Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Category: Movie a Week 2019 (page 1 of 3)

Without Name

Eric goes into a remote forest to survey the land for a secretive developer with his assistant Olivia, with whom he is having an affair. They encounter a rootless young man who shares his anarchist philosophy and his psychedelic mushrooms, along with some local fairy lore. Olivia leaves after a fight, and Eric makes a mushroom tea from instructions in a book left in the cottage where they’re staying. This proves to be a mistake.

I was originally drawn to this movie because about a quarter of the traditional Irish tunes are called “Gan Anam,” “Without Name”; and that proves to be the “name” that the isolated woodland is called by the predictably hostile locals Eric meets at the pub. This is an enjoyable little movie–it does a good job of portraying the disorientation of being lost in the woods, and Eric’s growing paranoia is nicely unsettling. It would pair nicely with Across the River or The Alchemist Cookbook if you’re looking for disturbed-in-the-woods fair.

Into the Dark: Down

On the Friday before the “perfect storm” of a Valentine’s Day long weekend, two young professionals are trapped in a parking garage elevator. One thing leads to another, and another, and yet another, with dire and surprising consequences.

This was a solid thriller; nothing cutting edge, nothing really unpredictable, but still enjoyable, with some good tension and creative use of the cramped elevator as its primary location. Nothing about the story is really surprising at all, but the performances from the two leads are good, and the ending is satisfying. I like this kind of movie/show (not sure where to put the “Into the Dark” episodes, as they’re pretty close to movie quality but just a little longer than most dramatic series episodes) for a workday afternoon: I can half pay attention while doing some relatively rote work, pulling away to the action whenever something dramatic is about to happen.


Five Turkish police officers answer a call for backup, and find themselves inside an abandoned police station that is a portal to a strange and terrifying hell.

This is a visually striking film, bathed in red light, buckets of gore, and terrifying images glimpsed at the edge of the screen and lurking in the shadows. The Grand Guignol horrors on display are more than a little over the top, with manglings and mutilations and torture galore, and the story quickly becomes weirdly allegorical while also insanely bloody. It’s definitely nightmare fodder, but stunningly executed all the same.

The Void

A police officer finds a blood-covered man crawling along the side of the road, and rushes him to the hospital. Soon after he arrives, something starts to transform the patients and staff into monstrous and blood-thirsty creatures. When the survivors venture into the hospital’s mysterious sub-basement, they find that much is amiss.

This movie has some great body horror effects going on, and some impressive gore. It teeters between horror and science fiction, with some Satanic cult action tossed in, and that gets to be a bit much, but it delivers some good scares and cringes.

Cold Skin

On the eve of the First World War, a young man travels to an isolated Antarctic lighthouse to serve as a meteorologist. He discovers that the previous meteorologist died under mysterious circumstances, and that the lighthouse keeper with whom he will share the island is keeping a strange amphibious humanoid as a kind of pet/sex slave. Every night, hordes of the humanoids rise from the waves and attack the lighthouse, and the keeper and meteorologist must fight for their lives.

I expected something a little more like “Shadow Over Innsmouth,” but this feels a little more like “Avatar” (albeit quite a bit darker and gorier). There are some gorgeous scenes of the stark Antarctic island, and the underwater scenes are impressive, but the large-scale battles feel clunkily animated.

The Canal

An archivist becomes obsessed with a 100-year-old film that documents a crime that occurred at his home. Meanwhile, his wife has gone missing, and it comes to light that she was having an affair. He begins to lose his grip on sanity, believing that there is something in the house that can only be seen through an old movie camera that is responsible for both the long-ago crime and his wife’s disappearance.

This is a good atmospheric movie, with a few scary moments (particularly when the archivist’s young son is threatened by the ghosts) and some good plunging-into-madness hysteria from the lead actor. And the ending is nightmarish and unsettling, a final dive into insanity. Overall a nice little ghost story.

The Demon Lover

When his followers abandon him over a Satanic sex ritual, occult practitioner Laval Blessing conjures a demon to exact his revenge. Can Detective Frazetta crack the case and stop him before it’s too late? (Also, there’s a really awesome bar fight, and one of the cult members looks like Frank Zappa.)

Over the top horrible and campy, but also strangely fun and engaging. This was clearly made on as little budget as possible, and with an incredibly sparse script, but it leans into its subject and isn’t afraid to take the most asinine premise with utmost seriousness. Set your expectations low, and you’ll enjoy this little romp.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Recently released from a psychiatric hospital, Jessica, her husband Duncan, and their friend Woody move from New York City to a bucolic New England village. They find that the farmhouse they bought is occupied by a transient, Emily, but they invite her to stay. Soon Jessica starts to see and hear strange and disquieting things; are they a recurrence of her psychosis, related to the strange stories of the farmhouse’s past, or a plot to drive her mad?

I believe I saw this movie on television at some point; my mother was a horror fan, introducing me to Stephen King, “Harvest Home,” “The Hearse,” “Motel Hell,” and many other gems, so it’s the sort of thing that would have been must-watch-TV if it showed up late at night. It has a languid, dream-like quality, with its late summer setting with a hint of menace just beneath the surface. We hear Jessica’s inner monologue throughout, and it’s easy to conclude that she is indeed going mad, but then there are enough actual creepy events–the strange mute girl, the ominous old men in the town, Emily’s seductive ways–to suggest that there is something evil afoot.

Zohra Lampert’s performance is a tour-de-force of psychic fragility and gradual descent into madness; it’s much subtler than Edwidge Fenech’s in the somewhat-similar All the Colors of the Dark.

Huge thanks to Shudder for making this hard-to-find classic available!

Personal Shopper

Maureen is working in Paris as a personal shopper for a celebrity model and waiting to receive contact from beyond the grave from her recently dead twin brother. She starts to receive mysterious text messages from an unknown sender, encouraging her to become someone else.

This is an interesting movie that tiptoes back and forth over the ghost story genre line, as much a story about grief as about entities from the afterlife. It’s subtle and ambiguous, and though there are some truly scary moments (the scene in Kyra’s apartment is wonderfully tense) it’s one of the quieter ghost stories I’ve seen.

Ruin Me

Alexandra joins her boyfriend Nathan on a “Slasher Sleepout” weekend, where participants are treated to a thrilling camping trip being stalked by a killer. But the fake killer may be all too real …

There are twists within twists within twists in this movie; it seems to be going in one direction, then abruptly goes in another, and just when you think you have it figured out it all changes again. It has a “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” vibe, where we are both doubting the protagonist’s sanity and certain that she’s the only sane person on the screen. It’s a fun ride–not especially deep, not particularly daring, but fun.

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