Now for the next pair of movies that share something in common. The first pair had female character names in the title (Veronica and Stephanie). This second pair is all about slimy practical-FX Hell movies. I know it’s a pretty specific niche, but it’s also a niche I happen to love. First up, is a delightfully gooey little gorefest called The Void. Pay attention though, there are quite a few movies called The Void, two even came out in 2016 alone. This is the one filled with slimy tentacle creatures, a creepy hooded cult with triangles covering their faces, and pretty much nonstop practical gore FX. If that last sentence made you perk up a bit, then you are definitely the target audience for this film. The Void is a low-budget flick about a small group of people in a hospital that become trapped when a strange cluster of hooded figures surround their building. As if being trapped by this cult wasn’t bad enough, now a few of the people in the hospital start to turn super violent and well, weird tentacles things pop up, and shit gets bad. Of course the only answer is to go deep into the basement of the hospital, that just may be a portal to Hell (or some kind of outer space equivalent.) Look, don’t go into this one for the storyline. It’s fine, sure, but that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for the awesome practical FX work. This film obviously started with the idea of doing an 80’s throwback, practical FX showcase, and went from there. I remember first hearing about this movie from the Kickstarter they set up years ago. In it, the footage and drawings they showed all focused on the gory practical FX work, so I’m pretty sure that’s where there heart was. If you’re a fan of great gooey, trippy, Lovecraftian, practical FX work like The Thing, this is a fun romp. There are obviously some nods to HP Lovecraft here, which is always welcome to me. The first half is focused more on the upper floor of the hospital, where there’s some nice mystery, killings and gore. But the second half, when they have to enter the (almost literal) bowels of the hospital, is where this baby really shines. They did so much amazing gory goodness on an obviously limited budget, and it really should be checked out. It’s a real showcase of artists who truly love splatter and goo. Bless them.
Yesterday I said that for the next few days I was going to do some back-to-back films that shared something in common. The first pair have a female character as the title, which obviously means we’re mostly focusing on them. Yesterday was the more pure horror of the two with Veronica. Today, I’m going with the stranger and odder of the two, Stephanie. This movie was a complete surprise for me, which is exactly what it needs to be in order to work. Again, right up front I’ll give another warning — Do Not Read Any Reviews. If you want this flick to fully hit you, you have to go in cold. I guess that means you might want to stop reading here too, but I won’t give any spoilers, so it’s up to you. Stephanie is about a young girl that has been left all alone in her house following some kind of global event that has killed a majority of the population. We follow her day-to-day life all by herself, how she exists, and how she passes the time. That would be all fine and good, except, well, there’s something haunting the house she’s in. Not only is she all by herself, but she has to deal with this ominous presence too. And that’s pretty much all I’ll say. Since the majority of the time we’re only following one character, that actress better be good. And it’s a kid, so it’s an even trickier proposition. Lucky for us, that is exactly why this film works. This young actress is amazing. You’re encapsulated by her every move, and you truly care for her. I obviously have an affinity toward films that are extremely polarizing, because this is another one has divided audiences right down the middle. Some people hate this movie, but who cares. I dug it. I love movies that are a bit left of center, try something new, or make you feel uncomfortable. This one manages to do all three. It’s not a typical horror film. It’s not a typical story. But it’s a great little mystery with some real scares, and some twists and turns that will keep you guessing. Limited location, limited cast, limited budget, and still extremely interesting. Go ahead and give it a try. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
For the next six days, I’m going to do something fun and pick movies in pairs that share something in common and put them back-to-back. Why? Hell, I don’t know. I’m just entertaining myself. To start, I’m picking the first of two newer movies that have a female character as the title. And since that character is the title of the film, it’s a pretty good guess that the film circles mostly around that character. Today I’m choosing Veronica. Veronica is a Spanish film that was co-written and directed by Paco Plaza, one half of the duo that brought us the incredible [REC] series ([REC], [REC]2, and [REC]3 all made this list in years’ past.) With Plaza behind the wheel, people were already buzzing about this one. Well, Veronica had a bit of a disservice done to it when it premiered on the festival circuit. The problem? It succeeded, wildly, and got too much buzz thrown on it. Articles immediately came out calling it “the most terrifying movie ever”. Films can rarely match that kind of immediate buzz thrust upon them. Well, sadly I’m here to tell you it’s not the most terrifying movie ever. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t great, because it is. Veronica is an old school spook fest. It’s got the tried and true staples of ouija boards, summoned demons, scary shadows, jump-scares a plenty, and even a creepy ass nun for good measure. It all circles around a true unexplained event that happened in Madrid back in 1991. A teenage girl messed with a ouija board then a few days later died under crazy unexplained circumstances. The film is partially based on the actual police report of the incident. Where this film succeeds is the same reason that movies like The Conjuring succeed. It’s because it focuses mainly on one family and the terrifying situations they’ve been thrust in. Add to it an absentee mother, and a teenage girl who’s picking up all the slack while dealing with the supernatural events, and you can actually feel Veronica’s helplessness. While it may not be the scariest ever, this thing is still pretty damn scary. It knows what it’s doing, and it delivers a rollicking fun ride. Temper those pre-buzz expectations, and you’ll still enjoy the hell out of this baby.
It’s been very entertaining to me seeing all the conversations amongst my horror crowd recently about the Exorcist II, ever since the new Scream Factory blu-ray came out. Most unanimously hate it, but there are some who still cherish Boorman’s insanity. Well, I’m not going to wade into those waters because, yeah… Instead I’m skipping that one and proudly giving you Exorcist III. I love this damn movie and feel like it got a bad rap when it was originally released. Yet, I think over the years, people have fully embraced this moody, creepy gem. Look, no one was ever going to be able to match the original Exorcist, still one of the single greatest horror creations ever. But if you’re going to make a true sequel, it was a smart move to go right back to the source. This one was written AND directed by William Peter Blatty, the lovely gentleman who wrote the original Exorcist. And he brought the story directly back to the original in a smart way. The storyline follows a grizzled cop trying to solve a series of brutal murders that all have a religious/sacrilegious slant. As he digs deeper the deaths begin to resemble those of a long-dead murderer called The Gemini Killer. As he digs even deeper still, he realizes these murders have a connection to the death of his old friend – Father Karras (the exorcist from the original film.) Boom. Now we’re connecting back to the original and we go from there. Exorcist III is ALL about creating an atmosphere of dread, and it works 1000x over. Plus, they didn’t pull any punches when it came to their casting choices. You’ve got George C. Scott in the lead. That’s top shelf right there. But then you’ve got Brad Dourif in such a perfect role for him (for the horror novice, Brad is a beloved horror icon, as well as the voice of Chucky in Child’s Play.) For a movie that came out in 1990 it sounds funny to say this, but I don’t want to reveal much more about Brad’s role because it is a pretty good twist. Now, I love this movie through and through, and yes a major high point is when it gets full-on awesomely bonkers in the final 15 minutes or so, but to me the absolute highlight is the nurse scene. I still think it’s one of the single greatest horror scenes in history. The pacing, the lighting, the mood, and especially the camera angle choices. If anything, you need to see this movie for that scene in particular. It is a masterclass in terror. Go ahead and skip Exorcist II (sorry Heretic lovers), and go straight to Exorcist III. It still holds up and is a worthy successor to the original masterpiece.
In the Christmas spirit yet? I’m going to help you a bit with this delightfully nasty little yuletide thriller. Better Watch Out is a pretty polarizing film, you’re either are on board or not. There’s very little middle ground. I myself was totally on board. But for it to fully work its magic, Better Watch Out is one of those movies where the less you know about it, the better. It’s always hard to write about these kind of flicks because so much of it weighs on a few surprising moments. And if those moments are ruined, the movie won’t hold as much weight. So if you’re interested in seeing this movie already, stop reading this, don’t check out anything else about it, and simply give it a spin. It’ll be worth your time. In a nutshell, the setup you’ve got here circles around a babysitter and the 12-year old boy she’s watching during the Christmas season. They’re having a normal evening until intruders break in. Suddenly, it’s gone full Home Alone, but only in a much more disturbing way. And that’s all I’ll say about that. I thought this was such a fresh take on things. It’s highly disturbing, and off-putting, but in an delightful way. The acting is great, with the babysitter played by the same actress from The Visit, and the boy was Peter Pan in Pan. Both of them have chops, and for what’s in store for both of them, its highly necessary. I had the pleasure of having some coffee with the filmmaker Chris Peckover, who’s a great dude and super creative. It’s always interesting to hear about all the different iterations a lower budget film like this goes through. I’m glad they landed on the version that you’ll see on screen. It’s got twists and turns, definitely some stuff you haven’t seen before, and one scene stolen straight out of Home Alone that will make you view paint cans in a whole different way after you see it. It’s fun. It’s nasty. It’s disturbing. Hell, it’s Christmas. Enjoy.
With my wife working in the fitness industry, this one holds a special place in my heart. Oh Death Spa, how much do I love you? You’re such a scum. You’re so dumb. But you’re so much damn fun. Like many of my favorites, you condense so much 80’s nostalgia into your 90 minutes that my cup runneth over. Death Spa is a (mostly) under the radar slasher flick that is equal parts awesome and hilarious. It’s about a gym where mysterious deaths keep taking place. But this isn’t any ordinary gym, where’s the fun in that? This is the gym of the FUTURE, where everything is hooked up to a master computer and is fully automated. Well, if films like Chopping Mall have taught us anything, it’s that of course this automation is going to turn against you. Only, here with Death Spa, you have a surprisingly intricate plot about why it’s happening. It’s not a simple computer glitch. No, this spa of death has some supernatural goings on causing all the mischief. There are all sorts of plot points about the death of the spa owner’s wife, her twin brother that blames the owner for her death (there were SO many twin plots in the 80’s!), and the owner’s need to move on from her death. There’s actually a lot more story-wise (surprising for a movie called Death Spa), but let’s be honest here, this movie is all about the kills. And yep, the kills are fantastic. The gore fx is some of the best you’ll see for the late 80’s. They utilize pretty much everything you’d think of in a computer-run futuristic gym. There are weight machines that go haywire, steam rooms that become boiling pots, even diving boards aren’t safe. But let me tell you, all of these are just warm ups for an epic 3rd act where all hell breaks loose (the frozen fish scene is worth a view alone). This is exactly why we watch these types of movies. This is the ultimate get a bunch of pals together, grab some adult beverages, and enjoy the hell out of it, type of movie. All the amazing 80’s gym garb, like skimpy leotards and leg warmers just add to it all. And the cherry on top is horror icon Ken Foree in a small role as well. I”m telling you, Death Spa has it all. I mean, look at the poster! How can you turn that movie down?
Right off the bat, I fully understand that this is yet another Blair Witch knockoff. We’ve seen a million copycats ever since that pivotal film came out. And yet, it doesn’t matter, because there’s something about this recent Korean take that really got under my skin. I have an affinity toward films about real-life locations. Films like the amazing Session 9, which took place in the actual Danvers Asylum. Here, it’s all about South Korea’s Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, an actual asylum with a horrific history that’s on a bunch of lists for scariest places. In fact, they used this actual CNN article in the film http://travel.cnn.com/freakiest-places-around-world-681626/ that labeled it one of the “7 Freakiest Places Around the World.” And guess what, it is. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum follows the YouTube Channel “Horror Times” as their film crew plans a live stream from the asylum. They plan on breaking in, filming the paranormal activity, with the culmination event being an attempt to be the first people ever to open the supposed center of the terror — Room 402. There’s no reason to say anything more plot-wise, because to be honest if you’ve seen any of these found-footage movies, you know where it’s going. But this film isn’t about plot, it’s about mood and atmosphere. And because of this, it’s spooky AF. Following the typical found-footage tactic where the first half sets us up, and the second half delivers the scares, Gonjiam delivers in spades. Initially we follow our characters, get to know them as they give us the history on the asylum, so it takes some time to get to the real scares. But trust me, from about halfway through until the end, it’s nonstop. And I gotta say, it gets pretty damn terrifying. There are a lot of nice touches from thermal cameras to motion flashes that blink when there’s movement. The scene in the hallway with the flashes getting closer and closer is downright fantastic. Plus, there’s something about it being all in Korean too that adds to the terror. It just feels fresh because of it. Some of it is lost in translation, and that made it even more unnerving to me. If you don’t mind a lot of shaky-cam as petrified characters run and scream, you’ll find a really great, well made, Korean scare factory of a film. Enjoy their version of Blair Witch.