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.
Chef’s kiss for The Menu, a daily special filled with dark delights.
Directed and dressed with considerable panache by Mark Mylod, from a script by Will Tracy and Seth Reiss, The Menu is pitch-black comedy, skewering pretentious food snobs like so much shish kabob.
Twelve affluent diners are picked up by ferry and transported to Hawthorn Island, a self-contained culinary colony dedicated to growing, raising, and cooking food that’s showcased at its exclusive Hawthorn restaurant.
Here, Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) prepares mind-boggling tasting menus for $1200 a head. But this particular evening’s service is special. There will be no coming back for seconds.
In fact, there will be no coming back at all! Class warfare has seldom been served up with so many diabolical surprises.
Among the doomed diners are the Queen Bee food critic (Janet McTeer); a has-been Hollywood star (John Leguizamo); a multi-cultural trio of blowhard bros (Mark St. Cyr, Arturo Castro, Rob Yang), and fawning foodie fanboy Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), accompanied by his dazzling date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy).
Like a master showman in the guise of a humble cook, Chef Slowik meticulously describes each course. While doing so, he drops not-so-cryptic hints about the various axes he has to grind with each guest.
And when Slowik announces that there will be no bread served with the evening meal, because of its necessity to a working-class diet, the assembled eaters become even more uneasy.
Many timely topics are trotted out in The Menu—celebrity worship, commitment to ideals, pitiful power plays—and they all get seared by the heat of righteous service industry anger.
The quieter scenes of Slowik and Margot, slowly revealing themselves to each other, give us a breather between the mayhem of each successive course, until the feast’s fiery finale unfolds.
Margot wisely orders a cheeseburger to go. No surprise, it’s delicious!
From its Read Window voyeurism to Julia’s (Maika Monroe) resemblance to classic Hitchcock blonde Tippi Hedren, Watcher is a first-rate homage to the 20th century’s finest suspense filmmaker.
Best of all, it’s exquisitely crafted by writer-director Chloe Okuno, who orchestrates grinding fear and dread for a serial killer’s potential victim, a woman who knows too much in a country where she doesn’t speak the language.
Julia and her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) have just moved to Bucharest for his work. Julia, a one-time actress, is left to entertain herself in their new apartment for long periods of time while Francis wheels and deals.
Right off the bat, Julia is unnerved by a silhouette in a window across the street, a figure that seems to be fixated in her direction. In what becomes a pattern, she tries to tell Francis about the suspicious person, only to have hubby minimize her fears.
Meanwhile, women alone in their apartments are turning up headless. Yeah, thanks for your concern, Francis! Probably nothing to worry about.
There isn’t an ounce of flab on Watcher. Dialogue is minimal. Each frame is a precision brick in a wall of menace that threatens to fall on Julia at any moment. Precarious angles of endless invention are used to create a perpetual male gaze on Julia, a person seen, but not heard, due to a language (and gender) barrier.
Maika Monroe (It Follows, The Guest) continues to bloom, transcending the genre’s Final Girl status and emerging as a reluctant action hero, correctly channeling frustration and rage into not only self-preservation, but victory.
Make no mistake: in the hands of a lesser actress this film would not have achieved such thrilling peaks. As the unwilling object of a madman’s desire, Monroe is charismatic, capable, and committed to each character moment, as only someone fighting for their life can be.
Julia’s determination to find her tormentor and destroy her victimhood provides serious octane in Watcher, a sleek thriller that both embraces the Hitchcock tradition, and flips the camera back onto the audience (and Hitchcock), as if to ask, “What are you looking at?”
Definitely a Top Ten film of 2022. See it straight away.
Wow, two Oscar winners in one low-budget, 40-year-old slasher!
Jack Palance and Martin Landau are half a quartet of escaped lunatics paying a surprise visit to their new mental health practitioner in Alone in the Dark, a New Line Cinema oddity from writer-director Jack Sholder (The Hidden, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2).
Palance is underutilized as Frank Hawkes, a paranoid schizophrenic, but Landau chews the scenery like a great herbivorous swamp dinosaur as Byron Sutcliffe, a pyromaniac pastor with a permanently deranged countenance.
With the arrival of Doctor Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz, from The A-Team), the new shrink at the Haven Mental Hospital, Hawkes takes it into his head that Potter must have murdered their former doctor, and that he will soon kill all of them.
Donald Pleasance does the heavy lifting as stoner psychiatrist Leo Bain, the director of Haven Hospital. Bain’s ludicrous touchy-feely therapy encourages the patients to truly explore their various psychotic “trips.”
“Preacher likes to set fire to churches, that’s his trip. Unfortunately he does it when there are people inside,” Hawkes explains to Potter.
Along with monstrous pedophile Ronald “Fatty” Elster (Erland van Lidth, The Wanderers) and a vicious (but shy) maniac nicknamed “The Bleeder” (Phillip Clark), Hawkes and Preacher escape captivity during a power blackout caused by theatrical punk band The Sick Fucks, who are playing at a nearby bar.
The showdown, the siege of Dr. Potter’s house, ain’t exactly Straw Dogs, but Pleasance does his zany best confronting his runaway loonies with platitudes and mumbo jumbo.
Taken as a whole, Alone in the Dark isn’t a very good movie. It’s light on gore, characters appear and disappear randomly, and at least one subplot, involving Dr. Potter’s wife and sister going to a Nuclear Power protest, stretches credulity beyond all known limits.
Somehow, through the awkward combination of dormant star power, budget-constraint innovation, and tongue-in-cheek pseudoscience, it remains a kooky curio worthy of attention even 40 years later.
When Potter tells Bain that the escapees are armed and have killed several people, the latter shrugs, “Well, what do you expect? It’s a violent world out there.”
Lovely to look at but largely bereft of beast, The Cursed, written and directed by Sean Ellis, can’t decide if it’s a werewolf movie or a period piece homage to The Thing.
In true egalitarian fashion, we get a smattering of each, leaving both camps less than satisfied.
Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) is a 19th-century French landowner with a passel of problems. While slaughtering a band of gypsies who’ve taken up residence on his property, Laurent gets a horrible hex placed on him by a dying witch, who doesn’t appreciate being buried alive.
The local children immediately start having bad dreams about an evil mouth of silver teeth, supposedly constructed from the 30 pieces of silver that Judas was paid to betray Jesus.
Kids being kids, they find the enchanted teeth, start horsing around with them, and Edward (Max Mackintosh), Laurent’s son, gets bitten. Soon after, mutilated bodies begin turning up, and a visiting pathologist (Boyd Holbrook) is called in to investigate.
The Cursed is sturdily constructed and painterly pretty, but Ellis uses such a muted color palette, his framing dexterity often gets overlooked. Each set is either engulfed in fog or we get buckets of brown mud and green turf, so as to appear especially dreary. Visual monotony ensues.
And then there’s his cavalier attitude toward lycanthropy. Surviving victims of Edward’s rampage transform with tendrils emerging from their backside. Tendrils? Where did they come from? Is this Lon Chaney or Lovecraft?
Furthermore, the werewolf CGI isn’t anything special when it finally appears. Rick Baker’s seven Oscars are not in danger of being eclipsed by this bunch.
Even so, The Cursed isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s slow, overly talky, and there are way too many scenes of people waking up from nightmares. Turns out the dreams are the scariest part, unfortunately.
Editor’s Note: This is the second disappointing werewolf movie I’ve seen with this title. The 2004 Wes Craven-Kevin Williamson feature with Christina Ricci is also a dud.
“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.
These days, it’s almost impossible for anyone suffering a traumatic loss to be allowed the time and space to heal properly.
Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley) has just lost her husband to suicide, so she drives off into the timeless wonder of the English countryside to recharge her emotional batteries.
Unfortunately, her rural B&B is situated smack-dab in the middle of a metaphoric battlefield where she must face down unwanted masculine attention, principally in the form of Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) her temporary landlord.
All of the men in the nearby village are hostile to Harper, including a priest who asks her if she’s figured out what sin she committed to cause her husband to kill himself.
And then there’s a naked wild man that lives in an abandoned train tunnel who awakens at the sound of Harper singing and begins to pursue her relentlessly, enchanted by her “siren” song.
Writer and director Alex Garland (Annihilation) continually jabs the audience with a stick, asking us to consider uncomfortable ideas, such as, “Should both partners in a bad relationship go down with the ship?”
Men is a typically prickly A24 Production, depicting a society inhabited by a single man (demon?) who comes in many different shapes, and sits in judgment of Harper, a modern woman that ought to be ashamed that her husband James (Papaa Essiedue) jumped out a window.
That suicidal act appears to function as a blood sacrifice, summoning the Avenging Man Spirit (Kinnear, who is brilliant) to punish his wife’s transgressions—namely wanting her own life apart from a dangerously unstable partner.
The finale of Men is a queasily edited body horror freak out that will probably freak you out. After that, you can start unpacking all the subtext. Take your time: there’s plenty of meat on this bone, and I highly recommend savoring each bite.
“This is like the third movie we’ve seen where vampires are also realtors,” Kaja observes.
“It’s an easy metaphor,” I admit.
Day Shift is set in sunny Los Angeles, as hard-working vampire hunter Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) tries to earn a living snuffing out the undead and selling their teeth to oily pawnshop owner Troy (Peter Stormare).
There is a vampire hunter union, and Bud could make more money if he was a member. Alas, he’s been kicked out for not following the rules.
And wouldn’t you know it? He’s got a week to put together $10,000 for his daughter’s school tuition and braces, and his soon-to-be ex-wife wants to sell their house.
This situation provides the comic fulcrum and prompts Bud’s return to the union, where he is assigned a by-the-book partner named Seth, played by Dave Franco as a Rick Moranis-style retro nerd.
The villain in Day Shift is Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), an ambitious land baron who’s trying to buy up the valley she’s named after. She’s got a score to settle with Bud, who recently beheaded Audrey’s daughter during a house call.
Heck, let’s throw in Snoop Dogg dressed in full-on cowboy gear as Big John Elliott, a legendary slayer with a Clint Eastwood vibe.
Day Shift, directed by J.J. Perry and written by Tyler Tice and Shane Hatten, provides zippy spectacle with state-of-the-art vampire slaying methods (garlic grenades, silver beheading wire, wooden bullets), and the action is tightly choreographed and brutally executed.
The scene in which Bud teams up with the Nazarian Brothers, a pair of Eastern European tough boys, to clean out a nest of vampires is a real adrenaline popper. Martial arts, flying body parts, and tech toys make for successful stimulation.
Unfortunately, when the rumbles subside, we’re not left with much to occupy our attention.
It’s a minor complaint, but Bud’s family is about as one-dimensional as it gets. The sassy daughter (Zion Broadnax) and endlessly complaining wife (Meagan Goode) are standard plug and play characters.
There are loose ends left dangling all over the place, including a sunscreen that allows vampires to run around in the daylight for a short time. A significant discovery in Nosferatu society, but here it barely rates a mention.
And what’s up with Jamie Foxx’s name? When was the last time you met an African-American dude named Bud Jablonski?
If you’re inclined to forgive a few half-assed details, Day Shift delivers decent bang for the buck, but you’re not missing anything special.
Loosely based on Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, and directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9, Transsiberian), Stonehearst Asylum is a Victorian madhouse shocker in which the inmates literally take over the asylum.
Doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), an idealistic, Oxford-trained physician lands a job at a remote English asylum for wealthy lunatics, where he is taken under the wing by its director Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley).
Lamb chooses to leave the patients unmedicated and in some cases, even encourages them to pursue their delusions, as with the aristocrat who fancies himself a dog.
Newgate is drawn to Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a posh patient suffering from hysteria, and almost immediately begins devising escape methods on her behalf, even as she warns him to get his own ass outta town.
Stonehearst Asylum takes its sweet time about getting anywhere, but when you’ve got a cast that includes Kingsley, Michael Caine, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis as Lamb’s psychotic bully boy, Mickey Finn, it’s probably best to let these guys ham it up a bit.
Same goes for the ever-enchanting Kate Beckinsale, the ideal template for the role of the beautiful, mysterious madwoman in peril, with whom Newgate has no choice but to fall in love and try to rescue.
Who is she? Who is Newgate? Who is Lamb? Who is anybody in this picture?
Joseph Gangemi’s script wanders like a hippie on an OG Kush bender, but Anderson somehow guides his players to a blazing finale when murderous Mickey Finn bursts into flame and sets the whole place on fire.
I would characterize Stonehearst Asylum not only as a goth-styled thriller, but existing in the same cinematic universe as Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, and some of Hammer Films’ more outrageous period pieces, that likewise usually conclude with the house burning down.
I almost added Ken Russell to that group. Stonehearst Asylum stops short of achieving anything as stylistically unhinged as Russell’s maddest work, which is a tall order to be sure.
On the other hand, if you enjoy kooky costume drama with a first-rate cast attached, this is an Everything Bagel.
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