Welcome back to our monthly look at all of the recently consumed horror films and series. This go-round wasn’t as successful in finding those indie gems as the previous month, but there were still some things worth checking out. Without further ado…
The Cleansing Hour (2019 – Shudder)
2019’s The Cleansing Hour tells the story of an internet evangelist, who after having built his online empire through deceit and trickery, has to confront an actual possession. The premise of this film is one we’ve seen before – charlatan holy man has to reconcile with his own sordid past while trying to battle actual evil – yet this film’s modern-day take was something I thought could be a fun and interesting twist. I should have read past the synopsis and continued to the reviews. The film starts off fine but by the time the actual possession takes place you’re already on a slippery slope of goofiness. The film devolves so quickly that at one point I literally Googled various production names to see if any of them were aliases for Sam Raimi. (Which if you read last month’s post you know where I’m going with that.) While the special effects and make-up were decent there was literally nothing frightening about this film. On the contrary, at certain points I found myself feeling like I had slipped into some parallel universe where this was the anti-Exorcist film no one asked for. I’ve watched A LOT of cheesy horror films lo these past 35 or so years but this film was so filled with cheese I literally felt constipated by the end of it. I’ll give the make-up department a couple points for their efforts but that’s really all I can muster with this one.
Rating (1-10 scale): 2
The Invisible Man (2020 – Netflix DVD)
I have to admit that when I first saw the trailer for this film I let out an audible moan that had my wife asking if I ate too many refried beans at dinner. (Note: There is no such thing as too many refried beans.) No, it wasn’t indigestion that had me squirming in my seat, but my general loathing for unnecessary remakes, or more specifically big budget remakes. Go back and look at the last twenty years of horror history and I could probably count on one hand the number of remakes or re-imaginings worth watching. I’m of the movie school that lives by ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it’. However, after reading some reviews of this film I started to open myself up to the possibility that this would be one of those re-imaginings we might not have asked for, but possibly needed. The premise of the film revolves around a battered woman who is being stalked and gaslighted by her abusive boyfriend. It’s important social commentary, that grows even more important when no one around her believes it’s happening. (How many sufferers of abuse are ignored without their abusers actually needing to be invisible?) I’m a huge fan of films that can take modern-day societal commentary and weave it into a story that falls outside of normal parameters. In that sense this adaptation of The Invisible Man was a success. As a horror movie, strictly speaking, it’s less successful. There are ample plot holes that get polished over, specifically in terms of technology and how it relates to some of the main characters, that leave this thing feeling like some secondary MCU film. However, overall I didn’t walk away feeling like I wasted two hours of my life. Would I revisit it? Probably not, but then again free time isn’t something I posses a lot of.
The Empty Man (2020 – Netflix DVD)
I read a lot of these listicle-type articles and subscribe to the What Culture horror channel on YouTube, if for no other reason than to make sure I’m not missing something. Several of these outlets kept listing 2020’s The Empty Man on their year-end lists, and more specifically were claiming it contained one of the “greatest opening sequences in recent horror history”. Color me intrigued. The film opens with four American hikers falling into a bit of supernatural trouble in a foreign land (stop me if you’ve heard that one before…), this time the Himalayan Mountains of Bhutan. This opening sequence really is fantastic. It’s eerie, claustrophobic and hits all the right nerves. It also ends with a shocking turn of events, that unfortunately if you’ve been on the internet at all in the last eighteen months you probably already know, yet still manages to pack a roundhouse gut-punch. So the good news is, yes, the opening twenty or so minutes are fantastic. The bad news…it’s easily the best part of the film and you can probably just skip the rest of it. After the opening sequence the film jumps thirteen years into the future and immediately begins to devolve into a teeny bopper melange of bad horror tropes, bad acting, and a story line so devoid of anything unique or interesting that the predictability of it all left me wondering how the first sequence could at all be part of the same film. What started as something with such promise, finished as a teen/Gen Z trap film that no true horror vet was ever going to fall in love with. I kept asking myself, haven’t we seen this before? Yup…Slender Man…Bye Bye Man…etc., etc., etc. If the first twenty minutes were a short film I’d be giving it a pretty solid rating. The film as a whole? Not so much.
Left Bank (2008 – Netflix DVD)
While playing catch-up on some of the indie European horror films I’ve missed I came across Belgian film Left Bank. The film follows a woman, who while training as a professional sprinter, has a health setback and needs to step away from her sport. She decides to move in with her new boyfriend in his fancy apartment building in the Left Bank section of Antwerp (hence the name). What follows is a slow burn thriller that moves between psychological and supernatural horror, as she finds out her boyfriend, their apartment building, and just about everything surrounding both are not what they seem. I have my criticisms of this film. It was way too slow at certain junctions (and that’s coming from someone who practically feeds off slow-burn, European murder mysteries). The film also suffers greatly from a story arc and editing that make the last half hour feel rushed and choppy. In fact, the way the entire film is stitched together makes it feel like someone in the editing process realized this thing was going to go well over two and half hours and decided somewhat haphazardly in the editing room to attempt to reel it all in. Case in point, the big reveal in the last half of the film and the film’s final act were well devised and well played. I just wanted/needed more of that, because by the end of this film it almost felt like the entire first half was extraneous. This film may leave you frustrated but it’s certainly not without its merits.
Wildling (2018 – Netflix)
Released under the IFC Midnight brand in 2018, Wildling tells the story of a young girl who survives a truly traumatic childhood only to realize the truth about herself and her past. Sounds like a dark indie flick with a ton of potential, right? Well it certainly starts out that way. Unfortunately, much like the previously mentioned The Empty Man, the elongated opening sequence is the best part of the film. This is another movie that started with so much potential only to descend into a mish-mash of genres that felt like it was more concerned with attracting Twilight fans than being serious about its subject matter. Listen, I’m not saying every film has to be this grotesque display that will turn the heads and/or stomachs of the average veiwer, but good god if you are going all in on marketing yourself as a horror film please give me something that I’ll be thinking about for days afterwards. In this case all I could think about was who thought it would be a good idea to cast Liv Tyler as the town’s sheriff.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007 – Netflix DVD)
2007’s Trick ‘r Treat is writer/director Michael Dougherty’s love letter to Halloween and all its various traditions. Because it is both an anthology film, and considered a ‘horror comedy’ I spent damn near fifteen years simply ignoring it before finally breaking down and partaking. You don’t have to have seen the film to know that it revolves around a fictional town where the mysterious, masked Sam shows up every time someone breaks with a Halloween tradition, thus making him some kind of supernatural Halloween enforcer who bestows some pretty terrible ends to his marks. I left Trick ‘r Treat feeling exactly the same way I do about almost every other horror anthology film – some of the segments were fantastic, some of them were terrible, and by the end the whole thing felt very middle of the pack. Truth be told I enjoyed this film way more than I was expecting. However, it still falls into a growing pile of one-and-done-viewings.
Horror Movie Redux
In the pre-pandemic world I did a series on posts on this site called Horror Movie Redux, in which I’d give a look back at some of the horror movies I had been re-watching with my teenagers (and in their case seeing for the first time). In the interest of time and space I’ve decided to roll that series up into this one. Let’s start with arguably one of the greatest horror movies ever made, John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween. If I’ve seen Halloween once, I’ve seen it at least a dozen times over the years, and no matter how often I revisit this film it never feels stale or predictable. Years ago I was struck by just how little blood and gore actually played out on screen. That’s not to say this film isn’t violent. There’s a reason why it helped to spawn a million slasher imitators, but if you’re looking for a classic film with a massive body count, this isn’t it. Everything about this film has stood the test of time. The acting is great, the script is filled with memorable dialogue, and the score remains one of the greatest the genre has ever known. Sure, there are basic continuity errors you’d expect to find in a low-budget film (sorry, Mr. Carpenter, there’s no way Illinois has that much green on their trees at the end of October), but they never take away from the brilliant atmosphere Carpenter creates from beginning to end. Still a masterpiece and still worthy of multiple viewings.