Real estate is always a solid investment—unless you’re in a state where realtors needn’t disclose past tragic events, such as occupation by a sinister cult and lots of subsequent disappearances.
Like I said, a crap shoot.
Such is the case with Marcus (Antoine Harris) and Grace (Shannon Foster), who think they’ve found a perfect parcel of land near Ojai, California to set up a commercial cannabis operation.
To celebrate their new future as ganja growers, the couple invite friends Phillip (Peter Sabri), Dominic (Weston Meredith), and Patricia (Erlinda Navarro), down for a weekend of drinking games and exploring the property.
At first, guest and host alike have trouble sleeping. Patricia in particular is gripped by nightmares of bloodletting and dismemberment.
Meanwhile Phil and Dominic get into a lover’s quarrel, and Dominic storms off to find a signal for his phone. Never to be seen again.
Thanks to a gabby security officer, the group finds out that at least one ex-cult member (with cannibal tendencies) is still running around terrorizing the community.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of red flag that will cause most investors to bail out.
The maniac is a brawny dude, marginally scary, but nothing really paranormal happens until his victims rise from the grave seeking revenge.
Filmed on a micro budget by director Demetrius Navarro, Warnings isn’t a good movie, but it’s good enough if gruesome events taking place in a scenic location float your boat.
If a gorgeous woman wants to go camping on the first date, it’s definitely a red flag.
In Crone Wood, Irish writer-director Mark Sheridan’s ultra low-budget, found footage debut, a very cute couple hit upon the novel idea of pitching a tent in the great outdoors and documenting their overnight excursion on camera.
Danny (Ed Murphy) is still pinching himself over meeting the beautiful, free-spirited Hailey (Elva Trill), and doesn’t want their evening to end. When she suggests a hiking and camping adventure, he’s only too happy to take her to the Army Surplus store for sleeping bags—especially after Hailey informs him that they’ll be sharing a tent.
The two tentatively get to know each other, passing Danny’s camera back and forth recording the lush scenery and their jokey, lovey-dovey insights. Hailey mocks Danny’s attempts to set up camp, and later throws a fit when she finds the camera running during a spirited make-out session.
Danny confesses that he’s never been with a woman as hot as Hailey, and he wanted something to remember her by when she inevitably comes to her senses and dumps him.
Soon Danny will have more serious problems.
As the nascent couple wanders deeper into the wild Irish countryside, they come upon ruined stone structures which they explore by daylight and again in the darkness by the light of the camera.
Danny is convinced that someone is following them. Why this necessitates a midnight run through a twisty, crumbling obstacle course is unclear, but he is soon proven correct, as the novice campers are pursued and captured by masked followers of a witches coven who’ve inhabited Crone Wood since time immemorial.
And things get real between Hailey and Danny. Real intense.
At this point, comparisons to folk-horror landmarks such as Wicker Man and Midsommar will be inevitable, though there is a crucial difference, in terms of the fate that awaits Danny.
Crowdfunded for a measly $17,000 and filmed in about two weeks, Crone Wood is nevertheless a captivatingly creepy feature especially if you’re a lovestruck sucker punching above their weight class.
If you’re in the market for a pretty good werewolf movie, Howl should do the trick.
It’s an understated thriller, low budget, definitely second billing on a double feature, but effective, efficient storytelling with proper levels of suspense, blood, and carnage.
A British passenger train chugging through the forest is waylaid by an obstruction on the tracks. Joe (Ed Speelers), a fed-up conductor responsible for the safety and welfare of less than a dozen riders, is tasked with finding out what went wrong.
From the looks of things, plenty.
The engineer is missing and there seems to be a large stag tangled in the train’s undercarriage. It’s a full moon and howling can be heard moving closer to the crippled choo-choo.
Most of Howl takes place on the train, where disgruntled passengers ignore Joe’s safety protocols, much to their detriment. Alliances form and crumble as the beast(s) seek to gain entrance and have a quick bite.
Horror Survival Pro Tip: Join forces. There are safety in numbers, a theorem proven correct as the trapped train commuters brutally gang stomp a werewolf into tomato sauce.
As is usually the case, when the group fragments under pressure the slaughter begins in earnest. Conductor Joe does his employers proud, trying till the very end to save lives, but the lad is in over his head.
Directed by Paul Hyett and written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, Howl is played absolutely straight. There are no subtle genre references, no in-jokes, nothing of the sort.
It’s a train under attack by werewolves! A story as old as time. There’s even a romantic subplot. All aboard!
Funny, I thought with a title like Stoker Hills, that there might be vampires in the vicinity.
Nope, not even a nibble, though blood is drained if you pay attention. I’m not advising you to do so.
Three students enrolled in Professor Tony Todd’s community college film class get themselves kidnapped while working on a zombie movie, and must escape the clutches of a fiendish killer in an underground labyrinth.
Ryan (David Gridley), Jake (William Bedford-Hill), and Erica (Steffani Brass) set out with the noblest intentions to create a cinematic hybrid of “The Walking Dead and Pretty Woman.”
Shooting B-roll of a trolling Erica decked out in hooker garb goes south when she gets snatched by a goon in a creepy car. The dufus bros take off in hot pursuit, eventually leading to a secret trailer in the woods, where they too are set upon and abducted.
The camera is found by a fireman and turned over to the cops.
What looks to be a promising setup is soon squandered, as director Benjamin Louis and scenarist Jonah Kuehner unwisely shift gears into the police investigation that follows their disappearance.
We are summarily introduced to a pair of plodding detectives (Eric Etabari and William Lee Scott, the former inexplicably garbed like he’s auditioning for Guys & Dolls) who manage to grind narrative momentum to a screeching halt.
We’re handed scene after scene of these two dull dicks mulling over the found footage for clues, occasionally cutting back to the tied-up victims trying laboriously to escape their shackles, as if to remind us that there’s still a plot that needs resolving here.
The storyline twists and rebounds with their ponderous investigative revelations, including a serial killer with a pig heart (Jason Sweat) in need of fresh blood. The outré details don’t add up to much of anything, until the very last scene.
At that point, you will have the privilege of deciding if Stoker Hills is a clever little film with a “Gotcha” ending, or a low-budget time-waster with the lamest finale since, “Gosh, what a crazy dream!”
It’s an awesome responsibility when you think about it.
I hate waking up in a cornfield with no memory of getting there. So, right away, I was a little reluctant to proceed with Escape the Field, a succinctly titled puzzler from English filmmaker Emerson Moore.
Six people regain consciousness amongst an endless jungle of corn. They’re each equipped with a single item (lantern, matches, water, knife, etc), and together must reason their way out of ear shot.
The field is loaded with booby traps, and there is a killer shrewdly disguised as corn, lurking about and making life miserable for everyone.
Sam (Jordan Clare Robbins), who is clearly the brains of this bunch, quickly devours clues and discovers an evolving map that presumably leads to a less starchy environment.
Joining Sam on her doomed patrol, is Ryan (Shane West, in the Adam Baldwin role), a seething, guilt-ridded soldier; Tyler (Theo Rossi, in the Robert Beltran role), a smiling divorced father who develops a crush on Sam, and Cameron (Tahirah Sharif), an emotionally unstable British intelligence agent.
There are two other people in their little posse, but they don’t do anything except die.
After dodging Corn Man and and assorted deadly pitfalls, Sam begins to see a pattern. Someone is obviously watching their progress through the deadly gauntlet.
But who? And what do they want?
Don’t hold your breath waiting for answers. As more than one person remarks during Escape the Field, “there’s no way out.”
This becomes apparent at around the 30-minute mark, leaving another 58 minutes of futile floundering in the field.
Writer-director Emerson Moore surely should have known that we’d get fed up with all this friggin’ corn.
In the case of Escape the Field, I would stick with the old horror movie adage, “Steer clear of the Moore.”
Well, let’s see you make a tale of Arctic terror on a microscopic budget!
Written and directed by Charlie Steeds (Winterskin, Death Ranch), a MetFilm grad with an abiding love of bygone horror tropes, Freeze is a Lovecrafty pastiche of Victorian Era exploration that bravely demands your attention, despite being financed by old soda bottles.
Captain Roland Mortimer (Rory Wilton) charts his warship the HMS Innsmouth (hint) to the North Pole in search of his best friend, William Streiner (Tim Cartwright), a fellow sea captain who disappeared two years before in search of a passage through the ice.
It doesn’t take long for the Innsmouth to get frozen in the ice and set upon by Deep Ones, so Mortimer and his intrepid crew of a half-dozen men abandon ship and try their luck on the frozen tundra.
The Arctic region isn’t very large, so Mortimer and company soon discover a massive cave containing a few stiffs from Streiner’s earlier voyage. After that, they discover Streiner himself, who has gone native and joined forces with the so-called “Icthyoids” in a vague scheme of world domination.
All he needs to lead his baggy suited fishmen to victory is his copy of The Necronomicon, which Mortimer thoughtfully provides.
Freeze is old, old-time entertainment that would have worked just as well as a radio play accompanied by scary sound effects and a wheezy organ. Of course, then we’d miss grotty details like Streiner biting his best friend’s fingers off, and admittedly, that’s a fun scene.
Steeds cheerfully peppers the proceedings with DIY practical effects that any Dr. Who fan would endorse, particularly the pesky Icthyoids, who resemble a Sleestack dance company when appearing en masse.
So what can we really say about Freeze? Campy enthusiasm and resourceful story telling can still save the day, if you agree to meet them halfway.
We’re seeing an upswing of Air B&B-based horror movies, and writer-director Zach Cregger’s Barbarian currently sits alone at the top of the heap. It’s a stylistic cousin of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as mood and tone careen crazily between multiple storylines that converge in one really bad house.
Our heroine Tess (Georgina Campbell) is on her way to Detroit for a job interview with a documentary filmmaker. She arrives at her rental, the only livable dwelling in a blighted suburb that looks like World War II ended last week.
To complicate matters, it’s a dark and stormy night. To further complicate matters, she finds her house already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgard), a somewhat intense fellow who seems determined to put her at ease, offering to share the house with Tess for the evening.
Eventually, and against her better judgment, Tess accepts Keith’s hospitality and the two get better acquainted over a bottle of wine.
Meanwhile, in another part of the movie, TV sitcom star A.J. Gilbride (Justin Long), is having a rough time with the #MeToo movement, causing his career to crumble.
He’s advised to liquidate his holdings, including some rental property in his native Michigan, currently occupied by Tess, Keith, and something else entirely.
There is a fearsome creature at the heart of Barbarian, but like any good monster, she’s highly sympathetic, certainly more so than the two male leads, neither of whom can adapt in the unexpected survival situation they all stumble into.
AJ in particular is a loathsome example of masculinity; a whiny, raging, mama’s boy, who proves to be the biggest obstacle in Tess’s escape from a hell-house that rivals the Sawyer Farm in Texas.
Frank (Richard Brake), the owner of the house and its hell, gets his story told in a narrative hopping flashback, and we realize that the thing haunting this hacienda is not the real monster here. In fact, she’s a remarkably nurturing creature considering her grim origin.
There’s a hell of a lot happening in Barbarian, and it understandably leaves the viewer a bit rung out. It’s shocking, periodically funny, and superbly realized by Zach Cregger, formerly of The Whitest Kids You Know.
Cregger’s commitment to creeping (and grossing) us out is impressive as layers of awfulness just continue stack up like mildewed laundry.
It’s also a film that’s not afraid to sound off on a laundry list of anxiety topics, including motherhood, property values, Cancel Culture, incest, hospitality industry paranoia, and awkward first dates.
Barbarian is a wild ride and there are no seat belts in this buggy.
Dave Franco (younger brother of James) is the fledgling auteur responsible for The Rental, and unlike most coattail grabbing siblings, he demonstrates legitimate ability in the cinematic arts.
Of course, vacationers in peril isn’t the most original concept, but we’ve seen filmmakers do more with less.
Charlie (Dan Stevens, who seems to be making a career in genre films), a big-shot tech dude on the verge of a major career spike, makes arrangements for a celebratory weekend getaway at a well-appointed beach house on the Oregon Coast.
His wife Michelle (Alison Brie), and underachieving kid brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) are part of the party, as is Josh’s Iranian girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand)—who also happens to be Charlie’s coworker.
Problems predictably boil to the surface in short order: Mina suspects that Taylor (Toby Huss), the beach-house caretaker, is a racist and makes an issue of it. Michelle doesn’t want any Molly, so the other three party without her. Mina and Josh bring an adorable French bulldog with them, despite a No Dogs clause in the rental agreement.
As the drugs take effect, Charlie puts the moves on Mina, even though she’s in a committed relationship with his hot-headed younger brother, currently crashed on the couch. While Charlie’s wife sleeps peacefully in the next room, the horny workmates knock boots in the shower.
Shortly thereafter, Mina discovers micro cameras installed in the shower head and things take a very paranoid turn. Charlie and Mina immediately seize on the idea that Taylor, a man they’ve never met before, is going to blackmail them with illicit footage of their midnight hanky-panky.
If that wasn’t enough, the dog disappears. (He does not die.)
Franco succeeds in sparking tension and earning our interest, as it’s obvious from the assortment of perspectives we’re presented with, inside and outside the house, that someone is watching these frisky beachcombers screw around and catching it all on camera.
Sadly, The Rental builds shakily to a half-baked massacre that clarifies zilch. I honestly pictured a nation of viewers looking quizzically at one another while shrugging their shoulders.
My complaint is simply this: We spend 95 percent of the running time of the movie putting up with a philandering tech bro and his flawed posse, only to have a deux ex machina come in and wipe them all out?
Who’s the guy in the mask?
Hey Little Franco, if we’re forced to go online for an explanation of your movie’s ending, you’ve failed your obligation as a storyteller.
“Count Dracula, monarch of all vampires, is dead, but his disciples live on, to spread the cult and corrupt the world.”
Like the gloomy narrator indicates in his ominous introduction to Brides of Dracula, the marquee bloodsucker, played by Christopher Lee, managed to get himself skewered in a previous Hammer Films production, so this time around we get Baron Meinster (the dashing David Peel), certainly one of the first examples of vampire as pop star.
When Meinster materializes at the Transylvania Academy of Proper Young Ladies to visit Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), the pretty new French teacher, the gathered gals go gaga over the dapper blonde Baron.
Check out the image above used to promote the film. It looks Heathcliff and Catherine off to a make-out sesh on the moors.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
By this point in the movie, Marianne has already freed Meinster from captivity by his daffy dowager mother the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), who for years has kept vigil over her evil offspring, aided by Greta (Freda Jackson), her equally loony servant.
Earlier, the Baroness discovers Marianne stuck at the local pub, abandoned by her cowardly coachman (Michael Ripper). Lonely for educated company, the increasingly unstable noblewoman invites Marianne up to her castle, to sleep in one of her many guest bedrooms.
From her window, Marianne spies the young Baron wandering on his own balcony below. Throwing common sense to the wind, she instantly believes the beautiful man has been wrongfully incarcerated and helps him to escape.
Nice going, Marianne!
The newly liberated nosferatu is soon feasting on the hottest peasant woman in the village (Marie Deveraux), as well as Marianne’s jealous roommate Gina (Andree Melly).
Greta, once his captor, has decided to help out Meinster by digging up the dead girls and making them more presentable for their master.
Now that’s what I call Goth!
True, there is no Dracula on hand, but we do get Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) the Hall of Fame vampire slayer, operating at the top of his game. Cushing is typically excellent and erudite as the dedicated undead destroyer, who has a couple gnarly brawls with the new count on the block.
After getting a bite from Meinster, Van Helsing demonstrates uncanny resourcefulness, by treating his unholy hickey with a hot branding iron and some H20 blessed by the local priest.
Despite the absence of the iconic Christopher Lee, Brides of Dracula gallops along at a brisk clip, with impending danger reliably signaled by Malcolm Williamson’s anxious orchestration, that during moments of high drama seems on the verge of complete nervous collapse.
The veteran supporting cast is spot on. Freda Jackson is a howling mad domestic that nonetheless adapts to new duties with surprising confidence. And the enchanting Andree Melly glowingly epitomizes the movie’s tagline: “He turned innocent beauty into unspeakable horror!”
Even minor characters, like Dr. Tobler (Miles Malleson), the dipsomaniac local sawbones, are given sufficient space by director Terence Fisher to have small comic interludes that prove successful more often than not.
Speaking of comic interludes, there is some lame-ass bat puppetry happening here that might also inspire a few laughs. That should not deter anyone in the slightest.
Brides of Dracula is Hammer horror at its hottest, featuring a plethora of glaring bloodshot eyes, heaving bosoms, and a fair amount of fang action.
Required viewing in my estimation. See what all the fuss is about.
As if to put an exclamation point on my earlier observation that internet adventurers are the new Red Shirts, along comes Deadstream, the Apocalypse Now of found footage horror.
Sean Ruddy (Joseph Winter) is an internet personality who stages dangerous stunts that also manage to be offensive, such as getting smuggled across the Mexican border in the trunk of a car.
After his latest spectacle goes horribly wrong, Ruddy hopes to apologize and move on, but his fans are deserting him in droves, peppering his inbox with destructive criticism.
Comments pop up throughout the movie acting as a sort of Greek chorus to the action, which is plentiful. Even as Sean battles all manner of paranormal entity, the comment string keeps up a barrage of fan posts that are funny, annoying, and even surprisingly useful.
Among my favorite comments: “Glad I’m not you,” “Better start praying,” and “Please sign this petition at Move.org so Sean will stop being be such a pussy.”
In order to atone for a bad call, Ruddy comes clean to his public about the one fear he’s never tackled—ghosts.
So, strapped with all the latest gear thanks to a sponsorship from an energy drink company, the repentant daredevil vows to spend a night in the most haunted house in America—that he can successfully break into without getting arrested.
The lion’s share of Deadstream originates from one of Sean’s cameras that are spread throughout Death House, the site of his viral vigil, or mounted on his person.
Admittedly, this is a long time to be looking up Sean’s nose, but writer-directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter reward our patience by throwing everything but the yeti at our fearful protagonist.
Sean spends an enchanted evening fending off angry spirits, misshapen freaks, and a hot girl named Chrissy (Melanie Stone) who wanders into the chaos.
Like the legendary Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mister Chicken, Joseph Winter delivers an unhinged scaredy-cat performance, that comes garnished with the best girlie shriek of man-terror I’ve heard in a minute.
As Sean Ruddy, a man who will do anything to please the ever-present and increasingly fickle comment string, Winter willfully throws himself into a thankless part, that of sacrificial lamb to his voracious followers.
Ruddy makes himself vulnerable to the dark forces of the house and to his followers. Will the truth set him free?
His unwavering commitment to see the project through drives Deadstream to thoughtful new frontiers that bear examining. For instance, shouldn’t everyone come equipped with a Stupid Things To Do spin board?
Simply in terms of pound-for-pound raw energy, and entertainment bang for the buck, Deadstream is a hot ticket.
I was a wee bit disappointed that the Winters decided to pay homage to Sam Raimi about three-fourths of the way through the film, precisely because they had managed to avoid doing so up to that point.
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