There’s nothing quite like an old-fashioned ghost story. In cinema, however, their traditional format has become familiar to the point of boredom. When a fresh take on supernatural, atmospheric horror comes around, it’s a rare gift, usually coming to us from the festival circuit. A gem crafted in this spirit recently premiered at TIFF and screened at the Sitges Film Festival. While its recourses are slim, the Halifax-based production The Crescent uses them to create one of the most chilling films I’ve seen this year.
Lucio Fulci, the master of the soft-core thriller, is back with… wait, what? Let’s start over, shall we? Lucio Fulci, the Italian maestro of the viscerally dangerous and compellingly disgusting, dips his toe into—for me, that is—uncharted waters with The Devil’s Honey (1986), a melodramatically erotic piece resurrected by Severin Films for a packed Blu-ray release. This is not your dad’s Fulci. (Unless he had a special drawer…)
Within a spate of gritty and retro horror films, it’s thrilling to see cinema return to the weird lushness of Gothic traditions. Oozing atmosphere, phantasmal storylines, and grotesque characters populate our screens again, though sometimes the melodrama of this category gets in the way of its art. A fascinating example has begun its creep through the festival circuit, however, as production designer Elizabeth Schuch makes her feature-length cinematic directorial debut with The Book of Birdie, a contained psychological fantasy that uses the confines of genre to spin a genuine character study.
“’Tis the night, the night of the grave’s delight.” So begins Nicholas Verso’s latest feature film, a phantasmal, surreal poem set during one youth’s Halloween night. Viewers who recall his remarkable short film The Last Time I Saw Richard will anticipate the dreamlike atmosphere and dark fantasy at play here, but this story goes beyond fable. Verso evokes an immersive spirit realm through which emerges a tale of lost youth, lost hope, and a boy seeking to reclaim his soul.
One of the decade’s most surprising, uncomfortable genre films is Creep, in which Mark Duplass proves that his mumblecore charm has a very, very dark side. Helmed by and co-starring Patrick Brice, the no-budget film created dread and unease through simple character development—what easily could have been a melancholic comedy becomes a horror film in just the last few moments. It’s easy to understand why Blumhouse wanted to capitalize on that magic through a few more installments; but how do you follow up a film that is entirely based on the element of uncertainty? Brice and Duplass have answered that question, delivering a hilarious, disturbing sequel which improves on everything that made the first film fascinating.
The possibilities for experimentation within the bounds of horror cinema are endless. For every commercially accessible masterpiece, there’s also a bizarre, unorthodox experience waiting to confound viewers. At a festival where there are dozens of films that fall into both categories, this writer has found one of the most unusual offerings to be Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse, a slow-paced, profoundly atmospheric plunge into the nightmare of seclusion.
Richard Stanley has always marched to the beat of a unique drum. He hasn’t made very many narrative films (Hardware, Dust Devil) since arriving at the turn of the ’90s, but he has always fascinated due to his quirky spirit and dedication to the odd and unusual. And so it goes that his documentary The Otherworld (2013) follows a path true to his nature, but is shot with a touching sense of humanity in its look at strange phenomena and the people who embrace it.
If I haven’t made it clear in previous articles or on social media, let me do so now: I’m a firm believer that Lucio Fulci is one of, if not the, greatest horror directors to ever live. While dismissed as a schlock artist by critics in his time, Fulci’s unique brand of horror, borne from a holy fusion of market-friendly gore and surrealist pure cinema, has aged remarkably well. But before he mingled among zombies or cracked open the gates of hell, Fulci directed a few violent giallo films, including the incredibly depressing Don’t Torture a Duckling, which recently received a new restoration and Blu-ray release from Arrow Video.
In terms of his horror trifecta of films—Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, and now Happy Death Day—I’m officially ready to start the Christopher Landon fan club. You couldn’t ask for three films to be more different from each other, and with every effort, Landon has proved himself to be a confident storyteller with a deep love of the genre in his work, and that affection has shone through with each of his cinematic endeavors.
Even though Fantastic Fest 2017 was held just a few weeks ago, this writer is still playing catch up after screening nearly 20 different films during my time in Austin. On the docket for today’s review round-up is a documentary celebrating haunted attractions—Haunters: The Art of the Scare—a stunning zombie/road film from Quebec—Les Affamés—and my very favorite film from Fantastic Fest, a zombie-centric Christmas musical called Anna and the Apocalypse.
Fans of horror literature have likely encountered Adam Nevill’s work. His novel The Ritual, a combination of occult fantasy and survival horror, has been ripe for adaptation since its release the better part of a decade ago. Few modern directors are better suited for the job than David Bruckner, the man behind the infamous surgery segment in Southbound. When it premiered in TIFF’s Midnight Madness section, early reactions gave no indication that Bruckner had returned to the feature scene with a debut of mythical power, but his faithful adaptation of Nevill’s novel revives the folk horror sub-genre to give us one of the year’s most terrifying films.
Recent years have seen a return to giallo, mainly in independent and foreign horror cinema. The genre doesn’t always hold up because it is inherently weird and often nonsensical. For diehard admirers of Fulci and Bava, however, Turkish director Can Evrenol has become an excitingly bizarre voice in cinema. His feature debut, Baskin, blew many a mind two years ago with its hedonistic madness. Evernol returns this year with Housewife, and while it may not reach the levels of incoherent thrills that his first feature achieved, it’s an involving vision of sensory insanity.
It’s been a very strong year for Stephen King adaptations (well, adaptations not named The Dark Tower), with the release of Andy Muschietti’s IT and several new TV series, too. Now we’ve got two other stellar projects making their way to Netflix, Gerald’s Game from Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Oculus, Hush) and 1922 from genre newcomer Zak Hilditch. This dynamic duo of Netflix films recently screened at the 2017 Fantastic Fest in Austin, and I'd like to share my thoughts on these two wildly different films that were both equally compelling and entertaining viewing experiences all the same.
And sometimes, they suffer in silence. Suffer, Little Children was a Holy Grail for collectors of ultra-low budget oddities; shot on video for a song with a troupe borrowed from a local British acting studio, the film used its own trumped-up mythology as an “almost” video nasty to move some tapes in a golden age when it was fairly easy to do. Alas, they didn’t, and Suffer became a black market curiosity. Enter Intervision, who once again drag the waters to revive a long-lost film, restored to pristine grime on DVD.
“If anyone asks, we’re already f**cked.” Being a teenager is like the best thing ever and the worst thing ever all rolled into one. It’s that phase in your life where adulthood feels almost within reach, and yet, most of us lack the ability to fully grasp and comprehend “grown-up” scenarios when we find ourselves caught in the middle of them. It’s something this writer experienced many times as a teen (who thought she knew everything, and quickly realized she knew nothing), and a notion that first-time feature filmmaker Kevin Phillips deftly explores in his meticulously crafted coming-of-age psychological thriller, Super Dark Times, which repeatedly kicked me right in the gut in the best possible way.