Friday, January 13, 2017

Worth Mentioning - Scenes of Extremely Graphic and Violent Horror

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

People have a lot of bad luck this Friday the 13th.

CURVE (2015)

Usually a star of movies with lots of dancing and/or singing, Footloose remake and Rock of Ages star Julianne Hough made her thriller debut with this film, which was directed by Ian Softley from a screenplay by Kimberly Loftstrom Johnson and Lee Patterson. The story crafted by Johnson and Patterson was quite simple - a woman gets trapped in the wreckage of a car crash, left at the mercy of a murderer.

Hough's character Mallory is introduced while on a solo road trip taking "the scenic route" through a mountainous desert landscape on her way to her wedding. As she drives, she's having second thoughts about the man she might be spending the rest of her life with, and her sister has advised her (through a Roxette song on a mix tape) to "listen to your heart".

When Mallory has some vehicular trouble in the middle of nowhere, a man named Christian (Teddy Sears) suddenly appears, walking up and offering to help. Once Mallory's truck is running again, she decides to give Christian a ride. At first, their interaction is quite pleasant - Christian is nice, charming, a good listener. Then he reveals his true nature by saying something vulgar and inappropriate. He becomes violent, threatening, he pulls a knife. We'll come to find out that he's a serial killer. Mallory is strapped in with a seatbelt, Christian isn't wearing his, so she tries to save herself by driving the truck off a steep hill at a sharp curve. That doesn't work out so well for Mallory. While Christian is able to walk away from the wreck, she's stuck upside down in the overturned truck, her left leg trapped between the seat and dashboard.

Mallory is stuck that way for the majority of the film's running time as we watch her struggle to escape and survive. As if being stuck in the wreck isn't bad enough, having to deal with the elements and the wildlife, as well as the threat that she could lose her leg if she's in this position for too long, Christian also comes by to visit her frequently, taunting her, enjoying watching the show of her slow, terrifying death.

More than anything, Curve is a showcase for Hough's acting skills. It's a film that proves she has range, because she handles the emotional challenges of this role quite well. There's not all that much to the story, but we get invested in Mallory's plight and root for her to get out of that truck... and, if possible, get revenge.

Curve was produced by Jason Blum, one of the biggest names in the horror and thriller genres today, with credits that include the Insidious franchiseSinisterOuijaCreepThe GiftDark Skies, the list goes on and on. It was also produced by Jaume Collet-Serra, who would go on to direct another "woman trapped in a terrible situation" film, The Shallows. Curve and The Shallows are both movies that I watched for the first time with Priscilla, and they're both films that I would recommend to anyone in the mood for 80 minutes or so of thrills.


I'm a devotee of slasher movies, so it's possible that I would have gotten around to seeing director Lauro Chartrand's Blackburn at some point regardless of the cast. The story, about a group of college kids who discover a trio of escaped mental patients living in an abandoned mine, is definitely the sort of thing I seek out when I feel like kicking back with some horror. But it was the casting that made me want to see Blackburn as soon after its release as I did.

The actors who drew me in? It wasn't anyone playing a victim or hero/heroine. It was the men who play two of the film's three slashers - Freddy vs. Jason's Jason Voorhees Ken Kirzinger and Halloween: Resurrection's Michael Myers Brad Loree. Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers slashing up college kids side-by-side? I had to see this as soon as possible. Of course, Kirzinger and Loree aren't playing Jason and Michael here, in this movie they're playing slashers called Digits and 3Eyes (very Wrong Turn, and Kirzinger was a part of that franchise as well, having played a homicidal mutant in Wrong Turn 2.) They're joined in their murderous endeavors by Maja Stace-Smith as Mary, with Twisted Twins Jen and Sylvia Soska, directors of American Mary and See No Evil 2, briefly showing up along the way as associates Poppy and Posey.

The script written by Nastasha Baron pits five potential victims against these slashers, trapping them in the general vicinity of the mine with a rock slide in one direction and a wildfire in the other. While Baron does give the lead female some depth, she also includes in this group two of the worst, least likeable slasher movie characters I've ever witnessed. These characters are so awful that it's great to see them get brutally murdered, but their terrible presence also drags the film down a bit during the build-up to their much deserved deaths.

Blackburn doesn't deliver anything slasher fans haven't seen before, but if you like this type of movie you'll probably get some entertainment out of it. Of course, Digits and 3Eyes can't come anywhere close to living up to the icons the actors have portrayed previously, no one is going to latch on to these characters, but they get the slashing job done.

Beyond the novelty of getting to see men who were behind the masks of Jason and Michael team up, the most enjoyable aspect of this film for me was the performances of Jacqueline and Joyce Robbins as Ivy and Iris, oddball twin sister shopkeeps the kids cross paths with a couple times. They have a unique presence that really made their scenes stand out as something special.


Director Philippe Mora's 1982 horror film The Beast Within is one that I've been hearing about and crossing paths with in one way or another for decades, and yet when I did watch it the movie still managed to defy all of my expectations.

I was under the impression that The Beast Within was a werewolf movie, and when it begins it appears to be just that. When a married couple, Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch as Eli and Caroline MacCleary, run into car trouble in the Mississippi countryside, Caroline ends up being attacked by a beast that looks - in the fleeting glimpses we get - very much like a werewolf. This attack is unlike most werewolf attacks you'll find in cinema, however: the furry beast strips the woman and rapes her while she's unconscious, then escapes back into the night.

Seventeen years later, Eli and Caroline have a teenage son named Michael (Paul Clemens), who was conceived through that wolfen rape. Given that much of the film's marketing focused on Michael looking monstrous while wearing a letter jacket, I figured viewers were in store for something along the lines of I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Michael struggling with an emerging lycanthropic condition. Well, Michael is suffering from a condition, but it's a dire medical one. He's one the edge of death due to a hereditary pituitary disorder. In an effort to save their son, Eli and Caroline have to return to that small Mississippi town where she was raped so they can try to find information on Michael's real father.

So that's another surprise. Our lead characters are middle-aged adults rather than teenagers. As Eli and Caroline dig into the mysteries of Nioba, Mississippi, where the biggest crime to be reported seems to be "oral sodomy", they unearth some dark secrets. Murders unsolved and/or unprosecuted, a body pit with over thirty corpses in it, a local who knew some dark magic. They also interact with some world class character actors like R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, and Luke Askew, among others.

But the story, which was written by Tom Holland (The Initiation of Sarah, Psycho II, Child's Play, Fright Night) from a novel by Edward Levy, isn't just about finding Caroline's attacker and saving Michael's life, either. Under the control of some sort of supernatural being, Michael goes to Nioba himself, where he goes on a three night killing spree, aiming to eradicate the members of one family in particular. Michael takes on a monstrous appearance while carrying out these murders, but he's not a werewolf.

There is a lack of werewolf action, but this is all building up to a transformation scene, and quite a shocking one at that, mainly because of what the transformation means for a certain character. I was not expecting that to be the outcome for them. And whatever that thing they turn into is, it sure as hell isn't a werewolf. More like a... werecicada?

I'm not quite sure why it took me so long to watch The Beast Within, I dragged my feet getting around to it, but when I finally did watch it I was pleasantly surprised. Everything about it was better than I had imagined. The tone and style were more appealing, the story weirder and more interesting. It defied my expectations in the best way possible. This is a really cool horror movie that I should have watched a long time ago.

The following review originally appeared on

THE BARN (2016)

I could never get tired of watching horror movies from the 1980s, and I have a particular fondness for the slasher movies made during that era. I'm obviously not alone in this, because in recent years there has been an abundance of movies released that pay homage to '80s horror, even going so far as to be set in the '80s themselves. I'm always interested in checking these movies out, and some I have liked, several I have disliked. When I put one of them on, I have something very specific in mind. I got into horror in the '80s, the movie I credit with pulling me into the genre is Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, which I saw as soon as it was released on VHS. When I watch one of these '80s-set homage films, I want to see something that replicates the look and tone of the movies I was seeing in my earliest horror-watching days. So far, director Justin M. Seaman's The Barn is the closest any movie has gotten to being exactly what I'm hoping to see. Succeeding where other movies of this type have let me down, it is very nearly the perfect '80s homage.

The events of The Barn occur in 1989, and of all its good points my favorite thing about it is the fact that it doesn't use the decade as a source of humor. Too often such movies go over-the-top and serve as a parody of what they're paying tribute to. I don't want to see a mockery of the '80s, I want to see a movie that looks and feels like it was made and released in the '80s. That's what The Barn is. The '80s setting is an aesthetic choice, and Seaman and his crew did their best to pull off the '80s on a low budget, even downgrading the quality of the image a bit to make it look like the movie was shot almost thirty years ago. Even when there are elements that might make you laugh, like the opening of a show hosted by a guy who calls himself Dr. Rock or a character's preoccupation with his Walkman, they still feel true to the time period. 

The film is set in the small town of Wheary Falls, where the barn standing on the property of Wheary Farms is off limits on Halloween night - legend has it that if you knock on the barn door three times and say "Trick or treat" it will awaken three demons who are dressed as trick-or-treaters: a miner, a man with a pumpkin for a head, and a scarecrow. Much like Freddy Krueger, this trio even has their own rhyme: "The Boogeyman wants to crack your back, cut you into pieces to carry in his sack. The pumpkin man Hallowed Jack wants to carve out your head, slash you with his vines until you're dead. And if you get scared, don't you cry or the Candycorn Scarecrow will surely eat your eyes."

A pre-title sequence set in 1959 assures us that these demons are real and homicidal, and on Halloween night in 1989 the demons are unleashed again by a group of unlucky teenagers led by a kid who should really know better. That's Sam, who was told the rhyme of the barn's demons as a child and has spent way too much time crafting a list of rules that he follows to get through Halloween safely. But with high school graduation coming up in seven months this Halloween is Sam's "last hoorah" before adulthood, so he goes along with his friends when they decide to knock on the door of a random barn that just happens to be The Barn and say "Trick or treat". The demons rise, and the group of friends will need to follow Sam's rules to survive the night.

The demons don't only set out to destroy the group of teens, they also whittle down the population of Wheary Falls, and random citizens are at the receiving end of their slashing in the film's standout sequence, a massacre at the annual Harvest Hootenanny. The budget for The Barn's special effects were obviously quite limited, but the film still delivers some impressive deaths, including decapitations, face peels, severed body parts, torn out hearts, and gut spillage.

Helping Seaman perfectly capture the '80s atmosphere is the music composed by Rocky Gray, whose score sounds exactly like something you would have heard in the days of '80s metal. The songs on the soundtrack follow suit, including the Sykotik Sinfoney song "Mr. Cool", which I recognized from the 1992 Full Moon movie Bad Channels.

There are some familiar faces in the film's cast as well. Scream queen Linnea Quigley and first Jason Voorhees Ari Lehman show up in early scenes that set the teens along their path, and Rik Billock - who I know best from Bill Hinzman's 1988 zombie movie FleshEater - plays an important role as a preacher. It was great to see all them in this film, and seeing Billock in another horror film that had a barn as a prominent location was especially entertaining for this FleshEater devotee.

The Barn gets a lot right, but it's not without its issues, the primary one being the pace and running time. I felt that the movie was too long at just under 98 minutes; it seemed to drag at times and could have been more fun if it had been trimmed down a bit. The characters do a whole lot of talking and spinning their wheels - for example, there's a moment when the demons walk past Sam and steal his bag of trick-or-treat candy. You might expect that someone who has just had their candy bag snatched might get loud and go after the thieves, especially since that candy wasn't just for him to enjoy, Sam is gathering it for a purpose. Instead, he and his friends just stand there and talk about the theft for 30 seconds, weighing their options before deciding to just let the bag go. The entire film plays out in that same low-key way. Although a lot of its minutes are dedicated to the climactic battle, even that feels like it was dragged out longer than it should have been.

With an excellent visual style, The Barn is a really fun movie that harkens back to the '80s glory days in a wonderful way. This is the sort of movie I would love to see more of, it just could have benefited from moving at a quicker pace and wrapping up 10 minutes or so sooner.

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