shot is perhaps the most jarring and odd climax to any of Wheatley’s works, and I have no idea what it means. Still this is a creepy and excellent movie, fine tuned and crafted to give the viewer an outer worldly experience.

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