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"The Collingswood Story," told entirely through webcam footage, follows
a young woman, Rebecca, who has relocated to Collingswood, New Jersey
to attend Rutgers University. To stay in touch with her boyfriend
Johnny, the two communicate via video chat. One night, he plays a prank
by setting her up to chat with a bizarre online psychic. The psychic
not only seems to know personal details about the couple, but also the
dark history of the house that Rebecca has moved intoa history that
includes ritual murder and strange goings-on in the attic.
Released in 2002, this film has often been compared to "The Blair Witch Project," though there is a notable difference in presentation here, as "Collingswood" is framed through online video chat. Years later, the film is something of a time capsule of an era in which wi-fi and smartphones did not exist, and webcams were a new technology. In that sense, the film feels dated, but also strangely current given that video chat has become a cultural mainstay.
The narrative arc here is quite simple, taking place over a period of a few days before Halloween, in which the two characters come to the conclusion that there is something very odd about the house Rebecca has rented a room in. There are a few amateurish flashy scare effects here and there, and the editing is at at times rather choppy, but the bulk of the film consists of one-on-one video conversations that are weirdly absorbing. The two leads manage to make the conversations surprisingly believable, and the film is very atmospheric; which is odd given that we rarely get any glimpses of the world outside of their respective bedrooms. In spite of that, there is a distinctive, chilly autumnal atmosphere that creeps into the filmthe characters only seem to video chat in the evenings, and watching the conversations gives the audience the voyeuristic sense that we're looking in on their private lives and personal spaces.
Ancillary to the central plot is Billy, one of Johnny's friends who appears (also via webcam correspondence), while the enigmatic Vera Madeline is the bizarre online psychic. Her scenes are among the most unnerving, drenched in darkness and lit only by a row of candles behind her; her hair is slicked back, and she inexplicably dons sunglasses. It's just generally weird, and aesthetically unnerving. The conclusion to the film is a bit ambiguous, and though the last ten minutes are notably suspenseful, I felt a bit disappointed when the credits rolled. The end scene is very much frightening, but didn't pack enough torque to truly satisfy in my opinion.
All in all though, "The Collingswood Story" is nonetheless an absorbing indie horror movie. It's dated in some regards and wears its amateurish qualities on its sleeve, but there is something surprisingly engrossing about it its simplicity. Through the format, the viewer is allowed access into the interior worlds of the characters, where something very unusual begins to take hold, and there is something inexplicably frightening about that. Films like "Paranormal Activity" would come to recreate a similar formula in flashier ways. 7/10.
"Massacre at Central High" is perhaps misleading in its title, which
evokes a gore-filled splatterfest, which this film is not. The premise
surrounds David, a teenager who transfers to a new high school where
the students run wild, and a group of male bullies torment their peers
without consequence. The unhinged David begins to murder each of the
bullies, but his plan to cleanse the school backfires when those on the
bottom of the social ladder take on the same traits as their former
A weird but memorable entry in the horror genre, "Massacre at Central" high feels like it occurs in a dreamscape or an alternate world. This is largely due to the fact that the film features no "adult" figures to speak of; the bullies torment the students to extreme lengths, and even attempted gang rapes are left unreported and largely up to the students themselves to sort out. "Lord of the Flies" comes to mind, as well as some elements of "Carrie," minus the supernatural edge. This off-kilter universe in which the film orbits lends it a unique and memorable feel.
It's not what I'd classify as a conventionally "scary" film by any stretch of the imagination. It is a horror film, but only in the sense that there are savage murders occurring throughout and that the subject matter is generally dark. The film itself is aesthetically quite bright, boasting a distinctive Los Angeles atmosphere that is laid on thick. Malibu's beaches set the stage for several scenes, and the film feels every bit a "California" production.
Performances from Robert Carradine and Kimberly Beck (who would later become a genre favorite for her role in "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter") are some notable highlights, while Derrel Maury plays the outsider/deranged avenger with an appropriate distance. None of the performances are particularly provoking and are by and large rather bland, but serviceable given the material.
All in all, "Massacre at Central High" is a unique and thoroughly strange film that toes the line between exploitation slasher and thoughtful allegory. It is not a great film and at times feels extremely choppy, but it's a certain oddity and a respectable example of a filmmaker attempting something different. The fact that it predates the slasher by a significant amount of time also makes it an intriguing film on the historical timeline that is worth examining. 7/10.
"The Slayer" follows a troubled avant-garde artist with psychic
proclivities who travels to a remote island with her husband, brother,
and sister-in-law in order to regroup. Immediately bothered by the
atmosphere island, she insists something is amiss among the forests and
derelict buildings but the three dismiss her. Unfortunately, they're
An early entry in eighties horror that somehow got sidelined by history, "The Slayer" is shockingly good given its lack of notoriety. The set-up is straightforward, and the low character number means there isn't much in the way of the expected body count, but in its brisk eighty minutes, the film manages to achieve a dreadful atmosphere and also boasts some shockingly realistic and disturbing murder scenes.
J.S. Cardone, directed and co-wrote the filmit's his first picture, and he has gone on to work mainly in genre films over the years, giving us the marginalized 2001 vampire flick "The Forsaken" and 2006's "Wicked Little Things." Compared to those films, "The Slayer" is rather minimalistic, but there is a unique sense of foreboding in this film that is something that slasher flicks particularly don't always seem to achieve. The island locale is woodsy and populated with derelict buildings from when it was a resort years prioran idyllic setting for a horror film. The film in some ways reminded me of a non-wintry "Ghostkeeper," another debased eighties horror picture. The score is quite elegant and ominous, and there are also high-caliber special effects throughout, which are on show during each death sequence, as well as during the monstrous reveal at the finale. Some have argued that the conclusion to "The Slayer" is a cop out. I don't know if I necessarily feel that way. It is rather abruptly thrown at the audience, but it also has narrative significance, linked to threads that are presented earlier on in the film. If anything, it's a somewhat bold move.
Overall, I was quite surprised by how well-crafted this film was. It's not a groundbreaker, but it's a sturdy exercise in dread that happens to be well-shot and eerie. Serious fans of stalk-and- slash movies may find it a bit slow, but it's worth holding out for the impressively jarring murder scenes and the wild card of a conclusion. 8/10.
"Waxwork" focuses on a small college town where a mysterious waxwork
museum has seemingly appeared out of nowhere in a suburban
neighborhood. After a group of rowdy college kids visit one evening,
several go missing while perusing the exhibits, which consist of
various historical horror figures. It then becomes the prerogative of
the remaining friends to find out what's hiding behind (or within) the
bizarre waxwork scenes.
The late 1980s was a precarious time for horror; after the boom of slasher films that dominated the first three quarters of the decade started wane, the genre saw a bit of an identity crisis, and attempted to incorporate self-reflexive comedy, a move which would culminate with "Scream" but in the meanwhile, the late eighties gave us gruesome yet humorous films like "Cheerleader Camp" and "Night of the Demons."
"Waxwork" is one of the more creature-oriented offerings of the late eighties, falling in line more with something like "Night of the Demons," though not exclusively. What is so ingenious about the film is that its setting within the wax museum allows for episodic vignettes that reference various cultural figures associated with horror, from werewolves to the Marquis de Sade. While there is an inherent danger in stretching oneself too thinly in this format, "Waxwork" maintains a balance by anchoring itself in the overarching narrative. The audience is allowed access to the inventive sequences as the characters enter the sinister dimensions of the wax exhibits, but never (unlike some of the unfortunates on screen) become trapped within them.
The performances are overall par for the course in terms of eighties horrorthat is to say not stellarbut there are respectable performances from genre favorites Zach Galligan ("Gremlins"), Deborah Foreman ("April Fool's Day", and Dana Ashbrook ("Twin Peaks"). British character actor David Warner also gives an effective performance as the unforthcoming owner of the museum. The conclusion to the film is explosive, brainless fun, with various figures quite literally coming out of the woodwork (or should I say, "waxwork") to play. Some of the special effects are still moderately impressive and at times effectively gratuitous.
Overall, "Waxwork" is an above-average late-eighties horror romp that truly runs the gamut. The film is a fantastic Halloween movie and, like "Night of the Demons," is the perfect kind of film for showing at a party or something. It's well-paced, entertaining, and just plain fun in spite of the fact that it's completely outlandish. After all, how many horror flicks are there that include Dracula, alien pods, mummies, and the Marquis de Sade among their villains? That's right, just this one. 8/10.
I'll spare heavy-handed plot details for "The Girl on the Train" for
the sake of not revealing anything, but the crux of it revolves around
a hopeless drunkard (Emily Blunt) who inadvertently becomes enmeshed in
a missing woman's case by means of her own personal obsessions.
I have not read the book the film was based on, so I can't make any comparison between the two, which may be useful for those who want a bit more of an objective view of the film itself. First and foremost, where this film really excels is in its performances, chiefly from Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett, both of whom play individually troubled characters haunted by past turmoils that lurk just underneath bubbling surfaces. Blunt is extremely believable as the depressive alcoholic, and Bennett plays the role of young wife to the thirty-something man with a significant amount of nuance. The rest of the cast are also all believable; Justin Theroux and Luke Evans play divisive male counterparts, with Rebecca Ferguson as Blunt's marriage-bed replacement. Allison Janney, Laura Prepon, and Lisa Kudrow all have small supporting parts that are unexpected but significant.
The narrative is absorbing in the sense that it fragments itself in order to provoke a sense of intrigue, and this is mostly successful and done with a sense of purpose. One of the film's major themes is projection and how we look to other people and not only make assumptions about them, but also how we find voyeuristic fulfillment in the very act itself. This is exemplified in Blunt's damaged character, who leads an empty life and attempts to fill it with fantasies and theories about relative strangers. The chasm between the truth and what we think we know as outsiders looking in is one of the biggest thematic concerns here, and the dispersed narrative approach coincides nicely with this.
Where the film lacks significantly is its aesthetics. As many have noted, there is a quasi-"Lifetime movie of the week" feel to the film, with uninspired dramatic slow-motion shots, and cinematography that feels very much by-the-book. It's not necessarily bad; it's just bland. Given the lurid material and twisty-and-turns narrative, the filmmakers could have had a heyday when it came to stylistics, but the film ultimately feels like a standard, run-of-the-mill TV thriller in that department. It's as though the weight of the narrative is not adequately represented on screen.
Overall, "The Girl on the Train" is a solid film despite its stylistic flatness. Engaging performances from Blunt and Bennett help elevate the pulpy dimestore nature of the material, and the storytelling is consistently embroiling. More imagination in terms of presentation would have honestly put the film in another league, but the film is no less a satisfying, leisurely mystery. 7/10.
"The House of the Laughing Windows" follows Stefano, an art
restorationist who arrives in a remote Italian village to restore a
fresco of Saint Sebastian in a local cathedral. It turns out that all
is not well in the back country town, however, as Stefano begins to
uncover disturbing information about the fresco's deceased artist, and
is met with mysterious phone calls, bizarre encounters with strangers,
and, eventually, inexplicable deaths.
A slow, hazy, and generally dreary venture, "The House of the Laughing Windows" is a rarity in the genre, and unlike some Italian films of its era (namely those Argent and Fulci), it was not as well-preserved or remembered; which is a shame, as it is head-and-shoulders above a good deal of its peers. It is a bleak film, and its cinematography boasts a relatively colorless palette with numerous shots of the barren marshlands surround the town, and the pale stone interiors of the cathedral and local buildings.
As others have mentioned, the film bears a lot in common with Nicolas Roeg's "Don't Look Now" and to some extent "The Wicker Man," both of which preceded it by several years; it also boasts an equally twisted conclusion that puts an even more macabre spin on a narrative that has remained relatively grim up to that point. Due to high production values, artistic flair, and inventive writing, the film still holds up remarkably well today. A haunting score underpins the majority of the film, supplying even more atmosphere.
Overall, "The House of the Laughing Windows" is a compelling, albeit at times languorous, horror film. Its greatest achievement is its genuinely disquieting atmosphere, which is carried along by an eerie musical score and bleak (yet simultaneously expressive) cinematography. Many have complained about the slow ride-nature of the film, but the payoff at the disturbing conclusion is not only unexpected, but well worth it. 8/10.
"The Nail Gun Massacre" is everything it sounds likea psychopath is
roaming the backwoods of Texas with a souped-up nail gun, turning men
and women into human pincushions. Could it be related to a brutal rape
that occurred some six months prior? An obvious riff in title on "The
Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and boasting an opening rape scene
unabashedly culled from "I Spit on Your Grave," "The Nail Gun Massacre"
is an unabashedly derivative mid-80s riff on slasher conventions,
pulled together on a shoestring budget.
As bad as it sounds, I feel that this film has gotten a lot of heat from web critics who aren't really taking it on its own termsthis is not Bergman, Tarkovsky, or Kubrickit isn't high art. It's a film whose singular distinguishing element is that its killer's weapon of choice is a nail gun. My point being, "The Nail Gun Massacre" doesn't claim to be anything other than what it is, and most horror audiences (especially those who have a taste for these older exploitation films) should know this.
That aside, the film is not a technical masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. The murder scenes are surprisingly better than one would expect given the shoestring budget, and never cease to be elaborate or grotesque. A pulsing synth score accompanies most of the scenes, and is admittedly a bit overbearing, while the killer hurls goofy one-liners at the victims in an inexplicable robot voice. The acting overall is bad, but passable by eighties slasher standards. Most of the men are buffoons, and the women prancing around naked. In spite of those caveats though, the film does capture the quiet backwoods of Texas rather effectively, and it is an extremely atmospheric film given all of its shortcomings. The photography of the woods captures a strange foreboding that, whether intentional or just a happy accident, is far more nuanced than anything else about the film.
All in all, "The Nail Gun Massacre" is, at least as far as eighties slashers go, not nearly as bad of a film as some may lead you to believe. It's schlocky, gratuitous, and at times badly acted, but isn't that what we love these films for? It at least has the distinguishing feature of a nail gun- obsessed killer, and it also excels at capturing the dreariness of sleepy backwoods Texas, which is more than one would necessarily expect. 5/10.
"The House That Screamed," better known in Spain as "La residencia"
("The Residence"), focuses on a remote girls' boarding school in
nineteenth-century France. The school is run by the stone-cold
Mademoiselle Fourneau (Lilli Palmer), whose methods of punishment
border on sadism. New student Thérèse (Cristina Galbó) arrives, and
almost immediately notices something is not right with the
headmistress, her wayward son, or her female peerswhich becomes
increasingly clear as students begin to disappear into the night.
Let's be honesta film with a title like "The House That Screamed" doesn't exactly generate high expectations, and the plot summary on IMDb would further lead one to assume this film is in the ranks of the sleaziest of Euro-sleaze. I went into the film with such expectations, but about an hour through it, realized there was a huge chasm between what I'd anticipated and what I was getting.
This is not to say that "The House That Screamed" is necessarily a masterpiecebut it's damn good. The film operates almost more as an astute period piece than it does an outright horror film; the isolated school setting and multitude of sexual repression themes would recall "The Beguiled," though "House" predates itand this is another reason the film seems to have garnered more interest in recent years. Given that its production took place in 1969, it begins to look more and more like a predecessor of the contemporary slasher film.
It is supremely Gothic in its aesthetics, with the majority of the film taking place within the confines of the castle-like school. The costumes and sets are historically accurate and elaborate, and the film captures the era successfully. Apparently pioneering (at least in Spanish cinema) slow-motion shots of murder sequences add a grim layer to the film. There is not much in the way of violence, but the lingering murder scenes are effective. The film has often been criticized for being too slow, and those claims are somewhat fair; it does begin to drag its feet in the second act, but the production values and performances are enough to keep most audiences chugging along with it. The performances are all above-average, with Lilli Palmer leading the cast as the stone-faced headmistress, and "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie" star Cristina Galbó as the newcomer who seems to stir up the school's dynamics.
The conclusion is effective in spite of the fact that it seems in retrospect quite obvious, but in any case, I was taken by surprise. All in all, "The House That Screamed" truly outdoes its title, which is something of a rare occurrence in the genre. It's a semi-cerebral, moody, and atmospheric film with a handful of great scare scenes (the conclusion in the attic is genuinely nail-biting). Given its 1969 production, its influence seems fairly obvious, whether it be on the likes of Argento or even "Black Christmas"but even in spite of those conjectures, the film succeeds on its own as a Gothic murder mystery that functions as well as a period piece as it does a horror film. 8/10.
"The House of Seven Corpses" follows a film crew making a movie at a
haunted mansion where seven mysterious deaths occurred under varying
circumstances over the course of its history. Through the re-enactment
of rituals in the film, the crew brings about evil forces that threaten
the lives of everyone involved.
Before you let the mass of IMDb reviews lambasting this film put you off from giving it a spin, I have to say that, at least as far as mid-'70s supernatural horror flicks go, "The House of Seven Corpses" is not nearly the disasterpiece that it's been painted as. The opening credits play over filmed re- enactments of the seven deaths that occurred in the titular house, ranging from grim suicides to murders, each pausing on a still frame of the dying subjectit's an unsettling opening, and perhaps one of the unexpectedly eeriest credit sequences I've seen.
The film benefits from the fact that it's a movie about the making of a movie, which affords it some inventive ground in which it can present scenes to its audience without the audience knowing full-well what is "real" and what is part of the production. It's an easy trick, but an effective and at times mind-bending one. For being a low-budget picture, it does have some nice cinematography, and the mansion locale is remarkably dreary and unsettling. There is a noticeable lull in the middle of the film, but the finale ramps up the action a bit, and it ends on an appropriately bizarre note.
A wacky and routinely idiosyncratic performance from John Carradine lends the film a little bit of extra weirdness, while John Ireland plays the overbearing director, and Hollywood's golden age horror starlet Faith Domergue effectively plays an aging actress.
Overall, I found "The House of Seven Corpses" to be a competent haunted house horror film. It is very much of a certain stock, and it's not groundbreaking nor perfectly craftedbut in terms of mood, it's effectively weird and atmospheric, which makes up for the nosedive it takes about midway through before breathing some life into itself before its untimely death. 6/10.
"Don't Breathe" follows a trio of delinquents who plan to rob a wealthy
blind man whose house sits alone in an abandoned, derelict Detroit
neighborhood. What seems like a relatively easy heist turns
progressively worse as the young adults find the tables turned on them.
In a decade that has offered little in terms of high(ish)-caliber horror-thrillers, "Don't Breathe" stands out, not necessarily as an exemplar of excellence, but at least as an example of a hard-edged thriller that is head and shoulders above the majority of its peers. Fede Alvarez, who gave us the divisive 2013 "Evil Dead" remake (a film which, for what it's worth, I thought was unfairly bashed), returns as writer/director, teaming up again with Jane Levy, who also starred in the "Evil Dead."
Conceptually speaking, "Don't Breathe" is straightforward, almost minimalist; there is no pretense to speak of, and after a brief but sufficient exposition, the film jettisons its audience into the cat-and-mouse dilemma that dominates its remainder. Somewhat of a quasi-inversion of the home invasion film, the script allows room for moral ambiguities in spite of its conceptual and narrative straightforwardness, toying with the audience's sympathies and facing us with situations which challenge the moral compass. This is of course not to say that "Don't Breathe" is necessarily a deep psychological thriller, because it's notthe primary focus here is maintaining suspensebut there is food for thought amid the action.
Solid performances from Stephen Lang and Jane Levy help carry the narrative, with Lang as an ice-cold, disturbed veteran and Levy as a poverty-stricken young woman whose desperation jeopardizes both her and her friends' lives. The film is nicely shot and features some impressive cinematography, including a noteworthy single-take pan through the house that follows each of the three protagonists as they search for the man's stockpile of cash. I did feel that the film's final act edged into predictable exploitation territory, where shock value and redundancy came close to overriding the general tension that the first hour had done so nicely, but the final two scenes were solid enough to carry the film home.
All in all, I was impressed by this film; not as a groundbreaking piece of cinema, but as a generally well-plotted, candid thriller that manages not to steer too far off course for its own good. It's not often that such a simple concept is done with so much finesse, let alone is able to keep its fuel burning. A definite standout thriller of the decade. 8/10.
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