31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 29: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in The House (2016)

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i am the pretty thing that lives in the house netflix 2016

What a pretty little bit of visual poetry. Like a visual novel. It’s honestly not what I would have expected, given that, from writer-director Oz Perkins, I’ve only seen a botched version of his script for mediocre slasher The Girl in the Photographs. But this – Netflix’s I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House…is something different entirely.

i am the pretty thing that lives in the house netflix 2016

Lily (Ruth Wilson) is a live-in nurse caring for an elderly, retired horror novelist Iris (Paula Prentiss). Soon after she moves into the house, she begins to suspect that one of Iris’s most famous stories is based on a real murder that occurred in the house.

i am the pretty thing that lives in the house netflix 2016

It’s not a slasher. Neither is it a creature feature, psychological thriller or a possession melodrama. It’s a simple, impeccably shot and gracefully acted one-woman show from an always-compelling Wilson. Narrated by her (with a shaky American accent) as the titular pretty thing, the story is a bare-bones peek behind a series of increasingly creepy doors, book-covers and stairwells.

i am the pretty thing that lives in the house netflix 2016

It’s all very highbrow atmosphere, with a flurry of beautiful frames and crisp, clear audio melancholy, but there isn’t much else. I can see why some have been disappointed; this is Netflix’s first original horror production, and it’s a deliberately muted, skeletal sketch of a ghost story. Given its length and repetitively gothic minimalism, the pace drags; it would have been far more chilling as (even a longer) short film, but it’s a quietly elegant viewing experience if you know what style to expect.

3.6/5

 

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 28: Silence! The Musical (Arts After Hours)

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source: artsafterhours.com

source: artsafterhours.com

How can a musical featuring a song called ‘If I Could Smell Your Cunt’ be so painfully tedious? And from especially an Arts After Hours production, a reliable staple of my last two Hallowe’ens, and yes I am drunk but I am so pissed off that this was such a terrible, awful, no-good disappointment of a Friday night out. And you know what’s worse? The fact that the players had such a pervasive energy that it felt rude not to acknowledge its potential to make a decent show better, if not for a cringe-driven exercise in overly-telegraphed humour that left the performers’ would-be-infectious efforts ring hollow.

Jesus. I’m sorry. But Silence! The Musical was worlds apart from Arts After Hours’ 2013 and 2015 offerings. I felt like I do when I am in a room in which everyone loves Lady Gaga and I do not. 2013’s Evil Dead: The Musical was a masterful homage, spoof and love letter to all things Raimi. 2015’s The Texas Chainsaw Musical was a hand-over-mouth ‘should i laugh at this?’ send-up of Ed Gein’s twisted, romantic leanings, plus sprinklings of its cinematic influencee, Leatherface.

But 2016’s production left I and others I spoke to feeling embarrassingly cheated. It resembled nothing of what I’d expected based on previous productions. The humour was obvious, low-brow fare, and when it wasn’t ‘avoiding’ lazy double entendres by asking fellow characters to refrain from making them, it relied solely on spoofing the film (imagine Scary Movie vs. Spaceballs) without any non-spoof humour to prop it up. The production never had a chance in standing up on its own.

No doubt that the actress who plays Clarice is well-equipped to dazzle on both stage and screen. But she is wasted in a show that demands that she extract her role’s only source of entertainment value from a copycat accent that takes a a Southern drawl and shits on it with an inconsistent speech impediment that gets old after five minutes. Hannibal himself is delightfully deadpan, and a  memorable Buffalo Bill gives it his admirable all, but it’s the background players that had me leak out the odd guffaw. The way they effortlessly turn from intro-singing moths to scurrying FBI agents, or background wanking and Tourette-cursing while Clarice did her best Christian Slater impression had me spitting out my beer. I’d happily watch a retelling from their point of view.

I feel like a dick for being this honest but I’m not that important of a human being, so fuck it for saying I couldn’t wait for it to end. Despite gleefully enjoying my last two Arts After Hours shows, I’d never had unreasonably high hopes for this one. But now I’m cautious as to what my next year will bring.

2/5

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 27: Cub (2014)

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In my opinion, there can’t be enough movies about sad, bullied children going into the woods when they know they shouldn’t, because there’s a nightmarish legend called Kai stalking the lands.

cub welp 2014

Cub (or Welp) wears its many flaws on its fur. It isn’t an expensive film, nor one made with experienced players (what is it about this year’s horror-a-thon and directorial debuts?), but it’s far better than it looks on paper. Echoing the childhood abuse issues and dark fairytale motifs of Pan’s Labyrinth, this Belgian tale from Jonas Govaerts doesn’t waste any time with the unpleasantries. On a woodland retreat, twelve-year old cub scout Sam (Maurice Luijten) is bullied daily by his fellow scouts, and even his scoutmaster Peter (Stef Aerts). Once the asshole kids cause the group to get lost in the mountains, Sam buggers off and runs into a creepy-looking feral boy he identifies as the urban legend werewolf Kai.

cub welp 2014

Up until that moment, it’s some slow, bleak Lord of the Flies shit, but after this first-act twist, it’s some bleak, disturbing, melancholic shit – including the taboo of killing children without a shred of humour or facetiousness. It’s an engaging story the further it plays out, and I appreciate seeing this kind of fable from a child’s point of view. But the film suffers from dreadful pacing in its first half, awkward tension build-ups, and one or two wooden performances. Despite this, on balance, it’s an enjoyably creepy and atmospheric slasher.

3.6/5

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 26: Kaboom (2010)

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This is embarrassing, because I genuinely, for some idiotic reason, thought that Gregg Araki was the guy from Heroes. Fucking Greg Gundberg. I’ve seen Nowhere! And I loved it! I so adored how horrifying it was that I patently refuse ever to see it again.

source: imdb.com

source: imdb.com

Kaboom is an attempt at more of the colourfully trashy same, featuring a crowd of young, attractive, laconic hipster college students sexually experimenting with each other with little regard for feelings or consequences. Smith (Thomas Dekker) and Stella (Haley Bennett) start having a series of odd dreams after one-off dates with people with red hair or who are called Thor. The story is mostly vignettes of how pretentiously tedious their romantic encounters can get, before there’s some climax with a trio of masked weirdos who may or may not be witches.

I stuck with this one on Shudder because the two mains are genuinely compelling with some fantastic chemistry, but it’s more of a prettily-shot dark comedy with sci-fi elements than any kind of horror.Honestly, the supernatural element feels like an afterthought, and it’s a bit insulting. Shame on you, Shudder.

1.7/5

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 25: Fear, Inc. (2016)

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fear, inc. 2016When a trailer slams giant text across the screen from a review saying that their movie was ‘tailor-made for genre junkies’, it’s a red flag for me that it’s already unreasonably high praise. Welcome to setting your audience’s expectations too high.

Meh, whatever. Fear, Inc., another FrightFest 2016 entry I missed, is a home invasion thriller comedy that openly admits its influences. Horror geek Ben (Lucas Neff) is living a good life in Los Angeles on his bride-to-be’s (his real-life wife Caitlin Stasey)’s family dime. Noticing he’s having some bored fun, a schlocky haunted house employee slips him a business card for a company called Fear, Inc., an entertainment service purveying high-end, custom scares (yes, as one of the characters points out, is just like the movie The Game).

Ben phones the company to find out more, but is abruptly told they’re ‘sold out’ before being hung up on. Thinking nothing of it, he preps a small dinner gathering with his BFF (Chris Marquette) and his wife (Stephanie Drake). But then shit goes down, the power’s cut, and the group are in danger. Or are they? Or are they not? Or really, are they?

fear, inc. 2016

That’s the gist of this film, but it’s a fun, simple ride. It’s somewhat plausible: these kinds of companies could very well exist, and have the good intentions of being innovative and fun – but in a world in which we have the likes of Black Mirror, how horribly wrong does this have the potential to go? And if these experiences are so professionally done that that they’re mind-bendingly immersive, what are the pitfalls of putting yourself in a situation designed to make you question whether or not something is real?

fear, inc. 2016

Those are some deep questions for a horror comedy, and it’s almost a shame that it went the yuk-yuks route, particularly as most of the film’s early humour comes from Ben’s constant Scullying of the film’s tense moments. But once the uncertainty kicks in, so too does the tension of the possibility of a series of devastating outcomes. The mildly shit performances and constantly flip-flopping ending both let the film down a little, but the inventive gore, cast chemistry and even just the concept alone are all enough to make up for it.

3.7/5

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 24: The Greasy Strangler (2016)

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What can one say about The Greasy Strangler? Jesus fuck.

the greasy strangler

Imagine if Wes Anderson decided to have a go at making a gross-out movie. Deliberately-framed, static master shots, everyone in vintage pastels and talking out their lines at each other, a pervasive font type throughout. But then add references and jokes to poop, farts, semen, lard, and genitals. And, speaking of genitals, if you don’t think you can stand the sight of elephantiasis-ed old-man penis, go watch The Conjuring 2 or something, because this ‘little mouse’s head’ is its own character in this beautifully disgusting, surrealist shitpost of a film.

the greasy strangler

From its repugnantly stylised beginning, it becomes clear that we’re not to know what to expect from Brit director Jim Hosking‘s film debut. Nobody in this film is recognisable or experienced – our two main characters, a father and son played respectively by two people with the actual names Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar – have just a string of background parts between them. If those roles had been filled by the likes of Robert DeNiro and Aaron Eckhart, would I have seen the things on screen that I can’t erase from my mind? Fucking hell no. About as unlikely as anyone wanting to eat butter after this kind of viewing experience.

the greasy strangler

And it’s character-based – a series of vignettes with no signposted direction that leave you unsure just exactly what the fuck is going to happen next. All bets are already off. The father, Big Ronnie, and his son Big Brayden (fucking hell if I know) are already at odds; Ronnie is borderline emotionally abusive (that border gets gradually erased with the film’s running time), and constantly berates Brayden for his incompetence in greasing their food.

Along comes Janet (Elizabeth DeRazzo, one of two players to have a Wikipedia entry), a customer of Ronnie’s fraudulent, lie-peddling ‘history of disco’ walking tour company. Her fledgling relationship with Brayden starts to bring the latter of his shell, but Brayden finds his newfound idyll and confidence threatened when his father starts to move in. Also, Ronnie periodically slathers himself in what must be the galaxy’s thickest grease, then prowls the city for deserving necks to strangle to Troma-like effect. You’ll never look at ping-pong balls the same way. Or car washes.

your face after watching this film.

your face after watching this film.

You’re not here to give much of a shit about any of the characters, save for the perpetually subjugated, beaten-down Brayden. Dressed in matching neon towelling tracksuits and sporting twinned bald-patched almost-mullets, the Gross-out Grey Gardens pair spend the better part of 90 minutes shouting ‘bullshit artist’ at each other, misadventuring sexually, and refusing to do any dishes or laundry, which why the hell not, because everything is challenged to have more grease to it anyway. It’s as if everybody in the film is determined to be so morally, physically and intellectually repellent. Which is why you should watch it immediately.

3.4/5

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 23: Bite (2015)

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Against my better judgement, I elected to eat a particularly goopy pad thai while watching a movie that had people fainting and puking in the aisles last year.

Bite is actually your standard foray into body horror, a subgenre I’ve seen done to more gruesome effect in Starry Eyes and even the messy agency-eraser Contracted. Disregard the movie’s first 10 minutes – a bafflingly out-of-place, cringey torturous found-footage sequence of ‘girls on holiday’ – thankfully, the film cuts to not only a post-partying narrative, but also a normal style of photography.

Both of which work better for the story. Casey (Elma Begovic) is recovering from her hen weekend in Costa Rica: a mix of too much booze, a series of regrettable encounters with party dudes, and an increasingly gross bug bite.

bite 2015 body horror

I will say that this title screen, plus its fucking deafening accompanying crescendo, unsettled me somewhat. But it’s probably the only scary part of the Chad Archibald‘s directorial debut. The rest is just slow and a little bit gross.

bite body horror 2015

There’s an attempt to mix in some human drama: our main character has cold feet about her wedding, helped in no part by her absolute cuntclot of a mother-in-law – who happens to be her landlady, and has forbidden her to have any sexy times with her son (who lives across the hall) before the wedding. Meanwhile, one of Casey’s two holidaying friends has been doing a shit job of her jealousy of Casey and her coveting of her fiancé, and doesn’t seem to care much that Casey’s been holed up in her apartment for over a week. A soap opera in itself, but its superficial execution deems it superfluous to everything else on screen. None of these characters are sympathetic; they only have references to potentially interesting backstories.

bite 2015 body horror

So once the squeamish transformation hits, there was no true horror there. Instead, you can marvel at a decently-done pustuled bite, the constant stream of light orange mucus oozing out of Begovic’s mouth, and how long it might have taken the production crew to fill an apartment-sized set with tens of thousands of gelatinous growths cascading over every piece of furniture like an slimy waterfall.

bite 2015 body horror

It’s genuinely neither that disgusting nor tense, but as with all things body horror, it’s interesting to see where in the transformation the story will take you, and whether or not we see any kind of fallout. With Bite we do get both, but the movie might as well have ditched the time spent on the ridiculously unconvincing interpersonal relationships. Every moment of suspense and gore is telegraphed – after Casey’s first encounter with a familiar face, it’s boringly obvious what’s going to happen when in comes Person Number Two, Person Number Three and so forth, these scenes only existing to showcase the webbed, jellied apartment and the icky bloodshed that follows.

It’s a shame that both the poster and the wiki synopsis pretty much spoil the ending, but if you’re in it for thrills or surprises, you’d best look elsewhere.

2.9/5