Halloween Horror Movie Binge: Some Practical Considerations by Professor L. Yochum of the Villains Live University

To the student body of VLU…it’s nearly time.

As you know, it’s nearly October. And as well know, October is the month long celebration of all things spooky. Speaking personally,  I find it endlessly satisfying to spend the month immersed up to the metaphorical gills in horror. This time of year clearly gives us the best candies, best decorations, and most enjoyable music.

But a sincere horror binge is not something that can be done willy-nilly. While I might personally bristle at the thought of someone telling me how to GET SPOOKY, it does pay to have a plan. I therefore have a proposal. I would like to lay down some simple guidelines for the coming season.

Media binging is obviously not a new concept. Since the arrival of wide-spread on-demand media, many prefer to not absorb media in episodic format. Consider for a moment how many times you or a loved one have spent an entire weekend watching one show. Binging is applicable to film franchises, premier TV, even podcasts! But Halloween media is more than mere movies. Halloween media is multi-disciplinary, multi-platform media.  As such, our approach must be multi-faceted.  

 

Part One: Right Environment

When is it appropriate to watch a horror movie, much less many horror movies? Should the room be dark? And should you have your phone nearby? The greatest minds of the 20th and early 21st century have been debating this since the release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. (My intensive, evidence-based research of Google has shown that the first Blu-Ray of The Cabinet in 1955 caused quite a furor.)  A comprehensive recipe for optimal binge-watch environments is outside the scope of this brief lecture. However we should acknowledge some possibilities for this upcoming season.

For example: should a film prominently featuring daytime scenes be watched during the day or the night? Or whether or not snacks/beverages will improve a film going experience. Silly as such small contrivances may seem, they are questions worth addressing.

Many horror purists, such as The Scaredy Cats podcast, have put down the rules that horror movies must be watched at night, uninterrupted, without the presence of phones. And while I respect the expertise of the podcast’s hosts, I respectfully argue that this approach is ultimately incorrect. All of this is good for a singular film, but it is not feasible if you are planning on watching multiple films in a single sitting. I would argue that the film should match the environment as best as possible.  Black and White classics such as the original Night of The Living Dead are best absorbed at night, where the desaturated colors are easier on the eyes, and immersive in their tones.  Phantasm, on the other hand, lends itself to early evening on the account of it’s surreal, hallucinatory tone.

And to the point of refreshments, I wholeheartedly endorse their consumption during film during any film, and especially during a binge. The longer your experience goes, the greater your need for supplemental nutrition will become. Furthermore Halloween binging is a pre-written excuse for consumption of Halloween candy and themed cocktails or sodas. Again: multi-disciplinary and multi-media.

 

Part Two: Franchise vs. Curated List

So what are we watching? Astute students of horror will know the stress of attempting to have the right films for the occasion.  So should you give in to the simple desire to pick a pre-arranged franchise of films, or should you do something more personally intensive?

This decision seems to be largely a matter of the time you have available to freely dedicate. For instance, one could easily spend nearly half a month dedicated the Halloween franchise.  At 13 films, this offers you a seemingly simple guidepost.  Or if you want this time frame more compacted, there are 10 Hellraiser films.  That is an easy way to spread a massive dose of horror over a mere handful of days.

However, that approach has it’s flaws. Academic communities have raged with argument over whether or not Halloween 3 should be included in the canon of the Halloween franchise. And that says nothing of the religious schisms caused by the Hellraiser entries that de-emphasize Doug Bradley as Pinhead.  

As an alternative, curated lists of films are an option with profound flexibility.  One could easily create a list such as “Roger Corman Productions,” or “Slashers from the 70s and 80s only.” This list approach offers a profound degree of personalization options. The exchange, however, is in that it requires time and effort to create these sorts of lists, whereas film franchises have strict guidelines.

 

Part Three: 31 for 31

Arguably the greatest challenge available for horror fans is the 31 Days of Halloween, or sometimes called “31 for 31.” Put simply, the goal is to watch 31 horror movies in the month of October, potentially watching a single horror film every day of the month of October. Like the pre-hibernation eating of bears to the onset of Winter, this approach offers horror fans the ability to carry a dose of Spooky with them throughout the remainder of the year.

But 31 for 31 is a daunting challenge.  It requires dedication and grit.  Students of VLU are no doubt accustomed to the rigors of serious horror study. (See my maddening discussion of Folk Horror, if you have somehow shaken off the trauma of that initial experience by now…and stop emailing me to pay your therapy bills.  The Court’s Orders are clear in their rejection of your claims.)  The decision to watch this amount of horror is reserved for either the foolhardy or most iron willed.

As such, your trusted professor has decided to undertake this challenge.  I set down some simple parameters for my attempt.

  • The films on the list must represent a broad stroke of genres and time periods.
  • The list should be a mix of familiar favorites and films I’ve never seen.
  • Roughly half of the list must be at the suggestion of my most esteemed colleagues.
  • No direct sequels. Thematic sequels are acceptable, but numbered/titled sequels are stictly forbidden.

As such, I present the Professor Yochum 31 for 31 Challenge of 2020.  This list is in a mostly random order, and presented as a way to cover as much ground in a month as is possible.

  1. Colour Out Of Space
  2. Midsommar
  3. Event Horizon
  4. Videodrome
  5. The Platform
  6. Audition
  7. Circle
  8. Suspiria
  9. Inferno
  10. The Spiral
  11. Halloween
  12. #Alive
  13. Castle Freak
  14. Nosferatu
  15. Mandy
  16. The Mummy (the Boris Karloff original)
  17. Dark Water
  18. The Ninth Gate
  19. Tigers Are Not Afraid
  20. Phantasm
  21. Chopping Mall
  22. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
  23. The Witch
  24. The Wicker Man
  25. Night Of The Living Dead (original)
  26. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
  27. As Above, So Below
  28. Ju-On: The Grudge
  29. The Changling
  30. Horse Girl
  31. Hell House LLC

So, to our dear students, we here at VLU look forward to hearing how you intend to spend the month of October.  Please remember to share your notes with fellow students.

Seances and Lo-Fi Aesthetics: Host

A common joke I use to justify impulse purchases and essentially having dressed down since March of this year is “The isolation of a Pandemic does strange things to people.” And for many of us, one strange behavior we’ve all had to engage in this the use of digital mediums to talk to friends and loved ones.

Don’t get me wrong; services like Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Facetime have provided a much-needed way to stay in touch with people. It’s not as good as being there in person. But in an era where face-to-face indoor contact can have disastrous results, people are taking what they can get. But it goes deeper than mere hangout times. Industries that have previously required in-person interactions are now having to navigate a world mediated by webcams. The film industry has been especially set back. Hollywood’s releases seem to have slowed to a mere trickle compared to previous years. Movie theaters are locking their doors, and streaming services like Netflix are now having to manage release schedules like never before.

Enter Host, a Shudder exclusive film that has entered the horror zeitgeist based around a timely premise. Filmed using the video chat platform Zoom, it tells the story of a group of friends who decide to have an online seance via video chat. The idea feels, on the surface, a little too on the nose. At best it sounds silly, at worst, a cynical cash-in on a devastating medical and social disaster.  But this a classic case of having to not judge a piece of media by it’s proverbial cover. Host is actually an incredibly smart, fun horror film. It plays not only with the assumptions of Found Footage and Haunting type films, but also with the very nature of it’s medium.

“Can you hear me?”
– Every Zoom chat ever

Everyone recalls the first time you see a Found Footage horror movie. For me, the first I recall is the original The Blair Witch Project.  While it has been parodied to death in the years since it’s release, it’s hard to describe the actual visceral horror of that movie without having seen it during it’s initial run. A combination of clever marketing and a deliberate use of minimalist effects made the film, in many regards, incredibly believable. The Blair Witch Project didn’t attempt to wow it’s audiences with digital effects or overly long exposition. It dove at the core of the ghost story, isolating it’s cast and relying on what you can’t see to do the work.

This is the lesson that Host decides follow. A relatable premise (friends engaging with each other via Zoom,) thrust into a scary situation (a seance,) have to try and endure a terrifying ordeal. Instead of bogging the film down with deep back stories for every character, it relies on the dialogue to tell you about the personalities of the protagonists. And instead of trying to force a non-diegetic score into the film, it allows for perhaps one of it’s most believable elements to come center stage.

As some of you know, outside of writing about horror films, I have been the co-host of a podcast for several years. My creative partners and I primarily record inside a studio environment. We try to always maintain a high audio quality for our endeavors, making the end result as pleasurable to listen to as is possible. In most traditional films, this is as important a goal as the clarity of visuals.  We are frankly spoiled by our modern media. Most consumer-grade communication programs can’t realistically create that. The average person does not have a HD quality webcam, ring lighting, or highly-sensitive microphones at their disposal. The end result of many Zoom chats is video and audio that is glitchy and uneven. Host very cleverly utilizes element to winning effect. It’s virtually impossible to make out fine details behind the person centered in the image. Instead of being alienating, this sort of intentional sloppiness is actually quite endearing. For those who have spent countless hours working from home and relying on video conferencing to communicate, the tinny quality of audio is paradoxically immersive.

While watching the film, I became incredibly aware that there is something similar to an early Punk or Black Metal recording element in effect with Host. Low quality recordings were often the best many of these musicians could realistically afford. In the case of Black Metal, some musicians intentionally would use cheaper gear to achieve this effect.  (For reference, checkout seminal Black Metal band Mayhem and their album, Deathcrush.) This element of lo-fi production deeply assists the acting itself. Our protagonists are not perfectly styled or wearing excessive make-up.  Sweatpants and imperfectly dyed hair serve again to immerse the audience in a world where outward appearance is no longer quite as important. (Let’s be honest people…how many of us are only wearing gym shorts of old T-shirts right now?)

So does Host live up to the hype? Frankly, yes. Time will tell whether or not it has any lasting power after the Pandemic of 2020 passes. At worst, it could be a tell-tale piece of art from a particular time period. But it’s worth pointing out that paintings made during and after the Flu Pandemic of 1919 have a profound impact even now. The effects of isolation and infectious disease are very real, and subsequently very potent sources of fear. Host may not be telling a new story, but it is an important, timely update on old themes.

Lucas Yochum is a writer and podcaster from St. Louis.  For more  of his non-horror related work, visit the website for his podcast, Blinders Off, at www.blindersoff.show

The Ties That Bind: Metamorphosis and Domestic Horror

Who can you trust?

This short question is at the root of many fears. Humans have almost always existed in family groups; since the dawn of humanity one of the baseline assumptions of civilization is that family should be the first people we trust. For the overwhelming majority of people their family is the first relationships they ever have. But what happens to people if they are betrayed by their families?

This question lies at the heart of Hong-seon Kim’s 2019 film Metamorphosis. This Shudder exclusive, on paper, appears to be nothing more than another film about demonic possession and supernatural terror. But beneath the surface of a narrative that horror fans are already no doubt familiar with is a much harder set of themes.

(Warning! Minor spoilers ahead!)

So let’s set the scene: after an exorcism goes wrong, a young Catholic priest named Joong-su is suffering a crisis of faith and of his profession. To compound his miseries, his brother Kang-gu and his family (composed of his wife, Myung-joo, daughters Sun-woo and Hyun-joo, and son Woo-jong) have moved from their previous home due to the negative attention this incident. But soon they discover that moving isn’t enough, and the that the family has a supernatural battle on their hands. Worse still, the family will be forced to ask who amongst their relatives they should trust.

Metamorphosis is one of those films that is entirely more interesting in execution than it seemingly should. In an era post-Paranormal Activity, films about hauntings and possessions run the risk of being, put simply, not scary. Moreover the seemingly simple narrative of “Good vs. Evil” can often be a lazy excuse for an overly-simplistic plot. And what film featuring demonic possession can hold a candle to The Exorcist?  Metamorphosis does draw a handful of influences from The Exorcist, but there is an argument to be made that any film dealing with demonic possession is going to draw criticisms for being derivative of William Friedkin’s work.

But putting Metamorphosis in a singular box of “demon movie” is both reductive and unfair.  It deals instead with a more primal sort of fear. I would argue, in fact, that it smartly addresses one of the most important roots of fear: betrayal.

While I find it typically advisable to stray away from “theories of everything,” I do think that there are recurring themes within any sort of storytelling. In the case of horror, the recurring element that is addressed is the sense of betrayal in a person or group’s life. Going back to a previous point, why was The Exorcist so incredibly resonant with audiences, both upon it’s release in 1973 and today? One can point to the acting or the special effects. Both are still effective, even now. And it would not be unfair to say that Friedkin’s directing creates an atmosphere that is entirely believable. But the plot of a pre-teen girl being possessed by Satanic forces causes us to examine how such nightmarish events could be linked to such a seemingly innocent child. We, the audience, are dealing with a betrayal of our trust in the inherent goodness of children, and that “these things don’t happen.”

“Dr. Freud, you have a call on Line One”

With Metamorphosis, the true horror at the core of the film is that the betrayal of family and home. As the demonic entity begins to torture Joong-su’s family, it decides to use the forms of the family members themselves. This act creates an air of confusion that is genuinely unsettling. Typically speaking most parents don’t scream at or become physically abusive towards each other. Home should in most cases be a place where individuals can be comfortable. The betrayal of the sanctity of home and family is, at bare minimum, a deep and old anxiety.

Is Metamorphosis a perfect horror film?  Of course not. But it is an incredibly smart film. It uses the tropes of demonic confession and Catholic exorcism in an ingenious way. Many films could learn to use the actual horror elements of any plot as a framing device, and not the core of the film itself, like as this film does. This is not to say, however, that the film doesn’t have broad appeal. The sharp, believable acting of the cast will appeal to people wanting psychological horror.  The sharp cinematography is a genuine pleasure and will satisfy fans of a more artistic bent. And then there’s the gore. There are some genuinely gross moments in this movie that made even me feel a little squeamish.

Metamorphosis is not for the light-hearted, but is a genuinely rewarding film. It is guaranteed to get under your skin and make you to squirm. Most of all, it will make you nervous about your closest connections. Is the person on the couch with you to be trusted? How well do you know your neighbors? And if you don’t have good answers to those questions, do you have the number for a priest in your phone’s contact list?

Lucas Yochum is a writer and podcaster from St. Louis.  For more  of his non-horror related work, visit the website for his podcast, Blinders Off, at www.blindersoff.show

IN GENRE-VISION! Dark Horses Running (Noroi: The Curse, Apostle, and November)

Not every film can be a genre-defining masterpiece. For every film that breaks new ground or deepens the subject matter, there are always films that slip through the cracks. Obviously, some are missteps. Poor execution or a half-cooked concept can kill a movie as easily as critical indifference or being booked against a larger, more mainstream friendly piece. But amidst the relative noise of our media landscape, some just seem to get lost in the shadows. Be they hidden gems or diamonds in the rough, sometimes a great example has to be accidentally discovered.

Cinemaphiles have a number of options available these days. Affordable access to streaming platforms like Netflix or Shudder has granted a greater access to the “deep cuts” of the horror world. The three films being discussed today are fantastic examples of this scenario. In a deviation from previous form, these films will not be receiving a deeper analysis, merely an overview and maybe a touch of the praise they so rightly deserve.

The noteworthy feature of these three films is that they do not totally adhere to the Folk Horror formula. They share at least a tangential connection to the genre, but might be considered to have a more crossover appeal. If someone might not find The Witch or Witchfinder General accessible, these three offer an interesting in-road to Folk Horror. As well, they present a new sort of grist in the mill. Not to unnecessarily mix metaphors, but they are like the flavors of the countryside finding their way into a more city-influenced palate.  (Links are included in this article so readers can easily access these films!)

Noroi: The Curse

Dir. Shiraishi Koji

Every genre that was once groundbreaking becomes overdone. Fans of horror in the last two decades will no doubt the moment when J-Horror (Japanese Horror, for the uninitiated) broke onto the scene.  And there is always a group who will groan at the mention of Found Footage movies.  For every example like  Ju-On: The Grudge or  Spanish Found Footage masterpiece (REC) there are a million bad ripoffs, spinoffs, or misfires.  But once in awhile a film blends together multiple elements that end up stronger than expected.  Shiraishi Koji’s Noroi: The Curse is a perfect example of this in action.

The Plot: Kobayashi Masafumi is a successful, well-regarded documentarian dealing with the paranormal. Kobayashi has embarked on a new effort, bringing together mysterious disappearances, psychics, and a village with a dark secret. Nearing the end of  filming his most recent effort, however, his home burns to the ground, his wife is found dead in the rubble, and our protagonist has gone missing.

The pretense of the film, of course, is that the viewer is seeing this final documentary.  And as far as Found Footage is concerned, this J-Horror joint is an absolute masterclass in slow-burning tension and plot threads neatly entwining. The elements of Folk Horror are the icing on the cake.  Japanese religion and mythology is an area remarkably unexplored in cinema outside the country. As well, the film makes use of less well-known Japanese mainstays (such as primetime variety shows) to explore and tie together the chills. It might be tempting to write off these elements as inaccessible for Western audiences, but suspend your Judgement. Noroi: The Curse is simultaneously cerebral and spine chilling. Horror is a land without borders, after all.  Ghosts, monsters, forbidden rituals, and mysterious deaths are the stuff of nightmares irrespective of culture.

This Shudder Exclusive might be sometimes lost in their ever expanding library of lesser-known films, but for subscribers it is an excellent addition.  Fans of Ringu or Visitor Q will not be disappointed!

 

Apostle

Dir. Gareth Evans

Apostle is an example of what happens when a writer or director breaks away from their best-known style and proves their versatility. Perhaps best known for The Raid series of action flicks, Gareth Evans’ Apostle is brutal but engrossing.

A woman is kidnapped by a cult on a remote Welsh island in 1905. Her brother goes undercover in an attempt to bring her home.  Of course, not everything is what it seems with the cult, and soon he finds himself struggling for his own survival.  This setup might feel perhaps a bit too close a film like The Wicker Man, but Evans’ brings an entirely modern (and thoroughly gore-soaked) approach to Folk Horror.  The isolation of the setting, as well as the political and religious volatility of the era, add deeply to the atmosphere of dread.  Dan Stevens portrayal of our protagonist, Thomas Richardson, is positively gripping, and Michael Sheen as Malcolm Howe, the cult’s leader, make the film worth seeing on it’s own.

But it wouldn’t be a horror film without moments of absolutely gut-churning ugliness, and as such, Apostle does not disappoint. Evans is, after all, an action director, and he infuses the moments of violence and terror with a highly kinetic, but unflinching style.  You never once lose the actors in a blur of camera work.  Nothing is unnecessarily obscured to save on production costs.  Instead, Evans lingers on the moments so that the shock actually registers. These elements bring a remarkably mainstream appeal to a subject matter (period dramas and, y’know, Folk Horror) that can be alienating to potential viewers. Apostle delivers, and delivers big.

November

Dir. Rainer Sarnet

Is there an intersection where Experimental Film and Folk Horror can exist?  The Estonian production November aims to find out, and frankly delivers.  Perhaps the most abstract of the films covered in this series, November is not the most direct or linear story, but for the more adventurous filmgoer, it can provide an utterly unique experience.

Where to begin discussing the plot of a movie like November? Any attempt will seem arbitrary, but it’s that kind of movie. In an unnamed 19th century Estonian village, strange things are afoot.  The spirits of the dead return on All Souls Day.  Supernatural helpers called kratt are stealing livestock. People are selling their souls to the Devil (who manifests as a vulgar prankster.) The Plague arrives, a young girl is a werewolf, and villagers are conspiring against a landowning German baron (played by Human Centipede standout Dieter Laser, no less!)

Confused? Don’t be. On paper, November might not sound like everyone’s cup

Believe it or not, this is *not* the weirdest moment in the film November.

of tea. But in execution, it is a hypnotic and nearly hallucinogenic film, drenched in Estonian folklore and delivered in a chilling, immersive black and white.  Compared to Apostle and Noroi: The Curse, November is remarkably light on scares and gore. However, November delivers in atmosphere by exploring the darkest, most absurd sides of rural life and worldviews.  Like Japan, Eastern European folklore is severely underexplored in popular media.  (The kratt, for instance, seems almost completely unique. You could compare it to the Golem of Jewish lore, but that analogy falls apart beyond a surface glance.)  November serves as a brilliant example of the potential of Folk Horror as a genre to be less plot driven, and more about an overall “vibe.”  It might not become your date night favorite, but exists as the first true Art House experience in the Folk Horror genre.

The next edition of this series will be the final full-length film analysis in the Folk Horror genre.  If there are films that you, the reader, feel deserve more attention, please mention them in the comments!

 

Lucas Yochum is a writer and podcaster from St. Louis.  For more  of his non-horror related work, visit the website for his podcast, Blinders Off, at www.blindersoff.show

 

IN GENRE-VISION! Hagazussa

IN GENRE-VISION!

Hagazussa

Dir: Lukas Fieglfeld

A woman, Albrun, lives alone in the German Alps during the 15th century. She is an outsider, branded a witch by an uncaring, xenophobic local community. Her short life is marked by madness, violence, isolation, and fear.  

This cheery description does not, however, do the film justice. Hagazussa (a word from an Old German dialect literally meaning “Witch”) is a truly masterful film. Eschewing a straightforward expository style, the directorial debut of Lukas Fiegelfeld is more a poem than a simple story.  Hagazussa cuts directly to the heart of the Folk Horror experience. It deals with the way of life of the outsider, instead of glorifying it’s alienation.  Hagazussa puts you in the driver’s seat with one of the most feared entities in the late Medieval period: the Witch themselves.

Broken into four distinct acts (entitled SHADOWS, HORN, BLOOD, and FIRE,) Hagazussa guides us through the life of Albrun (portrayed with shocking intensity by Aleksandra Cwen.)  The film drips in atmosphere, primarily opting for environmental sound over music.  Special effects are used sparsely, and to a crushing effect.  

It’s tempting to write off Hagazussa as riding the coat-tails of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, but ultimately the comparison stops at the edges of genre. They share obvious similarities (use of time-period appropriate clothing and language,for instance) but beyond that, the reflections cease. It also shares some features with modern horror generally. The film relies less on stylism and more on realism. It deals with the dirt and grit of agrarian life. The cinematography is beautiful but also does not deny the visual power of stagnant water and mud. The sparse dialogue, entirely in Old High German, is somewhat alien even to modern German speakers. All of these elements combine into a grim stew.   

Whereas many Folk Horror films have you following multiple characters, Hagazussa’s focus is entirely on Albrun. This focus is profoundly intimate, which is perhaps the single meanest trick that Fiegelfeld plays on his audience. For every moment of cruelty visited upon Albrun, you are suffering with her. You are isolated in her cabin during every moment of mental confusion, and you are with her when she begins to exact revenge. Even at its most grotesque, Hagazussa stares, unblinkingly, into a world untethered from the grounding of a caring society. Albrun’s life is yours for the entire 102 minutes of the film’s run time.  

 

“At least we have a lovely view!”

And where to begin describing the brutal details of Albrun’s life?  The late Medieval period is not  the filth-covered Hell-scape that popular media often portrays. Instead Hagazussa focuses on the realities of that time period. Compared to the sterility of the modern era, life in the 15th Century would be lived much closer to the Earth. Human life depended on good harvests and favorable weather conditions. Humans were much more likely to fall victim to the dangers of the woods and fields than today. The brutal toll of The Black Death looms like a shadow from the beginning of the film. 

And this says nothing of the intellectual climate of the times. Religion, specifically Catholicism, held a near virtual milieu control on the lives of most of Central Europe.  This, combined with the prevalence of folk belief and prejudices (witchcraft and Antisemitism, for instance,) led to a worldview that could easily displace and destroy the lives of those not in line with that of regional authorities and social norms. Early in the film, we see a young Albrun and her mother being menaced on Twelfth Night (a traditional Christian holiday falling in early January, near the end of the Christmas holiday.) The individuals terrorizing Albrun are dressed as Perchten, a holdover from Germanic paganism said to enforce social norms and rules. (For more information on this tradition, the work of Al Ridenour is utterly invaluable. His podcast, Bone and Sickle will absolutely delight fans of Folk Horror in media.)  For a person of this time period, it stands to reason that the horrid, horned Perchten costumes would serve a horrifying message even without their overt threats. 

Further into the film, Auburn is reminded of marginalized position within their community. Local children bully her, only to be somewhat dissuaded by the presence of a local woman, Swinda.  Appearing at first as a potentially friendly face, Swinda makes an effort to be closer to Albrun, but not all is what it seems.  She does, however, inform Albrun that the priest of their community would like to speak to her. The meeting does not go kindly, however.  The village priest seems to take a small thrill in chastising Albrun for not being a part of the community.  

The morbid case of your mother, and your secluded way of life.  A way of life that already tempted many believers to touch the darkness. A touch…that sprung from sacrilege.”

It’s worth noting that this line of dialogue is delivered while Albrun and the priest are standing in what appears to be a chapel inside an ossuary. The priest gives Albrun what is presumed to be the skull of her long-deceased mother, which is inexplicably been painted with an ivy and rose pattern around the circumference of it’s crown. The priest seems to have decided that the skull of a woman accused of witchcraft is far too horrid to be kept with the remains of a presumably faithful congregation. While ossuaries might have been common practice in Central Europe during the Medieval era, it’s not difficult to imagine the effect that such a location would have on a person who already appears to be struggling with social issues or their mental health.  Not to mention, how many people have been forced to take the vital remains of their deceased family members out of their resting place? Indignity and trauma follow Albrun like a dark cloud, and this incident is not the ugliest thing we see her endure. 

 

But What Is Hagazussa Trying To Tell Us?

 

Hagazussa is a film about the experience of the outsider. Using the language of Folk Horror, it illustrates the brutal realities faced by people living on the fringes of “polite” society. Albrun represents everything that a woman in 15th Century Central Europe should not be; a single mother, a non-Catholic, uninvolved in the life and rules of her surrounding community. She is the daughter of a woman branded with heresy and witchcraft, and by the rules of that community, guilty of those sins as well. She may or may not be mentally ill at the beginning of the film. By the third and fourth acts, Albrun is clearly sliding down into some sort of darkness, either psychological or metaphysical.  

In most communities, the fears confronted in this film are positively universal.  Single parenting, ostracism, being forced to live outside a social safety net, all of these have been death sentences in days past. And in our modern era, we are forced to confront that these material and interpersonal conditions have disastrous consequences. People the world over have warned of the dangers of not caring for others, or as a supposedly ancient proverb warns,  The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”  This exchange between Albrun and Swinda perfectly summarizes the sort of worldview our protagonist faces from the opening scene:

Swinda: We really do have a nice spot here in our mountains. We don’t have to be afraid here.

Albrun: Afraid? Of what?

Swinda: Of those who don’t carry God’s light in their hearts. By the Jews…and by the heathens. They come at night, and like animals they take you. And…a few months later, you bear a child like that.

In any context Albrun’s life is utterly tragic. The film uses the language of Horror to express her tragedy and make the audience feel her pain and alienation. Hagazussa is, for all it’s mist, snow, and shadow, a surprisingly moral tale. It’s about the sadness of an alienated existence. It shows us why people should be included in the greater world, even if they are different from the status quo.

 

Lucas Yochum is a writer and podcaster from St. Louis.  For more  of his non-horror related work, visit the website for his podcast, Blinders Off, at www.blindersoff.show

IN GENRE-VISON! The Witch

A Puritan family is banished from their plantation community for an unstated disobedience, rooted in some religious dispute. The father and mother of the family, William and Karen, attempt to set up a homestead at the edge of a forest, appearing to fall under supernatural assault. They must struggle to protect not only their lives, but their souls.

Robert Eggers’ 2015 directorial debut is so much more than a mere genre film. The Witch is arguably the Ur-text for modern Folk Horror. It holds on to much of the standard elements of the genre while adding doses of modern sensibility.  It questions not only the role of religious zealotry, but the social controls of isolated communities. It confronts the material conditions that create social tensions.  More than fear of the supernatural, it delves into the ways even the tightest and oldest of social organizations can snap under incompetence.

In order to understand The Witch as a genre picture, it helps to understand the mindset of Puritan colonists in the 1630s.  In a February 2016 interview for The Verge, Eggers commented that “When I discovered what the idea of the evil witch was — that the fairy tale world and the real world were the same thing in the early modern period; people really thought these women were fairy tale ogresses, and they needed to be exterminated.”  For modern people, this idea seems absurd, if not completely obscene. But in a world where people were limited in their source of information it’s not difficult to see how this might come about. Our modern sensibilities are formed in large part by our access to information. As such, it isn’t difficult to see how people might believe in something without being able to verify these details in a physical sense.

As a horror film The Witch is not typical. Lesser directors might rely on intense, overt gore to drive home the terror. They might leave out necessary character development or ham-fistedly drive exposition in an attempt to cut back on acting talent and directorial prowess. Compared to many of the horror films of the 2010s, The Witch is a subtle, cerebral film. Minus it’s slight use of jump scares and bloody violence, it is more comparable to a costume drama than a slasher. Eggers’ trick is immersion, not jarring alienation.By using obsessive attention to historical minutiae he draws us into the world of a small family all alone, stranded at the edge of a hostile frontier.

 This attention to detail is more than literal set dressing. It’s baked into the details of the plot itself. There has been a shocking amount of preserved historical record related to the belief of Witchcraft amongst early American colonists. The family’s crops are failing. Their livestock do not produce adequate milk or eggs.  Historical records suggest that these were all signs of witchcraft, of being cursed by some malignant entity. These “signs” of being under some devilish influence, for the record, are not unique to the Puritan experience. These sorts of accusations appear all throughout the time period. Rather like Witchfinder General, the use of historical detail serves to deepen our immersion and provides more than adequate fodder for madness and violence in the film. 

Another key to the success of The Witch is it’s cast. By maintaining a small set of characters we can watch as they, one by one, succumb to the pressures of these horrific circumstances. Eggers’ reliance on a cast of lesser-known (but incredibly gifted) actors only deepens the story.  Our lynchpin in this story is Thomasin, the eldest daughter of William and Katherine.  She is portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy. Difficult as it is to believe, this is her debut film. As a young woman who has recently come-of-age, she portrays her role of a young woman coming of age in a repressive environment with intense passion and profound nuance. Playing counterpoint is Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb, her younger brother and the eldest son of the family. Caleb is less passionate than his elder sister, but no less serves as a moral compass of sorts in our drama. Much of the film centers on their experiences observing their parents (played by Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, both most popularly seen in HBO’s Game of Thrones) attempting to maintain order in their extremely troubled home. As well, a pair of twins, Jonas and Mercy, and an infant, Samuel. Surrounded by so few characters to maintain, all the action unfolds in a tight arena. 

Perhaps part of the power of this film is it’s relatability; in uncertain times, families struggle to make the proverbial ends meet. We modern folk may not face the terrors of agrarian starvation (or the more metaphysical worries of being cursed by a witch,) but we understand what it is like to worry about having mouths to feed and bills to pay.  This is more than some improbable serial murder in a mask with a grudge, this is an existential threat that many modern people face. Filmgoers who have struggled with the backtalk of a rebellious teenager no doubt understand the exasperation of  dealing with a teenager calling out a parent on their hypocritical behavior.  And every person recalls receiving an unsatisfying answer about the bigger questions of life from a supposed authority figure. And this says nothing of the crises of Faith that so many people undergo at various points throughout their lives.  This exchange between William and Katherine is a beautiful example:

 

William: I fear thou lookst too much upon this affliction. We must bend our thoughts towards God, not ourselves. He hath never taken a child from us. Never a one, Kate. Who might earn such grace? We have been ungrateful of God’s love.

Katherine: He hath cursed this family.

These social tensions underpin much of the film.  A secondary theme explored using the Folk Horror framework is the disintegration of the family unit. It’s possible to read their supernatural strife as merely emblematic of the traumas that all families undergo during unforeseen circumstances. A death in a family, or an economic downturn, can cause typically stable units to tremble to their core.  Previously mentioned films in this column essentially ignore or downplay the fears unique to domestic life.  It’s difficult to imagine Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, being overly concerned with whether or not his children love him or are being honest about their behavior when outside his observation. 

And you think *you* hate tense family dinners!

 

And what of our titular witch? Without spoiling the plot, suffice it to say that they do not make as much of an appearance as one might expect. The Witch has substantially less to do with the perceived horrors of witchcraft (though there is plenty of that, rest assured horror fans!) and more to do with the realities of an alienated life. But like the very best of horror, the less that is shown, the tighter the tension becomes. 

We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.

Perhaps the single greatest villain in this film is the environment itself. Our Puritan protagonists are not lifelong residents. They are colonists, still outsiders to an entire continent with it’s own people and landscape. The forests and countryside at this time period would still be largely unexplored, and not inhabited by entirely friendly faces. Here is where a unique trick in the Folk Horror genre is played; our protagonists are not outsiders dealing with an insular community. They are an insular community of outsiders. The forces invading their remote outpost are the very forces of the world around them..Whether Katherine and William realize it or not, they are under siege from their insecurities and failings as people and as parents, as well as being forced to deal with supernatural violence.  Compare this to The Wicker Man: Sgt. Howie is attempting to bring law and order to Summerisle, a seemingly happy community who is living with the realities of modern agriculture and social conditions.  Katherine & William are trying to bring a Puritan Christian vision of the world into a seemingly faceless world. It isn’t ultimately concerned with their particular philosophy.  They are fighting for their lives when we first meet them.  And by the end, they are fighting both forces from within and from without.

But What Is The Witch Trying To Tell Us?

Some films are only satisfying when read in terms of meta-textual narrative or symbolic interpretation.  Other films are best taken straight without much concern for symbolism, more a fast food than a home-cooked meal. And yet, The Witch is satisfying as both. It has enough atmosphere to satisfy the historian, enough genuinely disturbing acts to satisfy more casual viewers, and has layers of social depth to lend itself to exegesis.  At all levels, The Witch calls out to the viewer. The Witch is rare in horror cinema in that it does not offer us a simple choice of how to read the narrative. 

Ultimately, this film examines the function of tension on groups, large and small. Instead of focusing on the wild and wacky world of isolated religious extremes, it calls upon the very real fears of all societies. It does not shy away from realities of rural life during the 1600s. Instead it relates them to us without abandoning much of their actual historical couching.  The language is old, the clothes look uncomfortable, the food scarce, and the work appears to be backbreaking. The Witch is somehow both otherworldly and utterly without fantasy.

Lucas Yochum is a writer and podcaster from St. Louis.  For more  of his non-horror related work, visit the website for his podcast, Blinders Off, at www.blindersoff.show

IN GENRE-VISION! The Blood on Satan’s Claw

 

The Blood On Satan’s Claw

Dir. Piers Haggard

In the English countryside, a plow cuts a deep furrow into the earth. The farmer senses something amiss, dismounts, and runs forward to inspect the situation. Partially unearthed in the furrow is the remains of something humanoid, what appears to be a mostly decayed head, a single eyeball still intact in it’s socket.

So begins The Blood on Satan’s Claw, the second film in what is widely considered to be the genesis of Folk Horror in cinema. In comparison to The Wicker Man, The Blood on Satan’s Claw is not a subtle film. It’s only slightly more gore-soaked, and paints the isolation of the English countryside in two coats. The paranoia of outside forces is not only writ large, but also accented with more overt sexuality and disgusting body horror elements.

One of the most masterful strokes employed in this film is it’s score. Composed by Marc Wilkinson, the score is genuinely unsettling.  Instead of drenching itself with Donovan-esque folk ballads, it opts instead to go fully out with strange sonic landscapes. Again, this film is not happy with subtlety, and would rather be weird than be respectable. Like so many other examples of genre films it was not a tremendous success at the time.  The Blood on Satan’s Claw is not even a cult classic these days. But it is absolutely a cornerstone of Folk Horror’s earliest days, and deserving of its position as a genre-definer.

But there is more to the backdrop of The Blood on Satan’s Claw (henceforth abbreviated TBOSC) than meets the eye. Set amid the monarchical upheaval of England in the 17th Century, TBOSC hits all the marks of Folk Horror and more. It seems to share most of the features pointed out in my previous review of The Wicker Man, but adds into the film a more “traditional” horror approach. Of the three “original ” Folk Horror films from England (The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General,) TBOSC is the only overtly supernatural of the bunch, and is unambiguous in it’s embrace of devilish forces as a metaphysical reality.  

The seemingly idyllic English countryside should not be a source of menace, but in the hands of director Piers Haggard, it becomes a source of seemingly extra-dimensional menace. The cinematography of TBOSC plays a neat trick; by use of camera angles and (frankly) by screwing with the perspective on-screen, the entire world becomes subtly threatening.  There is something of a straight line that can be drawn from this film to pieces such as The Witch (2015, dir. Robert Eggers.) The true moments of horror are (at least until the film’s third act) are more implied than directly shown, keeping much to the traditional methods of storytelling seen in folklore. 

How do we know, sir, what is dead? You come from the city. You cannot know the ways of the country.”

At the heart of TBOSC is the conflict of inside vs. outside, modern science vs. old faith, the order of the city vs. the order of the country. The Judge (portrayed with sneering aplomb by Patrick Wymark,) thinks himself above the seemingly primitive belief of the village where the film unfolds. The Judge in many regards presages Sergeant Howie from The Wicker Man.  It’s frankly not difficult to see him trade his wig in for a modern police tunic.  He represents a sort of self-assured authority., But like most of the “modern outsider” characters common to early Folk Horror films (a subject that will likely require its own entry in this series) his authority feels self-referential.  Through dialogue we know he is a judge…but we never see anything outside of this claim and his behavior to that power. He is quick to remind the village’s inhabitants of his role, and to impose his authority on everyone. On the other side of the coin, however, is Angel Blake. Portrayed by Linda Hayden, Angel is an absolute raw power. Hayden’s performance drips with sinister sexuality and is, by the third act, positively reveling in being a menace. In the space of a single film you see her seduce, betray, mislead, and destroy.  She is more than a mere rebellious teenager bucking social conventions..  She is a source of moral perversion and degeneracy in a small community.

 

“This script is the weirdest sequel to Mean Girls I’ve read yet.”

As such, this film plays with ambiguity. Neither The Judge nor Angel Blake are especially likable.  Their polar opposite personalities are both equally  repellent. Unlike the inhabitants of Summerisle in The Wicker Man, there is nothing especially charming about Angel and her coven. The Judge might be a source of order in a seemingly lawless environment, but his order is one of absolutes. He is more than happy to directly condemn a young man’s choice in who he wants to marry, and will gladly insult a country doctor (the only person in the village who seems to understand what is starting to happen at the point he is introduced.) Angel Blake and The Judge are on a collision course and everyone in this village will be forced to reckon when this dialectic unfolds.

But What Is The Blood On Satan’s Claw Trying To Tell Us?

The central story of TBOSC deals with the nature of conflicting duality. The figures of authority in the village are seeing that their power is not absolute, and can be easily shaken. Characters such as the almost too succinctly-named Reverend Fallowfield get an up-close-and-personal brush with the evil radiating from Angel Blake and her cohorts, and nearly pays for it with his life. As the only ostensible educator in the village he seems to view himself as worthy of being obeyed by his teenage charges.  Moreover, being a church leader, he would in most any village in England during this time period, be one of the most formally educated people around. And here again we have to drift back to the ambiguity displayed in the film’s text. There is an evil rampant, but the forces of good are, at best, too weak-willed to effectively take control, and at worst, willing to bring down the hammer on anyone even remotely involved in this conflict.  It might be a battle between good and evil here but the film also doesn’t apologize for The Judge’s actions.  It is not interested in showing the elders of the village as morally right, other than that they are not demonically possessed.

The battle lines are seemingly clear. There can be no balance struck and no negotiation is possible. It’s impossible to deny the darkness that Angel Blake and her compatriots are spreading throughout their home village. The Judge, Reverend Fallowfield, and the other authority figures in the village are fighting to restore their vision of authority at all costs.  Early in the first act, Reverend Fallowfield hits the nail on the head with a single line of dialogue: 

“There is growing amongst you all an insolent ungodliness, which I will not tolerate!”

Like The Wicker Man, one can easily draw a “Youth versus Adult” narrative out of this film.  1971 was still smelling of the gunpowder used at Kent State, and the brutal economic turns of the 1980s were still too far ahead to be predicted.  If “The Establishment” was starting to feel that the turbulence of the 1960s was now in the rear-view, it was only narrowly so.  Youthful rebellion always sells, and if there is a legitimate malevolence involved, all the better.  

The Doctor: My lord, when I heard of Ralph Gower’s discovery, I was reminded of this old volume. Mock, sir, if you will. These sages had access to much wisdom.

The Judge: Doctor, witchcraft is dead and discredited. Are you bent on reviving forgotten horrors?

The Blood on Satan’s Claw can easily be seen by the “respectable” film establishment as little more than a forgotten blip in the world of genre films, and a minor presence in Horror films specifically.  With so many offerings on streaming services and in the bowels of video archives, there are more flashy and expensively made films readily availability.  But Horror films have a strange quality of being periodically resurgent.  In an era where remakes and reboots are rampant, many of the less-sanitary pieces are less likely to be so mercilessly spit back onto audiences with a fresh layer of polish. For those audiences that The Judge might malign, a film like The Blood on Satan’s Claw requires no cleaning, no new cast or expensively produced score.  It’s power sits buried in the soil, waiting to be revealed, to once again cast it’s malevolent spell on new communities.

Lucas Yochum is a writer and podcaster from St. Louis.  For more  of his non-horror related work, visit the website for his podcast, Blinders Off, at www.blindersoff.show

House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The next film I went back and revisited as part of the Dark Castle series was House on Haunted Hill.  This was the first film Dark Castle did and for me it still holds up.  I can see the flaws in it such as pacing, and now some dated CGI effects but the story itself is still entertaining.  I really like the cat and mouse game this movie sets up between Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) and his lovely wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen).  Everyone else is just unwilling participants in this odd game they have created to frighten and kill each other.

Opening the movie with the claymation credits while Marilyn Manson’s remake of Sweet Dreams plays does a good job of setting the overall feel and atmosphere of what’s to come.  Once the movie begins it goes off with a bang as all Dark Castle movies do.  We are shown an insane asylum where a doctor is clearly performing experiments on the patients.  He is performing surgery with no anesthetic while a nurse films the whole thing.  That alone is terrifying and disgusting.  Somehow though, it’s never really explained, the patients get out of their rooms and run amok through the asylum.  Just as the good Dr. Vanacutt (Jeffrey Combs) is about to die he throws a switch that locks everyone inside.  Mayhem ensues and we quickly learn that all but 5 people die inside that hospital.  It’s additionally not explained how these 5 people got out.  Called out sick that day perhaps?

In the first fifteen minutes of the film, we learn about the history of the house, about the Price’s messed up relationship, and set the scene for what will be the rest of the movie.  It’s a lot to cover in a condensed time span but they do an excellent job of it.  It never feels rushed but still conveys all of the necessary information.  We then arrive at the house and it’s beautifully imposing sitting on the cliffs somewhere in California.

Vandecutt Asylum for the Criminally Insane

Now the fun can begin.  The guests arrive to a very panicked and frantic man named Pritchett (Chris Kattan) and he clearly wants to get his money, and leave.  This is the first time we see everyone together and start to get a feel for who they all are. In typical form for Dark Castle, this movie has an amazing cast.  We have Eddie (Taye Diggs), Blackburn (Peter Gallagher), Sara (Ali Larter), and Melissa (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras).  These four with Pritchett and their wonderful hosts the Prices make up the cast of characters for the rest of the movie.  Whoever the casting director was for this movie does not get enough credit.  Every actor is perfectly cast for the role they play.

House on Haunted Hill Cast

From here on out it’s a question of what’s real and what’s not.  Stephen absolutely has rigged the place with fake scares but there are real ghosts moving about as well.  This is what I ultimately love about this film.  It’s beautiful, it has believable twists and turns and you’re never 100% sure if someone is dead, or faking it.  That is until you see them dismembered.  Then it’s safe to say their dead.

The shots of ghosts and the supernatural are beautiful in this film.  It’s almost experimental filmmaking at times with how they portray the ghosts and shot the scenes of fright.  Visually I find it fascinating and the cinematography keeps me hooked in.  The visuals of the spirits are my favorite part of this film and I have genuinely watched people jump and get further from the television when Dr. Vannacutt shakes his head rapidly on his way to get Evelyn.  It’s chilling and if I ever saw that myself I would scream in terror.

Haunted Hill Spirtis

My one criticism of this movie is that the ending was a bit rushed.  It feels like the writer wasn’t sure what to do and then in the final 10 minutes just says “And now chaos” for no reason but to kill a bunch of people off.  It destroys the atmosphere and probably could have been handled better.  It’s a rather unsatisfying and messy ending.

It was nice to revisit this film and still enjoy it as much as I remember.  I would recommend this to most people and overall I find that the positives of this film far outweigh the cons of a rushed ending.  Everybody turns in an incredible performance and I particularly enjoyed Geoffrey Rush playing a very clear homage to Vincent Price.  He was incredible and every scene he was in had an extra oomph to it.  It’s been 20 years and I still love this movie.  What did you think of it though?  Did you enjoy this film, feel like it was just okay or hate it?  Let me know in the comments.  I’d love to hear your take on The House on Haunted Hill.

Thirteen Ghosts Poster

Thirteen Ghosts

You are probably wondering why I am writing about a movie that Roger Ebert hated on.  Well to be honest his criticism of the movie is accurate. The screenplay is dead on arrival but the visuals are incredible. When I first saw this when I was in high school I absolutely loved it.  Watching it again as an adult, well I’m not as much of a fan as I thought.  The one part that works for me in this film is the ghosts themselves.  Representing the twelve signs of the black zodiac (is that a real thing?) we get some incredible looking ghosts.  I like the quick cuts and edits to this movie because I feel like if we lingered on the ghosts too long that it would remove any scariness they have.  Instead of catching quick glimpses of them and never holding them still for more than three seconds makes them a bit terrifying.  There is an entire DVD extra (now on YouTube) explaining each ghost and how they died.  I love this kind of detail work.  It’s fun for me!  Truly the ghosts are the stars of this film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B67GMYgnaws

 

The other thing I love is the aesthetics.  The house is impressive looking, the device itself is weird and clunky but fun and I love the glasses they use to see the ghosts.  I know it’s gotta just be regular frames with plastic lenses and LED’s in them but it works for this movie.  I also see them and think this is what AR glasses need to look like if it’s ever going to take off.  You hear me Google!

 

Look more like this  and less like this
Shannon Elizabeth Thirteen Ghosts Google Glass

 

This move has talented actors in it but they mostly feel two dimensional.  It has Tony Shalhoub (pre-monk), Shannon Elizabeth (post-American pie), and Matthew Lillard.  I love all three of these actors but each one has a single schtick they carry throughout the entire movie.  Tony is the grieving husband who both screams at his kids and would die for them.  Not bad but it never goes any deeper then sad dad.  Shannon Elizabeth is the teen girl without a care in the world and is obsessed with bathrooms.  Her younger brother’s defining characteristic is his scooter.  Seriously name one other thing about him.  The characters don’t evolve or change much and some, such as  Rah Digga’s character, become caricatures.  That’s ultimately the biggest downfall of this movie.  All of the time and writing went into the ghosts and every other character is an afterthought.

In the end, the film is fun but I was surprised that I don’t enjoy it as much as I remember enjoying it.  Maybe I’m getting old, or I have more film knowledge than I used to but boy does this film feel flat. Also, are the ghosts the villains of the store or is it just Cyrus Kriticos?  I mean the ghosts spend the entire movie trying to kill this unsuspecting family but everyone is placed there as part of Cyrus’s plan.  He captures these tortured spirits, he tricks the family into showing up and sets his own lawyer up to die.  The man is a cold-hearted killer.  I tend to view the rich billionaire as the villain which means this is one of the rare horror films where the villain truly dies in the end.  The ghosts wander off into the woods where I assume they can continue to kill so it’s not what I would call a happy ending.  Also, the poor family still has no money, and now has PTSD to live with.  You know what fuck Cyrus Kriticos.  As far as I can tell he brought no good into the world and everyone would have been better off not knowing him.

I am not as much of a fan of this movie as I used to be.  What can I say, that’s how it goes sometimes.  We get older, wiser, and learn to see movies with more of a critical eye.  I would put this as indifferent.  I don’t hate it, don’t love it.  It’s fun but not great.  Just Meh for me.  What do you think of Thirteen Ghosts?  Good, bad, indifferent?  Let me know in the comments.  Thanks for reading!

Ghost Ship Poster

Ghost Ship

Ghost ship is my guilty pleasure.  This film was largely hated on by critics and didn’t blow up the box office.  It’s a fairly standard 90’s film (even if it did come out in 2002) that is half horror/half rock music promotion.  It was put out by Dark Castle entertainment, and I gotta say, that in it’s early years I loved everything that Dark Castle put out.  House on Haunted Hill, Thirteen Ghosts, House of Wax (which I tried very hard to hate) but there was this imaginative fun to all of their films.  Ghost ship wasn’t even that original because it’s basically Event Horizon only at sea.  Seriously, there are way to many parallels between these films and admittedly Event Horizon is the better film.  I just can’t quit on Ghost Ship so let’s  go through why I love this film.

First, the beginning to this film is ICONIC!!!  The credits come up on the screen while ballroom music is being played live.  It feels more like love boat or something.  Even the font choice in the opening credits is very un-scary.  I’m not 100% what the thought was here but I suspect it was to put people at ease.  Little did the audience know but  *SPOILER ALERT* all but one person is getting sliced by a steel cable.  Even though this clip skips past the weird font choice, watch it and tell me this doesn’t grab you.

It’s one of the greatest openings to a film ever in my opinion.

The second thing I love about this film is a great cast that has Julianna Margulies and Gabriel Byrne.  I realize that the script they signed on to do was not at all the film that they made but I gotta hand it to them that they still turned in great performances.  Everybody in this film is believable, likable and people you generally want to root for.  Well except for one but you have to see the movie to know which one.  They all play off of each other so well that you feel for this crew.  Sure they want to salvage the ship for profit but who doesn’t want to get rich for under sea treasure?  Right??

The last thing I love about this movie is that the flashback scene in it is stylistically interesting while telling a lot of information.  Flashback scenes can really ruin a movie.  You tell to much then nothing is left to the imagination.  Tell to little though and everybody is asking a lot of  questions at the end.  I felt that this movie told just enough to keep the mystery, while filling in the gaps when necessary.  It’s fun and we get a sense for who the real villains are.  We find out what really happened to that little girl left surviving at the end of of the cable slicing.    It’s a trip and one I enjoyed taking.  The plot is hokey at times (soul collector? really?) but overall I have fun watching it and never tire of seeing it.  Not every horror movie has a lot of what I call rewatchability to it.  Sometimes when you know what’s going to happen, it loses it’s luster.  This movie continues to entertain even when I know what’s coming next.  That’s what Dark Castle always did best in the beginning.  It delivered on films that got my imagination running at full speed.  I could see myself in these scenarios and wonder how I would do in them (for sure I would die in Ghost Ship).  What I’m really saying is buckle in because I am absolutely writing about the other Dark Castle Entertainment films next.

What did you think about Ghost Ship?  Love it, hate it, more mudvayne, less mudvayne?  Let me know in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!