Barbarian (2022)

BarbarianTess Marshall is going to a job interview and has booked a house through Airbnb, in a rundown Detroit neighborhood. When arriving there in nearly complete darkness as no other house gives off any light in the nearby area, she finds out someone else is already residing inside the house she booked. The other resident is a young man named Keith, who booked through another site. Thus, that house ended up getting double-booked. Not being able to get in contact with the renter, while also being a little unnerved by this young stranger, Tess finds herself in a situation where she doesn’t quite know what to do. Eventually, she warms a little up to him, and after he insists, she stays the night in the bedroom while he takes the sofa. Things seem to be going well after all. The next morning, Tess goes to her job interview, where the woman who interviews her warns her about the place. Tess doesn’t think much about it, and goes back to the house, and finds that Keith is still out. She goes down to the basement, where she accidentally gets locked inside, and here, Tess stumbles upon a hidden door leading to…somewhere…

 

Barbarian is a horror film directed by Zach Cregger, and it’s also his directorial debut. It stars Bill Skarsgård (as Keith) and Georgina Campbell (as Tess). And the movie’s gotten quite a buzz, which caught our interest, and we noticed that the general consensus seemed to be that it more or less lived up to its hype. So, we Horror Ghouls were eager to check it out, and found it on streaming here in Norway at Disney Plus.

 

The film is starting off with something that seems to be an ordinary thriller, building up certain expectations already during the first few minutes. Then it effectively throws you off guard and presents something else entirely. And I think Barbarian’s major strength lies in just that: not giving you exactly what you expected, and it does that with a high degree of proficiency, engrossing us in the concept of the totally unknown. You don’t really know much about what is happening, you get thrown a couple red herrings here and there, and while expecting a few clichés at certain moments you end up getting the exact opposite of what you might have been anticipating. While none of the plot “twists” are that unique to catch you completely off guard, there’s something about the storytelling that makes it come more unexpected, as it leaves enough room for wonder throughout the story without revealing its cards too early. There’s enough tension and unsettling atmosphere to keep your mind occupied. Viewing it without any knowledge of plot or twists is the best viewing experience for a film like this, so I will not delve into it any further to avoid spoilers that might ruin the movie experience.

 

Barbarian had a budget of 4.5 million, and grossed $45 million worldwide. While the majority of the film takes place in Detroit, and several establishing shots were in fact made there (including all the exterior neighborhood shots which were filmed in Brightmoor) the main filming location was in Bulgaria. Zach Cregger got the idea for this film after reading Gavin de Becker’s book “The Gift of Fear”, which encourages women to trust their intuition when confronted by men that are obviously dangerous. Zack wrote a short inspired by it, and liked it well enough to know he wanted to make a longer film. And, while not credited, Jordan Peele was “an invisible hand” in shaping the eventual story and was also shown an early cut of the film.

 

Overall, Barbarian is a tension-filled horror thriller (although you might find yourself a little underwhelmed if you’ve seen all the hype around it). It is not particularly scary, and some may be put off by the movie’s u-turn after the first act and how it (to be honest) strays a bit from making that much sense all the time, but it has enough creepy atmosphere and will likely keep you second-guessing what is happening if you’ve avoided any spoilers.

 

Barbarian

 

Writer and director: Zach Cregger
Country & year: USA, 2022
Actors: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, Kurt Braunohler, Jaymes Butler, Sophie Sörensen, Rachel Fowler, J.R. Esposito, Kate Nichols
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt15791034/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrifier 2 (2022)

Terrifier 2Terrifier 2, or A Nightmare on Terrifier Street 2: The Clown Master as a fitting alternative title, starts right off where the previous film ended. And if you haven’t already seen the first one, here comes the spoiler of the century: Art the Clown (still with an energetic and dedicated David Howard Thornton behind the costume) survived, even though he’s got a big hole at the back of his head after a gun shot, which means the supernatural aspects are already well established. To start off the film with the right tone, he slices the coroner’s throat, and finishes him off by crushing his face with a hammer. And if that wasn’t enough, he rips one of his eyes out and plays with it for a few seconds, and places it in his own eye socket. Art hasn’t changed one bit since we saw him back in 2016, that’s for damn sure. As his costume is drenched with blood, he pops into the nearest laundry center where he encounters a twisted, little girly version of himself, also known as The Little Pale Girl (portrayed by the child actress Amelie McLain.) They quickly bond together where it’s like creepy uncle Joker finally meets his creepy, little niece Harley Quinn, to put it that way. It’s a kinda cute little moment they’re having, actually. Kawaii.

 

But there is no time to waste, and Art heads to the next scenario, with his bag of torture tools which he is carrying over his shoulder, to continue his journey of spreading some cozy family-friendly Halloween spirit. Just kidding. Just like in the first film: get ready for more of the same, just on a much bigger platter packed with a full menu of pain, suffering, goreghasm, worms, wasps, insanity and utter chaos – nicely spiced with a deranged and pitch black sense of humor that requires a certain level of sick cynicism to fully enjoy. After the first ten minutes we already know that this is a grindhouse flick in the purest sense, made only for us sub-humans of horror ghouls and hardcore-fans in general. But the more average surface-horror-goers are welcome, of course. Art likes everyone, you see. Just play with him or at least give him some candy and you’ll have a slight chance to survive.

 

After the batshit opening sequence we meet the stressed widow mom Barbara (Sarah Voigt) with her two teens, Sienna (Lauren LaVera) and Jonathan (Elliott Fullam) , living in a middle-class suburb. Sienna has been working on her Valkyrie-like Halloween outfit for months, a passion project based on an illustration made by their deceased dad. And when the nerd-looking Jonathan isn’t busy with interviewing aging rockstars, he’s obsessed with serial killers. Especially with a certain clown that has hit the news after the massacre in Miles County, which took place in the previous film. There’s also a mysterious sketchbook that their dad left behind after committing suicide. It’s filled with drawings of monsters, but the most weird of all: Art the Clown and his earlier victims. What connection their dad could have to Art, who knows, but we can assume that this sketchbook is the equivalent of the Necronomicon/Book of the Dead from The Evil Dead that eventually brings them to our killer clown. Already filled with more questions than answers, it all begins when Sienna starts having bizarre lucid nightmares about Art. During her dream, her bedroom is also set on fire which burns the wings of her costume to ashes. Later Jonathan gets chased by hallucinations/visions of Art and his little pale girl, and this all happens before Hell is about to get real.

 

Terrifier 2

 

As minimal as the first one was with basically no story or character development, other than to show us the demented nature of Art, a showcase of competent gore effects, technical competence, this one pays for it. Watching them now back-to-back makes the first one more of a prologue, a warm-up, if you will. Without spoiling anything, we get a tiny nugget of the history about the pale girl we saw in the beginning, which I hope we see more of in the next sequel. Art however… well, we learn that his alias “Terrifier” is attached to a haunted house attraction. More questions than answers, as I earlier said, and don’t look for much logic. The acting is pretty solid and I was a little surprised to even see Felissa Rose (that girl from Sleepaway Camp) acting like an A-lister with the little screen time she had. Lauren LaVera is great as the “final girl” and knows how to kick some clown ass. I also like the “Phoenix Rising” symbolism behind her costume. The chemistry between her and her mother and brother is believable in the middle of all the madness, which shows that Damien Leone is able to depict more in the script other than how Art is going to dismember the next victim.

 

The first film had a budget of 35.000 dollars, while this had the price of a crowndfunded amount of 250,000. Money well spent, especially on the prosthetic gore effects which is also made by director Leone. The guy has clearly learned from the best. With a much larger budget we also get a more polished look, although Leone has kept enough of the rawness to make it look like the film is straight from the mid 80s to blend with the universe of the first one. The visual esthetics with its use of vibrant color and contrast screams Halloween all the way through. And the retro synthwave soundtrack just fits perfectly.

 

While the film has a cartoonish and sometimes surreal look to it, the effects make a stark contrast and look as real they can get. I think we have to rewind back at some of the titles from the New French Extremity wave from early 2000’s to find something in the same gritty, realistic nature. It’s also filled with references from probably every single slasher film from the 80s. The most notable is the scalping from Maniac which Art takes to a whole new level of extreme ghoulishness. The infamous “bedroom scene” is the wildest shit I’ve ever witnessed on the silver screen, which have earned the hype alone. The serial killer buffs will also take notice of the homeage to one of the crime-scenes of Jack the Ripper.

 

So overall, there’s no doubt in hell that writer and director Damien Leone is a die hard fan of the video nasty-era of VHS horror, and Terrifier 2 projects that to the fullest. But I’ve also got an other theory; that the guy is actually sent by a phone booth-shaped time machine from the 80s, sent by Rufus himself to save us from all the modern watered-down and glossy PG-horror that’s been dominating the mainstream for god knows how long. And not to mention the more recent attempts to adapt them to the “current times” of “checklist” movies, which have been nothing but failed flops thus far. Let’s only hope that Terrifier 2, with its global success, has opened the golden can of killer clowns that makes room for a new wave of more extremity like this to hit the mainstream silver screens. If not, well, at least Damien Leone has created his own universe here with a lot of  potential to evolve as a lucrative franchise that could be an (annual, if I dare say so) highlight for years to come.

 

And finally, here’s the million-dollar questions everyone are asking:

Is Terrifier 2 too violent, even for horror fans? Will the film make me puke or faint? Will it cause a heart attack, or even a miscarriage? Will it make my botox lips explode? Will it make my dick fall off?

Terrifier pin & Barf Bag Yes, to all of them. Joking aside, let’s be serious for just a few split seconds; being concerned if a slasher film is too violent is like expecting a porn film with less porn, even though this is mainly nothing but a cheap, yet effective, marketing strategy that’s been used since the birth of horror cinema and seems to work every time. And thanks to its enormous hype, which I haven’t seen for a slasher at the mainstream surface since way back in 1996 with Wes Craven’s Scream, it managed to sneak its way to the silver screens in our narrow penis shaped home country Norway of all places. My only concern was the unusual long runtime for a film like this, with its 2 hour and 18 minutes, but both I and Miss Ghoul had a blast. The movie theater was almost packed with only kids from Gen Z on a Friday night, where we kind of stood out a little as being old enough to be their parents. The audience reactions should be interesting. A group on the row in front of us giggled nervously here and there, but otherwise it was an awkward dead silence. The best way to describe it as a collective movie experience was to sit on a roller coaster through the Big Gory Mountain with a bunch of mute people. So if any negative physical reaction is to expect, it will slice your vocal cords. So, there’s the only warning, I guess. But just in case, we got handed a barf bag and a cool pin before the screening. Barf bags are a common gimmick, but I cant remember it having been provided in Norway on such an occasion. Not even with Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D, which is objectively the goriest film screened on a regular movie theater in our home country, twelve years before Terrifier 2 broke that record. So, who’s next?

 

Terrifier 2 Terrifier 2 Terrifier 2

 

Writer and Director: Damien Leone
Country & year: USA, 2022
Actors: Lauren LaVera, David Howard Thornton, Jenna Kanell, Catherine Corcoran, Samantha Scaffidi, Kailey Hyman, Chris Jericho, Casey Hartnett, Katie Maguire, Amelie McLain, Elliott Fullam, Sarah Voigt, Felissa Rose, Jackie Adragna, Griffin Santopietro, Charlie McElveen
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt10403420/

 

Related post: Terrifier (2016)

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Necro Files (1997)

The Necro FilesI stumbled upon one of the Horror Movie Icebergs one night while I was doing some night fishing, and a film called The Necro Files was mentioned. Just the title alone was more than enough to peek my morbid curiosity, and after watching the first batshit fifteen minutes on YouTube, I was thrilled to discover that the film had just been released on Blu-ray which already deserved a spot in the collection.

 

The Necro Files is a one dollar budget backyard-style horror trash, set in Seattle, which starts off perfectly with a young lady flashing her tits and pussy in a quick shower scene. An intruder with a mask that combines Michael Myers with Charles Manson with a swastika in his forehead, assaults the poor woman, stabs her like a deranged gorilla, spills her guts, cuts of a big chunk of one of her tits and eats it. And he really enjoys it. Yummy-yummy. No subtlety here, what so ever. The two police men Martin and Orwille have been on a personal hunt for this maniac since he raped and murdered one of the officer’s sister, one of two hundred victims. After they finally get the long-awaited message, they drive to the scene, and after a messy confrontation, Mr. Rapist gets shot. Justice served. Good riddance. God bless … for now.

 

Then we jump seven months later. We’re at a cemetery where a group of black cloaked satanists are about to sacrifice a new-born baby. It’s broad daylight, by the way, and no disturbed civilians to see in the background. And don’t worry, it’s a plastic doll. As the baby screams with some voice-over effects, they stab the toddler and buries it, urinates on the fresh soil and – surprise, surprise – the seven months old rotting corpse of Mr. Rapist suddenly pops out from the ground, resurrected as a zombie. He has a lot of unfinished business and starts his comeback by tearing the urinating dick off a victim before he kills several of the satanists, leaving two behind. He’s also more horny than ever and sets out for a raping/murder spree as his thirty inch rubber dick is dangling out of the zipper, ready to slam it in every walking glory holes he would stumble upon.

 

And yeah, there’s also this flying zombie baby floating around on a string. Pure demented z-movie schlock, just the way we like it and probably not in the slightest as you expected. It has it’s fair share of nudity and some kinkiness going on. Mr. Rapist attacks a couple during a S&M act, rapes a brunette with some fluffy butt cheeks before he beheads and mangles her body to a pile of gory mush. There’s a random scene with another hot brunette who’s getting ready for an evening with a sex doll, and her kinky ritual doesn’t go exactly as planned. The two police men dimwits, Martin and Orwille, are the funniest part. The chunky one is like watching a bizarre Dr. Phil impersonator who tries to be the rational one, despite the bonkers dialogues, while the other one is an unhinged, raging drug addict. Well, it’s Seattle, after all. And speaking of: this viral clip of a zombie woman in Seattle is already an oldie, but still, I just had to throw it in here.

 

The Necro Files is a fun little trashfest for those of us who have a weak spot for ultra-cheap homemade VHS horror that has no other intentions than to go completely relentless batshit, having a jolly time and not give a flying (zombie baby) fuck. The Blu-ray is available from Visual Vengeance, featuring extras such as the puppet animation Necro Files 3000, a mini poster and of course a condom, just to mention some.

 

The Necro Files The Necro Files The Necro Files

 

 

Director: Matt Jaissle
Writers: Todd Tjersland, Sammy Shapiro
Country & year: USA, 1997
Actors: Steve Sheppard, Gary Browning, Christian Curmudgeon, Jason McGee, Theresa Bestul, Jenn O. Cide, Dru Berrymore, Anne R. Key, Todd Tjersland, Jonas Arke, Jeff Nelson, Isaac Cooper

IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0203726/

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mad God (2021)

Mad GodA character wearing a gas mask, The Assasin, descends into a hellish world filled with devastation and mayhem. With him on his dark journey into a dystopian nightmarish world, he’s got a map and a suitcase, and while traveling deeper and deeper he encounters several monstrous creatures. Filth, death, war, despair and, well, hellish surroundings are all over the place.

 

Mad God is a stop motion horror film which was written, directed and produced by Phil Tippet. The film was in production over a period of thirty years. Tippet started filming it while working on Robocop 2, but when he became involved in Jurassic Park this set the film on hiatus. Originally, Jurassic Park was supposed to have stop motion dinosaurs, but after Spielberg saw some CGI work of a T.rex, he told Tippett: “You’re out of a job”. To which Tippett replied, “Don’t you mean extinct?”. This was even referenced in Jurassic Park, where Dr. Grant says “Looks like you’re out of a job” to Dr. Malcolm”, and he replies “Don’t you mean extinct?”. Anyhow, Tippett was still kept as supervisor for the CGI animation of the dinosaurs, so at least he wasn’t really out of a job… but due to the change during his involvement in this film he believed that stop motion was now a thing from the past, and because of this he shelved the Mad God project. Which is a sad thought, really, as many stop-motion effects from some older films can look really good, and often better than many of the early CGI effects used. Even now, I think there are some movies whose practical effects look greater than some of the modern CGI of today…

 

In spite of all that, Mad God got pulled out of hiatus-status twenty years later, when members of his studio encouraged him to start working on it again. And with a successful Kickstarter campaign, and a crew of volunteers to assist him, Mad God came into fruition at last.

 

And what kind of movie is Mad God, exactly? Well…I dare say you’ve never seen anything quite like it before. We start off with a scene depicting the destruction of The Tower of Babel, and then we see a citation from Leviticus 26, which reads as follows:

“If you disobey Me and remain hostile to Me, I will act against you in wrathful hostility. I, for My part, will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your cult places and cut down your incense stands, and I will heap your carcasses upon your lifeless idols. I will spurn you. I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate and I will not savor your pleasing odors. I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle it shall be appalled by it. And you I will scatter among the nations and I will unsheath the sword against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin”.

Yeah…that’s the words of a Mad God indeed, one that is truly pissed off. Or just completely deranged. And we get to see a world that is actively punished by this mad god.

 

Aside from that, there isn’t much of a story to cling to here, although one can clearly see the statement about our world and its condition. There are several segments which are obvious metaphors for certain human behaviour, and you can probably dissect and analyze so many parts that are shown here. Mostly, though, it’s a film that is mainly enjoyed due to its visuals and dark content. There’s so many weird and absurd things happening on screen, everything from things that are disgusting and gross, to the weird and uncanny, to pure nightmare-fuel. There’s also a bit of blood and gore, and other stomach-churning stuff. There’s even a scene (although somewhat obscured) where Putin is taking Trump from behind while Hitler is watching. Jeez. Creatures are chopped into pieces, eaten, tortured, and everything is just filled with decay, debauchery and general ghastliness.

 

Mad God is definitely not a film for everyone’s tastes. Some will find it a nonsensical and gross mess, while others will enjoy the dark, surreal, nihilistic atmosphere and awesome special effects (Horror Ghouls belonging to the latter group of people).

 

Mad God is available on Shudder (for those who live in a country where this is accessible. We live in Norway, where Shudder is not available, though we were lucky enough to get one of the few copies of the film on DVD).

 

Mad God Mad God Mad God

 

 

Writer and director: Phil Tippett
Country & year: USA, 2021
Actors: Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda, Harper Taylor, Brynn Taylor, Hans Brekke, Brett Foxwell, Jake Freytag, Harper Gibbons, Tom Gibbons, Tucker Gibbons, Arne Hain, David Lauer, Chris Morley
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt15090124/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smile (2022)

SmileOne day at work, the psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter meets with a recently admitted patient called Laura Weaver. Laura is a PhD student, who appears to be having some kind of mental breakdown, caused by witnessing her professor committing suicide some days earlier. She claims that some kind of entity is trying to kill her, and it pretends to be other people smiling at her. As Rose tries to calm her down, Laura suddenly screams in panic and falls to the floor, convulsing. Rose calls for help, but after making the call she turns to see that Laura is standing on the floor, smiling widely at her. And then she cuts her own throat with the shard from a broken vase.

 

After this, Rose is understandably upset. And she starts seeing and experiencing things she can’t quite explain. At first, both she and everyone around her believes that it’s the stress and trauma of witnessing a patient committing suicide right in front of her, but as the supernatural occurrences continue she starts noticing the smiling entity Laura mentioned in their brief session. Things escalate quickly, causing misery to both her and everyone around her, including her sister Holly whom she’s already got a strained relationship with ever since the death of their abusive mother, who overdosed when Rose was a child. So, when Rose tries to explain what is happening to her, no one believes her and thinks it’s either the trauma from her childhood flaring up, or even that she’s starting to show traits of her own mother’s mental illness. Desperate for answers, she embarks on a stressful and frightening journey in the hopes of breaking the curse.

 

Smile is a horror film directed by Parker Finn, which is his directional debut. It is based on his 2020 short Laura Hasn’t Slept. At first, Paramount originally planned for this $17 million dollar budget movie to head straight for a streaming-only release on Paramount+. Thankfully they changed their mind! During the test screening the audience feedback scored much higher than they expected, which prompted them to give the movie a theatrical release. And the budget was already earned back during the opening weekend, where it grossed $22 million, to where Paramount’s distribution chief Chris Aronson said it exceeded their wildest expectations.

 

So, Smile has already made a place for itself in the horror genre, proving that using some well-known horror tropes and familiar ideas can still give us an effective experience and make for a good movie. In some ways it highly resembles It Follows (another horror movie that was highly effective and scared the bejeezus out of some people) as well as a little bit of ideas from other movies like for example The Ring. There were even some parts later in the movie which had a little bit of Resident Evil vibes. But most importantly, it also has a flair of its own stuff.

 

Smile is a horror movie that centers around trauma and its impact on not only the people who experience it, but how those who suffer from trauma may also affect their surroundings. The entity in Smile isn’t just something that wants to scare you and simply kill you, it feasts on emotional pain, which means it must make you suffer. While both the title and the entity displays a surface-level metaphor (how people suffering from trauma and depression are often forced to just “smile” and put on a mask in order to pretend to their surroundings that everything is okay), there are also a few other subjects which is delved a little into, like for example the lackluster healthcare services which often doesn’t give people with mental illnesses the treatment and care they need, how mental illness is something that is highly stigmatized, how people close to those with mental illness may be affected by it, and how those who suffer may get turned away with a “I can’t deal with this right now”, often leaving the sufferer alone and feeling helpless. Smile is a dark and grim horror movie, executed with an obvious understanding of tension building and how to make the jump-scares effective as a whole and with the full context. It’s a curse-themed horror movie that’s got teeth, and it bares them with a smile.

 

(Screenshots will be added later.)

 

Writer and director: Parker Finn
Country & year: USA, 2022
Actors: Sosie Bacon, Kyle Gallner, Jessie T. Usher, Robin Weigert, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan, Gillian Zinser, Judy Reyes, Jack Sochet, Nick Arapoglou, Perry Strong, Matthew Lamb, Dora Kiss
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt15474916/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Evil Eyes (1990)

Sometime in the late 80s, George A. Romero was invited to Italy to eat pasta and sip red wine with Dario Argento. The result of that meeting became Two Evil Eyes, an anthology of two films, one hour each, based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe. The original idea was an anthology of four segments in which also John Carpenter and Stephen King was considered to make the other two. However, Carpenter was busy with other stuff while Stephen King, still and forever traumatized by the experience with Maximum Overdrive, had no desire to call himself a “moron” a second time, and thus Four Evil Eyes got reduced to Two Evil Eyes.

 

THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR – George A. Romero

The millionaire Ernest Valdemar is on his deathbed in his big mansion suffering from terminal illness, and his younger and gold-digging wife Jessica and Dr. Robert Hoffman have a plan: to hypnotize Valdemar into signing the will papers so they can get away with all his money. During the last hypnosis session, things go horribly wrong and the old man dies … well, sort of. They hide him in the freezer in the basement while Valdemar seems to be trapped in hypnosis and moans with a ghoulish voice that a bunch of demons will take over his body.

 

George A. Romero were on hiatus during most of the 90s where he made only two films; The Dark Half and this one. Instead of tons of gore, we get a slow build-up and an eerie atmosphere where Creepshow meets Tales From the Crypt. Even though the story itself is intriguing, Romero’s direction feels as stale as if it was meant to be made for TV, and the runtime could have been cut down to thirty minutes. The scenes with Jessica and Dr. Robert is as dry and boring as a soap opera, and with even stiffer acting than Valdemar in the freezer. As already mentioned though the atmosphere is great, and Tom Savini, who worked on both segments, provides with some top-notch prosthetic makeup and a memorable death-scene.

 

THE BLACK CAT – Dario Argento

We follow the crime-photographer Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel) who documents the most brutal crime-scenes in Pittsburgh, George Romeo’s hometown of all places. Rod is a cold psychopath with a distant relationship with his empathic girlfriend Annabelle. As she feels ignored, she gets some comfort in a stray black cat. The cat hates Rod and he hates the cat back and as the classic story goes, he kills the cat who then starts to haunt him until he descends into complete madness.

 

The Black Cat is one of Poe’s most famous works, and this film adaptation is made in modern times where a crime-scene photographer has been replaced with the author himself, Poe. Harvey Keitel is the money shot here, alongside with FX maker Tom Savini, and the only reason alone to give Two Evil Eyes a watch, to be honest. Argento’s segment is also far more stylish, better paced, better acted and of course more graphic.

 

So, there you have it. Two short horror tales from two directors with their own style of filmmaking and approach to storytelling. And some with more meat on the bone than the other.  For HD buffs, the film is available on 4K Ultra HD from Vingar Syndrome.

 

Two Evil Eyes

 

Directors: George A. Romero, Dario Argento
Writers: George A. Romero, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, Peter Koper
Original title: Due occhi diabolici
Country & year: Italy, USA, 1990
Actors: Adrienne Barbeau, Ramy Zada, Bingo O’Malley, Jeff Howell, E.G. Marshall, Harvey Keitel, Madeleine Potter, John Amos, Sally Kirkland, Kim Hunter, Holter Graham, Martin Balsam, Chuck Aber
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0100827/

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She Creature (2001)

We’re in Ireland, and the year is 1905. Two carnies, Angus Shaw and his infertile wife Lily, runs a fake mermaid show where Lily plays the role of a beautiful and enchanting mermaid. One evening, during one of their shows, a mysterious fellow named Mr. Woolrich appears and privately calls them out on their act, while at the same time appearing strangely relieved that Lily was, in fact, not a real mermaid. They offer him a ride home, where it’s revealed that he’s got a mermaid captured. A real one. Naturally, Angus wants to use this creature as part of the freak show, but Woolrich strongly warns against it. Not easily deterred, Angus later brings a few colleagues back with him to abduct the mermaid, and smuggles her aboard a ship in order to take her to America. Lily tries to object to this idea, but to no avail. And onboard the ship, the mermaid soon reveals her darker side…

 

She Creature is a 2001 made-for-TV horror film, directed by Sebastian Gutierrez (the title of this film was originally Mermaid Chronicles Part 1: She Creature, but there was never any part 2). It’s the first in a Cinemax film series called “Creature Features”, which were all paying tribute to the films of American International Pictures, where the titles are reused without being actual remakes. In this case, the title is borrowed from the 1956 film The She-Creature.

 

She Creature was shot in 18 days, and is a typical B-budget movie . It’s filmed in a style that resembles the old monster movies, and with taking place in the Victorian era there’s also some really atmospheric cinematography reminiscent of the old Hammer films. With the renowned Stan Winston as producer it also should come as no surprise that the special effects are pretty decent. The mermaid is also portrayed in a rather convincing way, possibly much due to the fake mermaid we witness early on at the freak show. The mermaid Lily plays there is so obviously over-the-top fake, that when we get to witness the real mermaid in a tank of water the contrast makes it come off as believable. The real mermaid does not sing, she does not talk (except from making a few sounds), and appear more like an intelligent animal with human features rather than any “little mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen. This is no Ariel, that’s for sure…

 

Much of the atmosphere comes from the Victorian scenery and settings, fitting like hand in glove when constructing a horror tale with a blend of fantasy and gothic mystery. She Creature is by no means any masterpiece, but it’s a fun and slightly cheesy little throwback to the monster movie era with moody cinematography, good production design and some really cool CGI-free special effects. Overall, it makes for a pleasant little pearl of a gothic and aquatic creature feature film.

 

She Creature She Creature She Creature

 

Writer and director: Sebastian Gutierrez
Also known as: Mermaid Chronicles Part 1: She Creature
Country & year: USA, 2001
Actors: Rufus Sewell, Carla Gugino, Jim Piddock, Reno Wilson, Mark Aiken, Fintan McKeown, Aubrey Morris, Gil Bellows, Rya Kihlstedt, Hannah Sim, Jon Sklaroff
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0274659/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Phone (2022)

The year is 1978, and the streets of a seemingly sleepy Denver suburb is prowled by a serial killer nicknamed The Grabber, who mockingly leaves black balloons in the places of abduction. We follow the daily life of siblings Finney and Gwen, who lives with their abusive alcoholic father. School is tough on the timid boy Finney, where he is frequently bullied and harassed, only occasionally getting saved by his badass friend Bruce. However, one day Bruce is abducted by The Grabber, and Gwen starts having psychic dreams regarding his kidnapping. Only days later, Finney encounters what at first appears to be a clumsy magician who needs his help, but when the boy notices the black balloons inside the magician’s truck, it’s already too late and he becomes another abductee. When Finney wakes up, he finds himself trapped in a small soundproofed basement, with a disconnected black phone hanging on the wall. His abductor is the terrifying mask-wearing “Grabber”, who appears to be playing some kind of game which Finney knows will eventually lead to his death…just like with all the other kids that were kidnapped and murdered before him. Unexpectedly, help comes from the ominous, disconnected black phone which starts ringing and gives Finney phone calls from the world of the dead…

 

The Black Phone is directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), and is based on a short story by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son). After Deliver Us From Evil, which was released on 2014, Scott was absent from horror movie directing for a while as he was working on the Doctor Strange movie, so his comeback into this genre was long awaited. The story starts off a little slowly as we get to know the youths and prepare for the inevitable, and once Finney gets kidnapped a lot of the movie unfolds mainly in the bare-bones basement as he tries to escape and avoid playing the serial killer’s sadistic game, aided by the previous victims who contacts him through the black phone. There are some creepy scenes and the setting is atmospheric enough, although it never really breaks the surface of becoming truly scary. It is mostly the performances that really carries the movie, especially the child actors, and of course, the serial killer himself.

 

The Grabber’s creepy masks are made up of several parts, each exposing different portions of his face and giving a variation in expressions. The mask was designed by makeup artist Tom Savini. Ethan Hawke plays The Grabber in his first villain role (in stark contrast to the worried family man he plays in Sinister), and he does an admirably good job on portraying the crazy and unpredictable serial killer with his various facial expressions portrayed through the use of masks, body language and tone of voice. The Grabber is someone who obviously can’t be reasoned with, and while we do not really get to know all that much about him, that actually adds to the creep factor. And while the supernatural elements aren’t even remotely scary, they help powering up the direction of the story, working more as part of the suspense component rather than the horror. We root for the boy trapped in the creepy basement, and the ghosts who try to help him.

 

Overall, The Black Phone is a welcome horror comeback for Scott Derrickson. It’s not really a very unique or original movie, but it’s a solid and tense horror thriller that’s well worth a watch.

 

The Black Phone

 

Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Country & year: USA, 2022
Actors: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, James Ransone, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Rebecca Clarke, J. Gaven Wilde, Spencer Fitzgerald
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt7144666/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Demon’s Rook (2013)

James Sizemore is a man of many traits and with a childhood consisting of several near-death experiences such as drowning, electrocutions, and almost hit by a freight train. And if that wasn’t traumatic enough, his childhood home in Georgia also seemed to be haunted by poltergeist activity. As he was influenced by these experiences he began to draw goblins, demons and whatnot which in later age evolved into producing some really cute Lovecraftian sculpt figures which he sells through his own company Wonder Goblin. He also makes music, has written one comic book, made two horror shorts (Goat Witch and Budfoot) and probably more I’ve forgot to mention. But the most important achievement in this case, is that he’s written, directed and produced one feature-length film, The Demons Rook. A passion project in which he gathered friends and family to a shooting schedule planned for three quick weeks in his local home community in Georgia with a tiny budget of five thousand dollars. In the purest indie-horror fashion they soon found themselves trapped in what is known as the indie horror-purgatory and continued the shooting for over two, grueling long years during the weekends, while questioning their own sanity, preventing the one mental breakdown after another, and promised themselves to never make a movie again. In other words, the normal cycle of independent movie making.

 

We meet the young boy Roscoe, not far from similar to the director himself, who during the day plays with his friend Eva, and sits up at night and makes drawings of demons. He is constantly visited by the demon Dimwos, a two-horned creature that looks more like something from Lovecraft’s universe. It is unclear why this demon shows up, but we can guess that he has been conjured by the drawings. Dimwos gets hold of the kid and one night lures him into the woods and down a hole that leads to Hell, where he trains him with black magic through manhood. Many, many years later, an grown-up Roscoe (now portrayed by James Sizemore) returns to the world with a long beard, confused and scared because, for some reason, he has accidentally managed to free three evil demons from Hell to Earth. And these demons are nothing to joke about, and makes matters worse by resurrecting the dead into Night of the Living Dead zombies and possesses people into Evil Dead monsters, to create hell on earth. Roscoe seeks out his childhood friend Eva (Ashleigh Jo Sizemore) and uses his trained Jedi powers to prevent a full demon apocalypse.

 

One quickly realize that director, producer and co-writer James Sizemore has a deep love for the good old video nasty-era horror cinema of the 70s and 80s, and has taken a laundry list of references that really shine through from old horror genre obelisks such as Dario Argento, George A. Romero, Stuart Gordon, Lucio Fulci, Lamberto/Mario Bava, Tom Savini, early Peter Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft and probably more. With impressive gory effects, juicy body-counts, and creative old-school prosthetic make-up, the use of light, colors,  flexible camera work, and massive use of a smoke machine to set the thick, retro atmosphere, the film works perfectly as a visual throwback to the good old times. And a budget of approx 70.000 dollars well spent. That being said, The Demon’s Rook suffers from the same as most home-made horror movies, with underdeveloped scripts and pacing issues with scenes that drags on, and a mixed bag of acting from amateur to decent. The actor couple James and Ashleigh both make good efforts with some naive enthusiasm and energy, even though we do not care all that much about them in the end. They got married during the filming, by the way, and are still married today. How cute. A year later after The Demon’s Rook, she got the task to be breast-naked and sacrificed to Satan in her husband’s horror short Goat Witch.

 

The DVD-release from 2015 seems to be out-of-print, but can be found after a quick search on Amazon Prime (limited by region).

 

The Demon's Rook The Demon's Rook The Demon's Rook

 

Director: James Sizemore
Writers: James Sizemore, Akom Tidwell
Country & year: USA, 2013
Actors: Ashleigh Jo Sizemore, James Sizemore, John Chatham, Melanie Richardson, Josh Gould, Sade Smith, Dustin Dorough, Lincoln Archibald, William Baker, James Becker, Michael Bremer, Laura Clark
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt2401215/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sinister (2012)

Ellison Oswalt is a true crime writer who moves into a new home with his wife and two children. What he has not told his family prior to moving into the house, however, is that an entire family was murdered there by hanging, and his intention is to write a book about this case. This is something he does in the hopes of regaining his lost fame, as his latest works weren’t very popular and he’s desperate for a new success. There was also a little girl who disappeared following the murders, and he hopes to learn more about her fate so he can include this mystery in his novel. Upon exploring the attic of the house, he finds a box with several reels of Super 8 footage, which are simply labeled as “home movies”. Using the projector which was also located in the attic, he discovers that the films are footage of several families being murdered, all of them filmed by an unseen camera operator. Upon investigation these cases he finds similarities that makes him suspect that both the murders in the house he now inhabits, and the ones from the Super 8 footage, are connected in a sinister way, and dates all the way back to the 1960’s…

 

Sinister is a 2012 horror movie directed by Scott Derrickson (who will have a new movie hitting the theaters soon, The Black Phone). Scott Derrickson had previously shown his competence in the horror field with Hellraiser: Inferno (his debut film) and later The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which was based on the story of Anneliese Michel).

 

Sinister is for the most part a highly effective and creepy film, with a steadily growing sense of unease without tossing a bunch of jumpscares at you. There are some genuinely hair-raising moments here, led by solid performances, and the opening scene alone sets the tone right away where we witness the Super 8 footage of the family being hanged. This scene was actually all played by stuntmen, and almost went terribly wrong: when the scene was first done, the stunt coordinator botched the preparations for the scene resulting in the actors being legitimately hanged and choked. Yikes! Fortunately they all survived, and naturally the coordinator got sacked. This wasn’t the only potentially harmful scene either: one of the other “footage” films included a family tied to chairs and pulled underwater, and the filmmakers had to be extremely careful so nobody was harmed while the filming of the scene took place. All of these scenes were also filmed on real Super 8 films camera.

 

Overall, Sinister is a solidly crafted horror film with loads of atmosphere and a really creepy feel, where some parts are actually outright scary. While it does not have any nudity, very little blood and no cursing because they were aiming for a PG-13 release, it still got an R rating just for the content alone. It is now 10 years since its release, and it’s still one of the most decently crafted horror films from this period.

 

Sinister

 

Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Country & year: USA, UK, Canada 2012
Actors: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, Rob Riley, Tavis Smiley, Janet Zappala, Victoria Leigh, Cameron Ocasio, Ethan Haberfield
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt1922777/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul