Talking Movies [Halloween]: Halloween II (1981)


Starting life as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts, Halloween is largely associated not just with ghosts, ghouls, and confectionery but also a long-running series of horror movies. Beginning with John Carpenter’s Halloween (Carpenter, 1978), the franchise is largely credited with birthing the “slasher” sub-genre of horror films and has endured numerous remakes and reboots and is one of the most influential films in all of horror.


Talking Movies

Released: 30 October 1981
Director:
Rick Rosenthal
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Budget:
$2.5 million
Stars:
Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Lance Guest, Ana Alicia, Nancy Stephens, Hunter von Leerand Dick Warlock

The Plot:
Mere hours after narrowly surviving an attack by the merciless Michael Myers (Warlock), Laurie Strode (Curtis) has been taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to recover from her injuries. However, desperate to put an end to the missing killer, Michael’s psychiatrist, Doctor Sam Loomis (Pleasence), tries to track Myers down and, in the process, discovers a horrifying motive behind the Shape’s murderous rage.

The Background:
Although largely dismissed upon release, John Carpenter’s Halloween was a financial success; its final box office gross of over $63 million against a paltry $300,000 to 325,000 budget made it one of the most successful independent films ever made and the film not only popularised the clichés of the slasher sub-genre but came to be regarded as one of the most influential movies of its kind and one of the greatest horror films of all time. This success meant that a sequel was all-but-inevitable but writer/director John Carpenter was, initially, less than enthusiastic at the prospect of a follow-up and, though he returned to write and produce Halloween II, he declined the director’s chair and struggled to formulate a compelling story, which led to a plot twist that he later came to regret. Although many of the cast returned from the first film, stuntman Dick Warlock replaced Nick Castle as Michael Myers/The Shape and was forced to wear a mask that had noticeably aged since the first film. Afforded a much bigger budget, on Carpenter’s suggestion the sequel also contained far more blood and gore compared to the first film, which irked director Rick Rosenthal. Critics also took issue with the rampant violence, though Halloween II was still a financial success; it made over $25 million and became the second-highest grossing horror film of 1981, and Myers’ popularity would ensure his eventual return to the franchise after a failed effort to turn Halloween into an anthology series.

The Review:
Any true horror fan will tell you how influential John Carpenter’s Halloween was on the genre; thanks to Halloween and the relentless, emotionless void that was Michael Myers, an entire sub-genre of horror swept cinemas throughout the 1980s and directly led to the creation of similarly-themed films such as the Friday the 13th franchise (Various, 1981 to 2009). It’s not for everyone, and fans of faster, more visceral modern horrors may struggle to adapt to Halloween’s slow pace and the sheer randomness of Michael’s actions, but it was truly a benchmark moment for the horror genre. I can’t rightly say that I’ve ever seen Halloween II held in such high regard, however, and for the longest time it was one of the franchise’s many sequels that eluded me until I finally picked up the then-complete series boxset.

Halloween II picks up right where the first film left off and deals with the aftermath of Michael’s rampage.

Halloween II begins by basically repeating the finale of the first film, picking up right as Myers attacks Laurie and is shot off a balcony by Loomis, with three noticeable changes: the first is the replacement of Carpenter’s iconic score over the finale’s recreation (which doesn’t kick in until the opening credits roll, and even then it’s a bit of a funky remix, which definitely robs the ending of its haunting power), the second is how poor the video transfer is on the 2004 DVD release I’m watching, and the third is that the film continues going after Loomis sees the Michael’s body has disappeared. In an attempt to recreate the memorable first-person opening of the first film, Halloween II then follows Michael through his eyes as he wanders around in the shadows of Haddonfield with the only sounds being his heavy breathing and Loomis’ near-maniacal screams that he “shot him six times!!” Much of the original film’s suspense was built around keeping Michael elusive and mysterious; he was seen stalking his prey from a car, peeking around corners, and in fleetingly appearances that definitely lent a lot of credibility to his allure as being pure evil. In Halloween II, this is completely thrown out of the window as, within about fifteen minutes, we’ve seen Michael walking around in the darkness, stealing a kitchen knife, and offing a random bystander in her home (with more blood appearing in this one kill than almost the entirety of the first film).

Laurie is rendered a bedridden victim for most of the film and only gains agency by the finale.

Injured, exhausted, and suffering from shock, Laurie is strapped to a gurney and taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, where she attracts the affections of paramedic Jimmy (Guest); considering the murder spree that just befell the town, the hospital is basically empty and staffed primarily by strict head nurse nurse Virginia Alves (Gloria Gifford), the promiscuous nurse Karen Bailey (Pamela Susan Shoop), and the crude-tongued staff paramedic Budd Scarlotti (Leo Rossi), so Jimmy definitely stands out as the more stable and kind-hearted of the hospital’s staff. However, he’s also a largely bland and one-dimensional character whose single defining trait is that he has a thing for Laurie; traumatised by her experiences, Laurie fears being put to sleep and is shocked to learn from Jimmy that her attacker was local bogeyman Michael Myers. Although bedridden for the majority of the film, and with much of her personality stripped away because of the trauma she suffered, we learn a little more about Laurie’s past in this film through her dreams, where it’s revealed that she was adopted and that she visited young Michael (Adam Gunn) while he was locked up. Realising that Michael will come for her, Laurie feigns a reaction to her medication and outwits the Shape, becoming a little more reminiscent of her adaptable and competent self about an hour or so into the movie, though her injuries and shock preclude her from being as capable as she was in the first film.

Loomis is driven to near-madness in his desperate search for his murderous former patient.

While Laurie recuperates from her injuries, Loomis continues his desperate search for his murderous patient; he finds Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), his reluctant ally from the first film, increasingly disgruntled with his’ abrasive demeanour but, already blaming Loomis for Michael’s escape, the sheriff abandons the crusade completely when he finds his daughter, Annie (Nancy Loomis), dead at Michael’s hands. He’s replaced by the much more reciprocal Deputy Gary Hunt (von Leer), who orders the town’s police to continue the search for Michael, accompanies Loomis throughout much of his search, and even disperses an unruly mob who descend upon the old Myers’ house (though he largely fulfils the same role as Brackett from the first film as a sceptical sounding board for Loomis’ horror stories about Michael). However, there’s no question that Loomis has been driven to near-madness by his pursuit of Michael and the fact that the Shape absorbed six shots to the heart; this causes Loomis to become wild and paranoid during the search and, when he spots young Ben Tramer (Jack Verbois) dressed as Michael and walking through the street, he crazily chases after him with a gun and indirectly causes the young man’s sudden and explosive death! Considering the media circus surrounding Michael’s actions, and Loomis’ increasing obsession with the killer, the sanatorium orders Marion Chambers (Stephens) and a United States Marshal to escort him back to the facility to limit their association with the murders, though Loomis is able to overpower them both with his trusted revolver and hasten his return to Laurie’s aid for the finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I think one thing that definitely holds Halloween II back is how redundant a lot of it is; I can just about forgive the film opening with a recap of the first film, since it had been about three years since the last film and home video wasn’t exactly prevalent back then, but so much of the opening is just going through the same motions as in Carpenter’s original: Loomis is desperate to find and kill Michael, just as in the first film, and even delivers his famous speeches about Michael’s evil and patience almost word-for-word as in the last film, and the gaggle of interesting and colourful (if a bit underdeveloped) babysitters from the last film are replaced by bland paramedics and a number of nurses and hospital staff. While the film is definitely bloodier and a bit more explicit in its shocks compared to the original, it feels largely toothless because, rather than slowly build up to the reveal of Michael or see him lurking in the background, he just appears in a jump scare.

Halloween II added the infamous twist that Laurie and Michael were siblings.

It’s therefore understandable that many bemoan Halloween II for destroying much of Michael’s mystique by providing him with a janky motive; while trying to track down Michael, Loomis discovers that the Shape randomly broke into the local school and scrawled the word “Samhain” on a wall, which I honestly feel would have been enough of a mysterious addition to allow audiences to speculate on the potential supernatural abilities afforded to the masked killer but the series wouldn’t circle back around to that for another few films so Carpenter instead shoe-horned in a familial connection between Michael and Laurie. Until Marion informs him that Laurie is Michael’s younger sister, who was put up for adoption after his psychotic break as a child, Loomis was completely unaware of this fact and, upon learning it, realises that Laurie was no random or coincidental target. Instead, the implication is that Michael is compelled (possibly by supernatural forces) to murder his teenaged siblings on and/or around Halloween, which is still a frightening concept but nowhere near as interesting as a young boy just snapping one day, biding his time for years as little more than a vegetable, and then exhibiting superhuman strength and tenacity in a random killing spree. Also, it doesn’t really explain why he didn’t just attack Laurie right away; after all, he didn’t kill his sister’s boyfriend as a boy, so it doesn’t make much sense for him to slaughter Laurie’s friends in his pursuit of her. Still, to play Devil’s advocate for a second, not every horror villain suffers from having clear cut motivations and backstories; it can help to make them a bit more sympathetic and to lend an additional layer of horror and madness to their motives, but I do think that expanding upon Michael’s motivations in this way diluted some of his horror. Yes, he’ll still kill you if you get in his way, but as long as you’re not related to him in some way, you’re probably okay, which makes him less a force of pure evil and more a focused maniac with a specific target in mind.

Michael’s body count is far higher, and bloodier, and yet somehow far more underwhelming.

Halloween II not only ups the nudity and sexual content compared to the first film, it also ups violence, gore, and kill count from the first film, so it’s only fair that I talk about the kills on display in the film: Michael stabs a woman in the chest with a knife, delivers a sickening hammer shot to the head of security guard Bernard Garrett (Cliff Emmich), strangles Bud with a piece of wire while he’s tending to the hydrotherapy pool’s temperature controls, and then drowns Karen in the boiling hot water of that same pool in perhaps the film’s most horrifying and gruesome kill (but which, again, hearken back to Michael’s famous bedsheet kills from the first film). Michael also offs a doctor and a nurse with a syringe (with one stabbed in the aforementioned doctor’s eye!), goes to the ridiculous effort of draining Virginia of her life’s blood using surgical equipment, and impales another nurse through the back with a scalpel right before Laurie’s eyes, easily hoisting his victim up with one arm in the process. Unfortunately, Michael’s iconic mask, with its dark eyes and expressionless visage, leaves a lot to be desired; rather than create a new mask that actually resembled the one from the first film, the filmmaker used the same exact mask, which is noticeably aged and looks cheap and ugly as a result. While I appreciate the variety in Michael’s weaponry in this film, he only uses his trademark kitchen knife the one time and spends the majority of the film wandering the darkened hallways of a deserted hospital with a piddling little scalpel that is nowhere near as horrifying as a big, sharp knife.

Loomis sacrifices himself to see Michael’s reign of terror end in a blazing inferno.

Having tracked his long-lost sister to the hospital, Michael leaves a trail of bodies in his wake that is far more gruesome and creative than the comparatively tame body count and murders from the last film though, sadly, Jimmy escapes his grasp (however, he does appear to be dead after foolishly slipping on a pool of blood). As Michael prowls around the hospital, Laurie’s sole objective is to escape, so she stumbles and crawls around the place, hides, and generally spends most of the finale desperately fleeing from her relentless pursuer. While I won’t lie and say that Laurie was the most compelling and interesting character in the first film (she was basically a kind-hearted, if bland, bookworm), Halloween II doesn’t do her character too many favours and basically just paints her as a helpless victim for the entirety of its runtime. Luckily for Laurie, Loomis once again arrives in the nick of time to save her; however, as has been established throughout the movie, mere bullets can’t stop Michael and the Shape is able to shake off Loomis’ shots, stabs his former doctor, and corners the two in an operating theatre. Here, Laurie gets a very brief moment to be a proactive protagonist as she demonstrates her uncanny aim by shooting out Michael’s eyes (something every subsequent film has simply ignored), leaving him blind and swinging his “deadly” scalpel wildly. Loomis fills the room with flammable gas and orders Laurie to run before setting off his lighter, immolating himself and his disturbed patient in a massive explosion. Although Michael emerges from the blaze engulfed in flames, he quickly collapses to the ground and burns to death before Laurie’s eyes, finally ending his threat once and for all (or for about seven years…).

The Summary:
It’s tough to really find anything positive to say about Halloween II; yes, the gore and the nudity are a bit more pronounced and Michael is the same relentless killer he’s always been, but the whole film seems like such a waste of time and potential. It spends so much of its runtime trying to recreate or repeat the story beats of the first film that the pace meanders as a result; Michael wanders all over town, slowly making his way to the hospital, simply to add to the body count when we know he could easily just drive there. Setting much of the film in the hospital could have been a good way to make it visually distinct from its predecessors but the hospital is so barren and lifeless and full of throwaway, nothing characters that I just find myself bored watching it. Donald Pleasance remains a highlight, of course, but so much of his dialogue is lifted from the first film’s script that it feels like we’re just going over the same information again and again, though I did enjoy seeing how traumatised by Michael’s killing spree the doctor has become and the culmination of his guilt around the horrific events his patient has wrought (what better way to go out than in a literal blaze of glory?) The twist of Michael being Laurie’s brother was clunky, at best, and would go on to largely dominate the series for some time; I’m largely numb to it at this point and don’t really mind it all that much, but again the potential of this reveal is completely squandered and poorly implemented here (it would be incorporated far better in some of the sequels, and even then it could never have the impact the filmmakers intended because of the studio’s reluctance to end their profitable franchise). Overall, I feel like Halloween II really isn’t worth your time; you can just as easily skip from this film to one of the many sequels thanks to the numerous reboots that have diluted this franchise and it definitely feels as though this was thrown together simply because slasher films had become popular after the success of Halloween, resulting in a by-the-numbers slasher that lacked all of the nuance and subtle horror of the original.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of Halloween II? What did you think to the twist that Michael and Laurie were siblings? Do you like horror villains to have clear motivations or do you prefer them to be more ambiguous? Which of the kills was your favourite and what did you think to the new characters? What did you think to Loomis’ maniacal obsession and his ultimate sacrifice? Do you think the series should have ended here or is one of the subsequent films a favourite of yours? How are you celebrating Halloween this year? Whatever your thoughts on Halloween, and the Halloween franchise, sign up to drop a comment below, or leave a comment on my social media, and have a spook-tacular Halloween!

Game Corner: Quake (Xbox Series X)

Released: 19 August 2021
Originally Released: 22 June 1996
Developer: Nightdive Studios
Original Developer: id Software
Also Available For: Amiga, Linux, MS-DOS, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, SEGA Saturn, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
Following the unprecedented success of Doom (id Software, 1993), first-person, PC-based shooters were suddenly all the rage and the pioneers of the genre, unquestionably, were developers id Software. Having capitalised on Doom’s success, and the wave of knock-offs, with a sequel, expansions, and ports, id Software drafted in Doom creator John Romero to create a successor series based on the original Doom engine. After his pitch for a third-person melee title was turned down, tensions were raised between Romero and id Software that ultimately led to his departure. Originally intended to feature a Thor-like character, Aztec elements, and even role-playing mechanics, Quake eventually took the form of a more action-orientated follow-up to the Doom games and was bolstered by a sinister soundtrack from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. For my part, I played a decent amount of Quake on PC as a kid and, based on my enjoyment of Duke Nukem 3D (3D Realms, 1996), I picked up the Nintendo 64 port back in the day, something which earned me a great deal of flack from my friends. Regardless, Quake is very highly regarded, especially on the PC, kick-started a popular sub-series of first-person shooters (FPS), and surprisingly received a remaster for modern consoles in August of 2021 that I decided to snap up since I was signed up to Game Pass Ultimate at the time.

The Plot:
When the military’s experiments with teleportation technology result in the creation of an inter-dimensional portal known as the “Slipgate”, humanity find itself threatened by the demonic beings code-naked “Quake”. After “Operation Counterstrike” is slaughtered, a sole surviving Marine is left to gather the four magic runes that are the key to stopping the enemy and ending their invasion of Earth.

Gameplay:
Quake is a first-person shooter (FPS) in which players are placed into the role of a hardened, nameless Marine and traverse a number of dark, demon environments battling all kinds of monsters and ghouls. If you’ve ever played Doom or any of its classic sequels, you’ll be immediately familiar with Quake’s gameplay and presentation but there are a few things that make Quake stand out from its predecessor. First of all, the player is able to actually aim their crosshair, allowing for full 3600 field of view and making it easier than ever to blast enemies no matter where they’re hiding. The rest of the game’s controls are standard fair but are also fully customisable from the main options menu; when I played the game, I mapped jump to A, shoot to the Right Trigger, and the ability to quickly switch between weapons to X and B. This remaster of Quake adds a weapon wheel to the game, which I mapped to the Right Bumper but never actually used, and you can also assign buttons to have you dive and rise when swimming or use the Anti-Grav Belt to fly. You can also customise various display options while you’re at it, which allows you to change the size of the crosshair and the presentation of the heads-up display (HUD), but I left most of these alone. When in the pause menu, you can also use the Left Bumper and Right Bumper to quick load and quick save the game, which is super useful.

Explore dark, terrifying environments in search of keys to find the exit.

Like in Doom, your primary objective when playing Quake is to fight your way to the Slipgate exit. This sees you traversing a number of dark, ominous environments and taking out a whole mess of demons and monsters while collecting gold and silver keys (known as Keycards, Keys, and Runekeys depending on the theme of the level) to open doors and progress throughout the area. You’ll also be pressing in buttons and switches by walking into them to lower drawbridges, creating bridges, or otherwise opening up tunnels or doors so you can progress a little further. One thing you’ll probably notice right away is that Quake lacks any kind of map system but, for the most part, it doesn’t really need it; while many levels are somewhat maze-like and a handful are specifically constructed to be more labyrinthine than others, overall the environments are much smaller and easier to find your way around than in its sister-series and you’ll often find arrows, Slipgates, and gates to help you get to where you need to go. Exploration is often rewarded with secret areas containing armour, health, and other power-ups and the game’s difficulty is entirely up to you as you can select different difficulty settings from the main menu (ranging from “Easy” to “Nightmare”); in this remaster, you can also select whichever level you want to start from right from the start but this won’t count towards you unlocking the game’s many completion Achievements. Selecting higher difficulty settings will naturally increase the amount of enemies, their aggression, and how much damage they dish out, which can mean the difference between dispatching a boss with one move or with three.

Press switches, swim through water, and watch out for death traps as you explore.

When you start a new game, you are dropped into a small hub world from which you can also choose from different difficulty paths and jump into the next mission and you’ll need to make liberal use of the manual save system because, when you die, you’ll have to restart the last mission right from the start without any of the weapons you picked up before and during your last run. It doesn’t take long before you’ve experienced basically everything that Quake has to offer; dark military bases, bloodstained castles, and Hellish dimensions are the order of the day and you’ll find yourself taking a dip in water to reach new sections in each area, dodging balls of molten rock, and being surprised when the floor suddenly collapses beneath you and drops you into either a pit of lava for an instant death or a body of slime that slowly saps your health. Gameplay gets mixed up a little bit the further you progress, though, allowing you to hop between stationary and moving platforms or rising and falling columns of rock, riding in boats, elevators, and lifts, and blasting you around the place in air tubes. Occasionally, you’ll be faced with slightly more ambiguous puzzles that have you pushing barely-visible buttons, shooting or pressing and number of Quake pads to complete a sequence and open a new area, and dodging a variety of environmental hazards. Levels will contain crushing weights, electrical traps, rapid-firing nail guns, spears, and other death traps that you’ll often have to either run through as fast as you can, jumping madly to try and keep damage to a minimum, or carefully make your way through the trap to avoid being crushed into a bloody paste.

Graphics and Sound:
Unlike Doom or the vast majority of Duke Nukem 3D, Quake’s enemies are entirely rendered as 3D character models. This gives them a much more solid and weighty appearance and means that enemies now lumber about as jerkily-animated 3D models rather than clumsily stumbling about the place as jerkily-animated 2D sprites. Still, they do explode into bloody, meaty chunks when defeated and their bodies drop to the floor and stay there, which is super useful for retracing your steps. The main character is primarily represented as one of many floating guns and a grimacing face on the HUD that reacts when you’re attacked and becomes more bloodied and dishevelled as your health drops, but you will get to see the Marine in full during the handful of brief third-person cutscenes that punctuate the end of each of the game’s episodes.

Dark, ominous hallways, medieval ruins, and pixelated Hellish surroundings are the order of the day.

Environments are dark, foreboding, and full of Lovecraftian and Satanic imagery. You’ll navigate through futuristic military bases of rusted metal, grey stone castles full of spikes and drawbridges, and volcanic levels full of demonic ruins. While the game retains that old-school, pixelated graphical sheen that was the order of the day for videogames at the time, the textures and game stability are undoubtedly the best they’ve ever been and, while you’ll see a lot of the game’s architecture and layouts repeated, they’re often mixed up enough to make each level distinct from others. You’ll see blinking control panels, pools of blood, dank sewers filled with zombies, blast through graveyards and catacombs, and explore high-tech military installations overrun with all manner of beasts. When you finish each episode or defeat one of the game’s handful of bosses, you’ll be met with a bit of text to help give some context to the game but much of Quake’s horror and tension comes from the fantastic soundtrack, which manages to be both fittingly ominous and rocking at the same time. Levels are also made all the more terrifying by the screams and roars of enemies and the sounds of more monsters teleporting in, all of which helps to keep the adrenaline constantly pumping as you bolt through pitch-black tunnels and explore caverns barely lit by flickering candles.

Enemies and Bosses:
Contrary to other FPS videogames, Quake doesn’t actually feature that many boss battles; instead, you’ll generally have to collect keys to open exits and battle through hordes of enemies in order to finish most episodes. Enemies are visually very interesting and range from zombies (who throw chunks of bloody meat at you and can only be put down for good with your heavier ordinance), gun-toting Marines possessed by Quake’s evil, and sword-swinging knights. One of the most recurring (and annoying) enemies in the game is the Ogre, a chainsaw-wielding monstrosity that has a tendency to shoot grenades right in your face! You’ll also come across Death Knights, who fire flaming bolts at you in addition to wildly swinging at you with their swords, the floating, leech-like Scrags, piranha-like fish and eels in some bodies of water, Rottweilers, and vicious Fiends (who leap at you and swipe at you with their claws).

You’ll need to employ speed and strategy to take down Cthon and avoid Vore’s seeking explosives.

That’s not to say that boss battles don’t exist in Quake, however; at the end of the first episode, you’ll have to battle the mighty Cthon, a gigantic beast made entirely of lava and resembling Satan Himself. Cthon is entirely immune to all of your weapons and can only be defeated by running up to the upper path and pressing two buttons to lower two columns either side of him. You then race back to the start of the enclosed arena and press a third button to activate a bolt of electricity that either blows Cthon into chunks or sends him back to his lava pit for you to repeat the sequence on higher difficulty levels. At the end of the second mission, you’ll encounter the disgusting Vore enemy for the first time; this spider-like monstrosity scuttles around trying to slice you with its limbs and shoots heat-seeking spiked balls that explode on contact, meaning you have to constantly stay on the move and dodge behind walls and cover to avoid taking damage. After clearing this mission, Vores will appear sporadically as regular enemies but this can actually be to your benefit; when large groups of enemies gather, you can race/strafe around in a circle and cause them to attack and damage each other, which is super helpful.

The recurring Shamblers are far more dangerous than their eldritch creator.

Another boss-like enemy that becomes a recurring foe is the horrific Shambler, a massive beast that stomps around the environment blasting a bolt of lightning at you and trying to pummel you with its huge claws. After taking out the first with your best weapons, these bastards will teleport in or appear at the most inappropriate moments and often guard the keys you need to collect to progress and can even appear in groups of two or alongside Vores and other enemies. Both Shamblers and Vores populate the final mission of the main game, which sees you confronting the leader of these enemies, code-named “Quake” but in actuality the “Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young” herself, Shub-Niggurath. You’ll have to settle for battling those enemies, though, as Shub-Niggurath is little more than a screaming, pulsating mound of flesh in the middle of a lava pit and, while she’s immune to your weapons, defeating Shub-Niggurath is ridiculously easy; simply wait for the spiked ball that’s circling the arena to enter the demonic Old One and then jump into the Slipgate. This will see your character teleport inside Shub-Niggurath, who simply explodes in a burst of chunky pieces.

A host of new maps, enemies, weapons, and challenging bosses await in the additional missions.

Thankfully, this remaster of Quake comes with four additional mission packs that include not only all-new maps but also additional enemies, such as Gremlins (essentially a reskin of the Fiends), nail-shooting, cybernetic scorpions known as Centroids, sentient swords, Grim Reaper-like Wraths, and a number of additional bosses. The first is the cybernetic Armagon, who fires lasers, rockets, and shockwaves at you in a claustrophobic arena. Luckily, you can take cover behind the many columns and take advantage of the weapons and power-ups strewn around, and he actually goes down pretty easily on the easiest difficulty as a result. Far more troublesome is the multi-armed, Grim Reaper-esque Overlord; this robed mage teleports around an arena full of Wraths and nail traps, hacking at you with its axes and firing a homing ball at you much like the Vores. Other additional bosses include Hephaestus, (a smaller, weaker version of Cthon), a Mummy (which is functionally the same as a zombie but does (and takes) greater damage), and three Guardians (Aztec and Egyptian warriors and blast at you with their staffs and spawn in more minions the more damage you inflict). After battling through longer, far more dangerous levels filled with a variety of the game’s enemies that will test your mettle to the limit, you’ll eventually face off against a monstrous dragon in an arena filled with lava and narrow rock pathways. The dragon flies overheard in a circular motion and spits fireballs and energy blasts at you, but you’re completely safe as long as you stay out of its sight, follow it from behind, and don’t slip into the lava. The arena is full of some of the game’s most powerful weapons but, even so, the dragon can absorb a great deal of punishment and can be tricky to hit while safely circling the arena. After you do bring it down, you’ll have to unload the remainder of your weapons on the Quake Temporal Energy Convertor (while, again, being careful not to slip into the lava beneath it) to finally put a stop to the demons’ invasion of Earth.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Being an FPS title, your most recurring power-up will be the large amount of weapons and ammo made available to you as you play through Quake’s missions. Unlike other FPS protagonists, the Marine has no unarmed combat mode and, instead, swings a pretty useless bloodied axe at enemies when no other weapons are available; you’ll also be happy to learn that there are no pistols or small firearms here and that your default weakest weapon is a good, old-fashioned shotgun. You can also grab heavier ordinance, such as grenade and rocket launchers, but the signature weapon of the game is undoubtedly the rapid-fire Nailgun. Furthermore, you can also pick up upgrades to these weapons, such as a double-barrelled shotgun (my preferred weapon of choice) and the Super Nailgun, and the game’s super weapon, the Thunderbolt, a futuristic-looking firearm that blasts enemies with a bolt of lightning.

In addition to a slew of devastating weapons, you can also grab temporary power-ups.

You’ll find more weapons in the additional mission packs, such as the lightning-spewing Mjölnir of Norse legend, a multi-grenade and rocket launcher, a proximity mine launcher, a laser cannon (that shoots high-intensity laser blasts that ricochet all over the environment and can damage even you), a grapple gun and throwing star, and further upgrades to the Nailgun and Thunderbolt that spit out lava nails and a burst of energy, respectively. In addition to health packs and armour, you can also find a number of temporary power-ups: the aforementioned Anti-Grav Belt allows you to moon jump to higher areas, the wetsuit and biosuit allow you to traverse water and slime without fear of drowning or taking damage, respectively, and you can grab Quad Damage to deal four times as much damage for a limited time. You can also pick up the Pentagram of Protection and Ring of Shadows to become temporarily invulnerable and invisible, respectively (although enemies will still attack you if you fire on them while invisible), and there are even more opportunities to increase your defence and attack in the additional mission packs. You can even grab the Horn of Conjuring to summon a random monster to fight by your side, and there are also other power-ups that are exclusive to the multiplayer deathmatch modes, such as the Rune and Vengeance Sphere.

Additional Features:
Quake comes loaded with thirty-five Achievements for you to earn, with the vast majority of these being tied to completing the game’s single player campaign and finding secret exits. In fact, there is only one Achievement reserved for multiplayer, which is good news for me, though you will have to take on the game’s more challenging difficulty modes in order to get 100% completion. Additionally, you can’t just load up the final levels of the game and beat them to pop the Achievements; you actually need to play through the entire game to earn them, and you’ll find that there are a couple of quirky ones that have you killing a Shambler with only an axe or before it can fire its lightning attack, and causing enemies to kill each other. As mentioned, the game comes with a multiplayer component that allows you to play on- and offline against a friend or other players in standard deathmatches, such as free-for-all and team play, and you can even play alone against computer-controlled ‘bots that you can set to different difficulty levels. As I also detailed, the game comes with four additional mission packs to play through that seriously up the game’s difficulty; new enemies, weapons, power-ups and bosses have been added and maps and textures have been redesigned to create entirely new levels so you can keep fragging demon scum to your heart’s content. Finally, you can also download the Nintendo 64 port, though unlike the other mission packs there are no Achievements tied to this version of the game (which is basically just a stripped down version of the base game).

The Summary:
For over twenty years, my friends have ragged on me because I once owned the Nintendo 64 version of Quake. I didn’t have it for long but, for whatever reason, it was enough to become a recurring joke between us and I have shunned the series ever since in favour of Duke Nukem 3D and a cursory relationship with the Doom franchise. When I heard that there was a remaster of Quake, I was both surprised and sceptical but, against my better judgement, I took advantage of it being free on Game Pass and downloaded it mainly to snag the game’s Achievements and up my Gamer Score. However, I found myself really enjoying the game, far more than I remember in the past. Thanks to a dark, foreboding atmosphere, a fittingly ominous soundtrack, and some disturbing visuals and enemies, Quake is a tense and action-packed experience. The controls are tight and intuitive; blasting demons has arguably never felt more gratifying and, despite a few annoying instances where the floor suddenly collapsed into lava or I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by a horde of enemies, I found the game to be an enjoyable and intense ride. Although the game has a serious lack of boss battles, the ones it does have generally require more from you than just mindlessly blasting away, and though the environments can be dark and confusing at times, they’re not brain-bending mazes and it’s pretty simple to plough your way through to the exit in short bursts. Overall, I’d actually say I rate this higher than the original Doom since Quake definitely improves upon the game engine of its predecessor and delivers one of the most horrific and bloodthirsty shooters in the process.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of the original Quake? How do you think it compares to other FPS titles of that time? What did you think to the game’s enemies, aesthetic, and soundtrack? Were you a fan of the focus on medieval and Lovecraftian horrors and what did you think to the battle against Shub-Niggurath? Which of the game’s weapons and expansion packs was your favourite and what did you think to Quake’s multiplayer options? Which game in the Quake franchise is your favourite and would you like to see a new game on modern hardware? Have you ever had your friends take the piss out of you for owning a game before? What horror-theme videogames are you playing this October in anticipation of Halloween? Whatever your thoughts on Quake, sign up and drop a comment below or comment on my social media.

Talking Movies: Halloween Ends

Talking Movies

Released: 14 October 2022
Director: David Gordon Green
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $20 to 30 million
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell, and James Jude Courtney/Nick Castle

The Plot:
Four years after Michael Myers/The Shape’s (Courtney/Castle) last killing spree, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is trying to move on with her granddaughter, Allyson Nelson (Matichak). However, when local pariah Corey Cunningham (Campbell) starts down his own dark path of violence, Laurie is forced to confront her bogeyman one last time.

The Background:
In 2018, director David Gordon Green helmed a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s seminal horror classic to largely positive reviews and an impressive $255.6 million box office. Initially, Green and his co-writer, Danny McBride, pitched filming two movies back-to-back but, after their “requel” proved to be a success, they chose to focus on one film at a time. Although Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle returned for the sequel, Halloween Kills (Green, 2021) received mixed reviews and fell a bit short of its predecessor’s success with its $131.6 million box office, but performed well enough to justify a third and final entry in Green’s new trilogy. Although his stars were set to return, Halloween Ends was understandably delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an element that Green stated would be addressed in the film’s story. Both legacy star Jamie Lee Curtis and franchise producer Malek Akkad hyped the film as being a more self-contained film, one they hoped would enrage audiences with its content, as well as confirming that Halloween Ends would be the final entry in Blumhouse’s trilogy due to rights issues. Ultimately, Halloween Ends released to largely negative reviews; critics were unimpressed by the monotonous presentation of the violence and themes, its status as a definitive finale, and its unexpected focus on someone other than Michael. Some praised it as the best of this new trilogy, however, and praised Jamie Lee Curtis’s performance, though, as of this writing, the film has made only $64.4 million at the box office and the general consensus was that it was a lacklustre finale for the franchise.

The Review:
I think I’ve made my feeling about this new string of Halloween “requels” pretty clear but, just as a reminder…I wasn’t massively impressed by Halloween; we’ve seen the whole “decades later Laurie comes back to face Michael” thing and I really hated how it just swept away everything but the original film and went out of its way to criticise what the sequels did without really offering anything new. As the film ended, I was begging to see Michael go up in flames and be definitively killed off because at least it’d be something new but, of course, that was never going to happen. Halloween Kills somehow managed to be even worse; the film spent its entire runtime musing on Michael’s motives without coming at any real conclusion, making all of that discussion pointless, and having idiotic characters running around trying to end him and just acting like crazy fools who all ended up being slaughtered. It was filler and nothing more and smacked of a creative team who weren’t properly thinking out their three-film plan, which just made me question why it was even made in the first place. Again, if he’d actually been killed and someone else had took up his mantle then maybe I could’ve gotten behind it but it gave us probably the best chance to legitimately kill Michael (what better visual than the town he’s haunted rising up to stamp him out?) and just went “oop, no, he’s somehow supernatural, or maybe he’s not, we don’t know…he wants to go home! Even though he was at home earlier…look over there!” and then just snapped to the credits like it was clever. So, yeah, my excitement for Halloween Ends wasn’t exactly tipping the scale heading in; it’s hard to deny the allure of these movies and Michael’s iconography, but it’s also very difficult for me to care about these films as they so rarely do anything new because, when the formula is changed, the general audience flip out.

Although she appears to be in a far healthier state, Laurie’s fighting spirit is as strong as ever.

Unfortunately, Halloween Ends doesn’t exactly break the mould when it comes to improving my perception of these new films. In the four years that have passed since the last film, Michael has mysteriously vanished again, the Myers house has been demolished (quite how or why that was able to happen when the last film made it explicitly clear that his entire goal was to reclaim his former home. I guess he didn’t like the décor?), and Laura and Allyson live together in a fancy new house that the former was somehow able to purchase despite the fact that she doesn’t appear to have a job. Instead, Laurie is working on her memoirs, which provides a convenient and entirely pointless excuse to give a recap of the original film and the last two, with footage and such being spliced in to catch us up with the plot, something no Halloween film has ever needed to do before. Framed as a survivor of an extremely traumatic series of events, Laurie has abandoned her paranoia and now throws herself into helping others cope with similar trauma and providing a safe and happy home for Allyson, who’s lost her parents and friends thanks to Michael’s rampage. Laurie even decorates the house for Halloween and considers rekindling her romance with the criminally underutilised Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton), a character who, quite frankly, could easily have been removed from this film (or actually been left as dead as he clearly was in Halloween) and the plot wouldn’t have been affected at all. personally. I would’ve liked to see him take on a Doctor Samuel Loomis-style (Donald Pleasance) role as an aging, somewhat unhinged Myers expert whose warnings are ignore but, instead, he gets a couple of scenes where he flirts with Laurie and talks to her about food and flowers and that’s it. No longer intent on preparing for an encounter with a nigh-supernatural force of evil, Laurie seems to be happy and excitable; she encourages Allyson to put herself out there more, shares drinks with the equally-underutilised Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) and seems to be in a far healthier place than in the last two films.

Corey brings out the worst of the traumatised Allyson and fuels her desire for a new life.

It takes time, but this is eventually, awkwardly, revealed to be a bit of a lie. Haddonfield has been left irrevocably scarred by Michael’s actions; the town openly blames Laurie for “provoking” him, an accusation that makes absolutely no senses, especially as it was the idiotic Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) who riled up the mob in the last film and lead to all those deaths while Laurie was given the shaft and confined to a hospital. At first, it seems both Laurie and Allyson are coping quite well despite all of this, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows; Allyson is now working as a nurse, where she’s treated very poorly by her lecherous boss, Doctor Mathis (Michael O’Leary), and she’s constantly harassed by her obsessive ex-boyfriend, Officer Doug Mulaney (Jesse C. Boyd). Although Laurie is the only family she has left, put herself at risk to defend her, and actively advised against joining the mob in the last film, Allyson secretly resents her grandmother and longs to escape the confines of Haddonfield, where treasured memories of her family and friends are mired by unwanted accusations and looks from the public. When Laurie brings an injured Corey to the hospital for treatment in a thinly-veiled attempt to set them up, Allyson is surprisingly and ridiculously instantly attracted to him; it’s not clear exactly why (he’s not that cute, after all), but it’s implied that she feels a kinship in him as the town also turned on him, and that she wants to “fix” him in some way. Corey allows Allyson the chance to indulge herself and to act a little naughty; this only exacerbates when Laurie realises something’s terribly wrong with Corey and tries to warn her granddaughter off, which sees all of her pent-up resentment bubble to the surface and her even encouraging Corey to give in to his dark side, despite her also appearing to have no knowledge of what he’s been up to even though he openly admits to killing people, regularly breaks down before her about the conflict inside him, and is clearly a deranged psychopath.

Chance encounters with Laurie and Michael turn Corey from a pariah into an unhinged psychopath.

If you go into Halloween Ends based on the trailers and posters alone, you’d be fooled into thinking this is the climactic showdown between Laurie and Michael. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as the main focus for the vast majority of the film is Corey’s downward spiral into madness and murder. The film begins with Corey as a simply twenty-one-year-old babysitter with aspirations of going off to college; however, when he accidentally kills the bratty little kid he’s babysitting in what is clearly a freak accident, the town turns against him and he’s forever labelled as a baby-killing pervert. Although he tries to pull his life together and earn a modest living as a mechanic, he’s constantly berated by his overbearing mother, Joan (Joanne Baron) and targeted by a local gang of bullies who go out of their way to antagonise him. It’s because of Terry (Michael Barbieri) and his shit-kicking friends that Corey ends up injured and meeting Allyson, that he gets his first taste of vengeance when Laurie encourages him to flatten Terry’s tyre, and when he has a fateful encounter with Michael Myers. Far from the invincible, inexhaustible supernatural force he was painted as in the last two films, Michael is now decrepit and pitiful, surviving in a storm drain on the outskirts of town and burdened by the injuries he’s suffered in recent years. When he gets his hands on Corey, a strange moment passes between them; either a transfer of power or evil or a recognition that the same darkness that dwells within Michael lies dormant in Corey, and the Shape inexplicably lets him go as a result (despite the fact that he unceremoniously murdered Doctor Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) when he tried to take over Michael’s legacy). Shaken by this near-death experience, Corey descends down a dark path; accidentally manslaughter leads to accidental murder, then premeditated murder, until he’s donning his own Halloween mask and adding more numbers to his body count. Corey even leads Michael to Doug and Dr. Mathis in order to see the Shape in action with his own eyes, which only pushes him further over the edge, to the point where he effortlessly overpowers the once almighty Shape of Evil and steals his mask to reignite the terror Michael started decades ago.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Although every Halloween movie has a thematic undercurrent concerning the power of literal and metaphorical masks, Halloween Ends attempts to explore this a little more explicitly, but ultimately fails in its execution. Laurie is hiding behind a mask of good-natured enthusiasm; far from the paranoid and unhinged drunk she was before, she seems to be much healthier and attempting to let go of her hate and fear, however this mask slips pretty quickly once she gets a look at Corey’s eyes and seems the same darkness dwelling within him as she saw in Michael. Allyson has a similar mask, ignoring the maltreatment she receives at work and from her ex simply to try and get on with her life, but she quickly casts this aside and turns on her grandmother with such vitriol that it appears like she’s encouraging Corey’s killing spree. Corey attempts to hide away, burying his head in the sand and avoiding conflict, but is constantly goaded into fight or flight situations by bullies and accusing townsfolk. When he dons a Halloween mask of his own and goes dancing with Allyson, he finds a freedom and a joy that have been lost for some time, but it doesn’t take much to snap him back into a guilt-ridden, morose state, one that makes him easy prey for the likes of Terry and the infectious evil of Michael Myers. Michael, obviously, famously hides behind a mask, one now aged and heavily damaged, but which still has such an allure and power to it that Corey claims it as his own to foster his bloodlust.

Sadly, only a couple of the film’s kills live up to the legacy of the franchise.

As much I disliked the previous Halloween films, they were mildly salvaged by three factors: Michael, the conflict between Michael and Laurie (and the greater town of Haddonfield), and the kills. As Michael is largely absent until the last act of Halloween Ends, and the film completely wastes the potential of Haddonfield descending into anarchy and increasing violence as a result of Michael’s “curse”, we’re left to rely on the kills. Sadly, these aren’t all that impressive as it’s left up to Corey to shoulder this burden and, as a largely reluctant killer, he lacks the supernatural skill and power of the iconic Michael Myers. I will say, though, that a couple stood out; Corey’s accidentally murder of obnoxious Jeremy Allen (Jaxon Goldberg) in the opening sequences was as shocking as it was amusing, and it was pretty gruesome seeing him take a blowtorch to Terry’s mouth. Probably the best kill is when Corey, now donning the Shape’s visage, mercilessly beats shock DJ Willy the Kid (Keraun Harris) until his jaw is hanging from his face and then cuts his tongue off and leaves it spinning on the record player. For the most part, Corey opts for simple murder tools such as a switchblade and bottle opener, resulting in some unfortunately tame and lacklustre kills; when he lures his bullies to the scrapyard where he works, he switches to using a truck to chase after them and borrows Michael’s head-stomp kill to finish of the unfortunate Margo (Joey Harris). Michael’s kill count is pathetically low in this film and relies entirely on nostalgia for John Carpenter’s original as he stabs and kills Allyson’s work frenemy, Deb (Michele Dawson), in exactly the same way as he killed Bob Simms (John Michael Graham) in the first film. Call-backs such as this are scattered throughout Halloween Ends; not only does the film ape the opening credits of the original, it uses the same font as Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982) – fitting considering this mess of a film is on par with that ill-fated entry – and there’s even a short sequence shot from Corey’s perspective to mimic the iconic opening of Carpenter’s original. Sadly, though, it takes far too long for the blood and bodies to start piling up; Halloween has always traditionally been a more psychological franchise but the psychology on offer here is weak and flawed. The film attempts to paint Corey as a victim of society and nurture, rather than the pure natural evil embodied by Michael, but we learn paradoxically too much about him and at the same time not enough, meaning he lacks the mysterious menace of Michael and just comes across as a pouty kid lashing out at people who, for the most part, deserve to be punished, rather than killing innocent and otherwise likeable characters.

Unfortunately, Halloween Ends doesn’t live up to its premise and makes a mockery of Michael’s menace.

Upon first meeting, Allyson is instantly smitten by Corey and is inexplicably horny for him throughout the film; Corey initially tries to warn her off, since associating with him is bad news for her, but he can’t resist how good she makes them feel and they’re soon head over heels with very little motivation beyond being young, damaged, and wanting to escape. When Laurie recognises Corey’s turn to the dark side, she tries to warn both of them off but is labelled as a paranoid hypocrite, forcing her to take matters into her own hands. Somehow realising that Corey is walking the same dark path as Michael, she lures him to her house by staging a suicide attempt and shoots him down, apparently prepared to kill him before he can harm Allyson, or anyone else, and thus keep Michael’s curse from growing stronger. However, Corey’s mania is so complete that he willingly kills himself rather than live without Allyson, making the entire runtime up until that point a waste of time as he’s unceremoniously offed and then his thunder is stolen by Michael, who finally gets his shit together after spending the whole movie cowering in hiding and attacks Laurie. Although vulnerable after Allyson caught her holding a knife over her lover’s dead body, it turns out that Laurie isn’t as meek and content as she first seemed, and she engages in a brutal knife fight with Michael in her kitchen. Age, injury, and this film’s efforts to piss all over Michael’s legacy have left him a shell of his former self, however, and it’s not long before he’s pinned helpless to a table and has his throat slit by Laurie. Allyson arrives in time to help finish the Shape off and the two drive his dead body to the scrapyard with a police escort so all of Haddonfield can finally witness their bogyman by unquestionably killed off in pretty gruesome fashion; Laurie shoves his mutilated and lifeless body into an industrial shredder, which crushes him into bloody chunk and finally ends Haddonfield’s long, dark night. Unfortunately, the film really doesn’t deserve this definitive finale; the climactic and emotional finale of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (Miner, 1998) remains unbeaten, in my eyes, as the most cathartic and dramatic end to Michael and Laurie’s story. I also feel like the finale might’ve benefitted from taking place at the scrapyard, with Michael being forced into the shredder by Laurie and Allyson, but I do give it props for actually killing the Shape off, even if 90% of the movie was focused on an entirely different and far less interesting plot and killer.

The Summary:
Just like with Halloween Kills, I went into Halloween Ends with low expectations; I admit that a lot of this was based on my dislike for Green’s Halloween movies, especially Halloween Kills, but even setting that aside it’s pretty despicable how this movie treats one of cinema’s most iconic slashers. Michael’s absence is to the film’s detriment; at one point, it seemed like him and Corey were going to go on a killing spree together, but that evaporated almost immediately, and it’s depressing seeing this jumped-up loser wrestle the Shape to the ground and steal his mask like it’s nothing, especially after the last two films tried to sell Michael as this unstoppable supernatural force. In another film, Corey’s story might’ve been interesting, and I have longed to see someone else take up Michael’s ways, but it just doesn’t stick the landing here; maybe if Corey had used Michael’s mask all along and Haddonfield had been led to believe the Shape was back, it might’ve worked better but, as is, he’s a very underwhelming character. Jamie Lee Curtis tries her best to get this movie on track, but Laurie’s character turn is so sharp from the last two that she feels like a completely different person, one who I have a hard time believing could go toe-to-toe with Michael. Michael himself makes an impact for the finale, but the ending feels like it was slapped on to an unrelated psychological slasher film and then the script was hastily rewritten to be a Halloween sequel. Ultimately, this entry was as unnecessary as the last one; I didn’t care for Halloween but it would’ve made poetic sense to end things ambiguously and then try another reboot, but these last two films have just dragged the story on for no reason except to cash-in on the franchise name and I was left underwhelmed by this apparent definitive end to the story.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

What did you think to Halloween Ends? Where would you rank it against the last film and the other entries in the franchise? What did you think to the shift towards Corey and his descent into madness? Did you buy his relationship with Allyson or did it fall flat for you? What did you think to Laurie’s portrayal and the side-lining of her vendetta against Michael until the ending? Were you also annoyed by Michael’s absence and how easily he was dispatched? Which of the kills was your favourite and where would you like to see the franchise go in the future? Feel free to sign up and leave your thoughts down below and drop a reply on my social media to let me know what you thought about Halloween Ends.  

Talking Movies: Trick ‘r Treat

Talking Movies

Released: 6 October 2009
Director: Michael Dougherty
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $12 million
Stars:
Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker, Brian Cox, Samm Todd, Britt McKillip, and Quinn Lord

The Plot:
It’s Halloween night in Warren Valley, Ohio and all sorts of ghouls and demons have come out to join the residents for their fun and games; a high school principal moonlights as a vicious serial killer, a cruel prank awakens the restless souls of a bus crash, a young virgin finds her search for that special someone taking a gruesome turn, and a mischievous little demon terrorises an irritable old man to teach him the true meaning of Halloween.

The Background:
Trick ‘r Treat began life in 1996 when Michael Dougherty created an animated short, Season’s Greetings, that featured burlap-sack-wearing Sam being stalked on Halloween night. A self-confessed Halloween fanatic, the idea stayed with Dougherty and was expanded into a horror anthology that he aimed to be both timeless and rewarding to viewers who paid attention to the little details in the film. Having previously written big-budget superhero films, Dougherty relished the opportunity to craft a more down-to-earth story and interact with horror fans at conventions and screenings since they were always so passionate to see new, interesting horror productions. Trick ‘r Treat was screened at a number of horror film festivals before being released on home media without a widespread cinematic release; nonetheless, the film received largely positive reviews and became an instant cult classic, though a sequel has languished in Development Hell regardless.

The Review:
Like the other films I’ve been reviewing on the road to Halloween, Trick r Treat is an anthology film; while it differs from the others by having all of its different narrative threads intertwine and overlap, I’ll still be talking about each story individually before moving on to the overall film, which again means that my review is structured a little differently from my usual ones.

The opening scene sets the stage for a night of horror, monsters, and cruelty.

The film uses its opening sequence to establish both the setting for the film and how important the age-old traditions of Halloween are to Trick ‘r Treat’s narrative; it’s a cold, dark Halloween night in Warren Valley but, while the kids might be enjoying dressing up and going door to door for sweets and chocolate, Emma (Leslie Bibb) is less than thrilled at being dragged out into the night by her husband, Henry (Tahmoh Penikett). While Henry enjoys the fun and traditions of season, Emma finds it aggravating and frustrating; although Henry cautions her that it’s bad luck to blow out the jack-o’-lantern before midnight, she dismisses such superstitions, puts out the flame, and begins tearing down the decorations in their yard, unaware that she’s being watched by an unseen figure who brutally attacks her beneath a sheet and leaves her mutilated corpse out on display.

Wilkins taints his sweets to add bodies to his garden and craft a gruesome jack-o’-lantern.

The story then segues to earlier in the night, when the town was alive with Halloween cheer and celebrations; the only thing Charlie (Brett Kelly) is interested in, however, is smashing his neighbour’s pumpkins and stealing sweets from the porch of local high school principal Steven Wilkins (Baker). Though he chastises Charlie for ruining his health with chocolate, Wilkins confides in the boy that he used to be the same way before his father taught him that Halloween was about showing respect for the dead since it’s the one night of the year that they’re allowed to come back to the world of the living. He’s dismayed that Halloween’s traditions, once put into place to protect the living, are lost on today’s world, though he proves that he still holds them true to heart as he poisoned his sweets to teach kids to “check their candy” to avoid being “tricked”. This causes Charlie to vomit up black bile but Wilkins’ attempt to bury him in his back garden are continually interrupted by his amusingly obnoxious son, Billy (Connor Levins), and his cantankerous neighbour, Mr. Kreeg (Cox). Annoyed by his son’s constantly whining, Wilkins appears to be on the verge of stabbing Billy to death with a knife and adding to his body count but story ends with the twist that he and Billy are in on it together and preparing to carve Charlie’s severed head like a jack-o’-lantern.

A group of teens play a cruel prank but soon get their just desserts!

Wilkins was visited by a group of teenage trick-or-treaters earlier and these kids – Macy (McKillip), Sara (Isabelle Deluce), Chip (Alberto Ghisi), and Schrader (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) – become the focus of another segment of the film. After borrowing a jack-o’-lantern from the licentious Mrs. Henderson (Christine Willes), the group invite Rhonda (Todd) – a Halloween fanatic and “idiot savant” – to go with them to a flooded quarry that is the subject of an urban legend. According to Warren Valley, a school bus full of mentally challenged children was sent over the edge of the quarry, where they drowned in the water below, after the bus driver was paid off by their exhausted parents to dispose of them. While the driver survived, he disappeared and legend has it that the busload of kids still sits at the bottom of the quarry, so Macy leads the group down to the bottom in a rickety lift to light eight jack-o’-lanterns as a tribute to the lives lost. When she hears her newfound friends screaming for help, Rhonda braves the misty quarry to investigate and comes across the wreckage of the school bus before being attacked by the muddy, swamp-like, zombie school kids, but it turns out to be the kids playing a cruel prank on the impressionable, innocent girl as orchestrated by the callous and vindictive Macy. However, when Macy kicks a lit jack-o’-lantern into the water, actual zombie children crawl up and attack them; when the kids head to the lift, Rhonda has locked herself in and, despite Schrader showing kindness to her, she refuses to let the bullies in and rides it up alone, leaving them to be torn apart by the malevolent ghouls.

A group of promiscuous girls turns out to be a pack of ravenous werewolves!

New in town are Laurie (Paquin), her sister Danielle (Lauren Lee Smith), and her friends Maria (Rochelle Aytes) and Janet (Moneca Delain). Compared to her brazen and promiscuous sibling and friends, Laurie is a self-conscious sceptic of their plan to dress up as slutty fairy tale characters and get laid, especially as she is the only virgin in the group. While Danielle and the others easily pick up guys to take to a secluded area, Laurie (dressed as Little Red Riding Hood) opts to stay in town, where she catches the eye of a masked serial killer dressed in a black hood. Although he attacks her on her way to the bonfire where her sister and friends are, Laurie turns the tables on the killer (revealed to be Wilkins in disguise) and leaves him a bloodied mess in the woods. When Laurie arrives at the bonfire, it’s dramatically revealed that she, her sister, and their friends are actually werewolves who have been luring prey out to the woods for a feast; rather than being nervous of her first time having sex, Laurie was anxious about her first time feeding on human flesh but she nonetheless engorges herself on Wilkins’ horrified form.

The cantankerous Mr. Kreeg is tormented by a mischievous demon who embodies the season.

Present in some for or other throughout the film is Sam (Lord), a small boy with a burlap sack over his head who witnesses many of the events unfold throughout the movie; he takes a chocolate bar from Wilkins, shares a knowing glance with Rhonda, watches the werewolves feed on their prey, and kills Emma for disrespecting his traditions but takes centre stage for the film’s final segment. Mr. Kreeg is a grouchy and ill-tempered old man who has little time or interest in Halloween except to scare away trick-or-treaters so he can steal their sweets and chocolate. However, he finds himself tormented by Sam, who eggs his house, leaves a whole load of lit jack-o’-lantern on his front lawn, and runs around inside his house leaving bloody trick-or-treat messages on the walls. Sam then takes the direct approach and attacks Kreeg with a razor-filled chocolate bar before tearing up Kreeg’s hands with shards of glass and revealing himself to be a demonic entity (apparently Samhain, the embodiment of Halloween itself) with a gruesome pumpkin for a head! Shrugging off Kreeg’s bullets and supernaturally stitching himself back together, Sam is poised to deliver a killing blow but seems satisfied when he stabs a chocolate bar on Kreeg’s person instead. Battered, injured, and terrified, Kreeg hands out treats to the kids at his door but ends up falling victim to the zombie children from the quarry who have come to enact revenge against him since he turns out to have been the bus driver responsible for their deaths.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, Trick ‘r Treat owes quite a lot to the influential Creepshow (Romero, 1982), a horror anthology laced with black humour, and the spirit of Creepshow is evoked in the comic book panels and artwork seen in the opening and closing titles of Trick ‘r Treat just as much as it is in the anthology format. Unlike Creepshow, though, and the other horror anthologies I’ve reviewed over this October, Trick ‘r Treat interweaves, intertwines, and overlaps its stories and characters and jumps between different time periods. This means that we regularly see characters from one segment in the background or interacting with others and previously deceased characters alive and well elsewhere. The film is, however, laced with some amusing black comedy; mostly physical stuff and the absurd believability of an unassuming neighbour pulling horrible pranks on kids or poisoning them and burying them in their garden.

Trick ‘r Treat puts a unique and grisly spin on the depiction of werewolves.

One of the ways Trick ‘r Treat stands out against other horror films is its focus on Halloween; generally speaking, the appropriately-titled Halloween franchise (Various, 1978 to present) has a stranglehold on the season outside of a few low-budget and straight-to-video releases so it was very refreshing to see an original Halloween-themed horror movie that pulled from the deep lore of the macabre season. It even succeeds where many films have failed (in my experience) by putting a grisly spin on werewolves; typically, I find werewolves are much more miss than hit in films as they’re often rendered in terrible CGI, dated effects, or just look stupid and fake when onscreen. Here, seeing the girls strip off their human flesh and reveal their canine forms was very disturbing and an extremely effective way to show the creatures without them looking fake or ridiculous as is so often the case. Generally, werewolves are often male characters so it was refreshing to see a group of girls turn out to be lycanthropes in a twist on “Little Red Riding Hood” and subverting the expectations of Laurie’s “first time” was a fun inclusion that hinted at a larger society of werewolves stalking and feeding on unassuming, horny men.

Sam made an immediate impact and became a modern horror icon.

Indeed, Trick ‘r Treat excels through its visuals; the whole film takes place on a dark Halloween night in a town that goes all-in with celebrating the event, meaning there’s trick-or-treaters, jack-o’-lanterns, and auburn leaves everywhere, all of which really helps to set the ominous mood of the film. The visuals also extend to more explicit horror as well; the zombie kids are a great twist on an overdone horror trope and their story is equal parts tragic and gruesome as they shamble up from the depths to get their revenge. And then there’s little Sam, an under-rated modern horror icon who has yet to be beaten into the ground through overexposure; while the pumpkin-head reveal was shocking and the effect looks great, the burlap sack look is equally as effective and I enjoyed how he would just pop in throughout the film, silently watching and observing events unfold. A scuttling, vindictive little demon, Sam attacks using sweets and chocolate stuffed with glass and razors and only targets those who disrespect or tarnish the traditions of Halloween rather than being just another mute, masked slasher.

The Summary:
I was a little late to the Trick ‘r Treat party; I don’t think I saw it until it had been out for some time and I haven’t really seen it that much compared to other horror films, which turns out to be a massive mistake on my part. Trick ‘r Treat is easily a fantastic Halloween tradition and a great horror anthology in its own right; I love how the stories and characters intersect and overlap with each other as it really helps to bring the town to life and show how all kinds of horrific creatures and events rise up from the darkness on Halloween night. The use of dark comedy was a great way to keep things light and fun and Dylan Baker and Brian Cox definitely seem to be having a good time in their roles; all of the performances are great, actually, especially Samm Todd (though all of the kids were really good, which is always a nice surprise to see in films). While the variety of monsters, horror, and gore on show are all suitably macabre and brutal for any horror fan, Sam is unquestionably the star of the show; lingering around town and in each segment, he makes an immediate impact in his campaign against Mr. Keech, which is the perfect balance of creepy and ludicrous. An intriguing, childlike demon, I would love to see more of Sam in some way, shape, or form as I think he has an impactful look and a lot of potential as the mischievous (but no less vindictive) embodiment of Halloween and Trick ‘r Treat did a wonderful job of presenting a fresh new take on the macabre season that didn’t involve a babysitter killer.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Are you a fan of Trick ‘r Treat? Which of the segments featured in the film was your favourite? What did you think to the presentation of the zombies and werewolves? What are your thoughts on Sam and his status as a modern horror icon? Would you like to see a sequel or an anthology series some day? What horror films have you been watching this month in preparation for Halloween? Whatever you think about Trick ‘r Treat, feel free to leave a comment by signing up or visiting my social media and check in next Monday for my Halloween review!

Screen Time: Werewolf by Night

Air Date: 7 October 2022
Director: Michael Giacchino
Network: Disney+
Stars: Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Kirk R. Thatcher, and Carey Jones/Jeffery Ford

The Background:
Back in February 1972, Roy Thomas, Jeanie Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Mike Ploog (under the direction of the legendary Stan Lee) introduced readers to Jack Russell/Werewolf by Night in the pages of Marvel Spotlight. After a ridiculous ban kept Marvel from publishing stories about werewolves and other supernatural creatures, the writers were finally free to explore these elements, and Werewolf by Night, soon graduated to his own self-titled series later that same year. Coming from a long line of lycanthropes and sharing a complex history with Count Dracula and the cursed Darkhold, Jack Russell became a feral beast under the light of a full moon and was repeatedly targeted by a nefarious cabal known as the Committee, who also introduced the emotionally damaged vigilante Marc Spector/Moon Knight to Marvel’s readers. Despite being one of Marvel’s more obscure characters, Werewolf by Night was pegged for a big-screen adaptation back in 2001; after numerous drafts and delays, Crystal Sky Pictures seemed ready to begin shooting when the project simply vanished from their slate. Hopes for the Werewolf lived again, however, when Kevin Smith was denied use of the character for a 2019 project, and the character was officially announced to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s fourth phase in a one-hour, horror-themed special for Disney+. Director Michael Giacchino drew specific inspiration from the classic monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s and promised that the special would include some of Marvel’s most famous monster characters, such as Doctor Ted Sallis/Man-Thing. Upon its release, Werewolf by Night was met with largely positive reviews; critics praised the aesthetic and brisk pace, and the homage to classic Hammer Horror films, while also noting that the characters and certain visuals were somewhat disappointing.

The Plot:
A group of monster hunters gather at Bloodstone Manor following the death of their leader and engage in a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic, which will bring them face to face with a dangerous monster.

The Review:
I might not know much, if anything, about Werewolf by Night but I’m more than familiar with the Hammer Horrors of yesteryear, classic black-and-white terrors that laid the foundation for popular depictions of screen monsters such as Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man. I’m actually more a fan of the 1930 Hammer Horrors than the later renaissance spearheaded by the likes of Christopher Lee; there’s just something about the gothic aesthetic surrounding the likes of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. that I find endearing and appealing in its simplicity. Plus, those classic horrors are super brisk; you could probably watch all of them, or a good three or four, in just a few hours and that’s perfect for when you just want a short, sharp fix of horror rather than sitting through a two-hour feature film. Similarly, as someone who struggles to binge-watch even six-episode shows for these reviews, I couldn’t be happier that Werewolf by Night opts to simply be a short special presentation, clocking in at a little under an hour. I miss when Marvel used to produce one-shots to fill in gaps between movies and definitely think they would benefit from producing more one- or two-hour specials to flesh out some of their more obscure characters. Similar to how the old Hammer Horrors would open with some text or a voice over, so too does Werewolf by Night begin with an opening narration touching upon the malevolent monsters lurking in the darkness and those who hunt and kill them, with none being more prominent than the legendary Bloodstone family, whose patriarch has slaughtered monsters across the generations with the supernatural relic known as…well…the Bloodstone.

Jack and Elsa reach an agreement to allow him to free the Man-Thing and her to claim the Bloodstone.

Following the death of Ulysses Bloodstone (Richard Dixon), the Bloodstone is in need of a new master, a process determined by inviting monster hunters from all over the world to take part in a ritualistic hunt to establish who is worthy of this powerful relic. Ulysses is survived by his widow, Verusa Bloodstone (Harris) and his estranged daughter, Elsa (Donnelly); Verusa is Elsa’s stepmother and is greatly disappointed by Elsa’s lack of interest in continuing the family tradition. Once thought to be capable of surpassing Ulysses’s abilities, Elsa instead abandoned her duties and her training but is nonetheless determined to take the Bloodstone for herself. Verusa acts as the hostess for the gathering of hunters, with over two-hundred confirmed kills shared between the death-dealers. Jovan (Thatcher) is easily the most bombastic of the group, making an impression through his impressive beard and facial scars, though only Jack Russell (Bernal) can claim over a hundred kills just for himself. With the exception of Elsa, all present see their crusade as a righteous one, a mission of mercy for the cursed and their victims, though there’s a definite flavour of cult-like sensibilities to their hunt. The hunt itself takes place on the grounds of Bloodstone Manor, a dark forest that leads to an Maurits Cornelis Escher-like labyrinth guarded by members of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), which probably explains why the layout and logic of the labyrinth makes little sense. Sporting tribalistic make-up to honour his ancestors, Jack is randomly selected to head out into the woods ahead of the others and his life is deemed to be as fair game as the monster, and any of the other hunters. Despite his impressive reputation as a monster killer, it turns out that Jack isn’t there to hunt their quarry, the swamp creature we know as the Man-Thing (Jones/Ford), but is actually there to rescue him and even refers to him by his real name, Ted. Thus, Jack wants no part of the hunt and even suggests to Elsa that they forget they saw each other, Jovan is driven into a frenzy by his desire to earn the Bloodstone, attacking Elsa with his axe and being surprised and unarmed by her martial arts skill. She then uses Jovan’s axe to more literally disarm Liorn (Leonardo Nam) and kill him with his own wrist-mounted crossbow, proving that she hasn’t been neglecting her training in her time away from Bloodstone Manor.

Verusa triggers Jack’s transformation into the titular Werewolf and seals her fate.

Although the Man-Thing is incapable of communicating beyond a few grunts and creaks, Jack is fully capable of understanding him and promises to relieve him of the Bloodstone, which hurts and weakens him, and blast their way out of there and to freedom. Although Azarel (Eugenie Bondurant) isn’t quite so altruistic, her attack does lead to Jack and Elsa finding some common ground and agreeing to help each other in return for her getting the Bloodstone and him getting the Man-Thing to safety. Although sceptical about Jack’s motives and his relationship to Man-Thing, Elsa is duly convinced that the creature is only a threat when provoked or senses a threat when he calms down after she reluctantly refers to him by his real name and takes Jack’s advice to treat him like an old friend rather than a monster. After some pratfalling with the explosives, Jack succeeds in freeing his friend but, when he tries to pick up the Bloodstone, it rejects him because he’s also hiding a monster within himself. Naturally, Verusa is disgusted by Jack’s charade and has him locked up with Elsa for her part in freeing the Man-Thing; although embittered that Jack kept his secret from her, Jack assures Elsa that he has “systems” in place to manage his monstrous side and that he works hard to keep that part of himself from hurting others. Unfortunately for him, Verusa doesn’t need to wait for the next full moon to witness Jack’s transformation as she possesses the Bloodstone; fearing what he’s capable of, he desperately tries to remember Elsa’s scent and begs for a merciful death, but Verusa forces him to undergo a startling transformation into a ravenous werewolf with her family relic. Naturally, the Werewolf goes on an animalistic rampage, savaging and tearing his way through anyone he deems a threat, but even his supernaturally-enhanced strength is nothing compared to the debilitating power of the Bloodstone, necessitating Elsa’s intervention to keep him from being killed. Retrieving the Bloodstone, Elsa is spared an evisceration after showing compassion for the Werewolf and Verusa meets a gruesome end when the Man-Thing gets his hands on her.

The Summary:  
Werewolf by Night establishes itself as a very different kind of Marvel production right from the start; not only is the entire feature in black-and-white like the old Hammer Horror films, but the Marvel Studios logo and main theme have been altered to evoke the gothic horror aesthetic of those classic horror films, all the way down to flashes of lightning over the logo, a suitably Hammer-esque orchestral score, and even film grain to give it that weathered, 1930s feel. Everything about the special screams Hammer Horror, right down to the gothic Bloodstone Manor and its hieroglyphics depicting the generations of monster hunting to the stuffed monster heads adorning the walls and the presence of the Bloodstone family crypt. In fact, the only time colour is even used in the special is when the Bloodstone itself is on screen, with the gem shining with a piercing blood-red light and breathing colour into the film after Elsa claims it in the finale. Sadly, the visual presentation doesn’t extend to the cast of characters; it takes about thirty minutes to learn Jack’s name and none of the characters introduce themselves so it was pretty difficult to tell who was who. None of the hunters except Jovan really stood out and we never really get a sense of who they are or their backgrounds; even Elsa and Jack’s origins are left frustratingly vague and Verusa came across as a cackling pantomime villainess that, while suitable for the Hammer vibe of the special, didn’t exactly make her any more nuanced than wanting to destroy all monsters simply because they are monsters.

Both Man-Thing and the Werewolf end up being startlingly brought to life.

On the flip side, I have to say that it’s great to see a character as obscure and visually interesting as the Man-Thing finally make it into the MCU after years of subtle allusions and references. Although an entirely CGI creature rather than being a marriage of digital and practical effects like in the 2005 film, the Man-Thing certainly impresses when onscreen. While the Man-Thing is supernaturally powerful and capable of melting a man’s head with one giant claw-like hand, he also showcases a childish demeanour; the creature is in pain and frightened by his current situation and desperate to get to safety, there’s a definite sense of victory when Jack and Elsa are able to work together to free the lumbering swamp monster from his pain and bondage. Even better, we get to see the Man-Thing in full colour and even handing Jack a cup of coffee after he recovers from his transformation, showing that the creature isn’t just some mindless beast and has not just a measure of intelligence but also a sense of humour. Interestingly, Werewolf by Night bucks a trend of many werewolf tales by not drawing upon the classic An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981) for its transformation sequence; instead, Jack’s transformation is largely relegated to a CGI light show and silhouette, which adds an air of mystery to the Werewolf, for sure, but half the fun of a werewolf feature is the gruesome body horror of the transformation. The Werewolf’s look, in the few instances where he is shown, is a nice throwback to The Wolf Man (Waggner, 1941); a furry, voracious humanoid wolf, the Werewolf makes short work of Verusa’s TVA guards, mangling, mauling, and manhandling them as Elsa takes out the last two hunts, all while framed by flashing lights and with a generous helping of gore splattering across the screen.

While I enjoyed the Hammer Horror homage, I don’t feel the special lived up to its potential.

Ultimately, I’m somewhat torn; I enjoyed the visual presentation of the special, which is unlike anything else we’ve seen in the MCU and a fantastic throwback to the classic 1930s Hammer Horror films, but the characterisations are severely lacking. Obviously, it’s only an hour-long special so there’s only so much you can cram in there, and there’s something to be said for keeping an air of mystery around Jack and the Bloodstone family. However, it’s hard to care about the other hunters when none of them are ever named onscreen and they’re simply there to be cannon fodder for Elsa and the Man-Thing; even the appearance of TVA agents is a real head-scratcher and is never explained, nor do we learn anything about the Man-Thing’s backstory even as a throwaway line. The effects are pretty decent, but we don’t get to see the titular Werewolf until the last twenty minutes or so and even then he’s kept in shadow and framed in a way that keeps him monstrous to enhance his threat. I enjoyed seeing the Man-Thing in action, but I guess I was just expecting more monster action from this monster-centric special. I can understand wanting to showcase Jack as a human being trying to suppress his monstrous alter ego and I enjoyed that he goes out of his way to help monsters rather than hunt and kill them, but I didn’t find him a particularly compelling character. Similarly, there was some nuance to Elsa and potential in her conflict with her stepmother and her father’s legacy, but it just wasn’t expanded upon sufficiently enough for me. She’s just another bad-ass female fighter who distances herself from her family’s actions, but it’s not really explained why and all we’re really told is that Verusa and Ulysses recently Elsa for not living up to her potential (yet we see she’s the most capable fighter of all the hunters). In the end, I applaud the attempt at something new, visually and stylistically, and the introduction of monsters to the MCU, but, as presented, Werewolf by Night could easily be skipped or ignored at this point and I’d be surprised to see it directly referenced in later MCU projects.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Werewolf by Night? Were you disappointed by the lack of insight and characterisation in the hunters? What did you think to Man-Thing, his visuals and his portrayal? Would you have liked to see more monsters featured in the special? What did you think to the Werewolf, his transformation and his bloody rampage? Did you enjoy the references to classic Hammer Horror films? Would you like to see more from these characters, and are there any specific Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing stories you’d like to see adapted into the MCU? Whatever your thoughts Werewolf by Night, leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies: V/H/S/2

Talking Movies

Released: 12 July 2013
Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans, and Jason Eisener
Distributor:
Lionsgate
Budget: Unknown
Stars:
Lawrence Michael Levine, L.C. Holt, Adam Wingard, Hannah Hughes, Jay Saunders, Oka Antara, Fachri Albar, Hannah Al Rashid, Rylan Logan, and Samantha Gracie

The Plot:
Two private investigators are hired to look into the disappearance of a boy and find his home deserted except for a stack of VHS tapes, each of which contain a gruesome horror story in the form of found footage depicting a man recieving an ocular implant that allows him to see ghosts, a keen biker who is turned into a flesh-hungry zombie, a film crew investigating a bizarre cult, and a violent alien abduction.

The Background:
In 2012, Bloody Disgusting founder and film producer Brad Miska reached out to the directors and creative minds he had met through his website to create V/H/S (Wingard, et al, 2012), a horror anthology that was positively received at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, received mixed reviews upon release, and managed to gross $1.9 million. A sequel (originally titled S-VHS) was rushed into production in 2012 and featured an abundance of new directors and creators joining a handful of returnees from the first film. Like its predecessor, V/H/S/2 first debuted at the Sundance Film Festival before being widely released on video-on-demand and at a limited number of cinemas. The film’s $805,574 gross meant it made significantly less than the first film but, in comparison, reviews were far more positive and a poorly-received third entry followed in 2014.

The Reviews:
As with the first film, because V/H/S/2 is an anthology film made up of a framing narrative and several short horror stories, I’m changing up my usual review format to talk about each segment individually before sharing my thoughts on the overall film.

Two private investigators discover a disturbed young man’s collection of gruesome videotapes.

As in the first film, V/H/S/2 features a framing narrative that allows for the film’s short stories to be told; “Tape 49” (Barrett) follows Larry (Levine) and Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott), two unscrupulous private investigators who are hired by a concerned mother to check on her son, Kyle (Holt), who has been missing for a few days. When they arrive at the college kid’s house, they find it to be deserted; stacks of VHS tapes are piled up everywhere and Kyle’s laptop has been left recording a video. Kyle’s video log shows him discussing his obsession with the tapes and, while Larry searches the rest of the house, Ayesha checks out some of the tapes. After each short, the film cuts back to Ayesha, who comes to be physically affected by what she has watched (which, according to Kyle, must be viewed in a certain order to have the greatest effect) and is unaware that she is being stalked. Eventually, Larry comes in the room to find Ayesha has killed herself with a bullet to the head but she returns to attack him as a zombie after he watches the final film. Though he’s able to fight her off, Larry ends up being strangled to death by Kyle, who attempted to kill himself on camera to make his own tape and ended up blowing his entire lower jaw off in the process! Regardless, he delivers a thumbs up, indicating that he succeeded in his goal.

Herman’s ocular implant allows him to see and be tormented by vengeful spirits.

The first short story is “Phase I Clinical Trials” (Wingard), which puts a unique spin on the first-person, found footage concept by telling its story through an ocular implant inserted into Herman’s (ibid) head to replace his eye. Though disturbed to find that his every moment will be recorded throughout the trial period, Herman has little choice but to accept the restrictions that come from the implant, which Doctor Fleischer (John T. Woods) explains may also be accompanied by some “glitches”. After arriving home, Herman is spooked to find his game controller moved while he goes to make some tea, the kettle knocked from the stove when he leaves the kitchen, an invisible figure laying in his bed, and a bloodied phantom (Brian Udovich) who gives him a fright. The bloody man is joined by an unsettling child (Corrie Lynn Fitzpatrick) and the two terrify Herman, banging on his bathroom door and forcing him to sleep in the bathtub out of fear. The next day, he finds his house has been ransacked by the ghouls and is visited by Clarissa (Hughes), who received a similar implant to restore her hearing and, like Herman, has been tormented by ghosts ever since. Clarissa believes that removing the implants would simply take away their ability to perceive them and that the spirits grow stronger the more they are interacted with. Although she tries to use sex to take his attention away from the disturbing spirit of her uncle (John Karyus), who it’s implied assaulted her in the past, she’s dragged into his pool and, despite his best efforts to save her, is drowned by a particularly malevolent, invisible entity. Desperate to make the ghosts go away, Herman uses a razor to slice out his implant, however this only leaves him blind to their presence and allows them to easily overwhelm him and choke him to death with the same device.

Mike’s ride through the woods ends with him becoming a mindless zombie.

“A Ride in the Park” (Sánchez and Hale) follows keen cyclist Mike Sullivan (Saunders), who affixes a camera to his helmet and his handlebars before going for a morning cycle through the woods. Almost immediately, however, he runs across a hysterical girl (Bette Cassatt) who begs him to help her boyfriend; seeing that the poor bloke has been set upon by shambling, flesh-hungry zombies, Mike tries to escape with the girl but she pounces on him and tears a chunk out of his neck. Bleeding profusely, Mike staggers through the woods and begins vomiting the same black blood as the girl before collapsing and choking to death. When another couple of cyclists come across him, Mike reanimates and attacks the man (Dave Coyne), ripping open his cheek and then taking a bite out of his female companion (Wendy Donigian), who also becomes a zombie and joins Mike in devouring her former lover. When the male cyclist also reanimates, the three stumble through the woods and attack a child’s birthday party, biting many of the terrified guests and creating more zombies in the process. In a tragic and horrifying twist, Mike is momentarily subdued when he catches sight of his reflection and regains some small semblance of his humanity when he accidentally pocket dials his girlfriend, Amy (Devon Brookshire). Distraught at the monster he has become, Mike uses the last of his senses to shoot himself in the head with a discarded shotgun.

A film crew become witnesses, and victims, of a cult’s efforts to summon a demon through ritual sacrifice.

Easily my favourite of the film’s stories is “Safe Haven” (Tjahjanto and Evans), which depicts a film crew – comprised of interviewer Malik (Antara), his fiancée and producer Lena (Rashid), his best friend Adam (Albar), and cameraman Joni (Andrew Suleiman), all of whom are wired with hidden cameras and microphones – investigating a mysterious cult known as Paradise Gates, who are very secretive and mistrustful of outsiders. Lena is able to convince the cult’s leader, known only as “Father” (Epy Kusnandar), to permit them entrance to his compound so that they can produce a fair and accurate report that challenges the slander and rumours surrounding the cult. Once inside, they find bizarre symbols and effigies adorning the walls and that the cult worships Father and his teachings of immortality and providence; several children are present on the grounds, all of whom are heavily indoctrinated in Father’s teachings, and it’s heavily implied that the girls have been subjected to their leader’s sexual appetites. While Malik interviews Father, who vehemently defends his religion and his actions while condemning wider society for their ignorance, Lena reveals to Adam that he’s the father of her unborn child right before Father issues a command over the intercom that incites widespread suicides throughout the compound. In the chaos, Adam discovers a woman in the compound’s basement who has been strapped to an operating table and had her womb carved out, Father cuts Joni’s throat with a Stanley Knife for interrupting him, and Malik is executed on Father’s followers. Lena finds herself abducted by woman in surgical attire and, when Adam goes to rescue her, he’s rocked by an explosion, is disturbed to see a man crawling across the ceiling, and watches as the bloodstained Father explodes in a shower of gore. As demonic chanting and an air raid siren fill the air, Adam finds Lena being restrained by wailing, possessed nurses but can only watch as a grotesque horned demon not unlike Baphomet forces its way from her stomach! Fleeing in terror, Adam fights his way past the reanimated cultists and races away in his car; however, the demon pursues him and forces him off the road, spilling him out of the vehicle and driving him to maniacal insanity as it utters a single, gruesome word: “Papa”.

A group of kids and their doggy are violently attacked by monstrous grey aliens!

The film ends with another strong tale, “Slumber Part Alien Abduction” (Eisener), in which brothers Gary (Logan) and Randy (Cohen King) attach a miniature camera to their Yorkshire Terrier, Tank (Riley Eisener), to film their fun and games at their lakeside house. The boys delight in tormenting their older sister, Jen (Gracie), and her friends while their parents are away and are so caught up in their adolescent antics that they fail to notice a grey alien lurking beneath the lake and an ominous, deafening noise when they play a prank on Jen and her boyfriend, Zack (Jeremie Saunders), as they’re trying to have sex. Similarly, they also fail to pay much attention to a mysterious light show out over the lake but their tomfoolery is soon violently interrupted by the blaring noise, the power cutting out, and the presence of disturbing grey aliens outside their house. The monstrous beings grab the group, seal them in their sleeping bags, and try to drown them in the lake, with only Gary, Randy, Jen, and Tank surviving. Fleeing towards the strobing red and blue lights, they realise all too late that they’re running towards a trap rather than police assistance and both Jen and Randy are violently taken when Tank inadvertently attracts the aliens. Although Gary tries to flee with Tank up a ladder in the barn, they are ensnared by the aliens’ tractor beam and, in a distressing finale, Tank plummets to the ground and lies whimpering and dying as his family are abducted into the unknown.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The first thing you’ll notice about V/H/S/2 is the upgrade in camera quality; while there is still an abundance of nausea-inducing shaky cam, the quality of the picture and sound is much improved over the original. Next, there is a far more unique use of the camera perspective compared to the first film, which only really did something different with one of its stories; the ocular implant (which continues to show us the disturbing imagery even after Larry’s removed it), Mike’s helmet camera, using a film crew, and placing a small camera on a dog all allow for far more natural shots as I find the biggest issue with found footage films to be the believability that someone would hang onto a video camera during moments of chaos. The shorts also seem a bit longer this time and far more visceral and terrifying, and it’s pretty clear there the budget was slightly higher than in the last film (even if I wasn’t able to find out what the film’s budget actually was).

The film makes even better use of its format to provide unique and horrifying twists on familiar tropes.

As much as I enjoyed the original film, I found that I was more engaged and unsettled by each short story on offer in V/H/S/2. Additionally, the film brings a few unique ideas to tried-and-tested clichés through its found footage presentation; I’ve never seen a zombie film framed from the infected’s perspective quite like this, for example, and it’s deeply disturbing to see Mike succumb to his bite and return to unlife, feasting on the flesh of the living, and witness first-hand the degradation of his humanity into ravenous hunger and the tragic spark of his personality that drives him to end his monstrous existence. Even shorts that present recurring ideas in horror and science-fiction are given an unnerving slant thanks to the direction and presentation of the stories; “Phase I Clinical Trials” isn’t the first time the “haunted implant” story has been told but the presentation of the spirits as vengeful, malevolent phantoms really adds an extra punch to the story and we’ve all seen alien abduction films before but rarely are grey aliens depicted so monstrously. Roaring, clutching, and clawing at their prey, and constantly accompanied by blinding lights and ear-splitting sounds, the greys are at their most horrific and seeing them mercilessly abduct the children and cause the painful and heart-wrenching death of their dog is particularly unnerving.

The film’s scares and presentation definitely benefit from an increased budget.

As I mentioned, though, my favourite piece of the film is “Safe Haven”. This one may put off many viewers since not only is much of it told through the use of subtitles but it touches upon uncomfortable themes of suicide, maniacal cults, and Satanic imagery. Still, the short is easily the most bloody and visceral of V/H/S/2 and its predecessor; while the goat-headed, winged demon is easily the short’s most impressive and ambitious effect, “Safe Haven” also includes zombies, heads and faces being blown off, a man being blown to pieces, and women being torn apart from the inside out. For fans of blood and gore, “Safe Haven” is a definite standout but, for me, it’s the unsettling imagery of the demon itself and the implications of the story that cause this piece to have the most impact. “Phase I Clinical Trials” and “Slumber Part Alien Abduction” are equally impactful but in different ways; making copious use of jump scares, loud noises, and lingering shots of disturbing monstrosities, these two definitely make an impression, meaning that “Tape 49” and “A Ride in the Park” are left as the film’s weakest entries (and even those are bolstered by a unique camera perspective and visceral gore).

The Summary:
Although I feel like I prefer V/H/S/2 overall compared to its predecessor, it’s difficult for me to favour one over the other as there are short stories in the first film that I enjoy quite a lot. Generally, I prefer to watch the two as a double feature, thereby experiencing the best that each has to offer, but it’s hard to deny that the presentation and visuals are much more appealing and improved in this sequel. Everything feels much more focused and less rough around the edges, with some interesting, fun, and unique takes on the massively overdone found footage genre. Not only that, but each of the stories on offer are genuinely disturbing; even those that draw from tried and tested horror clichés are given a distinctive slant to deliver an unsettling and memorable anthology experience. Honestly, V/H/S/2 is worth it for “Safe Haven” alone but there’s plenty for horror fans of all kinds to enjoy on offer here. Again, it’s not really a film focused on characters and is more geared towards unnerving audiences, and the abundance of gore, terrifying ghouls, monstrous aliens, and ravenous zombies definitely succeeds in that regard in my opinion. I’ve heard negative things about the subsequent films in the series but I have a real soft spot for these first two, especially the second film, and I definitely recommend them to fans of independent, gory, disturbing horror films who are looking for something both a little familiar and a little different.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of V/H/S/2? What did you think of it, especially compared to the original, and which of the short stories was your favourite? What did you think to the way the short stories put a unique slant on familiar themes? What did you think to the ways the film made use of their found footage genre and the obvious increase in budget? Would you like to see more anthology films and which anthology show is your favourite? What horror films are you watching this month in preparation for Halloween? Whatever you think about V/H/S/2, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media and pop back next Monday for one last anthology film before Halloween!

Talking Movies: Hellraiser (1987)

Talking Movies

Released: 10 September 1987
Director: Clive Barker
Distributor:
Entertainment Film Distributors
Budget: $1 million
Stars:
Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Andrew Robinson, and Doug Bradley

The Plot:
Newlyweds Larry (Robinson) and Julia Cotton (Higgins) try to start a new life in Larry’s family home. However, when Frank’s depraved brother, Frank (Chapman), returns to gruesome life following a drop of blood, Julia is compelled by lust to help him reconstitute himself and escape the wrath of the extra-dimensional Cenobites, whom he summoned with a mysterious puzzle box.

The Background:
In 1986, British novelist, playwright, and filmmaker Clive Barker published the third of his Night Visions anthology series; contained within this was a novella titled The Hellbound Heart, a horror tale heavily influenced by Barker’s time as a hustler and experiences in S&M clubs. The story of a hedonist trying to escape the pull of extra-dimensional beings from a dimension that blurs the line between pleasure and pain, The Hellbound Heart caught the attention of Hollywood right at a time where Barker was being heralded by iconic horror author Stephen King as “the future of horror” and when Barker was feeling dismayed at the reception of previous adaptations of his writings. Determined to helm the film himself, despite having no experience in movie directing, Barker nonetheless enjoyed the experience even though the studio demanded that the setting and accents by altered to be more American and he was forced to make cuts to secure an “R” rating. Barker’s disturbing vision for the twisted, sadomasochistic Cenobites was brought to life in gruesome detail on film, especially for actor Doug Bradley, who was blinded by his pitch-black contact lenses and endured roughly six hours in make-up to be transformed into the Lead Cenobite. Although largely praised for its disturbing atmosphere and visuals Hellraiser attracted its fair share of detractors and controversy. However, its $14.6 million box office made it successful enough to justify a sequel, which soon ballooned into a long-running horror franchise of largely diminishing returns, with both Barker and Bradley distancing themselves from later entries. Still, despite the franchise being mired in direct-to-video affairs, Barker persisted in his attempts to regain the rights in order to produce a reboot to revitalise his original concept.

The Review:
When I was a little kid, I couldn’t stand horror movies; I would hide behind comic books whenever my family put one on and had more than my fair share of nightmares from watching a handful of slashers and haunted house classics. One of my earliest memories of being disturbed by horror was when I crept downstairs one night for some reason (probably food) and found my parents watching Hellraiser, specifically the scene where Kirsty Cotton (Laurence) unwittingly summons the Cenobites while in hospital, and it scared me for so long that the film, and its sequels, took on an almost mythic quality in the back of my imagination. Now, decades later and having become largely desensitised to all horror, I’ve had the unenviable pleasure of watching all but two (as of this writing) entries in the franchise and have witnessed it decline from a truly unsettling meditation on the limits of human depravity to a run-of-the-mill slasher series with an iconic villain, all subtle and nuance having been stripped away as easily as the Cenobites strip flesh. Furthermore, I’m also of the belief that Clive Barker’s original movie really hasn’t aged too well; some of the special effects falter here in ways they don’t in later movies, and I’ve always hoped for a dark, gritty, atmospheric remake that can do the movie, and its franchise, justice. Still, there’s little doubt in my mind that the original is clearly the best in the series; it told a horror story that had a lot of nuances to it beyond simply being a mindless slasher or a cliché bout of “good” versus “evil” and really emphasised atmosphere and desperation over cheap scares.

Larry just wants to start his new marriage but is unaware of Julia’s sordid past with his brother.

The film is commendable in its simplicity, revolving as it does around four central characters, the Cotton family, and their dealings with a mysterious puzzle box we now know as the Lament Configuration (or, occasionally, the Lemarchand Configuration). Larry is moving his new wife, Julia, into his dilapidated childhood home in hopes of building a new life together, presumably away from the bustle and bustle of big city life though it’s not really made explicit (nor is it explicitly stated what either of them do for a living; Julia seems to be a kept woman and Larry is just “generic eighties businessman” by the looks of it). What is explicit, however, is the gulf that exists between them; Larry is very optimistic about the move, and about setting down roots in the old homestead. He gets stuck in with the moving men, loves to host social get togethers with their mutual friends, and has a playful, if naïve, approach to life. Julia, in contrast, seems largely lethargic to the whole situation; she agrees to go along with it simply to keep him quiet and happy and doesn’t once lift a finger to help make the house into a home throughout the drama of the move. A major point of contention between the two is Larry’s daughter, Kirsty; clearly, Kirsty had a strong bond with her deceased birth mother and views Julia more like the wicked stepmother, so she’s quite abrupt and dismissive towards Julia despite the latter’s best (if half-hearted) attempts to build bridges between them. Kirsty is a typical Daddy’s Girl; she visits and plays nice only to see her beloved father and she’s primarily interested in his safety and happiness above Julia’s, who she could happily live without.

Kirsty is determined to protect her beloved father from all threats, no matter what shape they take.

As Larry is painted as this foolish, if lovable, patriarch, a man who can’t stand the sight of blood and who really enjoys his boxing despite being the furthest thing from a fighter, Kirsty is able to shine all the more as the film’s protagonist. Indeed, as Julia sinks into murderous depravity, the film actively shifts its focus away from following Larry’s naïvety concerning his wife’s twisted nature and more towards Kirsty as she first works to stand on her own two feet with her own place and job, dabbles in romantic trysts with veritable blank canvas Steve O’Donnell (Robert Hines), and then uncovers the truth behind Julia’s shady antics. Were it not for his dislike of her stepmother, Kirsty would’ve been in the Cotton house from the beginning and potentially would’ve fallen victim to the horrors that laid within but her pride and desire to make it as an independent young woman see her firmly on the outside and able to see the warning signs of infidelity that fly completely over Larry’s head. And why wouldn’t they? Larry has no reason to suspect that his hedonistic brother, Frank, didn’t just use their old home as a base camp but literally and figuratively left a part of himself there after solving the Lament Configuration. A seeker of carnal desire, Frank purchased the puzzle box after learning that it opened a doorway to wonders and experiences beyond human imagination, but even he didn’t expect to be confronted by the four scarified, mutilated, androgynous Cenobites or their hellish dimension of chains, pain, and pleasure. It’s only because of his depraved nature that Frank was even able to reconstitute after Larry’s blood spills on the floor where he was torn asunder by the Cenobites’ hooked chain and, having assumed a desiccated appearance (Oliver Smith), Frank is eager to return to his former self and elude the Cenobites out of fear of suffering further untold torments in their nightmarish dimension.

Julia’s lust-filled tryst with Frank is enough to convince her to kill in order to restore him.

To do this, he manipulates Julia, with whom he had forced into a rough and list-filled affair shortly before her wedding to Larry. Julia is both haunted by the experience, which follows her all around the house, and exhilarated by the memory; in the flashbacks, she seems to be a very different person, loving and devoted, before encountering the rugged and forceful Frank and becoming immediately obsessed with desire for more of his particular brand of affection. Although Julia’s absolutely horrified to find Frank’s skinless, desperate form trapped in the attic, her need to be with him, to experience that sensation once more, and to feel truly alive and wanted and not just lethargic overtakes her logic and she readily agrees to lure unsuspecting men back to the house for him to “feed” upon. At first, Frank is far too weak to kill these poor fools but, after literally sucking the flesh off a few of them, he could easily handle the deed himself but, instead, he allows Julia to bash their heads in with hammers. Initially, she’s mortified by her actions, and the sight and sound of Frank’s absorption of the corpses, but she soon not only becomes numb to it but actually starts to enjoy it. By the time Frank begins to feel sensation and has reconstituted himself into something more closely resembling a man, she’s more than happy to touch him and ultimately willing to sacrifice even Larry and Kirsty to get Frank back to normal so she can get laid again. Without a doubt, Julia is the true villain of this piece; a vile, wicked, selfish woman who’s only interested in satisfying her urges, she’s every bit as depraved as Frank, but her downfall comes from trusting that he’s just as devoted to her as she is to him when, in reality, all he cares about is indulging his sick fantasies and staying away from the Cenobites.

The horrific Cenobites are alluring in their morbid eloquence and regal stature.

Speaking of whom, the Order of the Gash actually get very little screen time here compared to later films and other slasher villains, but they certainly steal the show when they do appear and their presence looms over everything. Just listening to the mixture of fear and awe as Frank describes their realm, their utter commitment to extreme sadomasochism to the point where they can no longer distinguish between pain and pleasure, is enough to evoke a feeling of dread, to say nothing of their horrific appearances. Mutilated and twisted into demonic figures, the Cenobites may appear vaguely human but are anything but; lead by an enigmatic priest with pins driven into his head (popularly referred to as “Pinhead”; Bradley), the Cenobites come from an unseen realm that thrives on the indulgence of flesh, the exploration of suffering, and the most excessive forms of pleasure. One of the most alluring aspects of the Cenobites is that they’re not mindless, mute killers; Pinhead is chillingly eloquent, speaking with booming, monotone menace and seeking to impose his twisted design upon whomever solves the box. However, while the Cenobites are clearly beyond pity and have lost all touch with humanity, they’re not beyond reason; Pinhead and the Female Cenobite (Grace Kirby) are enraged at the idea that Frank has escaped their clutches and agree to Kirsty’s plea to reclaim him in exchange for her if she can get him to confess. Although their abilities and origins are kept rather vague here, the Cenobites are beings of considerable extradimensional powers; once the puzzle box is solved, they bleed into reality through schism and openings in the real world and their dimension of chaos and torture comes along with them, meaning hooked chains and pillars of torture spontaneously appear in our world. To travel to their dimension is not to die in the strictest sense of the word but merely to be shunted from this realm to one where you suffer the endless agony of their whims without the reprieve of death. As Pinhead so expressively puts it, the Cenobites are “Demons to some…Angels to others” but, while “Hell” is reference in the title and Kirsty explicitly tells them to “Go to Hel!”, they’re not actually from the Judo-Christian version of Hell and damned souls do not spend eternity in their dimension, it’s simply that their realm is so depraved and gruesome that it is seen to be Hell.  

The Nitty-Gritty:
This is what sets Hellraiser apart from its sequels, and almost all extended canon, and what has constantly bugged me ever since the second and third movie. I get the idea of characters in the films seeing the Cenobites as demonic beings and believing their dimension to be Hell, but I think the franchise lost the message Clive Barker was shooting for in his original, far vaguer, and more disturbing notions of Hell in this movie. Frank actively seeks out the puzzle box to experience new heights of pleasure so, for him, it was a gateway to pleasure and “Heaven” until he was confronted with the horrifying reality of the Cenobites, who’s lusts far exceeded his small-minded fantasies. When they appear to Kirsty, they are framed as fiendish creatures; “Chatterer” (Nicholas Vince) holds her in place, initially with his fingers down her throat, while Pinhead and the Female bark threats at her for her naïvety so, to her, they’re demonic entities. However, while there’s definitely an ambiguity surrounding the Cenobites in this first film, it’s undeniable that they’re far from righteous or moral individuals; they show leniency to Kirsty only to retrieve that which has escaped them and turn on her at the first chance they get. The aura exuded by the Cenobites is bolstered by a terrifically haunting and atmospheric score courtesy of Christopher Young; ominous and daunting with its gongs and almost religious undertones, the orchestral soundtrack really creates a tense and uncomfortable ambiance that goes hand-in-hand with the film’s dark and moody presentation.

While the Cenobites impress, other Hellspawn and special effects don’t fare quite as well.

When the Cenobites appear, all Hell literally lets loose; at their, their appearance is subtle and mostly takes place offscreen and all we see are the hanging chains, the twirling pillar, and the bloody chunks of flesh that were once Frank being carefully (and lovingly) assembled by Pinhead. When Kirsty accidentally summons them, the walls of her hospital room steam, blood fills her IV drip and splatters across the room, and the Cenobites appear in a burst of questionable lightning, all while bright lights and a suffocating smoke fill the room. The Cenobites themselves are absolutely horrific to look at; malformed into walking testaments to sin and excess, their flesh has been stripped back, mutilated, and left them largely devoid of anything resembling humanity. While Pinhead obviously makes an impression with his long leather robes, torn open pectorals, and the grid of pins nailed into his head, the Female is easily the least impressive of the four since she “only” has her throat perpetually ripped open by a strange wire trap. The Chatterer and Butterball (Simon Bamford) more than make up for this, however, by being the most monstrous of them all; while Butterball is the embodiment of perverted gluttony, the Chatterer is cursed with unending blindness and his exposed, raw teeth constantly chattering away as he prepares victims for their pleasure. Two more monstrous beings join the film in the thrilling and horrifying climax, wherein the Cenobites try to forcibly bring Kirsty with them to their realm after reclaiming Frank; one is a strange, hideous puppet known as “The Engineer” (John Cormican). Apparently, this is supposed to be the leader of the Cenobites, at least according to the source material, but it just comes across as a laughable animatronic that flies in the face of the disturbing beauty offered by the main Cenobites. Similarly, the janky skeletal dragon that the weird homeless man (Frank Banker) transforms into was a bit of a misstep considering how intriguing the film’s horror is until the end, and these two creatures are a big part of the reason I feel a remake would benefit Hellraiser is it seems obvious that Barker’s imagination was far exceeding his grasp…and his budget.

The effects use to bring Frank to life are matched only by his repulsive depravity.

However, as striking as the Cenobites are in their gruesome allure, the real star of the show here are the myriad of make-up effects and filmmaking techniques used to bring Frank back to ghastly life. after Larry’s blood is spilt, a disgusting sequence takes place in which the finest stop motion, animatronics, and reversed film footage of the eighties are used to show his dripping, gory skeleton bubbling up from the floor tiles, his spinal column thrusting into his oozing brain, his gnarled bones reconstructing, and him screaming in pain and triumph as he returns to consciousness in the real world. It’s truly an impressive sequence in its design and execution and it’s gut-wrenching seeing Frank’s ribs close up around his guts and entrails as they spill up from the floor and back into his body. Following that, we see Frank in various stages of desiccation; skinless, his veins and muscles and parts of his skeleton on show, he’s a pathetic shell of his former, vigorous self until he sucks enough living flesh up to start feeling and looking a little more like himself. Frank even starts smoking and wearing suits, undeterred by the gore he’s leaving behind on either or on Julia’s hands and lips, and he never seems to be in physical pain throughout any of this (though this is addressed, somewhat, as he states that taking lives is slowly returning his sensation, so I can only imagine the agony he would’ve felt when his nerves fully returned to life before his reconstitution was complete). It’s fitting that Frank spends the majority of the film in a monstrous state as he’s an abolsutely reprehensible and repulsive man; not content with screwing his brother’s fiancée right before their wedding, he makes lewd remarks towards Kirsty and there’s definitely a suggestion that he’s engaged in his fair share of child molestation in his selfish pursuit of pleasures and excess.

When the Cenobites come to collect their souls, Kirsty’s left relying on her wits to survive.

So determined is Frank to return to his human self that he’s willing to manipulate Julia into killing men for him to strip of their flesh in grisly fashion. Although he assures Julia that they’ll run away together and have all the rampant sex they want together once he’s whole again, it’s pretty obvious that he has less intention of living up to this promise than the Cenobites do of honouring their agreement with Kirsty. When Kirsty stumbles upon the skinless Frank while trying to find evidence of Julia’s infidelity, she makes off with the Lament Configuration; terrified at the Cenobites’ reprisals, Frank accelerates his schedule and come sup with an ingenious plan to further avoid detection. Earlier, Julia had begged Frank not to harm Larry and seemed content to simply leave him with Frank but, at this point, she’s perfectly happy for him to kill Larry and slap his skinned face over his own so she can finally get laid. Despite the fact her father clearly has a weeping, open wound around his face, Kirsty is initially horrified to learn that Larry has killed Frank and this unwittingly doomed her to an eternity of torture at the hands of the Cenobites, and she angrily tries to escape the creatures when Pinhead, furious at Frank’s apparent death, demands Larry as recompense. However, Frank’s deception is quickly revealed as he can’t keep up the façade for long; in the ensuring struggle, he accidentally stabs Julia and the betrays her without remorse by sucking out her flesh as she dies. Having revealed his true identity, Frank is dismayed when the Cenobites come to collect him, stretching his flesh to the limit with their chains before exploding him in a shower of blood and guts. Afterwards, the Cenobites try to claim Kirsty as well but she’s able to banish them one by one by fiddling with the puzzle box as the house collapses around her. A surprise and completely useless appearance from Steve gets Kirsty out of harm’s way and, shellshocked by the entire events, she tosses the Lament Configuration into the smouldering fire…only for the homeless man to retrieve it, transform into a roaring skeletal dragon, and spirit the box away to another potential victim of the Cenobites.

The Summary:
There’s no denying that Hellraiser is a true horror classic; it’s dark and gritty and wonderfully visceral in its presentation, with a foreboding score and some truly disturbing sexual undertones that really help it to stand out against other slashers and horror of the time. The Cenobites are some of the most imaginative and horrific entities every brought to life; clearly, the bulk of the film’s budget went into bringing them and Frank’s desiccated corpse to life and the movie is all the better for it as you really can’t cheap out when it comes to creating horror icons such as these. With his stately, almost regal demeanour and abrasive, sinister eloquence, Pinhead stands far and apart from the mute, masked killers and psychotic brutes that ran rampant in horror cinema at this time; there’s a troubling allure to him and his fellow Cenobites, one that makes you wonder what they went through to become what they are, what their Hellish dimension is like, and just how depraved their imaginations go. Hellraiser benefits from keeping all this vague and looming like a shadow and focusing its plot on the manipulations of Frank and Julia’s descent into sadistic murder in a selfish attempt to get her end away with a genuinely repulsive masochist. Although she’s not the strongest female protagonist or “Final Girl” in horror cinema, there’s an innocence and simplicity to Kirsty; she just wants to protect her father, whether it’s from wicked stepmothers or demonic explorers of the furthest regions of experience and I liked that she was both vulnerable but cunning enough to try and cut a deal with the Cenobites. While some of the visual and practical effects haven’t aged too well, and it’s true that only three of the Cenobites are interesting to behold, there’s a lot of ambition and passion crammed into Hellraiser, certainly more than you see in many horror films. Clive Barker’s depraved imagination is on show in all its twisted glory here and it makes for a fundamentally unique horror experience, one that opts for a horror both subtle and explicit at the same time and which presents a concept that’s terrifying in its implications and sadly robbed of all nuance in subsequent sequels.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a Hellraiser fan? If you read The Hellbound Heart, what did you think to the film as an adaptation? What did you think to the Cenobites and the gruesome practical effects used to bring them, and Frank, to life? Were you intrigued by the disturbing mixture of sex and torture offered by the Cenobites? What did you think to Pinhead compared to other horror villains? Which of the Hellraiser sequels was your favourite, if any, and what did you think to their degradation of the original’s nuance? Whatever your thoughts on Hellraiser feel free to share them below or start the discussion on my social media.

Game Corner: Dead Space (Xbox 360)

Released: 13 October 2008
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox One and Xbox Series S/X (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
Dead Space was the creation of Glen Schofield, who was inspired by the likes of Silent Hill (Konami/Various, 1999 to 2012) and Resident Evil (Capcom/Various, 1996 to present) and attracted the attention of a small, but committed, team of developers and Electronic Art’s (EA) Redwood Studios. The team worked tirelessly to put together a proof of concept and push the game within the company, and constantly tweaked the different gameplay mechanics to keep things action-packed and tense. Crucially, Dead Space opted to forgo a traditional heads-up display (HUD) and render cutscenes and story sequences using the in-game engine to avoid breaking the player’s immersion, and combat became more about dismembering enemies rather than mindlessly blasting away. Dead Space is an extremely well-regarded title; reviewers praised the innovative mechanics and horrifying atmosphere, though the story faced some criticism. Still, the game sold over one million copies and kicked off a successful new survival-horror franchise that came to be comprised of animated tie-ins, sequels, and even a next generation remake.

The Plot:
When a massive deep-space mining ship goes dark after unearthing a strange artifact on a distant planet., troubled engineer Isaac Clarke joins the repair mission, only to uncover a nightmarish bloodbath as the ship’s crew have been horribly slaughtered and infected by alien scourge known as Necromorphs.

Gameplay:
Dead Space is a third-person, survival/horror action shooter with an emphasis on atmospheric horror, light puzzle solving, and exploration. Players are placed into the mute boots of engineer Isaac, who spends pretty much the entire game garbed in a steampunk-like work suit and hiding behind a glowing helmet. Isaac comes armed with a Plasma Cutter by default, but has a few options available to him when it comes to combat: players can hold down the Left Trigger to enter aiming mode (and, crucially, can move while aiming and shooting) and press the Right Trigger to fire their weapon. Outside of aiming mode, you can press RT to throw a slow, clunky, and awkward melee attack to fend off Necromorphs, hold the Left Bumper to jog along a bit faster, to press the Right Bumper to deliver a big stomp to downed Necromorphs or break open crates. There’s no jump or dodge function, but you can press A to interact with consoles or shake off Necromorphs when they grab or claw at you; providing you have some Med Packs on hand, you can heal yourself by pressing X, the directional pad (D-pad) functions as a shortcut to your weapons and allows you to quickly switch between up to four guns on the fly, and you can reload by pressing LT and A or switch to an alternative fire mode by pressing LT and RB.

Dismember enemies, move objects with Kinesis, or freeze them in place with Stasis.

While most of this is standard third-person fare, Isaac also acquires a couple of “modules” that allow him to perform a few unique tricks: You can activate the Kinesis Module by holing LT and pressing B, which will allow you to move certain obstacles out of the way, activate certain consoles, and move platforms and doors to progress further and solve problem. While you can use this as much as you like, the Stasis Module is limited by a meter than can only be replenished at refill stations scattered around the game’s locations or with a pickup. Stasis can be used to freeze enemies in place for a limited time, slow fans or other hazards, and is crucial to keeping you safe from attacks or the game’s many instant-kill traps. Unlike many other videogames, Isaac’s health, ammo, and Stasis meter are all displayed either on his suit or on his weapon, a system that easily allows you to see how well you’re doing or when you need to reload or replenish your meters. You can access your inventory, map, and current objectives by pressing the ‘Back’ button (though this won’t pause the game) and are given the option of dropping items if your inventory is full, or dropping them in a safe at Store stations found around the game’s environments. While the map isn’t too clear, you can press in the right analogue stick at any time to drop a light that will briefly point you in the right direction, which is super helpful; slightly less helpful is the abundance of text and holographic imagery that appears onscreen to advance the story and mask the game’s loading screens, though this does flesh out the story and point you towards your next objective. Although you have to manually save the game at save stations, the game does actually contain checkpoints; so, if you die halfway between save points, you’ll respawn pretty close to where you were split in two by a Necromorph.

Puzzles involve activating or repairing consoles, avoiding hazards, and eliminating Necromorphs.

Dead Space’s story is split into twelve chapters, with each one separated by a tram-like system around the ship, and can initially be played on Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty settings, with additional difficulties being unlocked after you complete the story. You cannot replay previous chapters at will, so if you miss any of the pick-ups or collectibles, you’re either going to have to start over or make multiple save files. For the most part, it’s pretty simple to figure out where to go and what you need to do but the camera is placed very close to Isaac at times; when aiming, I found that his character model took up quite a bit of the screen, which made it difficult to get off a good shot (something that’s pretty important considering you need to dismember the Necromorphs to kill them rather than shooting at their bodies). Isaac’s objectives don’t tend to get more complicated than exploring a foreboding area of the ship, fending off Necromorphs, and recovering key items such as a key card, a piece of machinery, or other object and bringing it (or them) back to another area or non-playable character (NPC) to repair a console, machine, or other part of the ship or progress further. Sometimes, areas will get locked down as a quarantine is put into effect and you’ll need to hold out against waves of Necromorphs; other times, the ship decompresses or starts exploding around you; but, mostly, you’ll need to use Stasis or Kinesis to slow down hazards, move platforms, or activate switches to get closer to your objective. While you’re often tasked with moving big batteries around with Kinesis to power up lifts, you’ll also need to kill special Necromorphs that are poisoning the air in the botanical gardens, watch out for air vents, whipping power lines, and laser cutters that threaten to splatter or skewer you or your enemies, clear an area of radioactive material in order to restore gravity and power, and dash through (or shield yourself) from bursts of flame while shooting electrical panels to open doors.

Watch your air supply in a vacuum, jump around in zero gravity, and blast asteroids with gun turrets.

Indeed, a prominent aspect of Dead Space is the presence of zero gravity areas; here, you need to hold down LT and press Y to leap across the environment, often while fending off Necromorphs, moving items with Kinesis or activating consoles. You can’t jump to every part of the environment, and the game will notify you when you’re trying to jump to the wrong part of the floor (or ceiling), and it can be a bit disorientating trying to direct yourself in these areas, though they do help to break up the gameplay a bit. There are also many sections that take place either in a vacuum or out in the depths of space; here, sounds are suitably muted, your flamethrower won’t work, and you are in a race against time to cross through the vacuum to the next air lock before your oxygen supply runs out. You can replenish your oxygen supply at refill stations or with items, though, and increase your capacity using Power Nodes; sometimes, you’ll have to deal with zero gravity and a vacuum at the same time. A little more variety is added to the game in a couple of sections where Isaac takes the controls of a massive gun turret to fire at incoming asteroids or a gigantic Necromorph using LT and RT (both separately and at the same time) to keep the ship from being destroyed, but don’t get too trigger happy or you’ll have to wait for the turret to cool down from overheating.

Graphics and Sound:
If I had to use one word to describe Dead Space, “atmospheric” would spring instantly to mind. Players spend the majority of the game exploring a deep space mining vessel, the Ishimura, which has been absolutely wrecked by the outbreak of the Necromorph virus. Dead bodies, blood stains, claw marks, and even dismembered NPCs are all over the place; sometimes they’re still alive and shoot themselves in a frenzy, other times they’re torn apart by Necromorphs, and there’s one harrowing moment where it looks as though a mass suicide has taken place. Ominous words written in blood can be seen everywhere and you can never be too careful when turning a corner as Necromorphs have a nasty tendency to burst out from air vents, glass capsules, or from every nook and cranny to attack you. Sometimes, a massive tentacle will grab at you and drag you around by the ankle, forcing you to blast at its tumour-like weak spot, and visibility it often low thanks to a foreboding darkness, intermittent lighting and power failures, and bursts of flames and electrical sparks in the flickering darkness.

The environment is suitably bleak, blood-soaked, and teeming with atmospheric horror.

The best way to describe this game is by calling it Resident Evil meets Event Horizon (Anderson, 1997); the technology and environments all have the same “lived in” feel of that gloriously entertaining space horror and the sense of dread that constantly hangs in the air is just as palpable. Nowhere is this comparison more apt than in one particularly annoying mission where you have to plant markers on a giant asteroid being mined by lasers; the asteroid is protected by huge concentric rings that will slice you in two and is heavily reminiscent of Event Horizon’s Gravity Drive. Other notable areas of the ship include a cargo bay medical facility, the aforementioned botanical gardens, and the main bridge, all of which are crawling with hazards or Necromorphs waiting to pounce on you. You’ll find workstations in disarray, ammo, credits, and collectibles in lockers and crates, and areas frozen from exposure to the void of space. At one point, another ship crashes into the Ishimura and you have to help guide and load up a shuttle with the dangerous “Red Marker” that is the cause of all this chaos, a mission that also forces Isaac to face up to some unsettling truths on the hellish planet of Aegis VII for the finale.

Isaac may not say anything, but he gets lots of video messages and is a surprisingly complex character.

You don’t really interact with too many NPCs outside of holographic messages, video calls, or seeing them shielding behind glass or trapped in other rooms. There are some exceptions, however, such as Isaac’s frequent encounters with his wife, Nicole, who he thought was dead and whose voice and memories haunt him throughout the story. Although Isaac himself doesn’t actually talk (always a weird decision for a third-person shooter, I find), you can review his thoughts in his mission log and objectives, and he cuts a formidable and interesting figure. His suit and helmet are instantly iconic and, though they hide his face throughout the game, they make him seem almost as horrific as the creatures he encounters and his grunts of pain and panting wheezes when in a vacuum or running low on health really add to his otherwise blank personality. Transferring the HUD to Isaac’s suit and weapons is a great way to keep the screen from getting too cluttered, and the use of ambient sounds (particularly a haunting rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”) really add to the game’s horrifying, ominous sense of dread and claustrophobia. Even brightly lit or familiar areas aren’t always a safe haven as the ship can be thrust into a lockdown or dead bodies can suddenly burst to life as Necromorphs, often even while you’re trying to save the game.

Enemies and Bosses:
Isaac is hounded throughout his treacherous and nightmarish mission by demonic Necromorphs, which come in all shapes and sizes and are the result of a horrific alien virus that reanimates corpses and transforms them into shrieking, taloned beasts hungry for human flesh. The most common variant is the Slasher, a blood-soaked, malformed corpse that sports blade-like appendages and shambles towards you either alone or in groups. As with the vast majority of the Necromorphs, these are best dispatched by targeting their limbs rather than their central mass; dismember their insectile arms to keep them from skewering you, and cut off their legs to slow their movement, but be sure to make sure they’re really dead as these bastards have a tendency to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’! Other common enemies includes the Lurker (a sort of disembodied head that sports three tentacles, hops all over the walls and ceilings, and fire projectiles at you), the Leaper (which, as its name suggests, leaps at you (appearing to float in zero gravity areas) and scuttles across surfaces whipping its scorpion-like tail at you), and the bulbous Pregnant (which lumbers about and bursts forth a swarm of tiny Necromorphs that can quickly whittle down your health bar). Rather than facing off against a boss at the end of each chapter, Isaac will generally encounter newer and deadlier variants of the Necromorphs in each area: The Exploders shuffle about and try to blow you up with their huge, explosive arm (which you can shoot to blow them up, and any nearby Necromorphs), bat-like Infectors will try to attach themselves to you and cause any nearby corpses to burst to life as dangerous Necromorphs, and the corpse-like Dividers are gangly, gory corpses that split into smaller, equally dangerous Necromorphs after being downed.

Some massive monstrosities await you in Dead Space, but most have nice, obvious weak spots to shoot.

Large Brutes often act as sub-bosses and must be slowed with Stasis so you can target their various weak spots across their armour-like hide, and you’ll encounter Guardians merged with the walls and have to fend off the Pods they spit out, watch for their instant-kill attack, and severe the tentacles tying them to the Corruption that covers the environment. That’s not to say that there aren’t encounters that could be called boss battles in the game; the intimidating Hunter regenerates lost limbs and tissue so fast that, at first, all you can do is hit it with Stasis or temporarily immobilise it while running to safety. To properly destroy these creatures, you’ll need to lure them into a cryogenic chamber or behind the thrusters of a space shuttle and hold them in place with Stasis and get them into their regeneration animation to put them down once and for all. You’ll also battle the gigantic Leviathan in the food storage area of the ship; this battle takes place in zero gravity and sees you dodging tentacles and firing at the tumorous lumps on its appendages to kill it off. A similar creature, the Slug, attaches itself to the outer hull of the Ishimura and begins ripping it apart, forcing you to man the controls of a gun turret and blast at its tentacles and the debris it throws your way. After being tricked into activating the Red Marker, Isaac must face down the Hive Mind on Aegis VII; this eldritch abomination is a mess of flesh, tentacles, and teeth but sports yellow/green tumorous growths in its gaping maw that you can shoot to damage it. As long as you avoid its massive tentacles and target these areas when its rib cage opens up, you can put this beast down pretty quickly and bring the Necromorph threat to an end.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Isaac has a decent variety of weapons at his disposal; the Plasma Cutter he begins the game with is pretty much capable of taking care of every enemy you come across, but you can also pick up a Pulse Rifle for rapid fire, a Line Launcher to shoot out explosives, a flamethrower, and the Ripper, which shoots out buzzsaw-like blades that you can direct to chop up incoming Necromorphs. Each weapon has an alternative fire mode and some are more useful against different enemies; you can charge up the Contact Beam to blow apart bigger enemies, for example, but it’s probably best to use the flamethrower when swarmed by little Necromorphs or to subdue large groups.

You can upgrade Isaac’s gear using Power Nodes, and buy and store items in the stores.

It pays to explore your environment from top to bottom, and to ransack the corpses of the Necromorphs you kill, to find ammo, health and restorative items, credits, and other items. These are often found in smashable boxes, crates and lockers or strewn around the environment, but be wary as you only have a limited inventory. You can, however, expand your inventory, health bar, Stasis meter, and the power, capacity, and reload speed of your weapons at Workbenches. Here, you can spend Power Nodes you’ve either found or bought on the skill tree of each weapon, your modules, and your suit, though you’ll need a hell of a lot of them to upgrade all of Isaac’s weapons and equipment. You can also find blueprints to allow you to buy new weapons, better restorative items, and even better suits that increase your maximum health, meter, and air supply, so be sure to search all around and focus your efforts on upgrading what works best for you.

Additional Features:
There are forty-eight Achievements on offer in Dead Space, with one popping after you complete each chapter. You’ll get Achievements for dismembering a certain number of limbs, killing a certain number of enemies with each weapon, acquiring every weapon in the game, and completing the story, and for upgrading every weapon and piece of equipment available to you. There are also audio logs to be found to flesh out the story and earn you some G, secret areas to find, and mini games to play that will pop an Achievement. These include a shooting gallery and a zero gravity ball game, and you’ll also get Achievements for keeping the ship’s hull integrity above a certain percentage when shooting down incoming asteroids. After finishing the game on Easy mode, I unlocked a new suit for Isaac, additional logs, 50000 credits, ten Power Nodes, and “Impossible Mode” (which, I assume, is a one-life-only type of mode). While you don’t get to replay specific chapters, you can replay the game from the beginning with all of the weapons, upgrades, and gear you’ve collected, but the lack of a chapter select means that tracking down the last of those Achievements can be a bit of a slog.

The Summary:
Being a big fan of the Resident Evil franchise, and having largely exhausted the games available to me in that series, I was eager to get my teeth into Dead Space and found that it more than scratched my itch for an atmospheric, claustrophobic survival/horror experience. Infusing a desolate sci-fi aesthetic into the genre was an ingenious idea and had me constantly thinking back to films like Event Horizon and games like Doom (id Software, 1993) thanks to the merger of horror, sci-fi, and demonic imagery. While I could have done with the camera being pulled back just a tad and Isaac could be a little clunky to control at times (a quick-turn function really would have helped), and it was pretty much impossible to upgrade all of his gear in one playthrough, I found myself really enjoying the ominous aesthetic of the game, the tight dark corridors, and the thrill of each encounter and managing my resources. I was worried that the limb-targeting system would be difficult to get the hang of but I picked it up pretty easily and was soon dismembering Necromorphs left and right, but even on the easiest setting the game offers a decent challenge as enemies can take a fair bit of damage before finally going down and it’s easy to get overwhelmed or blunder into traps and instant-death hazards. Still, the game had a fantastic atmosphere, tight controls, and intriguing premise, and a suitably morbid and gory presentation and I found myself thoroughly entertaining as I ploughed through each chapter, splattering Necromorph (or Isaac’s) guts all over the walls and clear just one more chapter and I’m excited to tackle the second game in the near future.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever played the original Dead Space? How do you think it compares to other survival/horror titles and do you think it still holds up today? What did you think to the game’s enemies, aesthetic, and mechanics? Did you like the mixing of sci-fi with survival/horror or did you find the game a bit derivative? Which of the game’s weapons and was your favourite and what did you think to Isaac as a protagonist? Which game in the Dead Space franchise is your favourite and are you looking forward to the remake? What horror-theme videogames are you playing this October in anticipation of Halloween? Whatever your thoughts on Dead Space, drop them below or comment on my social media.

Talking Movies: V/H/S

Talking Movies

Released: 5 October 2012
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence
Distributor:
Lionsgate
Budget: $15 million
Stars:
Kentucker Audley, Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman, Drew Sawyer, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Norma C. Quinones, Bryce Burke, Helen Rogers, Daniel Kaufman, Tyler Gillett, and Nicole Erb

The Plot:
A gang of criminals is paid to ransack and old man’s (Frank Stack) house and finds a stack of VHS tapes, each one containing a gruesome horror story in the form of found footage. These depict a group of friends looking to make an amateur porn video and crossing paths with a demonic succubus, a couple on a road trip who encounter a strange girl, a group of friends lured into the woods to confront a supernatural entity, a university student who experiences paranormal activity in her flat, and four friends who run afoul of a cult performing an exorcism.

The Background:
Since I grew up watching The Outer Limits (1995 to 2002) and am a big fan of movies like Creepshow (Romero, 1982) and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (Harrison, 1990), I have quite a soft spot for anthology films, especially those involving science-fiction and horror. V/H/S was the brainchild of Brad Miska, the creator of Bloody Disgusting, who reached out to the directors and creative minds he had met through his website about contributing to a horror anthology. Capitalising on the success of the found footage genre, the creators were given complete reign to submit whatever proposals they have for the project. V/H/S premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it was positively received, and even got a limited theatrical release. Generally, V/H/S received mixed reviews; while some praised the film’s consistently high quality, others took issue with the concept’s execution, though its $1.9 million gross was enough to finance two sequels, a spin-off, and an eventual reboot of sorts.

The Reviews:
Like Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, V/H/S is an anthology film made up of a framing narrative and several short horror stories so it only makes sense to review each one individually before talking about the overall film, which means that this review will be structured a little differently from my usual ones.

A gang of miscreants are stalked by a zombie while they view macabre videotapes.

“Tape 56” (Wingard) is probably the weakest of all the short stories included in V/H/S but there’s a reason for that; it’s merely the frame narrative that follows a gang of criminals as they record themselves doing stupid shit around the city while dressed like “gangsters”. They drive around at high speeds, accost a couple and forcibly pull a girl’s top up, smash windows and damage and deface property, try to make amateur sex tapes, and generally act like a bunch of complete douchebags. They get a bit more than they bargained for, however, when Gary (Bruckner) says they can get huge score but simply breaking into an old man’s house and stealing a VHS tape, only to find a dead body in the house and stacks upon stacks of the defunct media cassettes. While the others search the house looking for the objective, Brad (Adam Wingard) stays behind and watches the short films that make up the rest of the film; between each story, the film cuts back to Brad to see his reaction and, as the film progresses, Brad mysteriously disappears, leaving Rox (Audley) to take over the viewing. Although the thugs eventually decide to simply take all of the tapes, the old man’s corpse disappears from the background and the shit-kicking assholes are left to be are torn apart by the zombified homeowner.

Three friends are horrified to find they’ve brought a ravenous succubus back to their hotel room!

“Amateur Night” (Bruckner) is easily the stand-out short of the film since it went on to inspire a spin-off movie; however, while I do consider it to be a great opening story for the movie, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was the best of them. Shane (Mike Donlan), Patrick (Joe Sykes), and Clint (Sawyer) are three friends who have rented a hotel room and plan to hit the nightclubs and brings girls back there to film a porno using special video glasses worn by Clint. While Clint is unsure about the deception, his two loudmouth frat-boy friends are insistent on going through with the plan and waste no time in hitting up Lisa (Jas Sams) and successfully convincing her to go back to their hotel room while Clint catches the attention of shy Lily (Fierman), a timid, mousy girl who approaches him and says that she “likes [him]”. The four head back to the hotel room, with the three fiends completely rat-assed; Lisa is so out of it that she passes out soon after they get back and, though she continues trying to awkwardly seduce Clint, Lily soon finds herself the target of Shane and Patrick. Hurt and disgusted that his friends would take advantage of a girl he was interested in, Clint locks himself in the bathroom so he doesn’t have to watch and record the threesome but his shock at Lily’s cat-like demeanour and her clawed feet soon turns to terror when Patrick bursts in with a huge chunk taken out of his hand and Lily suddenly sprouts fangs and rips Shane to shreds! When Patrick tires to fight her, she shrugs off the attack and pounces on him with superhuman ferocity, drinking his blood and ripping off his genitals! Terrified, Clint flees into the stairwell, where he trips and falls and breaks his wrist; the blood-soaked succubus, her face split down the middle, approaches Clint and is so distraught at his fear of her that she unleashes a diabolical roar and transforms into a demonic winged creature and carries him off into the night to an unknown fate.

A couple are toyed with by a mysterious masked stalker while on a road trip.

“Second Honeymoon” (West) is probably the creepiest of all the short films if only because it seems like a plausible scenario that could happen in reality. Sam (Swanberg) and Stephanie (Takal) are a young married couple on a road trip to Arizona for their honeymoon; Stephanie is documenting the trip on her camera, which features such exciting stuff as getting “gas”, spotting bullet-riddled car husks, petting donkeys, and staying is dirty hotel rooms thanks to Sam not reserving better lodgings. When they visit a Wild West-themed resort, Stephanie is told by an animatronic that she’ll soon be reunited with a loved one, but Sam is disheartened when she later asks him not to record them doing sexual stuff in the hotel room. While trying to put him off, they are interrupted when a strange young girl (Kate Lyn Sheil) knocks on their door and asks them for a ride in the morning. Creeped out by the incident (and the girl, whom Sam found weirdly intimidating), Sam chooses to worry about it in the morning; while they’re sleeping, however, a masked stranger enters the room without them noticing, caresses Stephanie with a switchblade, steals $100 from Sam’s wallet, and washes his toothbrush in the toilet bowl in an incredibly unsettling scene. The next day, after brushing his teeth with the soiled toothbrush (!), the girl is nowhere to be seen and the couple get into an argument when Sam accuses Stephanie of taking the money; Sam insinuates that it’s not the first time she’s done something like that but, though this creates some tension, they are still able to enjoy themselves when they visit the Grand Canyon. Back at the hotel room, Sam suggests stopping off in Las Vegas the next day but, unfortunately for him, he never gets that far as he’s stabbed through the neck with the switchblade and chokes on his own blood when the stranger returns to the room that night. The short then ends with a shot of Stephanie making out with the stranger, revealed to be the young girl from the previous night, and then continuing on her journey with her lover.

Wendy lures her friends to the woods to bring out a supernatural killer.

In “Tuesday the 17th” (McQuaid), Wendy (Quinones) takes her new friends Joey Brenner (Drew Moerlein), Samantha (Jeannine Yoder), and Spider (Jason Yachanin) on her annual trip to a lake in a nearby secluded forest. Each of her friends are confused by Wendy’s traditional excursion out to the woodlands, and the fact that she has told each one a different story to get them up there. As they explore the woods, the camera sporadically glitches out and images of mutilated corpses are flashed onto the screen, which are made all the more disturbing by Wendy’s increasingly unsettling behaviour; she becomes stoic and morose, sullenly regards areas where the images appear, and promises Joey that they’re all going to die. As they relax with some weed by the lake, Wendy tells them that she experienced a series of gruesome murders there a few years ago and the culprit was never caught; though they laugh it off as a joke, Samantha is soon killed when a supernatural entity (Burke) that resembles a screen glitch kills her with a knife to the back of the head and then stabs Spider repeatedly in the forehead. After Joey turns down Wendy’s advances, she callously reveals that she lured them all there as bait for the entity, who slices Joey’s throat and relentlessly pursues Wendy through the woods. Determined to trap, kill, and identify the killer, Wendy lures it into a bear trap but the camera cannot register it as anything other than a glitched series of tracking errors; the entity escapes Wendy’s death traps, beats and eviscerates her, and as she lies quivering she too begins to glitch out.

Emily finds herself unwittingly manipulated by James into being an alien incubator.

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (Swanberg) mixes things up a bit by being framed entirely as a video chat between Emily (Rogers) and her boyfriend James (Kaufman), who is training to be a doctor. Initially, she’s mainly concerned about a strange bump on her arm but her troubles escalate after she moves into her new apartment and begins experiencing strange noises and disturbances. James is sceptical and believes that she was merely dreaming but, when she calls him in the dead of night, he sees a child-like entity rush in and slam the door shut. Although he dismisses this in the morning, Emily shares how she had a similar haunting experienced as a child that left her needing surgery and complains that the pain in her arm is worsening. The next night, James watches and guides as Emily tries to confront the entity, which appears as a small, neon green creature and the experiences only distress her more when she learns from her landlord that no children have ever lived in the building and no one has ever died in there either. James is distressed to find Emily digging at the lump on her arm with a meat fork similar to how she permanently scarred herself cutting into her leg as a child and promises to check it out in person as soon as possible. Ashamed and increasingly horrified, Emily agrees to stop and wash it off and then asks James to be her eyes while she tries to communicate with the ghosts, but when she’s knocked unconscious by the children he rushes into the room and slices open her torso to extract an alien embryo! Revealed to have been working with the aliens and harming Emily for years in order to incubate their alien/human hybrids, James promises to stand by Emily even after she’s been diagnosed as schizoaffective but is also shown to be having similar manipulative talks with another female incubator (Liz Harvey).

Four friends save a girl from a cult but find themselves beset by all manner of restless spirits.

Finally, “10/31/98” (Radio Silence) follows friends Tyler (Gillett), Chad (Chad Villella), Matt (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin), and Paul (Paul Natonek) as they head to a Halloween party at a friend’s house while dressed in ridiculous costumes. Unbeknownst to them, they end up at the wrong house but simply believe that they’re the first ones to arrive; after sneaking inside, they soon experience paranormal events (such as flickering lights, ghostly reflections, and hands reaching out of the walls to grab them) but foolishly believe that it’s all part of the experience and that the party has been themed around a haunted house. When they head up into the attic in search of the party, though, they find a girl (Erb) suspended from the rafters and at the mercy of a group of men performing an exorcism by chanting “Cast him down”. The friends join in, believing that it’s all part of the fun, and anger the cult’s leader (John Walcutt) in the process; the interruption causes the cult members to be brutally manhandled by an unseen force and, though the friends initially flee, Tyler convinces them to go back to help the girl. After freeing the girl from her bonds, they are beset by all manner of terrifying phenomena as ghostly arms try to grab them, objects are tossed around at them, handprints appear on the walls, and the very house itself closes up in an attempt to trap them. While they manage to escape through the basement as the demonic poltergeists rampage through the house, their car suddenly stops across a set of train tracks and the girl teleports out into the road, walking away surrounded by crows as a train races towards the car and its trapped inhabitants.

The Nitty-Gritty:
If you’re not really a fan of found footage films then V/H/S probably isn’t going to be the movie for you; the entire film is shot using handheld, low quality cameras, meaning that there’s a lot of shaky camera movements, wild sweeping panning, film jumps and visual glitches, and scratchy, low quality sound permeating the whole movie. Additionally, this isn’t really a film where you learn a great deal about the characters; each short has a few minutes to show a snapshot of its characters lives and set up the scenario they’ve been placed in, so it’s not really an in-depth character study or with any goal other than to disturb and unsettle its audience.

V/H/S uses the found footage genre to put an intense twist on well-known horror tropes.

In this regard, V/H/S/ largely succeeds; each of the shorts is distinct enough so that there’s something here for even the most hardened horror fans. From a bloodthirsty succubus to a glitchy phantasm and demonic poltergeists, there’s plenty of variety on offer in V/H/S and even if you don’t like one or more of the stories there’s probably going to be at least one that leaves you a little intrigued. Personally, I enjoy elements from all of the stories; I like seeing the asshole gang in the framing story get beheaded and picked off by the old man, the design of the succubus is downright disturbing and it’s easy to see how the concept was expanded upon into its own movie, and the glitch ghost is a terrifying concept that puts a unique spin on the cliché “haunted woods” setting. The idea of a wife conspiring against their husband is a palpable horror, as is that of aliens taking the form of disquieting child ghosts, and coercing a human into helping them breed disgusting hybrids is as disturbing as it is sickening for James’ wilful manipulation of the girls he influences. Similarly, while “10/31/98” is probably the most cliché of all the shorts, it’s a suitably tense and discomforting end to the film.

One of the most memorable parts of the film is how bleak and brutal its stories are.

Indeed, one of the things I really enjoy about V/H/S is how spectacularly bleak it is; basically every character dies and each short ends with the suggestion that a greater evil, be it supernatural or extraterrestrial, exists to threaten humanity in some way. “Tape 56” has startling implications in that it suggests that all of these events happened in this fictional world and I enjoy how each short leaves a lot of questions and loose ends for audience interpretation; like, who was that girl and what was the deal with her relationship with Samantha? Where did the glitch ghost come from and how did Wendy escape from it? How long have those aliens been implanting their hybrids into unassuming young women? For me, it’s all very imaginative and leads to some fun speculation; additionally, the entire film is like a series of short, sharp nightmares that set up a simple premise with realistic characters and then goes out of its way to be as unsettling and disturbing as possible. In this regard, the shaky camera really helps escalate the tension and the horror, as does the low camera quality; everything feels as it would if we were experiencing it first-hand and not being able to properly make out things being seen or heard onscreen just makes things more chaotic and horrific.

The Summary:
V/H/S is quite the bold experiment; by roping in a bunch of amateur filmmakers can giving them free reign to craft short, sharp snippets of horror, Brad Miska delivered quite the macabre collection that would be a treat for any horror fan. Sure, found footage films and shaky cam filming is an overdone cliché in this day and age as it seemed like everyone was doing it at one point, and it can be a nauseating and confusing filmmaking method but, in certain situations, it’s appropriate, especially when it’s done well. For my money, V/H/S uses the technique to great effect; anthology films aren’t too common these days, potentially because it can be difficult crafting the individual stories and for audiences to properly connect with the ever-changing narratives, but I find them endlessly entertaining. The short horror stories on show here provide just enough to unsettle, terrify, and inspire personal interpretation and imagination regarding each scenario and the greater world on show, and I found even the film’s rougher edges to be all part of its charm so I definitely feel like V/H/S has been unfairly overlooked in the pantheon of independent horror.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever seen V/H/S? What did you think of it and which of the short stories was your favourite? How did you interpret the worlds presented in the short stories and which of them would you have liked to see expanded upon? Are you a fan of anthology narratives? If so, would you like to see more and which anthology show is your favourite? What horror films are you watching this month in preparation for Halloween? Whatever you think about V/H/S, feel free to leave a comment by signing up or visiting my social media and pop back next Monday for my review of the sequel!

Talking Movies: Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

Talking Movies

Released: 4 May 1990
Director: John Harrison
Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Budget: $3.5 million
Stars:
Deborah Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater, William Hickey, David Johansen, James Remar, and Rae Dawn Chong

The Plot:
Timmy (Lawrence) has been imprisoned by a suburban witch (Harry) who plans to cook and eat him; his only hope is to stall her with three stories from a horror book that depict a graduate student who uses a mummy to avenge himself on those who have wronged him, a wealthy old man who hires a hitman to kill a cat he believes is haunting him, and a struggling artist who finds fame and fortune but at terrible cost!

The Background:
In 1982, the grandfather of zombie horror himself, George A. Romero, joined forces with my favourite writer of all time, Stephen King, to write and direct Creepshow (Romero, 1982), a horror anthology movie that won over critics with its blend of comedy and horror, becoming a cult classic in the process. Having grossed $21 million against an $8 million budget, Creepshow was successful enough to raise interest in a potential television series; however, distribution issues led to Laurel Entertainment (Creepshow’s producers) opting to create the similar show, Tales from the Darkside, instead. Following a pilot episode in 1983, Tales from the Darkside ran for four seasons and produced eighty-nine official episodes between 1984 and 1988, and featured works or adaptations from the likes of Stephen King and Clive Barker. Since the show had also achieved cult status, and given that horror and sci-fi anthologies were still relatively popular back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, its perhaps not too surprising that the show was succeeded by a big-screen feature film. Largely regarded as the true successor to Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie’s $16.3 million gross made it a modest success. Reviews were mixed, however, and plans for a sequel were scrapped and writer Joe Hill was equally unsuccessful when he tried to get a reboot off the ground.

The Reviews:
Since Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is an anthology film compiled of a framing narrative and three short horror stories, it only makes sense to review each one individually and then discuss the overall film, so this review will be structured a little differently from my usual ones.

Timmy distracts his captor with horror stories and ultimately overcomes the witch.

The film’s framing narrative, “The Wraparound Story”, is easily the weakest part of the film, though even this has its simple charms; Betty is an affluent suburban housewife whose pleasant and polite demeanour hides the amusingly horrific truth that she is actually a witch. Some time prior to the film, she kidnapped young Timmy and has had him chained up in a dungeon in her kitchen, where she has been feeding him cookies and other snacks to fatten him up for a big dinner party for her other friends (presumably also witches). Although Timmy desperately cries for help, Betty nonchalantly prepares her oven and her evisceration implements; desperate to delay his impending death, Timmy reads her stories from her favourite childhood book, Tales from the Darkside. Once each of the short films has finished, Timmy continues to read from the book and, thanks to Betty’s fondness for the stories and her desire to hear a love story, she is suitably distracted but remains undeterred in her wish to gut him and cook him. Thankfully, Timmy’s efforts buy him the time to think of an escape plan and, as Betty moves to get him, he tosses some marbles onto the floor that cause her to slip and impale herself on her own butcher’s block! Timmy then frees himself, shoves her into the oven originally meant for him, and rewards himself with a well-deserved cookie.

Bellingham uses an ancient scroll to avenge himself using reanimated mummies.

The first story, “Lot 249”, is an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story of the same name; the short follows two rich college students, Andy Smith (Slater) and his best friend Lee Monkton (Robert Sedgwick), who is not only dating Andy’s sister, Susan (Julianne Moore), but has also succeeded in conning the administration into awarding him an all-expenses trip to Europe thanks to Susan writing his scholarship proposal for him. While Andy disapproves of Lee’s moral deception, it is of particular aggravation to Edward Bellingham (Buscemi), a much poorer student who pays his way through college by selling antiquities and other artefacts. Though friendly enough with Andy, who lives in dormitory above him, Bellingham’s introduction to Lee is met with tension; still, Bellingham delights in showing them his latest acquisition, the titular Lot 249, which he believes will make up for him being cheated out of the scholarship by an anonymous tip accusing him of theft. Lot 249 is a massive sarcophagus that contains a dried out, ancient mummy with a scroll in its stomach which, despite his claims to the contrary, Bellingham is fully capable of reading. Aware that Lee screwed him out of his scholarship, Bellingham wastes no time in reading from the scroll to bring the mummy to unlife and promptly sending it after Lee. The rich jock is completely blindsided by the superhumanly strong mummy, who violently pulls Lee’s brains out through his nose and leaves them in a fruit bowl. Susan has little time to process Lee’s death as Bellingham sends his mummy after her next since he knows that she framed him; although she attempts to fight back, the mummy rips open her back with a pair of scissors and stuffs her full of chrysanthemums! Andy’s suspicions about Bellingham’s involvement are only further confirmed at the sight of his sister’s bandage-wrapped corpse; he attacks Bellingham and ties him to a chair, easily dispatching the mummy using a battery-powered saw to cut off its leg and then slice its head in half. Threatening to burn Bellingham alive using his Master’s thesis for kindling, Andy settles for setting fire to the scroll and sends Bellingham packing. However, the maniacal Bellingham gets the last laugh, having tricked Andy with a fake scroll; he uses the real one to resurrect Lee and Susan as mummified corpses and sends them after Andy in the story’s finale.

A supernatural cat haunts an old man and drives him to hire a hitman to dispose of it.

Next is “Cat from Hell”, which is an adaptation of a Stephen King short story of the same name and was written for the film by Romero. Drogan (Hickey) is an incredibly wealthy, incredibly fail old man who is bound to a wheelchair but wields considerable power and influence thanks to having amassed a bountiful fortune in pharmaceuticals. Drogan lives alone in a vast mansion furnished with “everything you could want; everything you could ever want” but all the money in the world can’t quell his fear and paranoia regarding a particular black cat that haunts his house. Drogan hires hitman Halston (Johansen), a grim and professional man, to take care of his feline stalker; at first, Halston is incredulous and dismissive of the job but is convinced by the old man’s down payment of $50,000 to learn the story behind the cat. Drogan reveals that his company’s wonder drug was created by experimenting on and killing over fifty-thousand cats and he believes that the black cat is a supernatural form of karmic revenge sent to address the balance; his sister, Amanda (Dolores Sutton), was tripped by the cat and broke her neck falling down the stairs, the cat then suffocated Amanda’s friend, Carolyn (Alice Drummond), with its body while she slept, and then attacked the butler, Richard Gage (Mark Margolis), as he was driving to dispose of it, with each victim dying at precisely midnight. Though believing the old man is delusional, Halston takes his money, and the job, but finds that killing the cat isn’t as easy as he initially believes. The cat scratches him when he tries to break its neck, continually eludes and swipes at him throughout the night (clawing at his crotch at one point), and even appears to be immune to Halston’s high-powered bullet when he tries to shoot it. Having been driven into a near frenzy by the cat, Halston fires blindly but is terrified out of his mind when the cat leaps at him and forces its way down his throat and into his body! The next morning, Drogan arrives home to find Halston dead on the floor; then, as the damaged grandfather clock strikes twelve midnight, the cat emerges from Halston’s bloodied corpse and leaps onto Drogan’s lap, causing the hold man to literally die from fright.

A struggling artist is wracked with guilt after making a promise to a fearsome gargoyle

The final segment, and quite possibly my favourite, is “Lover’s Vow”; Preston (Remar) is a struggling artist living in New York whose work is proving to be so unprofitable and unpopular that even his agent, Wyatt (Robert Klein) dumps him. Dejected and frustrated, he drowns his sorrows at his local bar; however, when the bar’s owner, Jer (Ashton Wise), offers to walk him home, the two are suddenly attacked in the alley outside the bar. Preston is horrified when he witnesses a large, winged gargoyle-like grotesque rip Jer’s hand off and then behead the bartender but, rather than kill Preston, it inexplicably offers him a deal: his life for his solemn vow that he will never speak of the horrors he has seen that night. Terrified out of his mind, Preston agrees and the creature leaves after clawing at his chest to seal the deal; disgusted at the gargoyle’s gruesome appearance, Preston comes across a stranger, Carola (Chong), in the aftermath and encourages her to get off the streets and go to his apartment to keep her safe from the beast. Enthralled by Preston’s artwork, Carola warms to him and cleans his wound and the two have a romantic tryst that leads to ten years of success and happiness for Preston thanks to Carola having connections that help his work take off. While a doting father to two young children and devoted husband, Preston is nonetheless haunted by memories of that night, and the creature, and tormented at having kept the truth from his beloved all these years. On the eve of the ten year anniversary of the night they met, Preston breaks down and confesses the truth, even showing Carola a statue and drawings of the creature but his guilt soon turns to horror as Carola transforms before his eyes into the same gargoyle that attacked him, her body splitting and tearing apart as the creature breaks free from its human form! To make matters worse, their children also transform into pint-sized gargoyles before Preston’s terrified eyes; heartbroken and distraught, Preston begs Carola to change back and professes his love but it’s not enough to undo his broken vow and the gargoyle rips his throat out with an anguished cry and flies off into the night, where it turns back into a stone statue with its two children.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Twilight Zone (1959 to 1964; 1985 to 1989) was a bit before my time (and wasn’t even on television when I was a kid, as far as I know) so I grew up watching The Outer Limits (1995 to 2001) instead; while I can’t recall right now when I first saw Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, I distinctly remember it being one of the key influences in my subsequent appreciation for anthology stories. The idea of having such wildly different short stories all in one movie was fascinating to me and it still is, as a storyteller myself. Each story has only a short amount of time to give a sense of who its characters are and make us care about them and I think Tales from the Darkside: The Movie does a pretty good job with that thanks to casting some young up-and-comers, noted character actors, and even a distinguished actor of stage and screen in William Hickey. Not only that, the film is bolstered by some pretty decent practical effects; while the mummy is a little stiff, the puppet cat looks a little fake, and the gargoyle is notably seeped in darkness to hide its flaws, each remains a frightening and startling monster thanks to how well the shorts tell their stories.

“Lot 249” more than makes up for the frame narrative’s lack of monsters and raw horror.

It’s not surprising that “The Wraparound Story” is the weakest part of the film; to be fair, it’s not really designed to anything more than provide a basic setup for why we’re being shown the other, superior short stories and in that regard it succeeds at being mildly entertaining, at least. However, while lacking the monsters, blood, and unsettling visuals of the other tales, the framing story seems much more geared towards youngsters than the rest of the film. I suppose the idea of a witch hiding in plain sight could be considered scary but Betty is so nice and the threat against Timmy is left implied rather than explicit, meaning the horror of the framing narrative is noticeably diminished for me compared to the other stories. While I consider “Lot 249” the weakest of the three main tales, even that proves to be an entertaining little horror romp thanks, largely, to the gory methods employed by Bellingham’s mummy. It’s pretty horrific to see it jam a twisted coat hanger up Lee’s nose and jerk his brains out, to say nothing of the graphic depiction of Susan’s back being violently cut open! Not only that but the short is bolstered by enjoyable performances by a young Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore; Slater, especially, shows so much charisma and likeability as Andy, who is easily able to cut up and subdue the mummy thanks to his being prepared, which only adds to the shocking twist of the short’s ending.

The film is bolstered by some disturbing visuals and gruesome (and practical) special effects.

“Cat from Hell” is easily the most traditionally terrifying story of the film; for some reason, this short always reminds me of “The Raven” (Poe, 1845) in the simplicity of its gothic horror and the way the short builds tension is incredibly effective as a lot of shots are from the cat’s point of view and yet the story doesn’t hold back in depicting the supernatural feline’s horrific nature. Watching Halston’s unshakable arrogance crack be replaced by a fanatical obsession is very unsettling but the true highlight of the piece is obviously in the disturbing and grotesque way Halston meets his end. Yes, the puppets and dummies are pretty obvious but the darkness helps hide a lot of the effects and it’s still very grotesque not only to see the cat force its way down his throat but also crawl out through his mouth in a burst of blood. The way it simply leaps onto Drogan’s lap and hisses at him as the old man succumbs to his terror is particularly ghastly and is only augmented by the haunting sound of the clock striking twelve, the intense score, and the slanted angle of the camera. It’s a bit of a tie between “Cat from Hell” and “Lover’s Vow” for which story is my favourite but “Lover’s Vow” is definitely the most tragic and distressing of the stories; while you can argue that the twist ending is somewhat predictable, for me it’s easily the most memorable and impactful part of the film and helped make it a truly nightmarish horror story. The short is made all the more memorable by some fantastically ambitious animatronics and puppet work on the gargoyle; Carola’s visceral transformation into the beast is right up there with the disgusting body horror seen in The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986) and is made all the more heart-wrenching by Preston’s anguished scream at seeing his children turned into little monsters as a result of him just being honest with his wife.

The Summary:
It’s probably just the nostalgia talking but I have a real soft spot for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. I remember being fascinated by it as a kid because I had only seen anthology narratives done in TV shows like The Outer Limits (or potentially this was my introduction to the concept, I honestly forget which is which) and I found the idea to be incredibly unique and substantial (it’s like getting four movies for the price of one!) Years later, and some time ago now, I got around to seeing Creepshow and don’t remember it resonating me in the same way as this film (though, to be fair, I really do need to give Creepshow another watch sometime), which had a profound influence on me as a horror fan and writer. The stories are incredibly bleak and intense considering their short length, and bolstered by some fun performances and gruesome use of both gore and ambitious practical effects. While there are other, better films and examples of these effects out there (and even from the same time period), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie does a pretty good job and standing the test of time not just through remarkably well shot animatronics and puppets but also in how raw and powerful its stories can be. While “The Wraparound Story” is easily skipped, even that helps to add a breather between each tale so you can catch your breath and prepare for the next gruesome tale, and I never fail to be haunted, moved, and disturbed by the stories on offer here, in particular “Cat from Hell” and “Lover’s Vow”, which are more than reason enough for you to give this one a try sometime.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever seen Tales from the Darkside: The Movie? Which of its short stories was your favourite and what did you think to the practical effects used to bring the horrors to life? Did you see the twist endings coming and which of the stories could you see expanded out into their own feature? Did you ever watch the television show? How would you rate this feature-length version of the show against other horror anthologies like Creepshow? Are you a fan of anthologies and would you like to see more? What horror films are you watching this month in preparation for Halloween? Whatever you think about Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, leave a comment by signing up or visiting my social media and pop back next Monday for more horror anthology shenanigans!