Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Film: When is a children’s horror anthology not a children’s horror anthology? When it’s handed to Andre Øvredal, director of Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, of course! Add production duties from Guillermo Del Toro makes for an even more of an event!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on the children’s book series by Alvin Schwartz, of which the first was published in 1981. Schwartz was a folklore and urban legend enthusiast so the stories from the three volumes that were published feature those themes very heavily, and some of the tales may seem somewhat familiar.

This films isn’t like a regular anthology film though. For one thing, it takes about six of the original stories from Schwartz’s books and shoehorns them together into a single story, so there is no abrasive change of cast and the connecting tale is well written and thrilling.

The story takes us to 1968, Mill Valley, at Halloween, and three friends, bookish Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), gentlemanly Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and wiseass Chuck (Austin Zejur) decide to get revenge on the town bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams) for years of abuse, but it backfires when he has an accident, damaging his car.

The three friends hide in a drive in movie theatre (playing Night of the Living Dead too, I might add) and hide in the car of a drifter named Ramón (Michael Garza) who protects them from Tommy and his friends and as a reward, they take him to look at a local infamous haunted house.

Once there they find a book that belonged to Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) the previous occupant of the house filled with stories and Stella, being an aspiring writer, steals it.

Once she gets the book home, though, she finds that the book is writing itself in blood and that the stories within are killing or maiming people in the town. They try destroying the book but it seemingly can’t be destroyed and has attached itself to Stella, so they start investigating Bellows to see if they can find some way to exorcise it… but how many have to get hurt before they do it?

Øvredal has created a spectacular piece of art with this film. It looks beautiful and every scene is extraordinarily set like a delicate painting. The special effects and make up effects are extraordinary and take from the original books artist David Gammell and are wonderfully accurate, especially Harold the scarecrow and the woman from the red room.

I did find though, probably like the scandal surrounding the books themselves where they were regularly banned from libraries as they were maybe a bit too scary for kids, that the movie wasn’t quite a kids film and yet wasn’t quite adulty enough to be totally engaging. What I did find is that if you did read these books as a child you would probably find them more engaging than someone who hasn’t read them. Nostalgia works that way.

If I’m really going to be picky about the film it’s the inclusion of the walkie talkies. It seems to me whenever a film is set in a time where there’s no mobile phones they do the ol’ walkie talkie thing. It’s boring and unnecessary and I don’t believe kids today think it’s either cool or even a thing that was ever done.

What this film does have is a wonderful cast with a beautiful vision that occasionally felt like it was attempting to preach to converted people, rather than gather new lambs to the flock.

Score: ***

Format: This review was done with the Australian Bluray release of the film. Presented in a beautiful 2.39:1 image, with an amazing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, both of which, as you would expect, are wonderful

Score: *****

Extras: I was very excited to see the amount of extras on this disc but quickly discovered they were a series of small featurettes, barely 5 minutes in length, that probably could have been stitched together into one below average 40 minute or so ‘making of’. It appears that they were all just advertising bits that have been thrown on here as ‘extras.

A Classic Transformed looks at the original stories.

Creature Vignettes takes a peek at the designs of each of the creatures, but each bit only runs for about 60 seconds, if that!

The cast and crew interviews see discussions about the film from Øvredal, production designer David Brisbin, Del Toro, producer J. Miles Dale, costume designer Ruth Myers and cast members Zajur, Rush, Pollard, Garza, Colletti and Natalie Ganzhorn (who played Ruth). Most of these interviews have sound bytes used in the other featurettes. Also, it’s frustrating when you hear an interviewee talk about something ‘previously mentioned’ that you don’t get to see.

Dark Tales briefly discusses how this film are a mix of a horror film and an Amblin film of the 80s.

Rebels With a Cause is about the development of the scares for the film.

Red Spot Clip is a summary of Ruth’s curse, stemming from a spot on her face she gets from when a spider bites her.

Score: **1/2

WISIA: Yeah, I can probably see myself watching this again.

The Field Guide to Evil (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

The Field Guide to Evil (2018)

Film: The best thing about anthology films is there is almost something that will appeal to a viewer. It’s almost a cheat to have a mixture of stories with multiple appeals, but I’m down for it: every time. I think my first exposure to an kind of horror anthology was at school, with a book I picked up from the Scholastic book called Twisters which had a bunch of short stories that were just slightly horror for a younger reader.

This film, ‘The Field Guide to Evil’, contains 8 tales brought to us by various directors, several of whom made films which interested me greatly: Can Evrenol (Baskin), Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio),Calvin Reeder (V/H/S) and Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (Goodnight Mommy). The cover also said that this was brought to us by the creators of The ABCs of Death, another anthology film which I liked.

The theme of this film is fascinating: it takes horrifying folk tales from around the world and gives them life.

The Sinful Woman of Höllfal is directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz and shows us what happens in Austrian legend when young women fall prone to the sins of homosexuality and masturbation…

Haunted by Al Karisi: The Childbirth Djinn directed by Can Evrenol tells of a hound new mother who is taking care of both her disabled mother and newborn child, but something is trying to get her child from her…

The Kindler and the Virgin is directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska recounts the legend of a man convinced by a demon that if he consumes the hearts of the recently deceased, he be opened to all of man’s knowledge…

Beware the Melonheads, directed by Calvin Lee Reeder, tells of the myth of some children who live in the wild in the US who have large heads and feast on human flesh…

Whatever Happened to Panagas the Pagan?, directed by Yannis Veslemes tells of the legend if Goblins in Greece who like to hide amongst drunken men for fun, but in 1984, some men discover the goblin in their midsts, and decide to have some ‘fun’ with it…

The Palace of Horrors, directed by Ashim Ahluwalia, is based on a Bengali folk legend of a castle built by an insane king, with a secret hidden in its depths…

A Nocturnal Death, directed by Katrin Gebbe tells of a young man in Bavaria in the late 1700s who discovers his sister is housing a demon called a ‘drude’ which when it leaves its host, leave it for dead whilst it spreads disease…

Cobbler’s Lot directed by Peter Strickland is a tale based on The Princess’ Curse, in which two brother vie for the attention of Princess Boglárka and of course, jealousy prevails…

What I found the most fascinating about this film, over and above the myths and legends that is, is how glaringly different the approach is by international filmmakers to their craft. As a document about how different styles of cinema look side by side, it is a total victory. The directors all chose such different ways of telling their tales too. Strickland’s story lies somewhere between silent movie and ballet performance, whereas Ahluwalia is filmed in black and white and almost has a documentary feel to it. It’s truly amazing to see all the artists approach the same artwork from such different avenues.

The legends from the four corners of the earth prove that no matter the culture, horror was a way of warning people against evils that may befall them or others. At first, you might consider them to be obtuse and bizarre, but when you consider the rituals and myths that accompany English/ western beliefs… we are all probably as strange as each other, and mankind is merely a hopeless child hiding in the dark either afraid of monsters, or telling others to be wary of them.

This being made by so many filmmakers and from so many sources, one can’t help but see that the entire film is quite unbalanced in tone, but the episodes are so clearly defined that that doesn’t matter, and each story is enjoyable from its own perspective.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment region 4 DVD which runs for approximately 118 minutes. It is presented in a 1.85:1 image with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track, both of which are fine. The images in each of the stories vary though due to the inconsistent production by each filmmaking team.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: I certainly think there is enough going on in this anthology to watch it again, especially if one is either interested in international film or if you are a student of film.

Bonus Friday the 13th review: Cat’s Eye (1985)

One from the re watch pile…
Cat’s Eye (1985)

The cover of the Umbrella Bluray release of Cat’s Eye

Film: I loves me an anthology film…. yeeeehaw! 

In the 80s there was a veritable Trevor trove of cool anthology films that all came out: Creepshow, Creepshow 2, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Tales from the Quadead Zone… maybe not that last one… but the mainstream ones were all entertaining and had great production values and big names attached. 

Cat’s Eye is certainly no exception to that rule, if anything, Cat’s Eye has a really nice pedigree (heh heh ‘pedigree’? Cat? Ahhhh forgedaboudit!). Let’s start with the cast: Airplane’s Robert Hayes, Videodrome’s James Woods, Firestarter’s Drew Barrymore, Casino’s Alan King, Dune’s Kenneth McMillan, Alien 3’s Charles S. Dutton… hell, even Scooby Doo’s Frank Welker does some special vocal stuff in the film! I also have to admit to having somewhat of a crush on Mary D’arcy, who played Woods’ wife in the film.

It doesn’t stop there though: this film was directed by Lewis Teague, a director who knows how to economically tell a story to various degrees of success, with films like Cujo, Wedlock, Jewel of the Nile and Alligator under his belt. When I say ‘economically’, I don’t mean that as an insult either: Teague tells the story so it is easy to understand and the performances he gets from his actors is always a good one.

Lastly, and most definitely not leastly… is that a word… we have this movie featuring three tales by horror legend Stephen King! Two of the stories, Quitter’s Inc and The Ledge were from King’s anthology book Night Shift, although The Ledge was first published in Penthouse (which is referenced in the story), whereas the final one, General, is an original tale made for the film.

Cat’s Eye starts with our introduction to a cat who is seemingly on the wrong side of a couple of King’s other villains, Cujo and Christine (in a nice nod to Teague’s and Carpenter’s films) before escaping to New York, where after a vision (yes, the cat has a vision) of a girl in trouble, he is kidnaped by a corporation called Quitters Inc. and we are thrown into our first tale where we see Dick (James Woods) wanting to quite smoking and going to a clinic called Quitters Inc. who have rather extreme measures of helping you quit… including torture… but will Dick quit?

Robert Hayes on the edge

The cat escapes Quitters Inc. and finds himself taken possession of by a gangster named Cressner (Kenneth McMillan) who has kidnapped Norris (Robert Hayes), a man with whom his wife is cheating, and bets him that he can’t circumnavigate the ledge around his penthouse suite: the prize being freedom, money and his wife… will Norris make it?

A young Drew Barrymore using her ‘pleeeeeeeease’ face

The final story, General, sees the cat, now named General by his new owner, played by Drew Barrymore, living with a family who have something living in their house… something Evil… that perhaps only General is aware of… will General save the family?

This film is a great deal of fun and is a real product of its time. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a couple of funny segments using a cover of the Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’. It’s entertaining and with the loose story style starring the tribulations of the cat, the short tales flow into each other with no hiccup or ‘Cryptkeeper’ to keep the movie running, which is refreshing and a great idea.

Score: ***1/2

The menu screen from the Umbrella release of Cat’s Eye

Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian Umbrella release, region B Bluray of the film which runs for approximately 94 minutes and is presented in a perfectly fine 2.40:1 image with a matching 2.0 DTS-HD audio

Score: ***1/2

Extras: A couple of nice fresh extras on this disc:

Johnny Norris On The Ledge: Robert Hayes Remembers Cat’s Eye is a fond recollection of the time Hayes had in making this film. It’s not just a typical 5 minute ‘everyone was wonderful’ type thing either, it’s a fairly detailed half-hour chat.

Like Herding Cats: A Conversation With Animal Trainer Teresa Ann Miller is a quite fascinating look at the skill of animal training, and the Miller family as career animal trainers.

We also have a trailer for the film.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: It’s a fun, light-hearted (mostly) and easy to watch anthology so it gets a regular look.

Got Woods?

The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

One from the to watch pile…
The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

The cover for Severin films The Theatre Bizarre

Film: I am sure in previous movie review I have mentioned my love of anthology films. From Creepshow, to The Twilight Zone Movie, to Holidays to Tales of Halloween I have always dug them, and I especially like, which is prevalent in the last two of the four mentioned, that have a similar theme.

The Theatre Bizarre is the brainchild of David Gregory, and the idea is to do an anthology film which recreated the ideal of Grand Guignol but for cinema audiences rather than ‘live’ theatre audiences.

The Theatre Bizarre: Virginia Newcombe

Our framing sequence is that of a girl (Virginia Newcombe) obsessed with a local dilapidated theatre, which she finds, upon entering, is populated by an automaton (Udo Kier) who proceeds to show her a series of stories, introducing each one with a new automaton…

First is The Mother of Toads, by director Richard Stanley and starring Catriona MacColl (The Beyond, City of the Living Dead) tells of the strange things that happen to a young couple when they become involved with a strange woman in France. It’s very H. P. Lovecraft.

The second is I Love You by Buddy Giovinazzo sees a man, Axel (André Hannicke) wake up in the bathroom of his apartment with a nasty cut on his hand. He is in the middle of a nasty break up with his wife, Mo (Suzan Anbeh) and when she returns he insists on knowing why she is leaving… and he may not be happy with the answers.

The next, Wet Dreams, is directed by Tom Savini tells of Donnie (James Gill) who is having repeated dreams about his penis being cut off by a monstrous vagina, and then fed to him by his wife (Debbie Rochon). His psychiatrist (Tom Savini) gives him a way of getting out of the dream, but which is the dream and which is reality?

The Accident by director Douglas Buck sees a mother (Lena Klein) discussing death with her daughter (Mélodie Simard) in respect to an accident they witnessed. It’s a delicate, beautiful piece about death in the middle of all this gore!

Vision Stains by Karim Hussein tells of a woman (Kaniehttio Horn) who has discovered that she can see a persons life by extracting the viscous fluid from their eyes and injecting in into hers so she can document them. She, of course, has to kill them to do so, but she picks women she believes want to die to perform her bizarre experiments on, but why does she feel a responsibility to do such a thing? 

The Theatre Bizarre: you might not want to eat during this film.

The surrealistic Sweets by David Gregory is another break-up story like I Love You, but this time snivelling Greg (Guildford Adams) is being dumped by Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) who has a food fetish, but maybe it’s worse than what you think.

With all the short films having women as the antagonist, I am sure there is some deep and meaningful anti, or pro feminism thing going in, but I’m a horror movie fan, not a psychologist, so I’m not going to get into that.

What I can definitely say though is that this film is a cracker of an anthology film. It’s all told dead straight and made me squirm on more than one occasion. The influences of Grand Guignol are definitely present as there is no shortage of blood… or vomit… or frog slime… or guts… or retina fluid… you get the idea!

The tales are all of a high standard, really, aside from Sweets, I loved every one. That’s not to say Sweets was bad, it just wasn’t the greatest film in this collection. Props must go to Richard Stanley too: I am not a fan of his and was blown away by The Mother of Frogs, so I might now go revisit some of his older works again!

It was a real pleasure to see a horror film that was horror-full, instead of horrible.

Score: ****1/2

The Theatre Bizarre menu screen

Format: The reviewed copy was a US DVD from Severin which runs for approximately 1 hour and 53 minutes. It is presented in a nice 2.35:1 vision with a clear and excellent Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. 

Score: ****

Extras: The disc opens with a trailers for Smile, which actually looks pretty good!

The first extras option is a director’s commentary, first we have a muddy sounding wraparound bit with Jeremy Kasten before each segment gets a commentary from the various creatives who made the film. It’s a many and varied commentary but wholly interesting. The sound quality is varying as the commentaries are clearly done in a variety of environments.

ShockTilYouDrop interviews is a series of interviews about the film with David Gregory, Buddy Giovinazzo and Jeremy Kasten. It talks about the origins of the film and what it took to make. There almost 40 minutes of interviews and it’s quite interesting.

There is also some Behind the Scenes stuff for the various segments but it’s not informative, just people on the set doing stuff. Each section goes for about 2 minutes and it’s not really worth watching, except for the last one, Vision Stains, which reveals a needle in the eye effect.

The Theatre Bizarre trailer is just what it claims to be.

Score: ****

WISIA: It’s pretty intense, so whilst it won’t be regular on the rotation list, it will get at least another watch. I’ve actually had this film since 2011 and never watched it…. what a mistake!

The Theatre Bizarre: Peg Poett (Udo Kier) spins a tale or two!

Holidays (2016) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Holidays (2016)

Film: There’s two things that horror movies do better than other genres of films: anthologies, and films commemorating special holidays… yes, New Years Evil is much better than News Year’s Day, by about a million times.

This is very much a modern anthology tale though, and sits more amongst the V/H/S and ABCs of Death-styled films rather than something like Creepshow or John Carpenter’s Bodybags. The difference, to me, being that older anthologies have a sense of fun, and are far more in tune with comics like Tales of the Crypt, and have an almost ironic comical resolution to each tale. These newer ones can have endings like that, but they are far darker, and the resolutions far more horrible and the irony rarely amusing.

There’s a great mix of creators in this movie though: Anthony Scott Burns ( who worked on visual effects on The Last Exorcism Part II), Kevin Kolsch (director of Starry Eyes), Nicholas McCarthy (director of The Pact), Adam Egypt Mortimer (director of Some Kind of Hate), composer Ellen Reid, Gary Shore (director of Dracula Untold), Kevin Smith (c’mon, you know who Kevin Smith is!), Sarah Adina Smith (writer of The Midnight Swim), Scott Stewart (director of Priest) and Dennis Widmyer (writer of Starry Eyes).

Holidays asks us to celebrate 8 occasions with it:

The Valentine’s Day story tells of a teenage girl with self-harm issues who seems to be entering into a relationship with her coach, and who has been a victim of bullying, and maybe self-harm is no longer her objective…

St Patrick’s Day explores a young school girl who is encountering difficulties in starting at a new school, and her teacher who is experiencing a strange pregnancy that the young girl seems to be aware of…

The Easter tale looks at the confusion a child can experience with the celebration, which incorporates Jesus’ resurrection and the legend of the Easter Bunny, but maybe it’s not her that’s confused.. maybe it’s the rest of us… maybe the story of Christ and that if the Easter Bunny and horribly intertwined…

Mother’s Day explores the life of a woman who gets pregnant every time she has sex, and how a doctor advises her to meet her sister, who runs a weekend retreat for women who can’t get pregnant… but maybe the women have more serious intentions for her…

Father’s Day has a young woman receive a tape recorder which contains a message from her estranged father, who asks her to meet her at a place they once went together. The woman is upset as her mother had previously told her that her father was dead… was she lying..?

Halloween tells the tale of three girls who work for a ‘girly’ webcam site who decide maybe this isn’t where there future lies…

Christmas sees a man desperate to get a particular gift for his child, and goes to deadly extremes to get it. The gift, a VR headset, may know the man’s dirtiest secrets though…

New Years Eve is the culmination of the tales, and we visit a murderer who has a thing for teeth, and wants to meet a new girl to kiss at midnight, but the girl he meets is much more than she seems…

Having a variety of writers and directors obviously makes for a somewhat uneven mix of story quality, but they do all entertain. Each story has a very small pool of talent but they are mostly fully engaged in the story which makes them even more unsettling. The poorest of the stories is Kevin Smith’s as even when being dark, it’s still sophomoric, and the acting in it is clearly less than the rest of the tales. That’s not to say it’s awful, it’s just the lesser of all the shorts on this disc.

The more I muse on this film, the more I am impressed with the variety of writers and directors managing to make a film cohesive even above and beyond the similar theme. Best thing is, you don’t have to wait until Halloween or Friday the 13th or Valentine’s Day to watch it!

Score: ****

Format: This region B, Australian bluray of this film runs for approximately 105 minutes. The film is presented in 2.35:1 and with a Dolby DTS-HD 5.1 audio, both of which are great

Score: *****

Extras: Not a brass razoo.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s a fun mix of shorts, yeah it’ll be watched again.

Countdown to Halloween #6: Tales of Halloween (2015)

One from the re watch pile…
Tales of Halloween (2015)

The Australian Bluray of Tales of Halloween

Film: Anthology films are a staple of horror, and pretty much well every horror fan can name one in their favourite horror films, be it one of the Creepshows, or Tales of the Darkside, or Trick R Treat. There have even been great classic TV series anthologies like Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits and many horror anthology books, like the  H. P. Lovecraft collections, or hundreds of mixed author collections, like one of my favourites, edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector, The Book of the Dead.

This anthology has a total of ten directors giving us the thrills, including Saw II, III and IV’s Darren Lynn Bouseman, The Decent’s Neil Marshall, May’s Lucky McKee, The Halloween Kid’s Axelle Carolyn and Autopsy’s Adam Gierasch amongst others, and tells of all the horrors that take place on Halloween in one small town, with several of the characters from some stories popping up in others.

Tales of Halloween: Caroline Williams and Robert Rusler’s son has a Sweet Tooth

From its cartoony, pop up book styled beginning (hosted by Adrienne Barbeau playing the voice on the radio…again!), this film entertains with ten Halloween shorts, including a bunch of serial killers who get their just deserts, the legend of a candy loving killer, a woman who can’t fall pregnant who is possessed by a demon, a war between neighbours over their Halloween displays, a kidnapping gone horribly wrong and five more.

Heaps of tributes to classic horror films with many stars and directors showing up, including Lin Shaye (A Nightmare On Elm Street), Lisa Marie (Mars Attacks), Barbara Crampton (Re-animator), Caroline Williams (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Robert Rusler (A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Barry Bostick (Rocky Horror Picture Show), James Duval (Donnie Darko), Stuart Gordon (director of Re-animator), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Greg McLean (director of Wolf Creek), Mick Garris (writer of Critters 2), Drew Struzan (artist of more film posters than I care to list)… the list goes on and on! 

Tales of Halloween: Nick Principe as the killer in Friday the 31st

As one would expect, stories directed by a variety of writers and directors can be a little uneven, but all of them entertain. Some of them finish with a quick resolution which is occasionally unsatisfying, but as a complete package the film delivers. This film is a gory-as-Hell, roller coaster ride with a bunch of amusing horror shorts most of which have a fun twist to cap them off: some obvious, some not, but all entertaining.

The soundtrack is heaps of fun too, ranging from the metalest of metal, to 80s-inspired synth which suits each tale as it unfolds.

This is truly made for horror fans though, as you, like I, will spend most of your time laughing at genre references, or crying out ‘hey isn’t that (insert name here)?’

Score: *****

Tales of Halloween bluray menu screen. Not present; any extras.

Format: The reviewed copy of Tales of Halloween was the Australian region B bluray, which runs for approximately 97 minutes. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 video with a DTS-HD 5.1 audio and both are, as one would expect from a modern film, perfect.

Score: *****

Extras: A modern film with NO extras made by multiple directors with NO extras? Poo on you, sirs!

Score: 0

WISIA: Anthology films are ALWAYS a rewatch if just for how much there is to take in! With the quality and variety of directors in this one, it certainly includes it in that ideal!

Caveat: This ‘anthology’ suggestion of being perpetual rewatchers does not include the miserable Creepshow 3. Just sayin’!

Tales of Halloween: a traditional Halloween decoration from This Means War