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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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