Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Tag: horror (page 1 of 2)

A Field in England

A band of deserters from the English Civil War are compelled by an alchemist (with the assistance of some psychedelic mushrooms) to dig a hole in search of buried treasure. Things get weird.

This is a strange and disorienting movie, cycling through almost Monty Python-like slapstick, psychological torture, mysticism, and historical re-enactment. There’s bawdy humor, grim death by musket, stinging nettles, and some frightening screams.

The Alchemist Cookbook

Sean lives in a trailer in the woods with his cat Kaspar, working on alchemical experiments with plans to raise a demon and gain worldly wealth. His sanity and health deteriorate, and worldly wealth certainly does not follow from his efforts.

I enjoyed this quiet, sad little movie. Sean is strange but likeable, and his dreams of wealth–a mansion in the woods filled with Doritos, Gatoraide, and Little Debbie snacks–are charming in their pathetic lack of imagination. His past is never explained, but there are hints that suggest he’s not running away from much happiness. His decline, probably sped by the fact that he can’t find the psychiatric meds that his friend Cortez delivered along with some groceries, is sad to watch.

Whether or not he was successful in raising a demon is unclear; he sees things, but those may be his psychosis at work. There were certainly metaphorical demons at play in his mind. It’s an interesting contrast to A Dark Song, another movie about raising demons and being surprised at what responds.

The People Under the Stairs

When 13-year-old “Fool”‘s family is threatened with eviction, he joins a pair of robbers who are planning an ill-conceived heist of the landlord’s house. The home, however, is an insane fortress with mutilated cannibals imprisoned in the basement by a pair of deranged siblings.

This movie is over the top in so many ways: a wild mix of horror, comedy, and satire, with an angry political vein just under the surface. There are some tense moments, particularly when Fool and Alice are chased through the walls by the shotgun-wielding landlord, and some comic slapstick routines. Tonally uneven, but a fun and wild ride.

Velvet Buzzsaw

An assistant at an LA art gallery discovers a cache of strange and disturbing paintings when her reclusive neighbor dies. The paintings become the focus of much interest among art collectors and dealers, but they may be much more unconventional than most outsider art.

The characters in “Velvet Buzzsaw” are all delightfully unlikeable (except Coco, I liked Coco), driven by ambition and greed. And the ends that they meet are delightfully grim, and entirely deserved, giving the movie the feel of a kind of revenge fantasy. But the artist behind the deadly artwork seems to be as horrific as his output, so rooting for the mayhem feels a bit awkward. All in all, I enjoyed this movie for its wit, stylish design (it has moments that feel like the most hallucinatory moments in Argento’s “Three Mothers” films), and not-so-subtle satire. Also for John Malkovich, who basically plays John Malkovich.

All the Colors of the Dark

Jane is tormented by her mother’s murder when she was a child, by a recent car crash that claimed her unborn child, and by terrifying nightmares of a blue-eyed knife-wielding killer. Her husband recommends vitamins, her sister recommends psychotherapy, and her neighbor recommends participation in a Black Mass.

The first half of the movie, in which Jane is stalked by a silent blue-eyed man who may or may not be a figment of her imagination, is better than the second half, after she starts to participate in a Satanic cult’s ritual orgies and plunges deeper into insanity. But it’s still a solidly tense and unsettling movie that shifts between dream and reality, keeping the viewer off balance and delightfully confused. Though the director and most of the actors worked in the giallo genre, this is far more gothic than giallo in tone, with its dreams, mysterious castle, and dark occult activities. The movie wraps up like a giallo, though, a little too neatly, with the dastardly plot exposed; it would have been a more satisfying film if things had been left a bit more mysterious and unexplained.

Ghostkeeper

Three friends snowmobiling in the Canadian Rockies become stranded at an apparently abandoned hotel. But the hotel is not abandoned: a mysterious old woman lives there, and she’s not alone.

This is a spooky little movie that moves along at just the right pace; it doesn’t do anything particularly new or surprising, but it delivers exactly what the packaging promises, which is what one wants from a ghost story on a cold night. And while the sets and costumes definitely show their time period (late ’70s/early ’80s hair and snowmobile suits are awesome!), the movie has a timeless feeling.

Life After Beth


Zach’s girlfriend Beth miraculously returns from the dead, but she’s a little different now …

This movie works only so far as Aubrey Plaza’s performance gives it some soul. Her mix of quirkiness and rage gives depth to an otherwise slapstick parody of zombie apocalypse movies that feels like a sketch comedy stretched well past its breaking point. It has its enjoyable moments, and is sometimes genuinely funny, but doesn’t quite deliver on its promise.

The Girl with All the Gifts

At a military lab besieged by zombie-like “hungries,” a team of scientists and soldiers experiment on children infected by the fungus that creates the hungries to try to find a cure. The lab is overrun and a small group of survivors flees with one of the children reluctantly in tow; in the post-apocalyptic landscape overrun with hungries, a terrifying vision of the future emerges.

This is a nice entry in the zombie apocalypse genre, with an interesting take on the cause of zombieism (a fungal infection similar to Ophiocordyceps unilateralis), some strong characters (particularly the girl Melanie), and a thought-provoking ending. It clearly owes a debt to “Day of the Dead,” but its characters are less black-and-white, and the acting is quite a bit better. While there are certainly credulity gaps, as in all such movies, the logic of the infection and responses to it holds together surprisingly well, and the ending is certainly surprising and satisfying.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

A beautiful, mysterious corpse is discovered half-buried in the basement at the scene of a horrific crime. A father and son team of coroners unravel her history as they disassemble her body, and unleash a vengeful terror.

There are aspects of body horror as well as historical score-settling in this tight, tense story. The movie becomes darker and darker as layers of “Jane Doe” are (literally) peeled away and the awful history her body has to tell is revealed.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2

Charlie Manx prowls the secret roads between our world and an evil Christmasland of the mind in his Rolls-Royce Wraith, searching for children to “rescue.” Vic McQueen, psychically damaged by both her own abilities to travel those secret roads (first on her childhood bicycle, then on a restored Triumph motorcycle) and by an earlier encounter with Manx, needs to catch Manx to rescue her son.

“NOS4A2” moves along at a brisk clip, built as it is around Vic as both pursuer and pursued. It’s a lot like a classic Stephen King novel, jam packed with pop culture references (as well as references , both overt and subtle, to other Joe Hill and Stephen King stories), and full of broadly drawn, over-the-top characters. While it certainly doesn’t break new ground in the horror epic genre–“Talisman,” for instance, was more original in its world-hopping, and some of the spooks in “20th Century Ghosts” are more unsettling than Charlie Manx (though the Gas Mask Man is certainly a high point in chilling characters …)–it’s solidly written and holds the reader’s interest. I especially like that the magic in the book comes at a steep cost for its practitioners–no one can hop between worlds without suffering cumulative damage. The denouement is a little too tidy, but I’m glad that it ends on a happy note after so much pain, especially in the last 150 pages or so.

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