Lovely, Dark and Deep (2023)

Lovely, Dark and DeepIn Arvores National Park, several rangers and other people have gone missing over a span of many years. Lennon is a backcountry ranger who starts working at the place, after her predecessor became one of the missing people. Of course, Lennon also has a motive for working at this place: when she was a child, her sister Jenny disappeared there, and she hopes that maybe she will find some answers. In her ranger cabin, she also keeps track of all the people that have gone missing over the years, including her sister. Soon, there’s report of another missing person as well: Sarah Greenberg, who went missing during a hike. The rangers form a search party, but the head ranger orders Lennon to stay at base camp, an order she quickly disobeys. She starts searching for Sarah as well, and finds her bloody and disoriented. What sounds like a happy ending to what could have been another missing persons case, ends up getting Lennon fired and she is asked to await airlift out of the place in five days. Well, five days can be a long wait…and strange things start happening when Lennon then decides to take a hike through the park…

 

Lovely, Dark and Deep is a horror film from 2023, written and directed by Teresa Sutherland. It’s her feature debut, and stars Georgina Campbell (from Barbarian) in the leading role. The movie was filmed in Portugal, providing many great forest and landscape shots.

 

The feeling of total isolation comes through well during the film, where the infrequent appearance of other rangers and hikers almost come as a surprise. It is both beautiful and unnerving, where Lennon walks through the confines of the forest on a sunny day, while also feeling like the entire place is ready to swallow her up and leaving no trace. Every year, hundreds of people go missing in national parks, and many of them are never found. While it comes as no surprise that this could easily happen due to the lack of proper planning, not having proper gear, unpredictable weather, sudden illness and even wildlife, it’s still something that’s fruitful for fanciful explanations and creepy theories: from the more down-to-earth speculations like serial killers roaming these places to supernatural explanations, Bigfoot, ufo’s, you name it. And while Lovely, Dark and Deep does offer some supernatural elements, most of it is subtle enough and without any thorough explanation, which works just fine for a movie like this.

 

Lovely Dark and Deep is a slow-burner which focuses on mood and mystery, providing an unsettling and often dreamlike atmosphere. It’s primarily about a woman who returns to the place where a childhood trauma happened, in order to seek answers. Not only does she get isolated in the vast forest landscape, but she’s already mentally isolated by dwelling on her past terrors and conflicting feelings and self-doubt, partly blaming herself and wondering if she could she have done something to save her sister. It does take a certain turn after a while where it ventures into the supernatural and surreal, which may take some people out of it, but which I personally found enjoyable. Recommended if you want something beautiful, mysterious and atmospheric. Or something lovely, dark and deep if you will.

 

Lovely, Dark and Deep Lovely, Dark and Deep

 

 

Writer and director: Teresa Sutherland
Country & year: Portugal/USA, 2023
Actors: Georgina Campbell, Nick Blood, Wai Ching Ho, Mick Greer, Celia Williams, Maria de Sá, Ana Sofia Martins, Ivory Lee Smith, Letícia Assunção
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt15560132/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

Ouija Shark 2 (2022)

Ouija Shark 2It’s Shark Week and all, and since I’ve already talked about the modern classic that is Ouija Shark four years ago, now it’s time to take a look at the sequel.

 

Ouija Shark 2 opens with a quick summary of the first one where Anthony (John Migliore) sacrificed himself to save his daughter from getting eaten by a ghost shark. Anthony (John Migliore again) has since gotten stuck in a cheap green-screened Hell as a twisted parody of Dr. Strange where he’s getting chased and fighting against… gorillas. Of course, what else did you expect.

 

Anthony’s supposedly grieving wife (played by Deborah Jayne Reilly Smith) gives an emotionless speech with some crocodile tears, standing by his gravestone and swears that she will bring him back. She visits the fortune-teller who helped Anthony crossing over to the other side, in order to whack the shark and get some answers. The crystal ball tells us what we already know: that he’s in Hell. We can’t leave him THERE. We have to SAVE him, Anthony’s wife says with the emotion of a flat google voice. It’s not gonna be easy, the fortune-teller replies. It’s gonna be a barefoot trip to the park, don’t you worry.

 

Because after a quick meeting with The Grim Reaper (played by a dude with some cheap white paint on his face), Anthony gets some assistance from a ghost alligator which will help him finishing the evil shark. And just out of the blue, as expected, we have a musical number here where a goofy Satan and his TikTok brides show Taylor Swift how you make a catchy song (and that was not irony). Meanwhile, in the land of the living, Anthony’s wife is in the local woods to ask the mom of the fortune-teller for help. She’s a hermit and not interested. Shove off, she says. Can’t blame her. She changes her mind, though. But who cares. Now we want some shark mayhem, as the poster teases us with.

 

And the poster didn’t lie. If the film wasn’t amateur-hour already, just wait for the last thirty minutes – or as Satan himself says: You’ve seen nothing yet, folks! Here we have a series of random nightly cityscape shots where the ghost shark and the gator boss fight each other. Both creatures are, just like in the first film, ultra-cheap looking cute puppets that toddlers would have in their bed, and it looks as epic and cinematic as you’d expect. The gator spits out yellow-glowing puffy CGI balls while Satan controls the shark with a ouija board as he’s laughing and having a blast. The military chimes in and fires some missiles. The shark zaps them by shooting force-lighting through its eyes. Lots of buildings get destroyed, even a nuclear power plant (!) Oh, the mayhem, carnage and destruction! Roland Emmerich would eat his heart out. Really intense stuff, in other words. We see a handful of extras who run left and right in front a black, foggy background, all of which I would bet is super proud to be a part of Ouija Shark 2. And don’t blink if you wanna catch the two-second cameo by Lloyd Kaufman.

 

Ouija Shark 2 (2022)

 

Ouija Shark 2 is written and directed by the main protagonist himself, John Migliore. And he goes all in for a crazier tone than the first one with a script that must have been co-written by a group of eight-year olds who just made it up as they went along. While the first had a whopping budget of 300 (yes, three hundred) Canadian dollars, I’d guess this one is slightly higher (50 dollars extra maybe), which gives us a few more green screen backgrounds rather than just the local woods and the director’s backyard. The acting is, of course, a big factor here, which is as strong and solid as you’d see in an elementary school play. But the one who takes the golden raspberry here, is Deborah Jayne Reilly Smith. She’s so stiff, lifeless and ridiculously robotic that she makes Mark Zuckerberg actually look like a normal human being. That in itself quite impressive.

 

So, whats next for this epic franchise, we may wonder? How about Ouija Shark 3: The Harpoon Made Me Do it, just to spitball an idea.

 

Ouija Shark 2 (2022) Ouija Shark 2 (2022) Ouija Shark 2 (2022)

 

Writer and director: John Migliore
Country & year: Canada, 2022
Actors: John Migliore, Deborah Jayne Reilly Smith, Kylie Gough, Simon Wheeldon, Lena Montecalvo, Jay MacAulay, Sabrina Migliore, Emmalene Pruden, Nicholas Migliore
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt21409958/

 

Prequel: Ouija Shark (2020)

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

Piggy (2022)

PiggySara is an overweight girl who gets constantly bullied by a group of other teenage girls: Maca, Roci and Claudia. One of these girls even used to be her friend. They call her Cerdita (Piggy), and she can’t get a moment of peace no matter where she goes. On a hot summer day, she decides to visit the local swimming pool, where there’s no one else except another man who leaves shortly after. The peace doesn’t last long, though, because of course the three bullies comes along and ruins everything for her and also ends up stealing her backpack and clothes. Wearing nothing but her bikini, she has to walk home and gets harassed by a group of men who makes fun of her weight. Devastated, she escapes onto a side road, where she sees a parked van. Suddenly, a bloodied Claudia appears in the window of the van, screaming and begging for Sara to help her. Struck with fear, she freezes when realizing that the driver of the van has kidnapped those girls. Then, the kidnapper locks gazes with her, and she recognizes him as the man who was by the swimming pool earlier. He drops off her towel so she can cover herself, and drives off. Returning home, Sara finds herself conflicted as the kidnapper is one of the very few people in her life who have shown her some kindness and respect, and she decides to not tell anyone about what happened. Things escalate as the search for the missing girls are put into force, and other people are found dead. Sara is not sure how long she can keep her mouth shut in allegiance with the serial killer…

 

Piggy (original title: Cerdita) was released in 2022 and is Carlota Pereda’s feature film debut, and based on the short film by the same name from 2018. Both the feature film and the short film features Laura Galán in the leading role, and the shooting locations included the village of Villanueva de la Vera and the surrounding areas.

 

Now, looking at some of the posters for this film, where Sara is covered in blood on a hot Spanish summer day, and others where she’s been edited to be wielding a knife in her hand, one might think this is a typical revenge thriller movie. It’s not. Setting the film off by showing how Sara is bullied by people left and right while getting to meet an actual serial killer who – ironically – is the only person who shows her some kind of affection, really does set the mood. Yes, we sympathize with Sara and what she’s going through, and yeah…we don’t really feel too bad for those girls who are simply portrayed as a group of mean bitches. The exception is supposed to be Claudia, who used to be Sara’s friend, but who now enjoys being with the “cool” girls instead. We can see that she initially hesitates when seeing how the others treat Sara, but she soon joins in and does absolutely nothing to stop them. Despite being somewhat portrayed as the “lesser evil” among the girls, I honestly think she’s just as bad, maybe even worse. So yeah, we want to see Sara getting justice, but it plays out more as a drama thriller where the heroine is constantly plagued with differing feelings of both guilt and loyalty to the man who kidnapped her tormentors. And the majority of the villagers are also portrayed as people who aren’t exactly easy to like, including Sara’s own family, with the exception of her dad who seems to be the only person she’s got an okay relationship with.

 

Piggy aka Cerdita is a not a typical revenge film or slasher, but as a drama thriller about a bullied girl who ends up fighting quite the dilemma. Who to choose: the serial killer who saved you from your bullies, or the bullies and villagers who couldn’t really give a shit about you? In a regular slasher the answer to that question would have been obvious, but this movie is taking a more realistic approach. Sara never turns into some kind of badass heroine, but instead she’s coming to her own decisions despite her conflicting feelings. Definitely worth a watch, and an interesting take on how a bullied person would deal with having an evil savior.

 

Piggy Piggy

 

 

Writer and director: Carlota Pereda
Country & year: Spain, 2023
Original title: Cerdita
Actors: Laura Galán, Richard Holmes, Carmen Machi, Irene Ferreiro, Camille Aguilar, Claudia Salas, José Pastor, Fernando Delgado-Hierro, Julián Valcárcel, Amets Otxoa
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10399608/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever (2023)

Nightwatch: Demons Are ForeverIt’s been approximately 30 years since the events of Nightwatch aka Nattevakten (1994), and the survivors aren’t actually faring so well. Martin is a complete wreck, not just because of his obvious PTSD but also because his wife Kalinka committed suicide after never getting over the trauma this incident caused her. He’s without a job and haven’t even received any welfare pay, and he tries to chase away his demons with drink and pills. Yeah, that always works great. His daughter, Emma, is trying to help him out but it’s apparent that she hasn’t properly processed her mother’s suicide either, which isn’t too surprising considering that she’s the one who found her. Not to mention the impact it all had on Jens, who bailed ass out of the country and have been living in Thailand ever since. Trauma has indeed dug its claws deep into everyone involved. Emma was never told about what happened, but when looking through some old newspaper clippings she finds out about the serial killer Wörmer and her parents involvement with him. History often likes to repeat itself, and Emma ends up taking a night watch job at – you guessed it – the exact same place as her father worked. Good choice! And when she finds out that Wörmer is still alive and just woke up from his coma, she wants to meet him in the hopes of finally exorcising both her father’s demons and her own. Unwittingly, she just ends up letting even more demons loose…

 

Nightwatch – Demons are Forever (original title: Nattevagten – Dæmoner går i arv) is a danish thriller/horror movie from 2023. It’s a direct sequel to the first film from 1994, Nightwatch, and both are written and directed by Ole Bornedal. A sequel almost 30 years later may feel like an odd choice, but considering how this movie became a danish cult classic back in the days it’s a fun way to re-introduce the film while giving a follow-up to the story, including the original actors coming back to play their earlier roles. It’s definitely a nice watch for those who have seen the original, and while some may argue that a sequel this long afterwards feels unnecessary, I’d like to counter-argue with what the hell kind of sequel these days are really necessary anyways..?

 

Just like the first film, there is a mystery and several red herrings attempting to throw you off guard. While this isn’t as effective as in the first, it’s compelling enough to keep you engaged. The red thread here is trauma and its effect on everyone involved, and while this sequel can’t even come close to being as effectual for today’s audience as the first film was (which would have been a bit weird to expect anyways) it’s still a well-crafted thriller. It’s also a lot of fun to see the old actors from the first film getting back together again for this sequel, and the actor playing Emma, Fanny Bornedal, is the director’s own daughter. It was also enjoyable to see Ulf Pilgaard back as the serial killer Wörmer, although quite reduced due to old age (83 years) he manages to come off as an intimidating predator who of course still likes to repeatedly listen to some creepy-ass old song (Lille Lise lett på tå).

 

Overall, Nightwatch – Demons are Forever is a decent sequel that comes incredibly late, but better late than never as they say. Or at least that’s true in some cases. Sure, there’s nothing groundbreaking here, and if we are going to be perfectly honest there wasn’t really any of that in the original either, it was just presented to an audience where the majority had never seen something like that before. The film offers up a nice thriller mystery and will probably work best for those who have seen the original, although it isn’t a must.

 

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever

 

Writer and director: Ole Bornedal
Country & year: Denmark, 2023
Original title: Nattevagten – Dæmoner går i arv
Actors: Fanny Leander Bornedal, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Alex Høgh Andersen, Sara Viktoria Bjerregaard, Kim Bodnia, Vibeke Hastrup, Pelle Emil Hebsgaard, Ulf Pilgaard, Sonja Richter, Paprika Steen
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6318608/

 

Prequel: Nightwatch (1994)

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

The First Omen (2024)

The First OmenFirst off, just let me say, in the most dry British gentleman-accent as I’m raising my glass of brandy, that: metal up your arse and Hail Satan!

 

Because who in the right mind would have thought that we’d get a pretty decent prequel to The Omen from 1976 in the year of 2024? Huh… but here we are. Unfortunately, the timing for the promotion for The First Omen couldn’t be much worse as it came straight after The Exorcist: Bieber Believer. *Fart*. People seemed to be finally fed up to the throat with soulless rehashed franchise revivals and didn’t give The First Omen much thought of the day. I was one of them. Here we fucking go again. Satan wept. Then the film came, people saw it, and I was as surprised as everyone else with the common reaction as it was better than expected. It’s a shame that the film underperformed at the box office, but as I said: bad timing. They should have waited another year when the corpse of Believer had once and for all rotted to dust and was faded from everyone’s memory. Oh, well. The motivation for giving it a chance on the silver screen peaked higher when I noticed that the film was directed and co-written by Arkasha Stevenson, who was also involved in the brilliant, sexy and satanic mini series Brand New Cherry Flavor (2021). This is her feature-length directorial debut. And she has learned from the best and knows how to direct a horror movie, that’s for sure.

 

The year is 1971 and the young woman, Maggie (Nell Tiger Free) has arrived in Rome, Italy, where she’s met by Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy) to drive her to Vizzardeli Orphanage, where she is about to start a life as a nun. The place is filled with red flags (or red omens, if you will) as soon as she sets her first footsteps into the orphanage. She sees some children’s drawings on the wall, but the one that takes her attention is a more sinister drawing made by the mysterious, quiet girl Carlita (Nicole Sorace). Maggie knocks on her door to introduce herself to this Carlita, who hides behind her bed. She crawls at Maggie like a cave girl and gives her a big, wet lick on her cheek. Welcome to Italy, baby. We soon learn that she isn’t quite right in her head and Maggie gets some strong advice from the shunned priest Father Brennan (played by the demon voice himself, Ralph Ineson) that it’s best to keep a distance from her. So many omens here. What was the first omen again..?

 

Anyway, the film spends a good chunk of time letting us get to know Maggie. Since she hasn’t taken her vows yet, and is basically still free as a bird, her roommate Luz dolls her up and takes her to the disco where Maggie gets her very first sexual arousal. Sure you wanna marry God, honey? Meanwhile, Father Brennan is dedicated to exposing the evil plans of the church. Because we’re in a time when Italy is in a rebellious revolution where young protesters are on the streets and setting cars on fire and such. But the most alarming of all: more and more people have turned their backs to the Lord Jesus Christ. And the church can’t have that. No spoilers, but what the writers did here was quite ballsy, I must say, and some aspects are also straight facts when it comes to sexual abuse, which is an open secret in the Catholic Church and has been for many years. Here, they take it a bit further. And since Italy is still a hardcore Christian country where they still believe that every single mental problem is demon possessions, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if several audiences died of heart attacks while they were holding their crucifixes and rosaries. Chiama un ambulanza, por fervore!

 

Maggie is also witnessing a morbid birth scene in the orphanage, which should be enough to take the hint and fly right back to the USA and never look back. But she hasn’t seen anything yet, nor does she know that she’s just a number waiting to get her belly pregnant. She starts to see cryptic visions and a creepy nun in the corner in her dark room and her mental state slowly starts falling apart to pure paranoia while questioning her faith. Nell Tiger Free (free the tiger?) is really outstanding, which gives a colorful emotional range to her role. She’s emphatic, sweet and likable and no one would guess that she was the mother of the most evil kid on the planet.

 

The film wasn’t as scary I’d hoped for, though. But nevertheless, the film wins me over with its gothic atmosphere and overall grim sense of premonition constantly looming in the air (it’s after all an Omen film). It has a great build-up with a string of unpleasant moments and a tension that boils up to the predictable, yet highly effective climax. Arkasha Stevenson directs the hell of the movie, which is overall beautifully shot with some great scenery of Rome and its old, antique surroundings. Despite some few lame jump scares thrown in, which is almost unavoidable, this is a solid quality film in old-school form that also stands well on its own legs.

 

Although this prequel does it very best to blend it all in with the first film, there’s an obvious change here, and that’s the jackal, the dog that actually gave birth to Damien. But, of course, we couldn’t have a two-hour movie with a dog running around in the streets of Rome, that wouldn’t be the best recipe for a prequel. The jackal is a key figure here, though, but thus far the keyholes has only produced girls. And that’s as much I can say before spoiling, because the desperate motivation here is everything.

 

I also like the writing on the poster that says The Most Terrifying Movie of The Year, a quote from the Fox studio themselves. That’s cute. Maybe not the most terrifying of the year 2024, we still have to see ’bout that, but certainly the most terrifying film in the franchise since Damien: Omen II (1978). There’s also a cool nod to the lift scene from that film plus other references without going too much into member berry lane. Hearing Ave Satani (originally written and composed by the great Jerry Goldsmith) for the first time in a movie theater, here with a remix version by Mark Korven, was epic in itself. The film also opens the door to a spin-off sequel, and I can’t say I’m very enthusiastic about that idea.

 

The First Omen The First Omen The First Omen

 

Director: Arkasha Stevenson
Writers: Tim Smith, Arkasha Stevenson, Keith Thomas, Ben Jacoby
Country & year: USA, Italy, Serbia, Canada, 2024
Actors: Nell Tiger Free, Ralph Ineson, Sonia Braga, Tawfeek Barhom, Maria Caballero, Charles Dance, Bill Nighy, Nicole Sorace, Ishtar Currie-Wilson, Andrea Arcangeli, Guido Quaglione, Dora Romano
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5672290/

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

Gacy: Serial Killer Next Door (2024)

TriangleI don’t think John Wayne Gacy needs much of an introduction, but I’ll give a quick one anyway. When we’re not talking about Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein or Henry Lee Lucas and numerous other well-documented psychos, he’s known for being the most notorious serial killer of all time in America. Yes, THE most of ALL time. Ever.

 

So we’re more or less talking about the king himself of the serial killers’ hall of fame – an average bulky and outgoing man living in an ordinary house in the suburbs who was loved by the community and who gladly entertained the locals with his iconic clown persona Pongo under festive circumstances. Also a top tier master manipulator who appeared like a wolf in sheep’s clothing like most of his like-minded in the life of serial killing. At night, he spent his double-life by living out his murdering fetish fantasies as a closet gay and picking up male prostitutes to take home and show them his infamous handcuff trick. He killed up to over thirty young men and buried them under his house crawlspace during the late 1970s, until the smell couldn’t be held back much longer. He got sentenced to death by lethal injection and got executed on May 10, 1994, notably the same day Jeffrey Dahmer was baptized in prison.

 

Gacy was 52 when he met his maker and his last words were short, sweet and simple: “kiss my ass!

 

There are three or four films based on John W. Gacy, as far as I know. And while we’re at it, I can mention two earlier films I’ve seen so far that are based on the killer clown. The first one is To Catch a Killer from 1992, a low-budget miniseries in two parts made for TV. This was made while Gacy was still alive, and he didn’t like hearing the news that a film based on him was in the works. And the one and only interesting thing here is that Gacy wrote a letter to actor Brian Dennehy and begged him not to portray him. Dennehy didn’t respond and, to Gacy’s relief, I suppose, the three-hour long miniseries hardly focuses on Gacy at all. What we have is a complete nothing-burger where we follow a dull, sleepwalking police lieutenant with the personality of a bread who tries to collect enough evidence to finally catch him. Gacy himself appears almost as a guest here and the whole thing is so dreadfully boring and something that David Fincher would make while being in a deep coma. Why this one is so highly praised by the majority is beyond me.

 

The second one is Gacy from 2002, here with Mark Holton in the title role. If he had a few pounds less, he would look exactly like Gacy. Nothing more to say about this one other than it was a boring, unfocused mess.

 

Gacy: Serial Killer Next Door

 

Gacy: The Serial Killer Next Door is the newest one, released back in January – written and directed by Michael Feifer, the unknown brother of Saul Goodman. And judging from the trailer, this one at least seemed to be entertaining with the funny-bad vibes bouncing all over the place. Good enough for me. Here we follow the teenager Bobby who lives across the street from Gacy in a quiet, boring suburb. Bobby knows that there is something off with this guy as he’s witnessing Gacy taking young men into his house at night, who never seem to leave. He’s glued to his bedroom window to spy on him and tries to convince his parents that the police have to check this shady neighbor. The parents just scoff it off and don’t believe any of it because he’s just a dumb teenager who has seen too many movies.

 

The plot starts to thicken when Gacy knows that Bobby knows and Bobby has to do whatever he can to finally expose him before becoming the next victim.

 

Even though the film has a polished look, the thick layer of amateurish overtones reeks all over the place as much it does from Gacy’s crawlspace. It’s very low-budget with acting that smells like wet farts filled with laughable NPC dialogue. The film’s protagonist Bobby (played by Mason McNulty) does the best he can while his parents are not believable for one second. And I could not avoid getting distracted by the over-sized upper lips of the actress who plays Bobby’s mom. I don’t wanna be mean, but seriously… Enough with that plastic surgery boolshit!

 

We have a couple of scenes where Bobby hangs out with his friends to convince them about Gacy, also after he has witnessed one of his murders. And woof, the acting here is really rough with some bonkers dialogues:

 

What is it like to see someone die?

It’s really… it’s not like the movies. It’s really sad.

 

Is it? Really? Aww. Bobbe also have the balls to sneak into Gacy’s graveyard crawlspace where he tries to take some pictures for evidence. Here we see some glimpses of the most fake, clean plastic Halloween prop skeletons lying around. I don’t think the police would be very convinced.

 

The only slightly positive thing here is Mike Korich as Gacy. But that’s only on the surface level. His scenes where he’s dressed as Pogo and laughing in the victim’s face look more like a parody and there’s not much more character depth to explore. Still, Mike Korich is the only reason to give the film a watch, as he at least seems to have some fun here. I also see what they tried with Disturbia (2007) and The Summer of 84 spin, but it didn’t land well at all as the last portion of the film couldn’t be more predictable. Not the most memorable film, but lowbrow entertainment with enough of the funny-bad moments to kill some time with as long as it lasts. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

Gacy: Serial Killer Next Door is available on Tubi.

 

Gacy: Serial Killer Next Door

 

Writer and director: Michael Feifer
Country & year: US, 2024
Actors: Mason McNulty, Mike Korich, Brock Burnett, Caia Coley, Gordon Hinchen, Shelby Janes, Nick Stellate, Michael Boutell, Izabellah Diez, Lilo Baier, Ashley Ray Keefe
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt23736318/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

The Spine of Night (2021)

The Spine of NightOn a snowy mountain, the witch-queen Tzod is ascending to the peak in order to confront the guardian of the mystic flower known as “The Bloom”. Tzod starts telling the guardian about the events that led her there, and how her people were killed by a young tyrant, Lord Pyrantin, who captured her together with a renegade scholar named Ghal-Sur. She is coerced into showing Pyrantin some of the powers of the Bloom, but ends up blowing the blue flame in his face causing him to become irreversibly damaged. Both she and Ghal-Sur is then thrown into prison, where she uses the power of the Bloom to help them escape. In the events that follow, Ghal-Sur murders her and steals the Bloom from her, wanting its power for himself. He eventually becomes another tyrant, creating war machines to expand his conquest. As the story progresses, the mysteries about the Bloom and the truth behind its power gets revealed.

 

The Spine of Night is an animated fantasy horror movie directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King, who also wrote the script. The film used rotoscope animation, which is a technique where artists hand-draw over live-action footage. This technique was also used in several of the early Disney movies, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Most notably in more recent animated features for an older audience, Ralph Bakshi used this technique and the creators of this movie drew inspiration from his work, especially the 1983 film Fire and Ice. The animation process took seven years, and just a few weeks before the premiere at South by Southwest things almost went south (no pun intended) when the entire film was almost lost when King’s Microsoft Windows auto-updated while he slept. I guess this meant a lack up backups, and it makes me shudder just to think about such a close call for disaster. Fortunately, nothing was lost and the film released as planned.

 

What makes The Spine of Night an interesting and mesmerizing experience, is not just the visuals with the nostalgic old-school animation technique and the beautiful backgrounds, but also the tale of myths, magic and violence. And the latter comes in abundance, there’s so much gore and death here that it’s a shame no one’s made a kill-count video on YouTube yet. People are cut in half with swords, limbs are severed, bodies melted by lava, and loads and loads of blood and carnage. The voice actors also did a great job bringing life to the characters, and the soundtrack greatly enhance the mood. With the story being told backwards and from different times and with different characters, we get a variation of areas where the latter part of the movie even had some steampunk-vibes to it. The dark fantasy and mythological elements gives of a bit of Conan-vibes, and it’s clear that the creators have found their inspirations from a variation of dark fantasy and earlier animation features like the aforementioned Fire and Ice, and Heavy metal from 1981.

 

Overall, The Spine of Night is a very good throwback to the old-school animation style and techniques, with lots of bloodshed and interesting, sometimes even trippy, visuals. The Blu-ray also included two animated shorts plus a “Making Of”, which showed us several of the live-action scenes that were shot with a variation of props and costumes made out of cardboard. Despite all the hard work that was obviously put into this, it looked like they had a ton of fun!

 

In 2021, RLJE Films together with Shudder acquired the rights for the movie, and aside from being available for streaming on Shudder it is also available on Blu-ray.

 

The Spine of Night The Spine of Night The Spine of Night

 

 

Writers and directors: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
Country & year: UK, US, 2021
Voice actors: Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Patrick Breen, Larry Fessenden, Jason Gore, Maggie Lakis, Tom Lipinski, Nina Lisandrello, Rob McClure, Malcolm Mills
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3885422/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

Sister Death (2023)

Sister DeathIf there’s one creepy Nun film from this year that’s worth watching, it’s Sister Death. This is a standalone prequel about the blind chain-smoking old nun we saw lurking in a few scenes in Verónica (2017) – written and directed by Paco Plaza, the other half of the very talented Spanish duo behind the [REC] films.

 

The film starts with a cryptic opening in the year 1939, where a girl named Narcisa gets revered by some village people after it’s known that she has a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the outside, the whole thing looks more sinister and unsettling as it’s filmed in grainy black and white with something that looks similar to a super 8. And more sinister it gets ten years later, right upon the post-war era, as Narcisa (Aria Bedmar) grows up to be a nun teaching young girls at a convent.

 

She gets a warm welcome by Mother Superior, who’s very thrilled to meet the Holy Girl herself, who has become a big news story throughout the years. Not everyone in the convent seem to share the same enthusiasm, though. We get the sense of the environment right away with the quiet, bleak and monotonous life at the convent. The day-to-day rituals get disturbed after Narcisa finds a box hidden in her room which contains scissors and a picture of a deceased nun with a dark history.

 

As Narcisa tries her best to get through the days with her teaching, vows, praying and all that follows a life in a convent, she slips more and more into a rabbit hole by seeing creepy visions left and right, having nightmares of eating eyeballs hidden in freshly-made cookies and getting lead to dark places in the convent that she isn’t supposed to know of. And there’s a drawing of an incomplete hangman that appears on the wall in Narcisa’s room which seems to expand as paranormal things escalate. The girls start to experience spooky things as well and it’s only up to Narcisa to use her holy abilities to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the convent.

 

Sister Death is a slow burner and a paranormal thriller of the very old school type. Not as old as the convent here itself, but something that could have been from the 1970s. The special effects are minimal, where Paco Plaza concentrates more on a mystery filled with cryptic hints that has to be put together. Sister Death is a very quiet film where you really get the sense of the almost lifeless environment of the convent. The atmosphere is cold and eerie with an already underlying tension that slowly builds up like a damping locomotive to the shocking and eye-opening (pun intended) revelation. Señor Plaza knows how to squeeze out the best from his line of actors, and especially Aria Bedmar, who gives the best horror film performance of the year, horns down.

 

NetflixSister Death is only available on Netflix, which explains some of the muddy and low-quality in some of the screenshots. The darkest scenes in the film look so horrendous that I’m almost lost for words, and this has been an ongoing issue with Netflix. We have the standard account with 1080p, and it looks like something from a 480 pixel YouTube video from 2007. The quality also seems to depend on which browser you use. What a load of poop. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to streaming. There are several issues with Netflix and other streaming services for that matter, most notably how they have the habit of canceling every new show after one or two seasons. Business as usual, I guess. And it seems to only get worse. It’s also a sad, fucking shame that Guillermo del Toro, of all people, has slipped into the streaming sewer and signed with Netflix, so he can finally make his Frankenstein movie. At least that film will have a physical release, which seems to be unlikely for Sister Death, which would look stunning on a Blu-ray package. Happy new year.

 

Sister Death

 

Director: Paco Plaza
Writers: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Paco Plaza
Original title: Hermana muerte
Country & year: Spain, 2023
Actors: Aria Bedmar, Maru Valdivielso, Luisa Merelas, Chelo Vivares, Sara Roch, Olimpia Roch, Adriana Camarena, Martina Delgado, Claudia Fernández Arroyo, Almudena Amor, Sandra Escacena
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt19175696/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

Thanksgiving (2023)

ThanksgivingIt only took sweet sixteen years but here it is. The turkey is finally served. And it tastes delicious. Even Gordon Ramsay would agree. No donkey business here. So let’s eat!

 

Just for some clarification: the film is nothing like the Grindhouse trailer where the grainy, low-tech aesthetics are concerned. Nor is the film set in the early 80s or the 90s but in the current time. And that means; bring on the smartphones everyone, so we can connect with the MODERN world! Meh…

 

We’re in the small town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, which is also the birthplace of the Thanksgiving holiday tradition. The town is preparing for the annual parade, but first there’s Black Friday where the owner of the local Walmart (here called Rightmart) is getting all ready for the zombie horde to gather outside before the doors open. All hell breaks loose in the usual way, but it quickly escalates to a massacre where people gets stamped to death, arms and feet gets broken and an important key character gets her head’s scalp ripped off in some unique bizarre way. What a great opening!

 

We then jump to a year later where the town is still in shock from the last year’s incident. The parade is still planned to go on as usual, but the holiday spirit is pretty much tainted. We also have a bunch of teens and other folks who start to get brutally killed by some mysterious person in a pilgrim outfit and with a John Carver mask. As the body count piles up, the teens in town have to team up to expose the killer as they are getting tagged on cryptic instagram posts that hints they’re a part of some ritualistic revenge-spree connected to the Rightmart incident.

 

The characters/body counts aren’t as insufferable as they’re in most of Eli Roth’s films, and that may be because the script for Thanksgiving was written by some other guy by the name Jeff Rendell. That being said, most of the characters are flat and bland like a NPC (non-playable character) and I couldn’t remember a single name or a character trait that made them different from one another. The funny thing is that we have a NPC joke here while they sit in a diner and have some boring conversations. The only one among the body counts who seemed enthusiastic and to be having fun was Tim Dillon, and he should have had some more screentime. He should also be the final guy. That would be hilarious. The only one who stands out is the killer with the cloak, captain hat, the John Carver mask and the axe. Still, I have to say that the motive of the killer here was the weakest shit ever.

 

Anyway – as a slasher film, Thanksgiving is overall an entertaining watch with some great and brutal kills mixed with some suspenseful chase scenes. Instead of some generic knife-stabbings, we have face-skin that gets ripped off from a freezer door, heads get ripped off, some poor dude gets his face impaled, torsos gets slashed in half… Yummy! The gore delivers, in other words, where Eli Roth’s love for old-school slashers like Pieces and Happy Birthday to Me spiced with some elements of the 90s shines through. And had this been made in the 80s it would have gotten added on the video nasty list in a bloody heartbeat, that’s for sure. Surprisingly, there’s some CGI gore here but I’ve seen a lot worse. The opening scene with the Black Friday riot in Walmart/Rightmart was epic, which I assume was meant to be satirical, but that incident couldn’t be closer to the actual clown world reality. The parade scene is also a great highlight, where it gets pretty messy, and a third act which involves a crispy and morbid dinner scene. Enough gore candy to fill your belly here. Burp.

 

There’s also a scene with a fluffy cat here and… just wait for it. And yes, the trampoline scene which alone became a classic in the faux trailer is of course here. No titties, though.

 

Despite the NPC’s and that I missed some of the more grainy and primitive image quality, this is overall an entertaining and a welcoming addition to the Holiday slasher horror genre with razor sharp edges. And I wish that the Christmas-themed slasher films had the balls to amp up the grisly brutality like this one did. Because most of them are tame and forgettable trash, with some very few exceptions which I can count on one hand. Hopefully our man Damien Leone will finally change that with his next Terrifier movie.

 

And as I’m writing this, it has grossed 36 million of its budget of 15 million, and a sequel is already in development. Nice.

 

Thanksgiving

 

Director: Eli Roth
Writers: Jeff Rendell, Eli Roth
Country & year: US, 2023
Actors: Patrick Dempsey, Ty Olsson, Gina Gershon, Gabriel Davenport, Karen Cliche, Nell Verlaque, Rick Hoffman, Derek McGrath, Katherine Trowell, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Mika Amonsen, Amanda Barker
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt1448754/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

A Haunting in Venice (2023)

A Haunting in VeniceThe year is 1947, and Hercule Poirot has retired and lives his lazy days in Venice. He’s lost his faith in both God and humanity and has decided to not take on any new cases, but on Halloween the mystery writer Ariadne Oliver visits him and convinces him to attend a Halloween party where a séance is to be held, at the palazzo of famed opera singer Rowena Drake. The medium who is going to hold the séance is Joyce Reynolds, a World War I nurse whom Poirot will try to expose as a fraud. The palazzo where the séance is going to be held is also rumored to be haunted by children from the time when it was an orphanage, who were locked up and left to die during the plague. But that is not the only tragedy that’s happened at the place: Rowena’s daughter Alicia supposedly committed suicide after her fiancé broke off their engagement, and that’s the reason Rowena wants to hold the séance in hopes of contacting her dead daughter. And the séance itself? Well, it turns into a complete disaster, as Poirot exposes the medium’s two hidden assistants who kept orchestrating the “supernatural” events. Even after this revelation the medium Joyce suddenly starts spinning in her chair and speaks in Alicia’s voice, saying that she was murdered by one of the people in the room. Later, Joyce is found dead, impaled on a statue in the courtyard, and at the same time a storm is cutting off the palazzo, capturing Poirot and the other guests inside. He must figure out who the murderer is, but Joyce’s death soon proves to be followed by others…

 

A Haunting in Venice is a mystery thriller from 2023, directed by Kenneth Branagh. It is loosely based on the 1969 Agatha Christie novel Hallowe’en Party. Branagh previously directed two other Poirot films, Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Death on the Nile (2022). This one is a sequel to the previous film, thus making it a trilogy. The film, despite having very little promotion as it was released during the SAG-AFTRA strike, still managed to do quite well and grossed $122 million worldwide on its $60 million budget.

 

The movie is filmed on location in Venice, and this makes for some really nice scenery and a fitting environment for this whodunnit mystery. I have (at least not yet) seen the other two films, but this one caught our interest due to it apparently being some kind of horror movie. While it is first and foremost a mystery crime thriller, the vague horror elements fits well in as a whole, and the setting actually gives off some nice Halloween vibes. There’s a lot of atmosphere to be found, and you keep guessing whether the strange things that happen really are due to ghostly mischief, or if something quite alive is pulling the strings here. Or maybe both. It’s captivating, and very much so due to the entrancing surroundings.

 

Branagh also worked with the technical department as he wanted to cause some surprises for the actors. They were not warned about things like lights going suddenly off, slamming doors and gusts of wind, which caused some genuine confusion and startled reactions. Kelly Reilly (who played Rowena) confirmed that the filming of the séance scene scared the bejesus out of her. The actors all do an overall good job, and the director who also plays the role as Poirot himself, comes off as quite entertaining and even with a believable french accent.

 

A Haunting in Venice is an entertaining whodunnit movie, with good locations and interesting camera angles. It’s a fun mystery with a little bit of the supernatural added to it, and would be a good watch during the Halloween season.

 

A Haunting in Venice A Haunting in Venice

 

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Country & year: US, UK, Italy, 2023
Actors: Kenneth Branagh, Kelly Reilly, Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan, Kyle Allen, Emma Laird, Camille Cottin, Riccardo Scamarcio, Jude Hill, Amir El-Masry, David Menken
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt22687790/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul