Friday, November 9, 2018

Worth Mentioning - There Is Nothing to Be Afraid Of

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.

A Friday the 13th star, Elm Street inspiration, horror in Japan and at home.


Critters 3 / Kickboxer 5 director Kristine Peterson's 1988 debut feature Deadly Dreams is an obscure movie that tends to get lumped in with the slasher movies of the era when it is mentioned, but that's not really that fitting of a designation for it. There are murders and there is a killer who goes around in hunting gear, wearing a wolf mask over his face, carrying a knife and a gun... but this isn't the sort of movie where that killer is going around picking people off one-by-one.

The hunter haunts the dreams of a young man named Alex Torme (thus the title), who's played by Mitchell Anderson, and it's no surprise that he's tormented by this figure - when Alex was a kid, he witnessed the murder of his parents at the hands of a disgruntled employee of his father's who was wearing this hunting outfit. The dreams make sense, but things really get bad when Alex starts hallucinating the image of the hunter during his waking hours.

Has Alex lost his mind, or is someone in a hunting outfit and wolf mask really stalking him? That's the question at the center of the film, a question that hangs over the heads of not just Alex but also his best friend Danny (played by screenwriter Thom Babbes), his brother Jack (Xander Berkeley), and his girlfriend Maggie.

Deadly Dreams is a fine psychological thriller, but the main selling point for it in my book is the fact that Maggie is played by one of my favorite scream queens of the 1980s, Juliette Cummins. Prior to this film, Cummins also appeared in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Psycho III, and Slumber Party Massacre II. I've always been a fan of hers, and of the films mentioned it's Deadly Dreams that gave her the best role to play.

This isn't a lost classic, but it deserves more attention than it's gotten over the last twenty-nine years. It's worth watching, especially if you're a Juliette Cummins fan.

MARA (2018)

Any movie that centers on the idea of an evil entity who kills people while they're sleeping is going to draw comparisons to A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's inevitable, and the filmmakers know it. There was a movie released last year, Dead Awake, that was about a demon killing people while they were experiencing sleep paralysis, and it was so blatant in the fact that it was drawing inspiration from the Elm Street franchise that it was practically an Elm Street fan film. Director Clive Tonge's film Mara is also about a demon killing people while they experience sleep paralysis (this is a legend that has been around for a very long time), but it does a better job of standing on its own than Dead Awake did.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of moments that will be giving you Elm Street flashbacks, though. When a character falls asleep in a bathtub, or is taken to a sleep clinic, or is so desperate to stay awake that they attempt to cut off their own eyelids, you'll definitely be thinking of things from Elm Street movies - but Mara still doesn't have the feel of being a rip-off. Tonge and screenwriter Jonathan Frank do tip their hats to their famous predecessor; Freddy Krueger is mentioned in the dialogue, and there's a reference to the real world events that inspired Wes Craven to come up with the Elm Street concept in the first place. I think it was wise of them to openly address the elephant in the room, kind of saying, "Yes, we know you've seen something like this before, but give our version a chance."

Mara also earned a couple points from me immediately with the casting of Olga Kurylenko in the lead role. James Bond movies and Tom Cruise movies are two of my favorite things, so I'm a fan of Kurylenko from her work in Quantum of Solace and Oblivion and was glad to see her as the heroine in a horror movie. Here she plays forensic psychologist Kate Fuller, who becomes involved with the investigation of a series of mysterious deaths where people have been killed in their beds. Fuller has to make the tough decision to have a little girl's mother institutionalized when the women won't stop blaming a demon for the death of her husband... but Fuller knows what it's like to be a child whose mother is taken away from them, so she feels guilty about her decision and takes it upon herself to figure out what's killing these people, how, and why.

Through her personal investigation, Fuller is introduced to a support group for people suffering from frequent sleep paralysis, and that leads to the discovery of the demonic title character, as the people in the support group are being picked off one-by-one.

This film doesn't have anything to show horror fans that we haven't seen before, but it is a well made film that presents its familiar scenarios in a way that held my interest. Tonge made his feature directorial debut with Mara, and it's a solid way to get a feature career started. It moves along at a decent pace, the scare scenes are capably handled, cinematographer Emil Topuzov captured some nice imagery, and the special effects team provided a couple cool looking corpses.

There was also an appreciated effort put in to give the characters some depth, especially Fuller and a sleep-deprived ally she makes along the way, Dougie Trenton. Dougie is played by Craig Conway, who has some intense scenes and delivers a great emotional monologue at one point. Kurylenko did well bringing Fuller to life, and acted the hell out of her sleep paralysis moments.

If there's one thing I could nitpick about Mara, it's the title character. She is not a great villain, despite being portrayed by frequent creature performer Javier Botet. Sporting long hair and a dress, she's quite generic, just appearing in front of people, moving over to them with creaky bones, and silently crawling on top of them to strangle them. Of course, there was never any chance this character was going to live up to her fellow sleep stalker Freddy, but they could have done something more interesting with the "night hag" idea than this.

Although the villain is dull, she's in a good movie. Mara isn't going to rock any worlds, but it's worth checking out when you need a horror fix.

The Mara review originally appeared on

SIREN (2006)

Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi from a screenplay by Naoya Takayama, the 2006 Japanese horror film Siren is actually based on a video game series that I had no idea even existed, and was apparently released into theatres to coincide with the release of the entry in the video game series that its story most closely resembles. I don't know about all that, but I do have some familiarity with the real world incidents that referenced in the story: the disappearance of everyone on Roanoke Island back in the late 1500s, and the disappearance of everyone on board the sailing vessel Mary Celeste in 1872.

The story of Siren adds another mass disappearance into the mix, one that took place on Yamijima Island (or Yame Island in the English subtitles) in 1976. Only one person was found on the island back then, and he warned his rescuers not to go outside when the emergency siren on the island was going off. That survivor later committed suicide.

Jump ahead to present day, when a writer brings his two children to the repopulated Yamijima Island. The character we focus on is the teenage daughter Yuki (Yui Ichikawa), who quickly realizes this island is a very strange place and starts digging into its history to try to figure out what's going on here.

With the inclusion of Roanoke and Mary Celeste in its mythology, Siren had me hooked, as I was interested in seeing what sort of explanation this movie might try to give for those events. When Yuki's research happened to turn up a legend about capturing and eating mermaids, I started liking all of this even more, because I am of the opinion (thanks to a comic book story called Aquacarnivora that I read when I was very young) that there aren't nearly enough horror movies that involve mermaids.

And just when I was wondering how all this weirdness and record-searching could sustain a video game, the film turned into a creature feature...

I had no idea what to expect from Siren when I put the movie on, but I ended up being surprised at how entertaining I found it to be.


A 2015 film festival premiere, director Karyn Kusama's film The Invitation got a theatrical and VOD release in 2016. At the end of 2016, I gathered and watched most of the notable major genre releases of the year with blog contributor Priscilla, and once I had gotten through them The Invitation stood out to me as one of the best horror movies of '16, a year that had quite a few great horror movies released during its months.

Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the film stars Logan Marshall-Green as Will, who has received an invitation to a dinner party being thrown at his former home by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) - and he can bring along his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). That sounds awkward enough even before you take into account the fact that Will and Eden split up, and she had a major breakdown, after the death of their young son.

Eden and David have been away for the last two years, taking part in a program (a cult?) called The Invitation, which has completely turned their lives around. Eden now has a serene demeanor and a philosophy that negative emotions can be easily expelled. She takes this philosophy very seriously, so much so that she slaps a friend when he mocks it. Will is having a tougher time moving on from their past. It's troubling for him to be in the house, and to be around Eden, as we can tell from the flashbacks he keeps having.

Several friends have been invited to this dinner party, including an oddball free spirit Eden and David have brought back from Mexico with them and a very creepy fellow who shares the secret with everyone gathered that he killed his wife seven years ago. That confession isn't the only disturbing moment of the night. The video David shows of The Invitation's leader comforting a dying woman doesn't go over well, a parlor game takes things in a weird direction, a friend who was supposed to be at the party is missing, pills are being taken in secret... and the guests are essentially trapped in the house, thanks to the bars on the windows and the locked front door that requires a key to be unlocked even from the inside.

The Invitation has an unsettling atmosphere hanging over it from the moment the film begins, you know (especially given the genre) that things are going to go terribly wrong in some way, but it's not clear exactly how. I was engrossed and intrigued while watching the characters have their strange interactions, wondering what would be the catalyst for things to descend into horror, waiting to see who was going to do what awful thing. The film takes its time getting to that revelation, keeping you on the hook, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride to the breaking point.

This is a dialogue heavy film, and Hays and Manfredi did a great job of keeping the conversations interesting while also building the mystery, and Kusama did a great job of bringing their story to the screen, presenting the situation in such a way that we share Will's paranoia.

The Invitation was one of the best horror movies of its year, but if you didn't catch it back then it's still a great one to watch regardless of the year.

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