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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

No One Gets Out AliveAmbar is a young woman who tries to move from Mexico and settle in Cleveland, Ohio, after her mother passes away. Unfortunately, she’s an undocumented immigrant, which makes it incredibly hard to find a job and a place to live. She works at an “under the table” job, with an asshole boss who treats her like shit because he knows she doesn’t have much of a choice. In a desperate search for some place to stay, she finds a dilapidated boarding house where the owner, Red, doesn’t care about asking any questions as long as one month’s rent is paid up front. Shortly after she moves in, she starts experiencing strange things and sees ghostly figures. Some of the rooms in the house is also filled with strange artifacts, as Red’s parents were archaeologists. And to top it all, Red’s got a mentally disturbed brother who acts in a threatening manner. And while she isn’t the only woman in the house as there’s also two other young women renting a room there, Ambar soon feel that the supernatural visions and the overall threatening atmosphere in the house is becoming a bit too much…

 

No One Gets Out Alive is a supernatural horror film from 2021, directed by Santiago Menghini and based on an Adam Nevill novel by the same name. It premiered on Netflix on 29 September 2021. Now, while I have read some of Adam Nevill’s books I haven’t read this one, so on that part I’m unable to make any comparisons. I think this movie is a little bit of a modern gothic horror, set in a gloomy mansion-like boarding house where ghostly apparitions fit well in with the interior, so to speak. It’s atmospheric and offers mysteries and tension, which are not all caused by the supernatural affairs. Ambar’s experience as a lost, lonely and desperate young woman in a place where she basically has no value, and constantly in a situation where others might take advantage of her without repercussions, adds to the feeling if despair and tension. Even when Ambar befriends one of her colleagues who promises to get her a fake ID, she just ends up getting robbed by this woman whom she thought would help her. If Ambar hadn’t been in a very despairing situation, I don’t think the underlying tension would have been quite as effective.

 

The movie also hints that it exists in the same universe as The Ritual, as a newscaster mentions the four lost hikers in the Swedish woods. The Ritual is another book by Nevill which had a movie adaption released in 2017, and is currently also available on Netflix. Just like in The Ritual, there’s a god-like monster here. It isn’t particularly well explained, but it is some kind of Aztec goodess named Itzpapaloyl, which actually means “clawed butterfly” or “obsidian butterfly”. In Aztec religion, Itzpapaloyl is a fearsome skeletal death goddess. And just like in The Ritual, the monster design and effects are neat and otherworldly to the max, even if their display time is minimal.

 

Overall, No One Gets Out Alive is gloomy and creepy, where the heroine’s problems are just as much related to financial and social problems than just the supernatural ones. While it certainly isn’t fast paced I didn’t ever find it boring, and consider it a pretty enjoyable watch.

 

No One Gets Out Alive No One Gets Out Alive

 

Director: Santiago Menghini
Writers: Jon Croker, Fernanda Coppel
Country & year: UK, 2021
Actors: Cristina Rodlo, Marc Menchaca, Vala Noren, Claudia Coulter, Teresa Banham, David Barrera, Alejandro Akara, David Figlioli, Cosmina Stratan
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt13056008/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Totally Killer (2023)

Totally Killer It is the end of October in 1987, and it’s Halloween time! For some teenage girls in the small town of Vernon, things have gotten way too scary, however…Tiffany Clark, Marisa Song and Heather Hernandez are all killed by someone going by the nickname Sweet 16 Killer, each having been stabbed 16 times on the night of their 16th birthday. And they all had their birthdays in the days close to Halloween, of course: on October 27, 29 and 31. Many years later, to present day, the murders are still unsolved as the killer was never caught. Jamie Hughes is the daughter of a woman named Pam, who used to be friends with the three victims of the Sweet 16 Killer. Naturally, Pam is having a rather strained relationship to Halloween, and feels anxious when Jamie goes to a concert with her friend on Halloween night. While being at home giving out candy to the trick or treaters, Pam is suddenly attacked by the killer who seems to have come back for her all these years later, and she’s stabbed to death. While Jamie grieves over her mother’s death, she also helps her friend Amelia finish the final parts of her time machine (yes, an actual time machine), which Jamie later activates and is sent back to 1987. Realizing that she can now stop the Sweet 16 Killer from actually going on the killing spree, she tries to warn people (which goes as well as one might expect) and befriend her mother and her group of friends, hoping to stop the killer and save her mother from dying in the future. But she’s got to hurry – or else she will be trapped in 1987…

 

Totally Killer is a comedy slasher film from 2023, directed by Nahnatchka Khan. It premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 28, 2023, and was later released on Amazon Prime on October 6, 2023. I guess the best way to describe it is a movie where Scream meets Back to the Future. In the leading role we have Kiernan Shipka as Jamie(who also played Sabrina in the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), who plays a typical modern teenage girl. This is something that the movie makes sure to exploit when she gets sent back to 1987, where things are considerably less “politically correct” and Jamie often finds herself baffled by what was apparently deemed okay in the past. While this does sometimes come off as a bit overkill, I can’t help but feeling that this is probably exactly how a teenager of today would have experienced a trip to the latter part of the 80’s: constantly on edge by all the stuff that could potentially be offensive by someone or something. Whew.

 

Totally Killer is fast paced, generally fun and very much your typical teenage slasher flick. Already from the start it’s very upfront about what it is: a movie that’s supposed to be uncomplicated fun mainly aimed at teens. There is no excessive gore to be witnessed, but the violence is moderate and offers some bloody kills here and there. The killer is walking around wearing a Max Headroom-esque mask, which was made by makeup artist Tony Gardner.

 

Overall, Totally Killer is an entertaining horror comedy in the same vein as Happy Death Day: it’s nothing spectacular, but offers just the right amount of amusement which will make it a fun experience. There are some obvious plot holes, especially for those who might like to nitpick on things, but they don’t really overshadow the movie as a whole. Just bring forth your Halloween treats and some popcorn, and have fun!

 

Totally Killer

 

Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Writers: David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, Jen D’Angelo
Country & year: US, 2023
Actors: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Charlie Gillespie, Lochlyn Munro, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Liana Liberato, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Ella Choi, Jeremy Paul
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt11426232/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skinamarink (2022)

SkinamarinkThe year is 1995, and the 4 year old boy Kevin injures himself during a sleepwalking episode. We’re told he was taken to a hospital, and then brought back home. He and his 6 year old sister, Kaylee, then wakes up in the middle of the night and finds that their father has disappeared. And that’s not all…the doors, windows, and certain other objects also keeps gradually vanishing. The children, appearing to be more puzzled than scared, decide to sleep downstairs while watching cartoons. They soon realize that they’re not really alone in the house, after all.

 

Skinamarink is a Canadian experimental horror film from 2022, written and directed by Kyle Edward Ball in his feature directorial debut. Prior to this film, the director ran a YouTube channel called Bitesized Nightmares, where he would ask his viewers to write about their nightmares and he would create short videos based on them. Skinamarink was inspired by the most recurrent themes in the submitted nightmare stories, and he also recounts having had a nightmare when he was a child where he was in his parent’s house while the parents were missing, but there was a monster there. And a lot of people seemed to have shared a similar kind of dream. Before the feature film, he created a short film called Heck which was a proof of concept for Skinamarink. The film’s title might ring a bell for some, as Skinnamarink (aka “Skid-dy-mer-rink-adink-aboomp” or “Skidamarink”) is a popular preschool sing-along song from North America. He chose to alter the spelling a bit so children searching for the song would not accidentally find his film instead. The film was shot over seven days in 2021, in the director’s childhood home, using some of his old toys. It had a budget of $15.000 which was mostly crowdfunded. The film got widespread social media attention after one of the online film festival screenings caused the movie to become downloadable due to a glitch, and thus it was spread and this caused it to go viral.

 

And yeah…this is one of the times when the worn-out phrase “this movie is not for everyone” can easily be replaced with “this movie is for a select few”. It’s very experimental, and if you’ve never seen an arthouse film before you’re probably either gonna end up wondering what the hell this is, or snooze off within the first few minutes. For the right kind of audience, though, it’s prone to be a different experience. When we watched it, we pretty much knew what we were in for, and while some movies are best seen going in blind, this is definitely not one of them. If you’re aware of this being a very experimental and abstract film, hardly providing any plot, you’re in the clear. Then you’d likely to be prepared for the experience. In many ways, the film is quite demanding towards its audience and could easily have been considerably shorter. It’s like a nightmarish ASMR, but if you’ve ever suffered from night terrors and fear of abandonment during your childhood, I’m certain this film will click more into place for you. It’s a movie that through its experimental scenes and surreal vibes, draws upon the childhood fears of being left alone without a guardian. The soundtrack mostly consists of the TV screen, playing the tunes and sounds from old public domain cartoons, and this certainly gives off an eerie and surreal vibe. Some of these movies include Max Fleischer’s The Cobweb Hotel and Somewhere in Dreamland, as well as Ub Iwerks’ Balloon Land, and Merrie Melodies Prest-O Change-O.

 

Skinamarink is a movie where you really need to know what you’re in for. It’s a movie that’s more of an experience than a story (although there is some kind of story hidden there in a very subtle way). Other experimental movies like for example Begotten will feel fast-paced and easily consumed in comparison. But I can see how it can evoke the inner childhood fear in some people, irrational as though those fears may be and how aware we are of that fact.

 

And if you think Skinamarink was too abstract, experimental and slow, there is actually a 1967 movie called Wavelength where you’ll watch a long zoom of a window stretched over 45 minutes…

 

Skinamarink Skinamarink Skinamarink

 

Writer and director: Kyle Edward Ball
Country & year:
Canada, 2022
Actors:
Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul, Jaime Hill
IMDb:
www.imdb.com/title/tt21307994/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talk to Me (2022)

Talk to MeWe’re at a crowded house party where a young man, Cole, is trying to locate his brother Duckett. After asking several people about Duckett’s whereabouts, he eventually finds him locked inside a bedroom. Cole breaks down the door, and an injured and confused Duckett comes out, babbling about how he thinks Cole is someone or something else. After walking together into the living room, Duckett suddenly stabs Cole and shortly afterwards himself, right in the face. Total panic among the partygoers ensues, and we then shift over to the next scene where we meet 17 year old Mia who is struggling with the second anniversary of her mother’s death. She lives with her father, who she’s got a distant relationship with. One evening she sneaks out with her best friend Jade, with Jade’s younger brother Riley, to attend a houseparty where they have a certain spooky attraction: a severed, embalmed hand which is said to have belonged to a powerful medium. If you light a candle and touch this hand while uttering the phrase “talk to me”, you’ll see a spirit. If you continue with the phrase “I let you in”, you’ll be possessed by said spirit. All fun and games, as long as the candle and ritual is broken before ninety seconds have passed. But soon they will see what happens once the ninety second timelimit has passed, and the dire consequences of it…

 

Talk to Me is a 2022 Australian supernatural horror film, directed by the brothers Danny and Michael Philippou as their directorial debut. The duo is known for their YouTube channel RackaRacka, which they created in 2013, where they have had intense live action horror comedy videos. Talk to Me had its first screening in 2022 at the Adelaide Film Festival, and its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It’s been quite hyped and well received, and a sequel is already in development.

 

When it comes to Australian horror, we have so far reviewed the well-known The Babadook, the re-discovered Lake Mungo, and the lesser known movies Relic and The Tunnel, and the very obscure The Next of Kin. And here’s another solid entry for the list: Talk to Me, which has gotten a fair amount of praise and attention.

 

Many horror stories about people playing with the occult just for the shits n’ giggles ends up with a tragic outcome, so as you can expect the embalmed hand goes from being the life of the party to a life-shattering threat. We get the story fueled from the start by a dramatic and violent opening scene, which does of course have a significance as to what is happening with the mysterious hand. Then we have the classic grieving protagonist, looking for closure, comfort, or anything that can fill the void of grief inside them. Yes, it’s not all that original, but sometimes a little bit of clichés is what works well together with something new into the mix. Other than the tired Ouija-board session, we now have an embalmed hand which requires a handshake from you. The hand is letting you into the supernatural world with a small glimpse, but at the same time leaving the decision of how far it should go up to you. The people possessed are literally asking for it, not giving a hoot about consequences, and I guess this could serve as a metaphor for drug use. The visitation into the spirit world is enticing and hard to resist, and thus they keep doing it and doing it in the way they consider “safe”, until the safety rules are broken of course and things go too far.

 

The characters in Talk to Me serve mostly as bricks to fuel and explain the main character’s actions. Mia, the protagonist in the story, often comes off as quite self-centered and even a little unsympathetic at times. She’s grieving, but at the same time fails to see that others have their problems too, and she’s so absorbed with her own needs. And that’s exactly what eventually makes Riley’s session turn awfully bad. While the ghost/demonic possession in this movie doesn’t take it to the lengths we found in the splendid Evil Dead Rise earlier this year, it does portray it very effectively and manages to be creepy and dread-inducing without being over the top.

 

While Talk to Me isn’t ever really scary, it is certainly very suspenseful and creepy, and keeps the tension up throughout. I also liked the dark closing scene, it really gave the film a satisfying ending.

 

Talk to Me

 

Directors: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
Writers: Danny Philippou, Bill Hinzman, Daley Pearson
Country & year:
Australia, 2022
Actors:
Sophie Wilde, Marcus Johnson, Joe Bird, Alexandra Jensen, Miranda Otto, Zoe Terakes
IMDb:
www.imdb.com/title/tt10638522/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unicorn Wars (2022)

Unicorn WarsOnce upon a time, the unicorns lived together with the bears in a magical forest. But one day, the bears found a sacred book in the ruins of a church, which gave them knowledge to form their own civilization. The bears, evolving into “teddy bears”, wanted to cultivate the forest but this caused the unicorns to retaliate. In the end, the bears lost and were exiled from the forest. This all lead to an ongoing war between the unicorns and the bears, where the bears have started to believe that drinking the blood of the last unicorn will make God return to the forest.

 

In present time, we follow a troop of recruits including the twin brothers Gordi and Azulin (“Tubby” and “Bluey”). While Gordi is a chubby and gentle person, Azulin is narcissistic and filled with jealousy and rage, often picking fights with the other troop members. One day, the camp’s leaders send the troop into the forest to look for a missing squad, which leads them all into a beautiful but deathly place. Here, they do not only meet with the threat of the unicorns, but also the nature which they no longer feel accustomed to, and threats are everywhere, including amongst themselves.

 

Unicorn Wars is a 2022 Spanish-French animated splatter war film (yes, you read that right) and the second animated feature film by Alberto Vazquez. It is also based on a short, called Unicorn Blood (Sangre de Unicornio). While his first feature film, Birdboy (co-directed by Pedro Rivero) is more gloomy and downbeat, this one takes everything to the max with full-on splatter scenes and deaths by the dozens, all combined with absolutely beautiful visuals. The opening scene, where a lost unicorn is searching for its mother and comes upon the ruins of the old church which contains a shape-shifting monster, is brilliantly animated and gave me a little bit of Princess Mononoke-vibes. At this point I’ll assume that parents who put this movie on by mistake already got a clear warning that this ain’t no kids movie. And like in Birdboy, the characters who might appear to be simple in style are very full of life with detailed expressions. The colours are vibrant and makes everything quite captivating for the eyes, and even the gory scenes are very pretty in their own way. Yes, you also read that right.

 

While some might read the description of this movie at places where the gore is in main focus, they might end up thinking this is some kind of full-length Happy Tree Friends or something, but it’s not just all about gore and it’s oftentimes both dark and gritty. Not unlike Birdboy, the movie does have a lot of dark themes which includes not only the dark sides of war and propaganda, but also family issues, narcissism, and sibling jealousy. While Unicorn Wars is having more dark comedy elements and at times feels a little more lighthearted through some of its scenes, it becomes quickly obvious through all the graphic violence and the excessive extent to which the film actually takes it, that this is a dark and twisted anti-war tale where barely anyone is truly innocent, and the little innocence that exists is quickly corrupted or swiped away. Both Catholicism and war is loudly criticised here, and while Vazquez’s inspirations likely came from many things, he does seem to have an apparent affection for “war is hell” movies.

 

Unicorn Wars, with its enchanting visuals, gore and philosophical themes, is both gruesome in its violence but at the same time quite mesmerizing to watch. And it certainly does not hold back on the gore. There’s something rather fascinating about watching adorable anthropomorphized characters in such dark and edgy situations…like watching the Care Bears go into a bloody war with My Little Pony…

 

Unicorn Wars Unicorn Wars Unicorn Wars

 

 

Writer and director: Alberto Vázquez
Country & year:
Spain, France, 2022
Voice actors:
Jon Goiri, Jaione Insausti, Ramón Barea, Txema Regalado, Manu Heras, Gaizka Soria, Iker Diaz, Estívaliz Lizárraga, Pedro Arrieta, Alberto Vázquez, Rosa María Romay
IMDb:
www.imdb.com/title/tt10483152/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pope’s Exorcist (2023)

The Pope's ExorcistYoga is satanic because it leads to practice of Hinduism and all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation and practicing yoga is satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter. Ko-ko. –  Father Gabriele Amorth

 

Father Gabriele Amorth (1925-2016) was an exorcist of the Vatican city who battled against Dr. Satan’s neverending army of fallen angels throughout most of his life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he also fought nazi demons during WW 2. The one and only reason I’ve heard of this Italian gentleman is because of the documentary The Devil and Father Amorth from 2017, directed by none other than William Friedkin. And woof, what a bag of unholy baloney that documentary is. An utter, demented clown-show which I can only recommend with a good conscience just by how funny-bad it is.

 

And here we are with a polished  supernatural horror film from Hollywood based on a true story, in the same alley like The Conjuring films, this time focused on the aforementioned pope’s own exorcist Gabriele Amorth, played by a charismatic Russel Crowe. The film starts off on a stormy night during the mid 1980s where we see our Demon Buster in action as he cleanses a possessed boy, tied to his bed.  Amorth brings a pig with him, and pretends to lure the demon to posses it so he then can blow the pig’s brains out with a shotgun and get quickly done with it. Poor piglet.

 

Then we get introduced to the American widow Julia who have just arrived at the countryside of Spain to inherit an ancient convent from the 1400s from her deceased husband. And with her she has the younger son Henry and the teenage daughter Amy. Henry hasn’t spoken since he got traumatized after seeing his father die in a brutal accident, while Amy just hates her mother’s guts for dragging her ass all over to Spain. Suddenly, without no warning, Henry gets possessed by an angry demon who really wants to have a chat with Father Amorth specifically. Bring me the priest”, he growls with the voice of Ralph Ineson. Since he asks so nicely, our maestro drives all the way to Spain with his Vespa Ferrari to do his holy service and confront this nameless demon. A rabbit hole of conspiracies and other dark secrets about the Vatikan are revealed when Amorth opens a well that leads to a morbid tomb under the convent.

 

While Russel Crowe carries most of The Pope’s Exorcist on his strong shoulders, the film really suffers from a lazy and rushed script that seems like a first draft. The film doesn’t allow us to get to know this American family or give them much of a personality, and it lacks a good build-up atmosphere of underlying demonic threat as the possession suddenly happens almost like someone just slipped on a banana peel. Shit happens. I’ve given up expecting anything new or groundbreaking from possession films (or haunted house films, for that matter) a long time ago, but at least give us some tension, something to make our armhairs rise. It’s as scary as an episode of Supernatural. On the positive side though, the film is solid and well directed by Julius Avery (Overlord and Samaritan) who does his best to at least gives us tasty visuals and some ghoulish scenery to chew on.

 

And back to Russel Crowe who is the only reason to give this film at least one watch. To give the film some spice of authenticity, he speaks both Italian and English with an accent as thick as Crowe’s  belly in Unhinged (2020). He’s classy, sympathetic and plays the character with a great sense of humor, as he likes to crack jokes to annoy Satan, sips whiskey after a long roadtrip with his Vespa and… wash his armpits with holy water. Without any spoiling, the film wraps up in a ridiculous climax with cheap CGI effects such as a rubberish stretched-out mouth, an effect that’s been a parody of itself in decades. And of course we have an even more cheap-looking body explosion that belongs in a discarded Xbox game from 2005, before we all can say Amen and good night. It was as dumb and comedic as I predicted after watching the first trailer, and given that I rarely laugh out loud in a movie theater, I can’t say I’m that disappointed.

 

The Pope's Exorcist The Pope's Exorcist

 

Director: Julius Avery
Writers: Michael Petroni, Evan Spiliotopoulos, R. Dean McCreary
Country & year: USA, UK, Spain, 2023
Actors: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Franco Nero, Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Laurel Marsden, Cornell John, Ryan O’Grady, Bianca Bardoe, Santi Bayón, Paloma Bloyd
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt13375076/

 

Related post: The Devil and Father Amorth (2017)

 

 

Tom Ghoul