Kernunrex has been M.I.A. for several years, Kaedrin Weblog is the only other person specifically keeping the Six Weeks of Halloween tradition alive. I know I haven't commented much on your stuff, Mark, but you do great work. Besides him, there's lots of other fantastic seasonal websites I recommend. Dinosaur Dracula experienced some personal interruptions this season but still managed to put out some fantastic content. Bogleech's daily monster reviews have been a blast, even if they lean more on video games and anime than movies and television. By some odd chance, if you read my stuff and not any of these other people, what's wrong with you? Check 'em all out!
At least once during this year's Six Weeks of Halloween, I've already talked about this new trend in horror. You know, this tendency for a new independent film to come out once a year and immediately be declared a new horror classic, a groundbreaking masterpiece that will scare the bejesus out of you. “Hereditary” quickly established itself as the Indie Horror Darling of 2018. However, this past summer a different film started making waves on the festival circuit. Going into it, I knew absolutely nothing about “Terrified” other than it was supposed to be really scary. The Argentinan film was quickly picked up by streaming service Shudder and has already been generating debate.
In a suburban community outside Buenos Aires, weird things are beginning to happen. A married couple is awoken by strange noises next door, their neighbor assuring them he's just renovating his house. In fact, he's having terrifying nightly encounters with a strange creature. The wife swears voices are bubbling up from the sink. Later that night, she is murdered by an invisible force in the bathroom. In the same neighborhood, a young boy is killed when a bus strikes him. His mother, soon afterwards, digs up his body and keeps it in the house. A trio of paranormal investigators arrive to dig up an answer but are soon in over their heads.
However, the festival reviews didn't lie. “Terrified” is scary. Rugna may not have been able to build a clear story around those set pieces but, holy cow, are the set pieces good. The first major scare we get in the movie – the wife tossed back and forth in the shower – is certainly a bizarre, memorable sight. The neighbor being visited nightly by a gaunt, naked, humanoid creature is the stuff of nightmares. Especially the way it stands over his bed and moves things around the room when he's sleeping. As the investigative team dig deeper, we get more fantastic shots. Like a figure seen in the distance leaping across a yard in the blink of an eye. Or a distorted, twisted body slowly rushing up to a car window. Even the less propulsive scenes, like a young boy discovering the corpse of the child, have a creepy and unnerving energy. Some of these moments are potentially cheap jump scares, driven by an overwrought scare. Generally speaking, however, “Terrified” engineers some extremely creepy and shocking moments.
“Terrified” is ultimately a very unusual case. On the level of narrative or personality, it absolutely does not work. The characters aren't focused on enough to become fully fleshed-out. The story mostly feels like a way to do something like a ghost story without actually falling back on ghosts. Despite these massive road blocks,, “Terrified” is still an effectively intense and unsettling horror picture. You can't help but feel like Rugna could have create a terrifying collection of short films from this same material, instead of one very scary but deeply unsatisfying feature. Either way, the director has definitely marked himself as one to watch, that's for sure. [7/10]
The Creeping Flesh
From a modern perspective, it might seem odd that Hammer's Victorian horror films were so popular but proof abounds. Not just because of the sheer number of movies Hammer themselves produced but because of how many attempts were made to replicate their success. Amicus had the best run, producing 22 horror pictures between 1965 and 1977. In the early seventies, a company called Tyburn Films took a shot at it too, producing titles like “The Ghoul,” “Legend of the Werewolf” and “Tales That Witness Madness.” In 1973, a company called World Film Services would try their hand with “The Creeping Flesh.” It's easy to assume all these films were from Hammer. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appear in many of them. Freddie Francis directed films for all four companies, including this one.
Another aspect “The Creeping Flesh” shares with its competitors is a Victorian setting. Professor Emmanuel Hildern has just returned from a trip to New Guinea. An evolutionary biologist, Hildern has made a major scientific breakthrough. He has discovered a massive, humanoid skeleton that is older than the neanderthal man. His return is ruined when sent news that his wife, kept at his half-brother's insane asylum, has died. Hildern is scared that his daughter, Penelope, may develop the same mental illness that afflicted her mother. He believes he might have discovered a solution. The skeleton, when exposed to water, regrows flesh. A New Guinea prophecy identifies the creature as the pure embodiment of evil. Hildren thinks he might be able to use its blood to inoculate people against evil. It doesn't go as planned.
“The Creeping Flesh” is also a surprisingly dark story of sibling rivalry. Casting Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as brothers – even if they are just step-brothers – was a nice move, considering how often they've starred opposite each other. However, there's not much love lost between the Hilderns. James thinks Emmanuel's research is hokum and tells him as much whenever possible. He almost took joy in locking up his wife. When Penelope becomes sick, James seems to enjoy locking her up to. The reason for their rivalry isn't even based around their parents or a loved one. It's because both are competing for a scientific prize. Lee is unquestionably the villain of the peace, as his pettiness ultimatley unleashes the monster. The performances follow this set-up. Cushing is painfully sympathetic, a man heartbroken from loosing his wife. Lee, meanwhile, is cold and almost sadistic. They compliment each other well.
In other words, “The Creeping Flesh” is one of the finest Hammer knock-offs. Add a little more gore and sex appeal, a bit more fog, maybe an appearance from Michael Gough, and the film would be indistinguishable from the more famous company's output. The association of Francis, Cushing, and Lee probably guaranteed that. The above-average script and creative concept pushed it over the top. World Film Services, during its short existence, would sort-of, kind-of make another horror movie. The next year, they would produce parody “Old Dracula,” which is not well regarded. That's a shame as “The Creeping Flesh” is a hidden gem. [7/10]
The Boogens (1981)
For a while, “The Boogens” was among the most obscure horror movies I had ever heard of. I recall the film's poster appearing in some message board thread about video stores or something. (This was also the first place I had heard of “Humongous.”) At that point, “The Boogens” was not available on DVD. A VHS release wouldn't arrive until 1998, so it might have been before even that. Those who remembered the film seemed to think it was pretty good. A few years later, I caught the movie on IFC – back when that network still primarily showed actual independent films – and enjoyed it well enough. Eventually, “The Boogens” would be rescued from obscurity with a DVD release and even a Blu-Ray a while back. Now, you can enjoy “The Boogens” with a click of a button. Oh, how times have changed.
Snow falls on a small town in the Colorado mountains. A silver mine, closed decades before after a mysterious cave-in, is set to be reopen. Mark and his best friend Roger have gotten jobs cleaning the place up. That weekend, Roger's oversexed girlfriend Jennifer is coming up to stay with them at the cabin. Her best friend Trish will also be attending, Mark hoping he'll hit it off with the girl. However, a terrifying secret waits underneath. The mine was closed in the first place because strange, subterranean creatures inhabit the caves below... Caves that are connected, via a series of tunnels, to cabins all over the town. Including to Mark and Roger's cabin. As friends mysteriously disappear, Mark and Trish will have to uncover that awful truth for themselves.
Part of why the attack scenes in “The Boogens” are so suspenseful, save for the excellent direction, is how likable the cast is. Roger and Jennifer are obsessed with sex. They constantly talk about wanting to jump each other's bones. They do just that the first chance they get. Despite their out-of-control hormones, the characters are well realized. Roger, played by the personable Jeff Harlan, seems like he's probably fun to hang out with, if slightly annoying. Anne-Marie Martin brings enough humor to Jennifer to make her seem realistic. Mark and Trish are even more lovable. The two have a series of surprisingly sweet romantic scenes together, their flirtations escalating in a sweet, if hot-and-heavy, fashion. You actually miss some of these characters once they start to go missing.
Really, if I had to pick a flaw with “The Boogens,” it's that the cave set part of the story takes place in looks pretty fake. Even that, oddly, adds to the movie's charms, making it seem even more like a home-grown production. Director James L. Conway has worked exclusively in television since making this film, which is a shame. The guy was obviously talented. By focusing on characters and suspense over gore and body count, “The Boogens” manages to be a surprisingly strong eighties creature feature. Now that it can be found a lot easier than back in the day, you should definitely check it out. [8/10]
One Please (2014)
I never really know if an internet horror short is going to be good. Even popular entries in the genre have left me cold. “One Please,” a 2014 short from Jesse Burks, impressed me though. The short has no dialogue. It begins with a series of wholesome images: A suburban mom chopping vegetables for dinner, Dad reading the newspaper, the young daughter playing jumprope outside, an ice cream truck coming down the street. As the daughter goes to request the payment to buy a treat, “One Please” reveals a very disturbing side. It's then topped off with a surprise cameo from a horror icon.
Burks uses sound design excellently throughout “One Please.” The repetitive chopping in the kitchen is soon paired with the equally repetitive jumping in the yard. This creates a sense of normalcy but also slight unease, as it all feels too coordinated, too perfect. Contrasting behavior that should be totally normal with behavior that most definitely is not is where “One Please's” power comes from. The depth of the situation's freakishness is slowly revealed. When that little burst of gore comes, it is lingered on in a disturbing and flinch-worthy fashion. The thing then wraps up with a nasty twist ending, suggesting this creepy ritual is about to happen again. If I come off as vague, that's because “One Please” is better the less you know about it. I recommend this meticulously presented little slice of suburban Hell. [8/10]