Opens with a shaky walking cam, some zooms and shock edits, brief gore and nudity, but feels like its own thing, distinct from the Argento and Fulci movies I usually end up watching. Since discovering the great Michele Soavi last year, I’ve been optimistic about expanding my Italian horror canon. Ferroni was a familiar name because of his Brigade, and this, his penultimate film, was quite good.

I don’t think this was the intention, but I’m going to think of this as one of those stories where someone shows themself to be a real asshole, then they get severely punished by paranormal forces. Nicola is an entitled city dude, played by Gianni Garko (star of the Sartana series, Fulci’s The Psychic, and Dracula Blows His Cool) who busts up his car then intrudes on a rural family as they’re returning from father’s funeral, claiming he doesn’t want to be a burden, but also insisting everyone listen to his problems and give him immediate assistance.

Until the car can be fixed, Nicola is stuck with the seven remaining family members, who are worriedly whispering about ending a curse, so he gets gradually clued in. It’s not long before the hot daughter Sdenka falls in love with the stranger, and also the dead man’s brother goes out to fight the witch in the woods, returns cursed, and after being stabbed in the heart his face melts nice and slowly, and the movie just chills out and watches it go.

Mouseover to melt Uncle’s face:
image

The second half ends up like so many horrors, with family members in the dark outside yelling someone’s name over and over. The curse catches them quickly, since it causes the afflicted to seek to turn the one they love most, a detail reminiscent of It Follows. “The terror of loneliness – they kill others primarily because they want company, and those victims search for their own company… a neverending chain of death, unless one can break a link,” says the organist in town after Nicola gets his damned car fixed. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the youngest wanders off, comes back bloodthirsty and kills her mom, then all hell breaks loose and our dude returns to a total zombietown. He flees his loving Sdenka, arrives crazed and nonverbal at a hospital, where Sdenka tracks him down, he stabs her and… she doesn’t melt, so he’s just a lunatic murderer.

The same Tolstoy story (here adapted by the writer of Kill, Baby… Kill! and at least two others) was also filmed as the Boris Karloff section of Black Sabbath a decade earlier, The Vampire Family in Russia two decades later, and a Fear Itself episode by Larry Fessenden. Damn good music – the composer also did La Notte and Deep Red, and died before having to hear one of his songs in Gaspar Noé’s Love. The DP shot The House That Screamed, which I’d hoped to catch this SHOCKtober but the month wasn’t long enough. Sdenka is Agostina Belli of a Richard Burton Bluebeard and Fulci’s The Eroticist, and her family members include Roberto Maldera (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), Cinzia De Carolis (Cannibals in the Streets), and the Deneuve-looking Teresa Gimpera (Spirit of the Beehive).

It has been over a year since I’ve watched the last ten minutes of a bunch of mediocre horror movies on streaming sites, and the temptation to properly watch some of these has been building, so it’s time to knock out a bunch and save myself some time.


Bird Box (2018, Susanne Bier)

Sandra Bullock regains consciousness and calls out “boy! girl!” when searching for the boy and girl, while phantoms are trying to trick the kids into removing their blindfolds. Is avoiding names a Pontypool sorta thing? “I have so much I want you to see” sounds like a sideways Hellraiser reference? The oppressive sound design is meant to distract the characters from locating the birds they seek. Once they get indoors, where the monsters cannot reach, there are no birds, annoyingly, it’s just a school for the blind – the last survivors of the suicide-sight monster-pocalypse. Blinds are like normals, now. She DOES have a box full of birds, pretty blue-green guys, then she names her “son” after the guy from Moonlight, presumably deceased. This was part of that wave of netflix movies that everyone thought they had to watch just because they had netflix, so I’m probably the last person in the world who hasn’t seen it. Bier made After The Wedding, which I saw a very long time ago, Bullock hasn’t been prolific since Gravity.


The Silence (2019, John Leonetti)

Netflix knows you want to watch this after Bird Box. This is obviously where Bird Box and A Quiet Place meet. From the fast-forward it looks Tucci-centric and monotonously beige. Stanley Tucci’s family encounters a traumatized lost girl who was sent with a noisemaker-rigged suicide vest to attract the murder-bats that killed the world, while masked dudes kidnap family members in slow-mo, and mom does that Quiet Place thing where she suicide-screams so the kids can escape. Tucci-gang and kidnap-gang brawl under a swarm of murder-bats, then an unwelcome voiceover catches us up. The director made Mortal Kombat 2, the writers worked on Transmorphers and a C. Thomas Howell movie,


Velvet Buzzsaw (2019, Dan Gilroy)

Zawe Ashton wanders into a haunted art gallery alone at night, the artworks all streaming paint onto the floor and into her body, while in a storage facility, Jake Gyllenhaal encounters a killer android on crutches, and at home Rene Russo gets assaulted by sculptures. Russo survives the night and tries to stay safe by divesting herself of all paintings and sculptures, but her tattoo counts as art, and kills her via shady CG. As in Bird Box, Malkovich had been killed off in the previous 90 minutes, damn it. Gilroy made Nightcrawler, but more importantly, he cowrote Freejack.


Apostle (2018, Gareth Evans)

Since we’ve watched the Downton Abbey movie, let’s see what old too-good-for-TV Dan Stevens is up to… ah, burning swamp witches in direct-to-video films. Dan rescues two women from a sexist cultist, whom they strenuously murder, while the cult compound burns, the camera bouncing here and there, recalling Evans’s V/H/S/2 segment. A mountainside explodes in fire and blood, the women escape, and the cult beardo watches a dying Dan embrace the grasses and become the new swamp-witch. Evans made The Raid movies… oh jeez, I watched one of those just three years ago and have forgotten all about it.


The Hole in the Ground (2019, Lee Cronin)

Seána Kerslake is in a hole in the ground. I hoped from the description that this would be a modern The Gate, but it looks like another The Descent. After an eternity of crawling, she rescues her unconscious son but awakens the blind beasties who can transform into people who probably died earlier in the movie. Back home, how can she know who’s real and who’s a beastie? Movie characters do not care about what is knowable, so she burns down her house with one son inside, and drives off with her “real” son, then we wait for the inevitable reveal that she got it wrong – there it is! Lee is presumably Mikal Cronin’s brother, his cowriter did a series called Zombie Bashers.


Cabin Fever Remake (2016, Travis Z)

Oh no, sad Matt (Daddario, of the Buffy-looking series Shadowhunters) is burning down the cabin with his feverish girlfriend inside, then his feverish buddy gets shot by rednecks and Gage blows them away. I see this is going the horror-comedy route, with the ever-popular overbearing sound design. He comes across Louise Linton of The Midnight Man, calls her a bitch, then I guess he walks into the woods and is killed by the editing and the too-loud music. Our director Mr. Z worked on Hatchet III and Behind the Mask, and screenwriter Randy cowrote the original with Eli Roth, who made not one but two poorly-reviewed films last year, plus a History of Horror doc series.


Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018, Hèctor Hernández Vicens)

Ooh the zombie can talk and kidnap children in this second remake of the Romero sequel. Some bellowing army dudes are extremely good shots with their pistols as a horde approaches, but they all suffer the fate that army dudes in zombie movies must, while Sophie Skelton (Outlander) runs right past the horde to rescue her kid, beheads the talking zombie (Johnathon Schaech of The Scare Hole) with typical action-movie kissoff dialogue, then reads some science narration in as bored a voice as possible. The director’s follow-up to The Corpse of Anna Fritz, which itself got a remake, perpetuating some sorta horror sequel-remake super-cycle.


Await Further Instructions (2018, Johnny Kevorkian)

I skipped back an extra couple minutes because I noticed the movie’s blue-gray palette suddenly bloom into full color. It’s nothing though, and back in the blue-gray house the TV is telling the family members to kill each other, and dad complies with a hatchet before he’s taken down. I hope this all turns out to be a gag by the neighbor kids at the end. Nope, when smashed, the TV comes to Cronenbergian life and Tetsuos the dead dad. Sam Gittins (this year’s Ray & Liz) appears to win, then the whole family is murdered by cables except the newborn who I guess grows up with cables as parents. The director made family thriller The Disappeared a decade ago, the writer has a short about deadly colors called Chromophobia.


Cargo (2017, Ben Howling & Yolanda Ramke)

Oh, Martin Freeman is not gonna survive this pandemic apocalypse. After he goes blind and hungry, a kid takes his baby and rides undead-Martin to the zombie-hunter tribal lands in painful, wordless slow-motion. A remake of their 2013 short, but 98 minutes longer.


Veronica (2017, Paco Plaza)

The Spanish Ouija horror – kids are fleeing a demon-infested apartment building, Vero goes back for the youngest, then realizes the demon was inside her all along and tries to stop herself. Inventive effects, a cool look, and kickass post-punk song over the credits – one of the rare Last Ten Minutes entries that seems like a good movie. From the director of the original [Rec] plus two of its sequels.


Life After Beth (2014, Jeff Baena)

It’s killing me that the Zombie Aubrey movie was deemed not good enough to watch, but hey, my time is valuable. Dane DeHaan (Valerian himself) has strapped a fullsize oven to Aubrey’s back to slow her down, and they go for a romantic canyon hike before he shoots her. “I am sorry the whole world went to shit, but it was totally worth it.” John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon must be dead, but Anna Kendrick is here. The movie’s best original detail is that zombie gravestones have two death dates. Our writer/director specializes in little-loved Aubrey Plaza movies, also made The Little Hours.

(adapted from an email to Neil)

Yesterday, Katy and I went out to a VIP opening of a guitar-based art exhibit cosponsored by my company. I brushed against St. Vincent’s guitar, and the one Jack White made in that documentary and one Cobain played on the In Utero tour, and a bunch of musicians and guitar-company bigwigs who I didn’t recognize so tomorrow I’ll ask Steve who they all were.

Anyways, Jarmusch has a new movie called The Dead Don’t Die, which is a star-studded zombie comedy three weeks into its three-week run in Atlanta, so we recruited everyone we know to go see it after the museum thing, and lemme tell ya, it’s not a good movie by any criteria, but it’s surely interesting. Casting Tilda Swinton to play a sword-wielding mortician from outer space (via Scotland) is interesting, as are all the third-wall-breaking references to the movie’s script and theme song and other films the cast members have starred in, and the decision to kill all the main characters, and the constant swipes at hipsters and materialism – none of it works, but it’s interesting. Afterwards, Katy said I’ve now picked two movies in a row which sucked, but at least the Jarmusch movie sucks in unique new ways. His odd, slow pacing and his tendency to comically overemphasize things worked for the vampire movie and his very dry comedies, but fights against the wacky mayhem here.

It’s extremely typical in a zombie movie to make a joking George Romero reference, so someone is driving the same model car as in Night of the Living Dead (and the metaphorical comparison of zombies to shopping-mall consumers is swiped from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), and it’s typical in any self-aware graveyard-set auteur comedy to reference other filmmakers via gravestones, so Zombie Iggy Pop crawls out of a grave marked Samuel Fuller… and the references get more obscure from there… Jarmusch names his town after the one from Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels

Then there’s a scene near the end where Caleb Landry Jones and Danny Glover have barricaded themselves inside a hardware store. It may have been meta-humor, when the zombies finally breach the hardware store, that Jones and Glover, surrounded by weapons, continue their laconic conversation instead of properly defending themselves, and are easily killed by the consumerist swarm. But earlier, they’ve killed a couple of invading zombies whom they recognize… “That’s Dallas and Travis Good… the Good Family… those two brothers were great guitarists… it’s said they were born with guitars in their hands,” they say to each other robotically. I get the Romero and Fuller references, and the Trump joke, and Star Wars stuff, and the ultra-hipster Zappa quote, but why this extended Sadies plug?

And today, pondering all the bizarre choices made in that movie, I realized Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL and the Sadies played the same Hanukkah show in 2017.

Just another Hanukkah show that changed culture forever.

It’s a good thing Criterion is releasing the slow-moving serious-art early Dumont films on blu-ray, because I need to catch up, and this also gives me auteurist justification for absolutely loving this goony miniseries where aliens visit the town of Lil Quinquin and start duplicating the residents. The twitchy racist cop is given more screen time than ever, but I’m into it this time. Random resident Mr. Leleu gets copied, then Coincoin’s brother Dany, his ex-girl Eve, D’nis, then the captain himself. The Captain and Carpentier find out about the clones, are on the case, guns drawn, with the kids at their side, and then instead of solving the alien mystery, the “Cause I Knew” girl returns as a zombie and the series ends with a full-cast singalong.

I still want to catch up with Coyote and Buzzard, but had the chance to see this first, and like Ape, it’s about a delusional loner – and now that Relaxer is out, it looks like Potrykus is gonna make a career of cult indie films about delusional loners, not the worst idea. Or maybe the overall theme is “in Canada, you gotta make your own entertainment.”

Ty Hickson (Gimme the Loot) lives alone in the woods, is paranoid and undernourished and working through a series of occult rituals towards certain wealth. At the end it seems he’s just self-destructively off his meds.

Amari Cheatom returns as Cortez in Relaxer, hinting at a Potrykus Connected Multiverse, even though he is a zombie by the end of this movie.

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 high-quality movie with well-drawn characters, but it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before, as we meet a bunch of people who will be killed one by one as we learn more about their situation and the zombies’ behavior, and wounded friends conceal their bites until they suddenly turn feral at the worst possible moment.

Lotta jump scares for a movie watched on a plane while holding a ginger ale over the keyboard, but we pulled it off. The first attack is at a racetrack, which pays off wonderfully at the end.

Things learned about Canada: everyone is an excellent rifle shot, and they have a surplus of wooden chairs.

Lydia Ogwang in Cinema Scope:

As Aubert’s characters come to terms with new iterations of life under duress, class and lifestyle conflicts in tow, the film studies the fascinating emergent networks of morality and sentimentality among them which cut through the monotony of genre … The tender, humanistic focus delineates the action from run-of-the-mill Romero rehash: even amidst its faithfully rendered gore and copious jump scares, the film is committed to behavioural realism.

This has a decent reputation, and is based on an acclaimed novel, so maybe I was just in a mood – I found it weak, clunky, unconvincing in every way. Fun in theory to watch a tormented Vincent Price (same year as Masque of the Red Death) as the sole survivor in a world overrun by zombies, searching for other uninfected humans by day, trying to ignore the monsters yelling his name outside the house all night. I’m gonna blame Addams Family director Salkow and his mysterious Italian codirector for the clunkiness.

Price narrates, and shows us his lost family in flashback, eventually locates “survivor” Ruth, who turns out to be a zombie spy sent to flush him out. This is four years before Living Dead, so I shouldn’t call them zombies, but they’re ex-humans who only need to dispose of Price in order to form a completely ex-human society. This was remade with Charlton Heston (The Omega Man), then Will Smith (I Am Legend) – maybe fourth time’s the charm.

Oh dear, it’s almost Christmas and I’m still catching up with SHOCKtober movies…

I watched this near the beginning of the First Videodrome Era and thought I remembered only a couple things about it, but I think I was getting it mixed-up with Tenebrae and actually remember nothing about it. So here again, for the first time, The Beyond:

Louisiana 1927 (at least it’s not Maryland), two rowboats full of Southern white men bearing torches – this won’t be good. They accuse a dude of being a warlock, whup him with a chain, nail him to a wall then throw shovelfuls of boiling grits in his face.

54 years later, Liza (Catriona MacColl, screamer star of City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery) just bought the building where the grits murder took place, is having people fix it up when a painter falls to his near-death after spotting a dead-eyed woman. Liza is fond of the dreamy attending doctor David Warbeck (Fulci’s Black Cat), and unaware of the gate to hell in her new building’s basement. Joe The Plumber (who looks just like Chris Meloni in Wet Hot American Summer) is the first to dig around down there and get his face clawed off, then his whole family goes to the hospital to identify the body and is murdered by the undead.

Martha The Maid:

I thought Martha The Maid (baddie of Inferno) was acting suspicious and would turn out to be the hotel’s demonic caretaker, but nope, Undead Joe shoves her head into a large nail (Fulci’s signature eyeball trauma). There is however a psychic blind girl (Cinzia Monreale of Beyond the Darkness: “We blind see things more clearly”) who knows the history of the place, but she might be a ghost. A dude investigating at the library gets his face chewed off by tarantulas, a doctor is killed by very much broken glass, and eventually dreamy Dr. Warbeck is defending the survivors against hospital zombies by shooting them all in the shirt pocket. Movie ends in an inexplicable surrealist hellscape, and would’ve ended a half hour sooner if all the characters didn’t keep repeating everything they say. Cool movie though – one of the better Italian horrors I’ve seen.