Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Tag: horror (page 1 of 4)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Becky moves to Chicago to live with her brother Otis and his odd roommate Henry. Henry has a grim hobby, into which he recruits Otis.

This has a nasty, gritty, urban-noir feel, seeming more like a product of the early 1970s than 1986 — the cinematography feels very inspired by “Midnight Cowboy” or “Panic in Needle Park,” and not at all like the slick slashers of the ’80s. Henry is a strangely seductive figure, drawing both Otis and Becky into his orbit, and bringing out Otis’ demons in some particularly disturbing scenes. The introduction of the video camera adds another layer to the story, with the recorded murders giving both distance and intimacy to the violence.

The Ranger

Punk rockers on the run from a crime in the city seek refuge in a remote, abandoned cabin. But the dangers in the wilderness are deadlier than those in the urban jungle.

This is a hammy, gory, mostly predictable slasher romp with a couple of surprises; the titular ranger is played with unhinged, sneering glee, and the punks are as punky as you’d expect. I enjoyed the play on “Leave No Trace” principles, there were some good witty barbs traded during kills, and the climactic fire tower scene was pretty great. Maybe not a cinema masterpiece, but for what it is, it’s fun.

Let Us Prey

A rookie police officer’s first night at the station in a small Scottish town involves a mysterious car crash, a basement lockup filled with men harboring dark secrets, and a confrontation with her own terrible past.

I didn’t expect this to turn into a tale of cosmic revenge and retribution, with some insane violence thrown in; the movie takes some unexpected turns, and in the last half hour really ratchets up the tension (and flames). The glimpses we get of the characters’ secret crimes are tantalizing but never fully explained, which adds to the mysterious atmosphere. All in all, a grim but enjoyable film.

Dead Birds

After robbing a bank, a group of Confederate deserters hides out in an abandoned plantation house where some dreadful things have happened.

This movie makes up in atmosphere what it lacks in budget for effects. There’s a lot of creeping around in dark hallways, peering under beds, rattling cellar doors, and half-glimpsing things in the storm-ravaged cornfields outside. There’s also some pretty good tension between the characters, who, true to the robber gang tropes, quickly divide into two opposing groups apparently trying to double-cross each other while the evil entities within the house pick them off one by one.

The effects are not especially convincing, and a few (like the faces of children transforming into sharp-toothed demons) are used past the point of effectiveness. The budget constraints show through in those moments.

It has a nice oroboros shape to it, though, with echoes of the opening scenes reverberating at the end, and some grisly Southern Gothic atmospherics that have this movie punching a bit above its weight class.

Exeter

A group of teens invades an abandoned asylum for a drug, booze, sex, and rock & roll fueled party. Their antics invite a malevolent spirit to possess one of the kids, and all manner of bad and gory things follow.

This one has a little bit of everything: demon possession, a Ouija board, an evil priest, vengeful spirits, and some really raunchy kills (the face-chopped-in-half was my personal favorite). It’s a solidly metal movie: loud and dumb and full of screams and gore, each successive scene trying to build on the outrages of the last, with a narrative that would fall apart if you looked at it too closely. It’s not “The Witch” or “A Dark Song,” nor is it trying to be: it wants to throw scary shit at the wall and see what sticks. Enough of it sticks to make this a well-executed, occasionally-funny, thoroughly-enjoyable ride to hell.

Next of Kin

Linda inherits a creepy old house that is used as a nursing home after her mother dies. When residents start to die in a manner that mirrors accounts she finds in her mother’s journals, she becomes convinced that there’s something dark and deadly at work.

The first hour or so is full of atmosphere, building a sense of dread and unease while Linda begins to dig into the last time the house’s residents started to die. Then in the last twenty minutes it goes off the rails, blood-soaked bonkers, with some truly gory moments and a (quite literally) explosive conclusion. The chaos at the end is surprising, which makes it that much more effective.

Knife+Heart

Someone is murdering the gay porn actors of Paris; can director Anne crack the case before it’s too late?

This is a stylish homage to the giallo, with many of the genre’s key tropes: a masked killer, brutally on-the-nose murders, several red hearings, cheap-paint-shop-red blood, a twisted psychological explanation for the killer’s deeds. It’s campy and aware of its campiness, but it doesn’t let that get in the way of telling a good story–just beneath the over-the-top melodrama there’s real heartache and love.

Into the Dark: All That We Destroy

Geneticist Victoria hits on a novel, if ethically problematic, way to help her son Spencer work through his violent impulses. The experiment doesn’t go as planned.

This was a solid offering in the Blumhouse “Into the Dark” series: not as good as “Pooka” or “New Year, New You,” but better than “Down” and “Treehouse.” It drags a bit in the middle–it feels like it could have been about an hour long with a tighter script–but delivers some interesting ideas and a tense final act.

Cloverfield

When a giant monster attacks Manhattan during his going-away party, Rob defies the evacuation to go back into the city rescue his girlfriend Beth, with his camera-toting friend Hudson right behind him.

I grew up watching badly-dubbed Japanese monster movies that ran on Saturday afternoons after cartoons, and I recall the cinematography being comprised of long static shots of lumbering beasts smashing cardboard cities, with very few close-ups of the human victims of the mayhem. “Cloverfield” undercuts the conventions by focusing almost exclusively on the human carnage, with shots so close-up to be dizzying to the point of nausea, and no context provided for the chaos and destruction. The characters are in no position to know what’s going on, and so we as the audience are left in the dark as well. We are trapped in the “fog of war,” directionless and dizzy, just trying to make our way through the rubble.

I liked the conceit of the video tape palimpsest, with little glimpses of a very different day not so long ago when Rob and Beth had a much less terrifying adventure on Coney Island. The juxtapositions made the characters more interesting, and their present condition more harrowing.

The Perfection

Charlotte, a former cello prodigy who had to give up music to care for her dying mother, seeks out her former teachers and their new protege, Elizabeth. But Charlotte has more than music on her mind.

This didn’t go where I thought it would go, and it got there by way of some suspect routes, but overall I enjoyed it. It’s very much a suspend-all-disbelief story that relies on some ludicrous assumptions, but the performances by Allison Williams and Logan Browning bridge the ridiculous situations with believable and complex emotions. There’s some gross stuff along the way, which is what gets the most attention in the buzz this movie has generated, but it’s really the acting, appropriately melodramatic and intense (Steven Weber’s Anton is also satisfyingly creepy), that makes it worth a watch.

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