The Pyramid (2014)

What, no Mummy?

You’d think a horror movie called The Pyramid would have the decency to trot out a few bandage-wrapped shufflers for Old Times’ sake, but director Gregory Levasseur (better known as the writer for High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes) decided to go another way.

Nutshell: An archaeological expedition enters a previously undiscovered pyramid, awakening several inhabitants, including feline zombie servants of Bas, and apparently the god Anubis himself.

Egyptian curses. We never learn.

The defilers of the sacred tomb spend the majority of their screen time crawling through ancient, perfectly symmetrical tunnels in search of an exit, triggering deadly traps and getting mauled by a wrathful jackyl-headed CGI monster that’s actually not too shabby to behold.

The most riveting sequence involves a woman helplessly impaled on wooden stakes being slowly eaten by undead cats. Needless to say, this predicament doesn’t sit well with the victim, who howls for release.

Though The Pyramid is ostensibly a found-footage feature, the POV is all over the place so it’s best not to focus on this aspect.

Instead, settle in for a fast-moving conveyer belt of doomed tomb raiders meeting their fates in memorably macabre fashion.

Again, no mummies are featured in The Pyramid. But the curse is a killer.

From The Dark (2014)

It’s time to play Name That Creature!

Vampire? Ghoul? Revenant? Other?

A reasonably attractive couple experiences car trouble while touring the Irish countryside. This wouldn’t normally be a big deal, except their mishap coincides with the accidental resurrection of an undead dude by a clumsy sod farmer.

After holing up in the farmer’s house, Fay (Niamh Algar) takes charge of their situation, maintaining a level head under extreme duress. Mark (Stephen Cromwell) reverts to a whiny little piss pants.

Fay figures out the monster is extremely light averse and sensibly surrounds herself with headlights, lanterns, candles, lamps, lighters, and a cell phone, all while trying to keep her doofus husband conscious and motivated.

Writer-director Conor McMahon (Stitches) skillfully renders From The Dark in miniature, with only four characters in the whole movie, including the living dead one (Ged Murray). The events unfold in real time, with no atmospheric cutaways.

McMahon keeps the camera tightly focused on Fay’s anguished face, her head on a swivel trying to get a bead on a shrouded figure who’s at home in the darkness.

But what is it?

A vampire, probably, but at times behaves more like a slobbering ghoul, this creature doesn’t speak a word. He just comes and goes until the inevitable showdown right before dawn.

It’s a well-conceived monster, if a bit insubstantial at times.

There are pacing problems. From The Dark roars out of the gate like a cyclone and calms down considerably in the Second Act, as the couple sweats it out in captivity.

But that sweet, sweet tension is never far away, and Fay knows she’s in for a real street fight.

 

 

 

Screamers (1979)

You can tell Screamers is pure Italian schlock because the monsters are dripping with olive oil.

Originally titled Island Of The Fishmen, it’s a bit of an H.G. Wells mashup of Mysterious Island and The Island of Dr. Moreau, as Claude, a young naval doctor (Claudio Cassinelli) washes ashore in the Caribbean after the sinking of the prison ship to which he was assigned.

He and two surviving prisoners are taken to the wicker plantation home of wealthy misanthrope Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson) and his stunning lady friend Amanda Marvin (Barbara Bach, aka Mrs. Ringo Starr). Together they preside over a household of voodoo enthusiasts, led by high priestess Shakira (Beryl Cunningham).

A tired-looking Joseph Cotten shows up long enough to play Amanda’s mad (but seemingly decent) scientist pappy, who is determined to create a new race of oily gill men to populate the oceans of the world. His experiments are then employed by Rackham as cheap labor to loot the treasure vault of a nearby submerged temple.

Oh yeah, and it’s a volcanic island that’s gonna blow any second.

Directed by giallo veteran Sergio Martino (Slave Of The Cannibal God, Torso, Blade Of The Ripper), Screamers isn’t nearly good enough to be lost treasure, but it’s brisk, watchable trash with a decent budget, and Barbara Bach is radiant.

I already checked, you don’t have anything better to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overlord (2018)

Underwhelmed is more like it.

By most standards, Overlord is a pretty cool WW II movie about a platoon of parachutists dropped behind enemy lines in occupied France. Told from the point of view of a nervous black soldier (Jovan Adepo), the squad members who don’t perish upon landing hit the ground and regroup near a small village.

Their mission is to blow up a strategic tower held by the Nazis to pave the way for the imminent Allied invasion.

The soldiers discover that the Nazis are performing weird science experiments on the local peasant community and Boyce (Adepo) pauses the mission to lend a hand.

This is all well and good, if you’re in the mood for a bracing war movie. My complaint with name producer J.J. Abrams is that Overlord underperforms as a horror movie.

While the battle sequences are reasonably compelling, we don’t get to the monster portion of the program till well past the 70-minute mark.

And to be honest, it was just okay. Fine even.

The effects, makeup and set demolition are on point, and Kommander Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) is a formidable uber-villain.

But director Julius Avery and writer Billy Ray spend far too much screen time cooped up in the attic of plucky French partisan Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), establishing the presence of Chloe’s dopey kid brother Paul (Gianny Taufer).

As we all know, this is for the sole purpose of predictably using him as a hostage bargaining chip going forward.

I wish that the brain trust behind Overlord would have allotted more time and energy to creating memorable monsters, with less concern for conventional plot devices.

The nasty Nazi hybrids that we spend the entire film waiting for, are too few and far between to mount much of a threat, and that’s my chief beef.

I recall a trailer for Overlord two years ago that blew me away, breathlessly hinting at Third Reich abominations the likes of which we’ve never seen.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen Frankenstein’s Army, and it’s a much better and weirder horror movie, along similar lines.

Despite my ire, this isn’t a negative review. Overlord is solid entertainment that promises more than it delivers, never really cashing in on the story’s monstrous potential.

 

 

Demon Wind (1990)

Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead = The Velvet Underground.

I accept that it’s not a perfect analogy, but you get where I’m coming from. It’s an undeniable influence.

Nearly 10 years after Raimi and Bruce Campbell caught lightning in a bottle, Charles Phillip Moore and his crew unveiled a delightfully unfettered homage, Demon Wind, about another bunch of old teenagers assailed by occult forces in a rural location.

Corey (Eric Larson) and his girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensée) meet up with a group of friends and stereotypes to solve the mystery of Corey’s grandparents, who perished under mysterious circumstances during the Great Depression.

Turns out the family farm (more of a tattered theater set, really) is on land originally claimed by a devil-loving preacher and his followers who were set ablaze by townsfolk with no taste for human sacrifice.

Once Corey and his comrades reach the farm, all hell breaks loose, and suddenly, we’re at a Dead show, with ghouls coming out of the woodwork.

I’m not recommending Demon Wind because it’s a brilliantly conceived film that was nurtured to life by the artistic vision of writer-director Charles Phillip Moore.

Rather, it’s the sort of slap-dash amateurism (it was filmed in seven days) that drove Ed Wood to create flying saucers out of paper plates and a cockpit from a shower curtain.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and the makeup and practical effects on Demon Wind, though plentiful, range from barely adequate to comically half-assed.

Moore employs a similarly scattergun approach to the narrative, seizing and abandoning ideas with random enthusiasm.

One of the doomed kids, Chuck (Stephen Quadros), is a magician with a black belt. His friend Stacy (Jack Forcinito) has a shotgun with unlimited ammunition.

Chuck still carries a torch for Terri (Lynn Clark) who now belongs to homophobic meathead Dell (Bobby Johnston).

Poor Bonnie (Sherrie Bendorf) gets turned into a doll, and no one seems to care.

Magic spells are cast. You can tell because that’s when the bloopy, hand-drawn animation appears.

The entire cast looks as though it just stepped out of a Huey Lewis video. Feel free to hit pause and ridicule the myriad lame looks available to pre-grunge adolescents.

And don’t worry about Corey’s friends dying. When the pack gets thin, Amazon thoughtfully sends more.

Stinky cheese makes the tastiest snack, no?

Sweetheart (2019)

It’s a rare day in May when I can get the long-suffering Missus Sharky to watch a monster movie with me. Rarer still when she actually enjoys the experience.

Bolstered by a rocket-hot performance from actress Kiersey Clemons, Sweetheart is an absorbing and inventive survival thriller that pits lovely castaway Jenn (Clemons) against a nameless terror from the briny deep.

Nutshell: After a yachting kerfuffle, Jenn washes ashore on a tropical island, along with a soon-to-be-deceased shipmate. Despite some tears and false steps, the plucky party girl proves to be a natural hunter/gatherer, and for a brief movie moment, her basic needs are adequately met.

Cue monster.

It gradually dawns on Jenn that she’s competing for resources with a hulking amphibious biped that strolls from the surf on a nightly basis in search of snacks.

Her aquatic adversary sends Jenn back to basics, namely Fight or Flight. When her flotation device fails its buoyancy test, she’s left with the former option.

Time to sharpen some sticks.

Director and co-writer J.D. Dillard paints a fascinating creature feature that checks a number of positive boxes for me. What’s not to love about a resourceful (and OMG beautiful) heroine faced with a formidable, frightening foe, set on a scenic stretch of white-sand paradise?

Dillard’s camera eye emphasizes the wild desolation of the island and Jenn’s desperate measures to hide from, and observe, a creature the likes of which she’s never imagined.

Kiersey Clemons radiates fire, vulnerability, and kick-ass charisma as Jenn, a true survivor who simultaneously finds her inner warrior and rids herself of a condescending asshole boyfriend.

More likes this, please!

 

 

 

 

The Void (2016)

Have a hankering for some top-notch cosmic horror? Then come and get it, Lovecraft Lovers! The Void is a veritable smorgasbord of guts, gory rituals, and tentacled abominations from beyond time and space.

Writer/directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski are clearly captivated by the works of John Carpenter (particularly The Thing and Assault On Precinct 13), Stuart Gordon, and the body horror of David Cronenberg. Their approach is to dole out generous portions of oozing carnage that saturates the landscape like blood gravy on hell-baked biscuits.

Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) is a small-town deputy getting ready to call it a night when he encounters a stumbling, bloody stranger (Evan Stern) in need of assistance. You can tell it’s a small town, because the nearest hospital is on the verge of closing and only staffed by a skeleton crew, including Carter’s soon-to-be ex-wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) and kindly old Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh).

Things go from bad to nightmare bad as the hospital inhabitants discover they’ve been cut off from civilization by a squad of whacked-out cultists in white robes awaiting a cosmic event. To make matters worse, patient and doctor alike begin changing—and not for the better.

There are no slow parts to The Void; it opens with a woman being set on fire and never pauses for breath. The requisite character development is handled swiftly and cleanly, coming to light as needed when Carter, Allison, and Doc Powell take extreme measures to fill their own personal voids.

The results are cataclysmic. Turns out when the stars are right, you can change the world. And not for the better.

 

Depraved (2019)

Big Apple underground auteur Larry Fessenden has been referred to as a 21st Century Roger Corman, not only for his ability to nurture talented indie directors (Jim Mickle and Ti West, among others), but presumably because his productions tend to be of the fast and cheap variety.

Yet Corman’s monster matinees bear little resemblance to Fessenden’s sparse, puzzling, and always provocative genre features like Wendigo, Habit, and The Last Winter, where flawed, well-meaning characters encounter or create something that fundamentally changes who they are and the world they live in.

In Depraved, Fessenden’s ambitious, miniature rendering of Frankenstein, we meet Henry, a shell-shocked Army doctor (David Call) who reanimates an assemblage of body parts (Alex Breaux) with the help of his benefactor, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), a scheming pharmaceutical engineer. The only marginally monstrous creature is dubbed Adam, which Henry admits sounds “corny” at first.

Instead of a mad scientist’s laboratory, we get an airy Brooklyn loft where Henry tries to be a supportive creator, but he’s constantly interrupted by his worried girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne), and bored, impatient Polidori, who impulsively takes Adam out for a night on the town, replete with strippers, whiskey, and cocaine.

Henry proves ill-equipped to be a mentor, with his own wartime trauma never far from the surface. When Adam runs away from the loft in search of female companionship, Henry properly freaks out.

Meanwhile, Adam meets Shelley (Addison Timlin), a pretty barfly who likes Iggy Pop, but it wasn’t meant to be.

As is usually the case in Fessenden films, things don’t work out because his characters are so clearly defined (and doomed) by their inability to adapt to a changing world.

Depraved deserves more attention, especially since Universal Pictures seems bloody determined to reboot its monster franchise after one dismal, expensive flop (The Mummy) and one surprising hit (The Invisible Man).

Fessenden is exactly the sort of budget-friendly, problem-solving hired gun who could (and should) figure into their long-range plans. With Depraved, he ably demonstrates that his take on classic horror honors the past, but can’t wait for the future.

 

 

Dead Birds (2004)

Just a quick note to would-be bank robbers: Make sure you have a safe hideout after the job.

It’s part of your due diligence. I mean, how hard is it to send over a priest or gypsy to check the place out for evil spirits and whatnot?

A band of confederate renegades rip off a gold shipment from an Alabama bank during the War Between the States. They shoot lots of folks in the attempt and once their financial goals are met, the bandits beat a hasty retreat to wait out a storm at an abandoned plantation.

Natch, there’s friction within the organization. William (Henry Thomas) is in charge, but subordinates Clyde (Michael Shannon) and Joseph (Mark Boone, Jr) have designs on moving up by stealing the loot before they rendezvous in Mexico.

William’s younger brother Sam (Patrick Fugit) took a bullet during the robbery, and seems to be fading fast. Todd (Isaiah Washington), a runaway slave, gets creeped out by an occult grimoire he discovers in the barn, and Annabelle (Nicki Aycox) wants the hell out of there, ASAP.

Director Alex Turner and writer Simon Barrett meticulously wrap the action in a constricting shroud of understated, slow-burn dread, and the production is better for it. Tensions mount incrementally as the thunderstorm roars to a crescendo over the evil house, awakening the former tenants.

At this point, Turner and Barrett wisely turn the taps on full, and let the pinot flow. Dead Birds is a curious film and definitely worth watching as an intriguing stylistic anomaly. It’s not every day you find a Lovecraftian Western with a decent body count.

Satanic Panic (2019)

In search of diversion, I stumbled upon Satanic Panic, a spirited romp about a pizza delivery driver named Sam (Hayley Griffith) who just wants a lousy tip from a bunch of hungry devil worshippers and their curvaceous cult leader, Danica Ross (Rebecca Romjin).

It’s her first day on the job and she needs money to put gas in her scooter. In addition to fast-paced mayhem, Satanic Panic is very much a movie about class struggle, as dirt-poor Sam must avoid becoming a sacrifice to Baphomet (what a lousy time to be a virgin!) while trying to collect a few measly bucks from weird rich people in a gated community.

Billed as a horror/comedy, Satanic Panic is a hugely entertaining bootstrap operation driven by the same delirious spirit of amateurism that inspired Sam Raimi and friends to set up shop in the woods. Who knew that there were so many monsters, demons, witches, perverts, and sacrificial summonings behind closed doors in such a good neighborhood?

Director Chelsea Stardust and writers Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghagen (Mohawk), successfully walk a watchable line between wigged out Grand Guignol excess (reminiscent of the late Stuart Gordon), and the basic narrative about how Sam is a wage slave trapped in a bourgeois hell.

Will Sam find the fortitude to fight back and overthrow her oppressors? Hey, she’s a working-class hero delivering pizza for a living! Of course she does!

And what’s with this no tipping bullshit?