365 Days of Horror, Day 37: Krampus (2015)


I finally saw this! The movie I’ve been waiting for since it was announced! A home invasion movie featuring an Alpine Advent demon!

Early press announced that Krampus was going to be a horror-comedy (especially as stars Adam Scott and Toni Collette are veterans of the latter genre), though the trailers made it look darker than it really ended up being. Because of everyone involved, not least director Michael Dougherty (responsible for the excellent Trick ‘r’ Treat), it looked promising. And it was fun!

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66 Things to Do in Salem, MA (Updated July 2015)



Because I like lists, and sympathise with the tourist dilemma of “Bollocks! We only have 5 hours to spend here – what do we do first??”, I’ve decided to compile a big fat list of awesome things to do in Salem. Yes, this list could have been shorter, but the number 66 is cool, so shut your face (and click “Continue reading” to read more!):

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 17: The Evil in Us (2016)


Yet another Frightfest 2016 selection and yet another feature-length directorial debut, I was unaware of the latter and perhaps had hopes set a bit too high for this one.

Zombie fest The Evil in Us has a handful of good ideas, but they’re lumped on top of a patchwork of other peoples’ themes and styles. From its grand, libertarian political undertones (The Purge), to its virus-in-a-lakeside-shack setting (Cabin Fever), and its blatantly Romero-esque news montage epilogue, by the time I got to a boat confrontation scene with its slowly swelling, Eno-lifted backing music, I couldn’t tell if I was watching a horror video scrapbook.

the evil in us 2016 horror jason william lee

It’s a film that suffers on most counts, but there are glimmers of ingenuity around writer-director Jason William Lee‘s approach to the zombie pathology. Instead of a bite, the virus is delivered through a tainted batch of cocaine. It’s a tricky call; while it’s a ridiculously common drug among the protagonists’ demographic (mostly white, partying, upper-class young Americans), it doesn’t lend any of these self-indulgent, obnoxious brats much sympathy, and this film didn’t have a retro enough vibe to make it a Reefer Madness-style anti-drugs PSA. Couldn’t it have been a new type of microbrew instead? Then at least we’d get hipsters, who would have required more interesting dialogue than ‘if I don’t get fucked this July 4th [something something]’.

The other twist is that the zombies are more sentient than your average brain-nommer. Behaving more like some sort of Bulgakovian hybrid of coyote and drunken Bruins fan, these rabid shufflers will fight each other over ‘food’, growl, break necks, and can smell their prey (well, most of the time).

the evil in us 2016 horror jason william lee

But we don’t find out any of this until a good hour into the 90-minute running time, an hour in which we’re subjected to a handful of horrible montages of Friends Having Fun set to the most out-of-date song choices since that time I heard the Baywatch theme at a bar in my hometown six years ago.

All of this would be tolerable if a) the characters were not groan-inducing stereotypes and b) if said characters were played by actors who could, um, act.  You have one blonde who hams up her slutty clichés one minute and then literally cries like a baby the next; two bland leads whose relationship paints their personality for them; two minorities who cause the most trouble; a rich-bitch redhead;  a local yokel resembling Alfred Molina as a casino handyman; and a city cop whose actor channels his best impression of more important cops played by actual actors in action-thrillers with lots of sweaty close-ups. I’m sorry; there’s no kind way to say this – they’re all just so awful. Just not believable in any way, and not even coordinated. It’s like they’re just imitating people from other, similar movies.


And everyone – EVERYONE – sounds Canadian, because (checking IMDb), they actually are. Look, this isn’t giallo – why not just set the fucking thing in Canada, or have them be Canadian kids on a trip to emphasise the awkward exchanges with the ‘not like us’ locals? They’re already from out of town!

the evil in us 2016 horror jason william lee

The last ten minutes of aforementioned Romeromontage comes off as an afterthought, and rings hollow tacked on the way it is instead of being used to support instances that could have been peppered throughout the film. Given that we follow three different plot strands, this could have been accommodated. Instead, we get a messy, unfinished conclusion, as if everyone involved just went ‘fuck it, I’m going to Tim Hortons’. You know, because it’s fucking Canada.

at least her eyeshadow is cool.

at least her eyeshadow is cool.

The tinny sound production doesn’t help matters; everybody seems forced to speak louder than their natural volumes, resulting in some awkwardly stilted line readings. Nor did the clichéd dialogue make it any better – the final lines have a news anchor implausibly ask a conspiracy theorist/author “And you are crazy?”. Maybe I am, for continuing to type until this post has exactly 666 words. Yes!


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 16: 31 (2016)


Holy shit, Rob Zombie made an…OK movie! For real this time! (Sorry; still scarred from Lords of Salem.) His latest offering, 31, is actually such well-paced fun that you forget that he’s cast his wife in it yet again, and fires our way all manner of chainsaw-wielding clowns, Hispanic Nazi midget knifers, and Malcolm McDowell in his dandiest Regency attire.

31 rob zombie horror movie 2016

31 follows a surprisingly spacious RV full of carnies we don’t care about. We get our standard Zombie intro: 20 minutes of overacting disguised as bonding, overuse of the F word, some mild cultural stereotypes, and two obese copulators telling a wildly disgusting joke while a man displays his gorilla mask. Also, it’s the ’70s, a production design idea that is abandoned for the rest of the movie’s nondescript, subterranean setting.

31 rob zombie horror movie 2016 31 rob zombie horror movie 2016

After an encounter with some oddball locals at a nearby gas station, the group of five are ambushed and kidnapped to a massive underground compound, where McDowell and his cohorts (Judy Geeson and Jane Carr) explain everything: they’re going to play a game called 31 (relating to the day of their capture, October 31). All they have to do is survive 12 hours of cat-and-mouse through a labyrinth of gross, themed rooms, dodging the unnumbered bunch of murderous clowns whose sole purpose is to butcher them to death.

31 rob zombie horror movie 2016

Its opening sequence – a monologue by sadistic torturer Doom-Head, shot in black and white and with chilling delivery from Richard Brake – suggested something more stylised than Zombie’s previous efforts. And indeed, much of the direction seems more careful, with deliberately-choreographed shots and screenshot-worthy angles. But then he fucks it up in almost all of the fight scenes with his bizarre, inexplicable choice of shaky cam + slow-mo. So not only can we not see what’s happening, the 2-odd minutes of non-stop blur in every one of those sequences is both nauseating and boring. A pity.

31 rob zombie horror movie 2016

As for the characters: because their pre-carnage development time is eaten up by cringeawful dialogue and ‘good-times-in-the-’70s’ Instagram-filtered montages, it’s hard to give a shit about what happens to them because what we do get to see of them is so trashily unrelatable. Only Meg Foster‘s Venus is mildly sympathetic in the microseconds of screentime she’s allotted. Each of the ‘Heads’ – the killer clowns – are, by design, far more interesting, but a lack of quotable lines and one-note delivery dull any inventiveness their presence might have lent to the film. I hate to say it, but the remake of 13 Ghosts did the ‘motley ghoul crew’ thing better.

 31 rob zombie horror movie 2016

And for all the hype and controversy, it’s not actually even that gory. Yes, there’s a chainsaw, and lots of stabbing, but much of the violence happens off-screen, and instead we see a hole and a lot of blood, but not the violent act itself. Zombie did have to make two rounds of cuts to prevent an initial NC-17 rating from sticking, so maybe he had to go to far and basically neuter his film’s main draw.

31 rob zombie horror movie 2016

There are some great touches of black humour, but they’re few and far between, as the film’s only reason to exist is to just keep chugging, tunnel-visioned, towards its end. The game setup and the episodic introduction of each villain keeps the movie at a brisk, video-game-like pace, making it feel less than its 100-minute runtime. But then there’s the ending, which disappoints – not just because it’s an anti-climactic cop-out of a tonal logic fuck-up, but because, with Aerosmith’s “Dream On” failing to force us to  chill the hairs on the back of the neck, he’s self-plagiarising the final scene of The Devil’s Rejects. It’s a pale imitation that’s awkward to watch.

31 rob zombie horror movie 2016

But I think Zombie needs help. Actually, he fucking deserves it. He’s obviously imaginative, creative, and pulls from a range of classic influences. He doesn’t need a bevvy of crowdfunding fans who will throw money at him to do ‘whatever’, because they, like the studios who used to fund him, are also starting to tire of his deliberate mediocrity. Instead, he needs stable DPs, script writers who aren’t ’90s edgelords, more experienced actors (that he won’t waste),  a wider variety of characters (even white trash), and a butcher of an editor. He could be better, and for the tawdry, fun trash that this could have been, this film should have been better, too.


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 15: The Dark Stranger (2015)


Depictions of clinical depression can make for some great horror set-ups. I say ‘set-ups’ because, while suicidal nightmares and schizophrenic unpredictability can each leverage their inherent tension, it’s all too easy to back up into the trap of tragic resolution, in which our troubled character sacrifices themselves to end everyone’s suffering (I’m thinking of one recent film in particular).

the_dark_stranger-01I won’t say which way The Dark Stranger goes, but it inevitably leads up to that point based on its plot. Art school student Leah (Kate Findlay) is still reeling from being the sole witness to her mother’s suicide. She doesn’t shower or eat, and is afraid to leave the house. Soon she is plagued by nightmarish visions of a dark spirit that resembles something from the graphic novel she had been creating.


As the lead, Findlay has almost all of the film to carry. A fresh-faced hybrid of Kat Dennings and Jane Levy, Findlay impresses in her laconic delivery, but lets herself down in any crying scene. Enrico Colantoni is believable as Leah’s caring father, and Stephen McHattie, made up to resemble Gary Oldman suffering a bad shipwreck hangover, cuts a competently looming figure as the titular Dark Stranger. But everybody else is either forgettable or just terrible at their lines.


The film has a lot to take on in its themes of mourning, depression, self-harm and family, and the the lines that can blur when an artist literally draws from their own personal traumas. It could have worked on its own without the horror elements, which detracted from the overall story solely because they were unpolished VFX. It ended up feeling like an episode of a lite-supernatural day drama, but this is director Chris Trebilcock‘s feature-length debut. Mental health horror isn’t a failed subgenre, but it takes creative resourcing and a seasoned group of cast and filmmakers to pull it off.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 14: The Hamiltons (2006)


This 2006 slow-burning horror already has a 2012 sequel featuring a just-pre-Agents of S.H.I.T.E. S.H.I.E.L.D. Elizabeth Henstridge. I’ve a feeling that, with more money – and hence, more seasoned actors and better resources – it might be a superior addition to this intriguing indie franchise.

the hamiltons the butcher brothers

I always have time for films with a twist on the typical horror narrative, and it looked like The Hamiltons – an early feature by April Fool’s Day remakers The Butcher Brothers – promised just that. Instead, I got glimmers that were aiming for it, and that’s not…horrible for a first feature.

Our story is told quite literally through the lens of shy, quiet teen Francis (Cory Knauf), who tries to cope with the recent death of his parents by filming a school project about the rest of the family (thankfully, it’s not a found-footage film). Oldest brother David (Samuel Child) takes on the head of the family role, while the older siblings, Wendell (Joseph McKelheer) and Darlene (Mackenzie Firgins) have developed a destructive, incestuous relationship.

the hamiltons the butcher brothers

Suffice it to say, the family’s messed-up, but then we see through Francis’s camera that Wendell has been kidnapping young women and tying them to meat hooks in a basement dungeon. And, a few feet away, hellish growling comes from a grate to a room containing something that will rip anything near it to shreds. Hopefully he’ll edit it before show and tell.

Interesting product placement

Interesting product placement

On the whole, it’s a curious premise: there’s an underlying mystery of What’s in That Room (clearly the abductees’ use is linked to whatever they’ve got locked up), and it bubbles underneath a story of loss and alienation within one’s family.

the_hamiltons the butcher brothers

But the amateur performances just aren’t strong enough to prop up that kind of demanding material, and it’s pulled further into worsedom by the dim, hollow sound production, awkward
photography setups and questionable dialogue:

the_hamiltons the butcher brothers

I’d like to see more of The Butcher Brothers’ work. It was clear that they wanted to offer up a more thoughtful foray into the [SPOILER] subgenre, and while this was deeply flawed, this was only their first feature film. Choosing the filmmaking pseudonym they did means you’ve a lot to live up to to avoid coming off as a cringey edgelord. Perhaps they’re just really young.


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 13: The Beyond


the beyond l'aldila 1981 fulci cinzia monreale

I carry a deep shame that I’ve only just seen a Lucio Fulci film. For a while, my list has had Cat in the Brain – the meta-horror that predates New Nightmare – but had yet to feast my eyes on the flick whose cover art adorns Reddit’s horror haven, Dreadit: L’Aldilà.

the beyond l'aldila 1981 fulci

And what a feast it is. Zombies, killer tarantulas, violent pets and omniscient forces all come out to play in a  film I’m still mortified to have only just realised is a heavy influence on most of the horror I grew up with. The POV shots of the formless gust of evil was lifted straight into The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi cited Fulci as the influence), and the eyeless perpetrators of a final-act bloodbath in Ted Geoghegan‘s We Are Still Here, along with Joe the Electrician losing an eye in the basement, are nice little homages to Fulci’s zombies and Joe The Eyeless Plumber. (Though Geoghegan himself has cited Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery as ‘the ultimate influence’ on his film. From the description, it’s not hard to see why.)

the beyond l'aldila 1981 fulci

I’ve read complaints online that the film is surreal and hard to follow, but I found the plot easy enough: Liza (Catriona McCall) inherits a crumbling, Deco-era hotel and sets about making plans to restore it. But then a bunch of weird shit starts happening, including bleeding paintings, visits by a creepy blind woman (Cinzia Monreale), and a mysterious room that’s off-limits.
the beyond fulci l'aldila 1981 spiders tarantulas

There’s gore-a-plenty, in what I quickly recognise as a signature style: slow, steady closeups turn to macro-photography, victims transfixed in terror, and the inventive use of anything in sight to bring about the most delayed, agonising deaths. Fulci’s trademark seems to be nixing the eyes straight away: whether popped by arachnid fangs, crunchily scooped out by a demon or glazed over by pre blindness, our director is clearly determined to make sure those windows to the soul remain shut.

the beyond fulci l'alvila 1981 the beyond fulci l'alvila 1981

Yet the gore never feels over the top, because it’s all so beautifully-photographed. In any other lighting, a lynch mob throwing a caustic substance on a suspected male witch would look too much like the Malteaser I regretted letting melt in my mouth at the time. But you (ok, me) don’t realise how much good lighting, colour and direction go a long way. In a sequence in which a mother and a daughter walk down a morgue hallway, the alternating patter of their quadrem footsteps is simply but rhythmically-timed.

the beyond 1981 l'adila fulci

It’s not all perfect, though. Typical of much giallo, its most glaring flaw is the horrifically bad dubbing. For those who wouldn’t have watched this with subtitles, is bad American dubbing better? It doesn’t even stop at the obviously-Italian supporting cast – lead McCall starts tripping over her own English accent by the end of the film’s second act.

the beyond 1981 l'aldila fulci catriona mccall cinzia monreale

But it all melts away like a grieving widow’s brain cavity under a dripping flask of acid when you look at the movie as a whole, of its time and of its style. Upon its release, it was banned unless significant gore cuts were made; it was on the ‘video nasty’ list in the UK before being re-released uncut and remastered in the mid-’90s. To me, all the way in 2016, it’s a gloriously gruesome opera that doesn’t shy away from utter carnage.


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 12: Microwave Massacre (1983)


Look, I knew this was going to be trashy. They (it doesn’t matter who ‘they’ are) knew I would pick this based on the stupid campy title and nothing more. Well, it turned out to be delightful garbage cheapness and my soul feels all the better for having made room for this degenerate concoction of bad acting, tawdry SFX and shit plot in my life.


Microwave Massacre follows construction worker Donald (the late comedian Jackie Vernon in his last role), a man fed up with his wife May (Claire Ginsberg)’s overly-fancy cooking tendencies. One night he comes home near black-out drunk and the two have a fight; engaged, Donald comically beats her to death with a giant pepper mill (savour that scene for the dazzling POV shots). So hungover the next morning that he can’t even remember what happened, he sees May’s body in their new microwave (the size of two ovens – lol, ’80s). He shrugs off a small panic attack at his discovery, then sets about chopping her up into fridge-friendly morsels. He foil-wraps everything but her head, which remains perched on a middle shelf like a terribly unfunny Troma bust.


One night, in search of a midnight snack, he groggily grabs some foil-wrapped raw meat and wolfs it down with orgasmic nomming…only to realise it’s May’s arm. Oops! It’s so delicious that he actually decides to cook it and eat it steak-style, like a breadless sandwich. His workmates salivate over his gluten-free delicacy and declare it to be the most delicious thing they’ve ever fought over. But May’s body parts aren’t going to last forever, so Donald starts bringing hookers home…

Here’s where the real horror begins. As charmingly goofy as Jackie Vernon apparently was, in this movie he firmly espouses everything I’d always imagined an unwitting pederast to be: dark-blonde perm, greasy upper lip, shimmering bug-eyes, and an exaggerated ‘meh’ delivery of his lines with a sticky-sounding dry-mouth. So every time we get a fishbowl-lens-POV of him bumpily plugging a prozzie, it queases my stomach more than any Fulci close-up.

Blepdog, the actual star of this film

Blepdog, the actual star of this film

It’s a fun ride nonetheless, and something you could half-watch at a horror sleepover and still get enough of its enjoyment.


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 11: Red White and Blue (2010)


This truly disturbing, bleak-as-fuck horror-drama was my first watch on Shudder UK. At 100 minutes, it took over 3 hours to watch because of beta shitness and constant stalling and buffering.



Streaming snafus aside, perhaps that’s the perfect viewing environment to digest a movie as soul-scooping as Red White and Blue. From its opening silent montage of a promiscuous woman (Amanda Fuller)’s exploits set to dreamy piano cues, to its mood highs and lows, it’s an unpredictable, moving study of three people who are simultaneously monsters and victims.


The fact that I only recognise one of the names in this cast either means I’m shit at watching films or the casting is deliberately low-key to mess with audience expectations. Or both. Or they couldn’t afford bigger names. Can you tell I’ve never made a movie?


Speaking of whom, Noah Taylor is unrecognisable. Typically looking like the science camp child of Gary Oldman and Tim Burton, he cuts a menacing yet melancholic spectre of a figure, eyes bulging under a mop of long hair and beard. At the film’s given moment he’s equal parts sympathetic and inconstant. Hug him, but from a distance. Maybe with one of those spider-catchers on each hand.


I’d rather not divulge plot details as I went in blind myself. We’re following these characters on some pretty grim journeys, and given that there are no reality-defying monsters to throw us any curve balls, my humble opinion is that you’re better off watching it uniformed to get each of the stories’ full impact.


That said, prepare yourself for some violence. Not campy ’80s Troma, nor artful, Fulci, macro-photographed gore. And certainly not the Hostel-style torture-porn-butchery of disposable Abercrombie and Fitch patrons. This by turns both visceral and harrowing. You’ll feel for the characters as the film spends equal parts of its three acts developing them, through strong performances by Taylor, Amanda Fuller and Marc Senter, and careful, assured direction from Simon Rumley (who helmed the equally unsettling The Living and The Dead). And there are many uncomfortable moments as a result.

It’s a thought-wrenching, brutally raw headfuck of a tale. But do your well-being a favour and watch something light-hearted afterwards.