It’s unwise to watch more than two Italian horrors per SHOCKtober, but this caught my eye at Videodrome, and it’s been years since anything caught my eye at Videodrome since we haven’t lived close enough, so I rented it to celebrate being able to spontaneously pick movies off shelves again, rather than relying on my premeditated lists. Surprise: it’s really good. Almost seems like a parody of previous Italian horrors – “woman in a strange new house discovers gateway to hell in her basement” is the plot of half these things, and this one adds a Rosemary’s Baby element, with supernatural cultists enlisting the unwilling woman in their rituals.

If you see something suspicious in an Italian horror, always put your eyeball reeeeeal close to it:

Starts off shaky, with a mad prophet stumbling in from the desert, meeting some hippies, mis-quoting a Rolling Stones lyric to each other, making me wonder if the song was translated into Italian and back – then when night falls there’s a hippie slaughter, and I realize after Race With The Devil, I’ve accidentally programmed a satanist double-feature. In Germany years later, a balding dude follows a woman home and kills her, “why did you disobey?,” then on the subway a pickpocket pulls a human heart out of the balding dude’s jacket, and this is already crazier with more visual imagination than the other satanist movie.

A straight plot summary seems wrong for such a mad movie, but I’ll try, Kelly Curtis hits an old man with her car (Herbert Lom, Walken’s doctor in The Dead Zone), takes him home where his insects impregnate her with the devil, then he dies after a rabbit knocks over his meds, leaving behind a sentient death-shroud. Kelly is attacked by the reanimated body of her knife-murdered friend. A hot doctor helps her out, investigates the subterranean cult beneath her house, somehow ends up dying in an auto explosion, and the mom apparently survives the same fire, saved by her devil-baby. Whatever nonsense is happening, the camera is always up for filming it in bold color, with roving movements or in extreme close-up. There is bird tossing, voicemail from a dead man, a metal coffin unsealed with a can opener, a stork attack, a face transplant, and a basement with a skylight.

A failed recording artist turned minor cult leader ties up Nicolas Cage and kills his wife – bad move. Nic John Wicks the enemy, but with less professional skill and more sheer bloody rage. The cult calls in their supernatural enforcers, the Black Skulls biker gang, but Cage’s Rage is too strong to be stopped. The movie’s story seems like a thin excuse to unleash an intense Cage performance and psychotronic visual effects on the viewer, and this viewer ain’t complaining. Seems like I noticed references to Friday the 13th, Rob Zombie, Evil Dead, Hellraiser – there must be more.

Can’t say that I loved Spring, but The Endless sounded enticing, and when I realized Benson & Moorhead’s first feature Resolution was a semi-prequel I went ahead and double-featured ’em. Great idea – I dug both movies and they’re even better when viewed close together.


Resolution (2012)

A tense, comic hangout movie with unusually good dialogue about two old friends, one having lost his mind on drugs in a shack on the woods, and the other one handcuffing him to a wall for a week so he’ll get clean. Mike is a normal-looking guy with mild sideburns, and Chris is an unstable beardy Jason Lee type, has a gun, rants about bugs and birds, just wants to be left alone and get high in his forest full of junkies, cultists and crazies.

Things get horrory when Mike starts to believe that he’s being given clues to a mystery, starting with the video from Chris that brought him here, which Chris says he didn’t send… the digital video leads to a book to some slides to a grave to a videotape. The first definitely supernatural discovery is a video showing what happened in their cabin minutes earlier, shot from inside the room. The clues start revealing alternate futures, showing them killed by the junkies, or by the owners of the cabin, and this somehow relates to some missing students who stayed in the cabin doing research on “manipulating light and sound waves.”

“I think it wants a story with an ending.” References to these guys being trapped inside the movie while the script is messing with them, but it’s not too blatant… edits are abrupt with a bloom of scratchy color. The inevitable happy ending, after all this adventure Chris agrees to go to rehab – then some Blair Witchy Twin Peaksy WTF mystery in the final shot.


The Endless (2017)

The movies have a different feel though they sound similar… again we’ve got two guys hanging out, smartass dialogue, receiving a mysterious tape in the mail which later the sender will claim they never sent. Directors Aaron and Justin played cultists accosting Mike in a scene of Resolution, and now they’re the leads, having left the cult a decade ago to live ordinary lives. After watching the video, young Aaron is antsy to return to their doomsday cult for a visit, and his beardy older brother Justin agrees.

“I can assure you that nothing here ends.” This movie has more of a normal setup, as we get to know various cultists with their own quirks, old resentments gradually surface (apparently Justin spread lies about the cult to the media after escaping), but the camp is surrounded by the shimmer and Mike’s wife from Resolution shows up looking for him. Timelines don’t always match up, but it turns out the movie’s whole point is time manipulation, trapping characters in looped routines, offering the illusion that they can choose their own fates then resetting back to zero. Of course our guys visit the Resolution house, stepping back into their own movie, like the View Askewniverse inside The Cabin in the Woods. There should be more of this kinda stuff.

Another well-made, scary horror movie that oughtta make everyone’s decade-in-horror lists. Great cast led by Toni Collette and her son Alex Wolff (he played The Rock in flashback in a Jumanji sequel), with Gabriel Byrne as the only family member with one foot in reality, Milly Shapiro as the creepy daughter, and Ann Dowd (The Leftovers) as Toni’s grief counseling buddy.

I can’t complain about a well-acted horror that ends with the apocalyptic rise of a demon cult – that is one of my very favorite things – but it seemed while watching that the movie’s themes/intentions didn’t come together. Toni’s dollhouse models and the way Aster shoots the proper house as if it were a model are cool… and the ghosts/seances angle is neat… and Toni’s love/hate thing with her own children is fascinating… then Alex is set up to host his little sister’s spirit and/or the spirit of an ancient king, per the cult which Toni’s late mom and Ann Dowd were in together. Presumably the cult left the signs and words scratched onto walls and posts, but there’s no way the cult arranged the little sister’s complicated death (Alex swerves to avoid a dead thing in the road just as she sticks her head out the window, gasping for air because of an allergic reaction, and is beheaded by a telephone pole), and the cult’s final assault on the family makes Toni’s sleepwalk-firestarting and miscarriage attempts and other psychological eccentricities feel like false leads. I’m not extremely clear how the title factors in, since each of the family women seems to have her own unique set of problems, unless they’ve “inherited” the attention from the late gramma’s cult. I turned to letterboxd for answers and instead found Mike D’Angelo calling it “frustratingly muddled,” so we’ll call it a solid debut with script problems.

Besides the dollhouses (actually they are Important Art Projects) and the phone pole, there’s the daughter scissoring the head off a dead bird, Byrne burning, dead relatives who are not dead, nudity and dug-up corpses in the attic, ants, Alex slamming his own face into his school desk Nightmare on Elm Street-style, and most horribly, a possessed Toni floating up in a corner merrily garroting herself to death. I thought someone on twitter saying this movie is derivative of Kill List would be a spoiler – it was not, but the shot in the trailer and promo stills of Toni watching a burning family member sure was.

Cop brings injured dude to near-abandoned rural hospital, bringing to mind that Southbound episode from last year’s SHOCKtober, or Attack on Hospital 13. Then hooded cultists appear outside and they discover a portal to hell in the basement, and things get interesting. The pre-credits scene has rural folks setting a dude on fire, and we’ve been at the hospital only six minutes before a possessed nurse murders a patient, so there’s not much time for setup – I’d barely get a handle on any particular character before they’d be killed in some horrible way.

As Filipe Furtado said more eloquently on Letterboxd, Stuart Gordon it ain’t, but Lovecraftian horror and blatant Hellraiser ripoffs (as opposed to bland official Hellraiser sequels) are always welcome.

The codirectors have done art and effects for Guillermo del Toro films and are buddies with the guys who made The Editor. Our cast includes Art Hindle (The Brood), the BBC interviewer from Pontypool, at least two people from Survival of the Dead, and Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim.

Flashes back and forth in time, so I didn’t realize the two lead actresses on the poster art are both Julieta: younger Adriana Ugarte and older Emma Suárez (she worked with Julio Medem in the 1990’s).

Julieta hears word of her missing daughter Antía from a mutual friend and abruptly breaks contact with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Talk to Her star Darío Grandinetti, looking exactly the same), moves back into her old apartment building and writes a long letter to Antía explaining past events: meeting Antía’s dad Xoan, his affair with artist Ava (Blancanieves star Inma Cuesta) and their argument just before he died at sea while Antía was at camp. After her daughter disappears, Julieta makes up with Ava, waits and searches for Antía, and anyway there’s more, it’s a complicated movie, but it has a happyish ending and everyone’s just wonderful in it, and it’s particularly nice to see Rossy de Palma again (as a suspicious housekeeper). Didn’t make Cinema Scope’s year-end list, but I liked it more than The Ornithologist. I got a long way to go if I’m gonna be a celebrated art-cinema critic.

One of the most mental divorce-horror films, reportedly based on the director’s own experience retrieving a daughter from an ex-wife’s cult. Made between Rabid and Scanners, I liked the lead actor (horror regular Art Hindle of Black Christmas and Body Snatchers ’78) better than any pre-Videodrome Cronenberg hero.

It seems Art’s wife Nola (Samantha Eggar of Walk Don’t Run) is under the psychiatric care of “psychoplasmics” weirdo Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed, lending necessary gravity to a movie about psychosomatic killer dwarfs), and there are custody/abuse questions about their daughter, which Nola solves by sending her mutant children to kill her own parents, Art’s new girlfriend, and eventually Oliver Reed.

Family meeting:

The outsider conspiracy theorist in this movie who clues in Art about the doctor’s bizarre studies is the same actor (Robert Silverman) who played the wise outsider in Scanners. But it’s Gary McKeehan (of The Italian Machine) who first mentions “the disturbed kids in the warehouse, the ones your wife’s taking care of,” casually as if everybody already knew. Oliver Reed eventually gets on board helping Art with the rescue operation, helping to redeem whatever the hell has been happening at his institute.

In the extras Cronenberg mentions that after making Stereo and Crimes of the Future, before joining Cinepix to make Shivers, he had to decide if he was going to wholeheartedly pursue filmmaking – “I gave up the idea of being a novelist.” Forty-five years later he’d return to that idea for the great Consumed.

Carrie Rickey for Criterion:

The Brood was released the same year as another film about a custody dispute, Kramer vs. Kramer, which subsequently took the Oscar for best picture. In 1979, Cronenberg, himself recovering from a difficult divorce and custody contest, noted of his most personal film, “The Brood is my version of Kramer vs. Kramer, but more realistic.” Originally, I thought he was joking.

A grim movie about the two kinds of people in this world: the horrible and the miserable. Our horrible lead is Min-chul, an aggressively foul drunk introduced returning home from prison and unrepentantly stealing his daughter’s college money. Seeking revenge against a businessman who sucker-punches him in a bar, Min-chul discovers that the businessman is building a fake Christian-cult led by patsy rapist Pastor Sung. Getting no help from the cops, Min-chul, who hates nothing more than he hates fakes, sets out to destroy it himself, burning down buildings and getting in bloody fights, finally coming home victorious to his suicided daughter.

For some reason, this story is told through Adult-Swim-looking animation, like Metalocalypse with less blood and worse music. The low framerate gives a marionette, videogame quality, damaging the movie’s illusion.

Why did I watch this? Can’t find reviews by any critics I follow, but somehow it ened up on my must-see list. Yeon has two zombie-virus train movies out this year: an animated feature and its live-action sequel Train to Busan (which opened last week at Cannes, earning Snowpiercer comparisons and a positive review from Twitch).

After Take Shelter, I’ll definitely sign up for another Jeff Nichols/Michael Shannon drama about impending doom. This one is maybe more ambitious, definitely more confusingly plotted, and has less well-defined characters and relationships. Shannon and childhood friend Joel Edgerton have kidnapped Shannon’s magic son Alton from a doomsday cult and with help from Shannon’s (ex-?)wife Kirsten Dunst and federal agent Adam Driver they take Alton to fulfill his destiny by ascending to Tomorrowland.

Pretty sure this was meant to evoke the string of psychic-child adventure stories in the late 1970’s: Firestarter (the novel, if not the film) and The Fury. In fact I was so busy trying to remember how Firestarter ends that I may have missed some details about the doomsday cult and why exactly they wanted Alton – or maybe they weren’t even sure of that themselves. If not an instant classic, at least a cool-looking, mysterious movie, full of great acting and shocking moments (I leapt when satellite parts rained down on the gas station). I always appreciate sci-fi stories that show glimpses of larger worlds and deeper mysteries than the film has the time or inclination to explain.

This counted as the kickoff to Cannes Month, since Nichols’ previous movie Mud played Cannes, and his second film of 2016 Loving is about to premiere there. Although I would’ve watched it anyway.

M. D’Angelo:

For some reason, the emotional core of this film seems to have gone missing — I can see where it’s supposed to reside, but the love Alton’s parents feel for him is oddly abstract, perhaps because E.T. seems more human than he does.

I. Vishvenetsky:

The bad guys trace [our heroes’ car] through an insurance bill left on a kitchen counter, because even Midnight Special’s sense of conspiracy is grounded in the commonplace. The only explicitly poetic line the movie allows itself is spoken by the cult’s neckless goon, played by character actor Bill Camp. Sitting in his truck, he says, “I was an electrician, certified in two states. What do I know of these things?” This is the most the viewer will ever learn about him. Midnight Special defines characters through what they can’t understand, contrasting fear of the unknown with faith in it, and flipping the supernatural into a metaphor for the everyday.

From J. Romney’s review intro:

Cinema has rarely felt so much like a son et lumière as it did in a brief period in the early ’80s, when suddenly shafts of light came shooting out of movie images, as if the screen had been slashed. It became a defining image of Steven Spielberg’s films — Close Encounters, E.T., and Poltergeist too, if you want to count that as one of his … In their purest and most glaring form, those shafts of light had something of the quality of angelic revelation about them. Certainly, you suspected that cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond and Allen Daviau had taken a close look at certain academic religious paintings of the 19th century, or perhaps at Renaissance church sculpture, with their sheaves of marble emulating beams from the divine. At any rate, it came as a shock to get the impression from these films — and with such eye-searing intensity — that cinema was a matter of light streaming directly out of the screen, rather than just bounced off it. The motif was a powerful way of restoring, if not a holy, at least an authentically otherworldly dimension to cinema.