In A Stranger’s House is an Effective, Impressive Little Chiller [Review]

Wicked Horror is the author of In A Stranger’s House is an Effective, Impressive Little Chiller [Review]. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Found footage has kind of had its day, but the format remains an easy option for anxious indie filmmakers eager to make something without the means necessary (or the financial support) to do so. Take Ireland’s own Richard Waters*, whose sophomore outing (following 2013 rom-com The O’Briens) In A Stranger’s House was shot in the family home.

In a Stranger’s House kicks off with the usual spiel about where the footage supposedly originated from, but with the added caveat that viewers of a sensitive disposition should steer clear. It’s a nice addition for a film set in the wilds of County Wicklow, of all places. Waters himself stars as the on-camera vlogger (it looks like a terrible vlog, it has to be said) tasked with house-sitting an isolated country abode by the camera-shy owner.

The score, by SL-88 (also Waters), is this fuzzy, off-kilter concoction that threads easily into the narrative. It’s utilised when things start getting creepy, as a plot-point, but threads so seamlessly into the narrative that it almost makes one question what’s really happening and what isn’t. The overall sound design is incredibly tight, too, with every tiny noise felt deep in the gut.

In A Stranger’s House‘s premise is even weirder considering this is Waters’ family home — creepy dolls, old-timey family photos and all. He takes an environment with which he is obviously very familiar and makes it seem alien. His naive vlogger wanders past a creepily open attic door, considers going up there, and then loudly decides not to, even though Waters himself has likely been up there a million times.

Also See: Found Footage Films: A Brief and Twisted History

The central performance (there are a few other actors credited on the film, but to say anything about them would be venturing into spoiler territory) is strong and vanity-free. We watch as Richard, the character, sits and reads through YouTube comments, most of which are spam (his reaction to someone claiming to make a ton of money sitting at home will be familiar to anybody who’s waded into the comments section before).

He bemoans, several times, that there aren’t enough people watching his videos and that those who are keep challenging their authenticity. During these exchanges, Waters plays with our expectations for creepy stuff happening in the background — the hallmark of found footage. He consistently draws our viewpoint behind him, leaving us wondering what will happen back there. He knows where we’ll be looking, and why.

Waters has previous, not just as a proud, lifelong horror fan, but via his work with Bloody Disgusting’s popular World of Death series, along with his shorts, Video Nasty and Life’s A Wish And Then You Die. He ensures his Richard cops something is up straight away, and that he reacts accordingly. Likewise, Richard offers up a reason to stay in the house — morbid human curiosity; he just wants to figure out what the deal is.

Related: Five Fierce Found Footage Flicks To Watch Now

The setting is super creepy, with any added set dressing not immediately obvious (apologies to Mrs. Waters). Waters shoots it like a maze of labyrinthine corridors, meaning he gets freaked out by his own shadow after spotting it around a darkened corner (been there). The writer-director-producer-editor-star creates a great sense of unease and mystery throughout, with the tension well-established and held tight.

The Blair Witch Project is a very clear influence here, which is only right considering it’s still the best example of a found footage movie, but In A Stranger’s House isn’t derivative or clichéd. A question, posed to camera (naturally), about whether the supernatural is scarier than a flesh-and-blood human being is a clever addition in an already smart script, which is utterly devoid of flab.

In A Stranger’s House is an effective, hugely impressive chiller whose low budget limitations are wisely used to its advantage. At just 70 minutes, it almost feels too fleeting but better to zip in, make an impression, and zip back out again rather than hang around waiting for the cracks to appear. There is a mythology present, even if it’s only hinted at.

Regardless, Waters has done a lot with very little here, further reiterating the oft-repeated point that what is seen is scarcely as frightening as what is imagined (though the sole money shot is a hell of a payoff), budget constrictions or otherwise. In A Stranger’s House may be slight, but it’s a rallying call to indie filmmakers everywhere to just get ‘er done.

* Full disclosure: Richard is a friend of the site and of mine personally but, I can assure you, I wouldn’t be reviewing his movie if it were terrible. I’d be avoiding him, while pretending my laptop was broken. And also my hands.

WICKED RATING: (8/10)
Director(s): Richard Waters
Writer(s): Richard Waters
Starring: Richard Waters, Theresa Bradley, Emily Kelly, Shawna Waters
Year: 2018
Release date: 31 October 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Weird Pretty Pictures
Language: English
Length: 71 minutes
Sub-Genre: Found footage

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Lasso is Sporadically Entertaining and Gory AF [Review]

Wicked Horror is the author of Lasso is Sporadically Entertaining and Gory AF [Review]. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Lasso takes place somewhere no horror movie in recent memory has dared set foot: the rodeo. It begins, somewhat disconcertingly, with a young woman waking up to find herself chained to a radiator. Bottles of the horse tranquilizer Ketamine (the “Special K” of which Placebo so memorably sang) are scattered all around. So, we’re definitely not in the old west then…

The bad fake tattoos klaxon soon sounds as the story switches focus to a group of active elderlies being shepherded to the rodeo by an odd couple of sorts, Kit (The 100‘s Lindsey Morgan) and Simon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones‘ Andrew Jacobs), he of the bad tattoos — for readers across the pond, one of them appears to say “Frankie & Benny’s” suggesting he’s a fan of low-priced spag bol and endless Pepsi refills.

Kit is the responsible one, because she’s the woman, and Simon is the screw-up, because he’s the man. She tells him to shape up and, in response, he attempts to win something for her in one of those dick-measuring strongman carnie game things, run by the most obviously evil rodeo bloke. Texas Pexas, as I’ll be calling him, doesn’t blink the entire time. Later, he will gurn. He will gurn so hard.

Although Kit and Simon are ostensibly the leads of Lasso, the film soon separates them as the lady we met at the beginning returns, running for her life as she’s pursued by a black-clad guy on a horse, with the titular weapon in his hand. Things soon get gory AF, but in a way that involves chunks of skin being ripped off and random characters dying as a result. Kit flees with the older folk on their bus, leaving Simon to perish.

Lasso is director Evan Cecil’s feature debut, following a lengthy and varied career in TV. Likewise, his cohort, Roberto Marinas, is tackling his first script. The concept is strong, and the two of them come up with a variety of surprisingly gruesome ways for people to die at this here rodeo, but the makeup and FX aren’t hugely impressive, and the movie isn’t as much fun as the subject matter suggests it would be.

Also See: Seven Horror Films With Effects Better Than the Movie, Itself

The thing is nasty but not mean-spirited. There’s no sexual violence or racism but, considering the villains are hicks, Lasso almost feels toned-down in how it portrays them as roided-up psychos intent on…what? Killing for sport? Certain descriptions of the movie (but not, it must be said, the official one on IMDb) suggest there’s an occult element, but it certainly didn’t present itself to me while watching.

The stranded bus angle (because obviously the elderlies and Kit do not escape) recalls The Windmill Massacre, which was a better concept, and established more coherently where the characters were in relation to their assailants. Here, it’s not clear how far the bus is from the rodeo or how vast the surrounding woods are. Still, at the very least it’s nice to see older actors in roles more traditionally occupied by nubile teens.

Both Morgan and Jacobs do fine, but Simon is gifted the more interesting trajectory as a loser who has to rise to the occasion. The standout performer, however, is naturally the great Sean Patrick Flannery as a one-armed man (with his own arm very obviously tied behind his back) who has more lives than Jason Voorhees and somehow has to save the day in spite of his disability.

There’s definitely an argument to be made for casting an actual disabled person, as Fury Road so memorably did in several key roles, but Flannery is such a likeable screen presence (and he carries most of the action, to be fair to him) that it can be mostly forgiven here. After all, in a movie that showcases its villains shooting up anabolic horse steroids, surely sensitivity to the realities of the world isn’t high up on the agenda.

Weirdly, the lad in black who shows up brandishing the actual lasso of the title isn’t in the movie that much. It’s unclear whether he’s the Big Bad or just another cog in the murderous machine, but considering how big his introduction is, the fact he barely features in the story afterwards is jarring. It’s hard enough keeping track of all these characters without worrying what happened to the leader of the other team.

Lasso isn’t completely terrible, nor is it without a selection of enjoyable, individual moments of stomach-twisting gore or all-out lunacy.​ The stranded bus element makes it feel slightly more disjointed than if all of the action took place solely at the rodeo, but it was presumably added to widen the scope. Still, Flannery is a joy to watch as always, and the premise is better mined for content than the execrable Funhouse Massacre, which was in a similar vein.

WICKED RATING: (5/10)
Director(s): Evan Cecil
Writer(s): Roberto Marinas
Stars: Sean Patrick Flannery, Lindsey Morgan, Andrew Jacobs, Karen Grassle
Year: 2018
Release date: November 13, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Dragonfly Films
Language: English
Length: 97 minutes
Sub-Genre: Slasher

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Short Night of the Glass Dolls is a Unique Take on the Giallo

Wicked Horror is the author of Short Night of the Glass Dolls is a Unique Take on the Giallo. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Short Night of the Glass Dolls follows Greg (Jean Sorel of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin), an American journalist working in Prague. Greg’s primary problem is that he is dead (or appears to be) and he cannot remember who killed him or why. In a state of limbo between life and death, Greg retraces his steps in an attempt to remember who could have wanted him dead and for what reason.

This film marks Aldo Lado’s (Who Saw Her Die) feature film directorial debut. And an impressive first outing it is. Lado comes across as a confident and assured director who isn’t afraid to go against the grain and make some unexpected decisions. For one, the film doesn’t really have a conventional love story. Greg spends most of the feature’s runtime searching for his romantic interest, Mira, who inexplicably disappears shortly after arriving on the scene. The film also breaks from convention by telling the story through the eyes of a character who is presumed to be dead. As strange as it sounds, the approach works well. Telling the story through a series of flashbacks and bursts of recollection helps to build tension and instills a sense of urgency in the viewer to find out what happens next.

Short Night of the Glass Dolls is not a typical giallo. The performances are a step above the hammy scenery chewing to which fans of the genre are accustomed. Jean Sorel turns in a fine performance in the lead role and Ingrid Thulin (The Damned) is effective as his journalistic peer and not-so-secret admirer.

Also differing from the output of the time, the bloodshed is very understated and the bodycount is surprisingly low. The film is much more focused on the captivating audiences with the mystery element than wowing viewers with countless acts of senseless carnage and numerous onscreen deaths. The end result is mostly positive. While, I do wish that there had been a little more violence for the sake of violence, it’s hard not to commend Lado’s restraint in a time where excess was the name of the game.

Also See: Giallo Madness: The Case of the Bloody Iris 

The film is very slow burn. It takes a long while to get where its going and that can be a little frustrating when viewing the film for the first time. But the but patient viewer will be rewarded, as the third act delivers in almost every way imaginable. The first two acts are used to establish the storyline and build a mounting sense of tension. And the third brings everything together beautifully. The final scene is shocking, (somewhat) unexpected, and totally horrifying. It makes the build worthwhile and is likely to haunt the viewer long after they finish watching the film.

The famous Ennio Morricone (The Cat o’Nine Tails) composed the film’s score. And while this may not be his most noteworthy outing and certainly isn’t as memorable as some of his other works, the music is very appropriate to the era and fits well with the film’s thematic elements.

If you haven’t had the occasion to check out Short Night of the Glass Dolls, it is definitely worth a look for the giallo enthusiast. The third act is quite memorable and the film is just different enough from the Italian horror output of its era to make it noteworthy and secure its place as an important contribution to the giallo genre.

Short Night of the Glass Dolls is now available (in a limited pressing of 3,000) on Blu-ray via Twilight Time. The transfer and sound quality are excellent, as per usual. The release also features an isolated music track and a commentary with two film historians.

WICKED RATING: 7/10 

Director(s): Aldo Lado
Writer(s): Aldo Lado
Stars: Jean Sorel, Ingrid Thulin, and Barbara Bach
Release: Now available on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time
Studio/ Production Co: Cinerama Filmgesellschaft MBH
Language: Italian
Length: 97-Minutes
Sub-Genre: Giallo

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All-Star Horror Offering Death House is Cheesy, Bloody, Nostalgic Fun

Wicked Horror is the author of All-Star Horror Offering Death House is Cheesy, Bloody, Nostalgic Fun. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people describe Death House as “The Expendables of horror.” But that’s not really a fitting description of the movie — it’s more like The Expendables meets Cabin in the Woods meets Total Recall meets Resident Evil meets Coma meets Dante’s Inferno meets Avatar meets Cube meets Hellraiser. Granted, that sounds like a big fat mess of a movie and … well, I suppose that’s exactly what Death House is. But unlike a lot of contemporary genre movies that like to act like they’re more enlightened and socioculturally relevant, at least this one has the good sense to embrace its own stupidity and keep the blood and guts flying — and if you’re a fan of 1980s horror, you’ll definitely dig it, if only for the nonstop cameo appearances.

Death House starts off with Tony Todd carrying this random white girl through the desert while a whole bunch of Wilhelm Screams emanate from a nearby sewer and he drinks oil out of a water tap. Then he starts digging around in her stomach and yanks out a handful of guts but apparently it was just a dream sequence or a mirage or something.

Then we cut to a cameo of Kane Hodder giving some broad in a Nazi uniform a handgun so she can shoot a mother and her young child at point blank range. Then we find out the Nazi broad is actually a double agent who proceeds to shoot Kane in the kneecap and then Dee Wallace shows up as a scientist in the titular Death House — it’s this blacksite prison where a whole bunch of CIA scientists try to turn serial killers and cannibals into upstanding citizens by socking VR goggles over their heads and trying to LITERALLY inject them with liquid morality — and then DANNY TREJO stumbles on set so he can bash an old lady’s skull in and then this woman in a cheap knockoff Leatherface mask carves up a whole buncha’ dudes on a grainy VHS tape while Dee makes this one chick watch a hologram of her daddy yell at her over and over again.

Also See: Editorial: Why it’s So Hard to do Throwback Horror Films 

A scene from the 2018 film "Death House."

Then Barbara Crampton shows how they keep all the prisoners subdued by erasing their brains and hooking ’em up to IVs of cocaine and meth and she explains how Facebook is actually a means of spreading CONTAGIOUS mental illness. Then the narrator tells us Eisenhower built the whole thing back in the 1950s and one mile underneath the building they’ve got the absolute worst psycho killers ever in the history of anything, including immortal Nazis, vampires, Russian child murderers and, uh, Michael Berryman. Then Sid Haig gives another double agent a lecture about — well, I’m not 100 percent sure what the hell he’s talking about, honestly — and this eight-year-old Nazi stabs a security guard to death.

Of course, that’s our cue for a power outage. And that can mean one thing, and one thing only: PRISON RIOT CITY. Without giving away too much of the movie, let’s just say it doesn’t take long ‘until we’ve got about half a feet of severed body parts and intestinal juice on the floor. And just you WAIT until we get to the part where they show us all the prisoners with their skin ripped off … that one’s one of the best gopher guts grossout practical effects vomit-a-thon I’ve seen in quite some time.

Let’s take a look at the highlights of Death House, why don’t we? 42 dead bodies. Seven breasts. Two pairs of exposed buttocks (one male, one female). Throat slitting. Multiple exploding heads. Wooden stakes to the neck. One prison riot (that goes on for about 40 minutes.) One mass gassing. Heads roll. Faces roll. Arms roll. Legs roll. Intestines roll. Gratuitous blood drinking. Gratuitous Nazi toddler attack. Gratuitous Hannah Arendt references. Gratuitous razor hook eyeball gouging. Gratuitous mutant fetus eating. Gratuitous nu-metal soundtrack. Kung fu. Chainsaw fu. Taser fu. And, of course, the thing more or less responsible for this movie existing in the first place … some serious genre-actors-in-need-of-new-agents fu.

A scene from the 2018 film "Death House."

Starring Cortney Palm as Agent Toria Boom, who spends the entire movie doing her best Milla Jovovich impersonation; Cody Longo as Agent Jae Novak, the guy who can’t remember where his tattoos came from while he’s taking a shower with a colleague; Dee Wallace as Dr. Eileen Fletcher, who says “Technology is the new God, software is the new dogma” and never wonders aloud if turning psycho murderers into unkillable transhumans isn’t the wisest use of taxpayers’ dollars; and Kane Hodder as Seig, the psycho Nazi killer trying to become immortal or something who has one of the greatest lines in the history of B-movies: “I will fuck you in hell.”

Written by the late, great Gunnar Hansen and B. Harrison Smith, the latter whom also directed the movie.

Yeah, Death House a movie with some obvious problems — the CGI effects are terrible and the final act loses a LOT of steam — but at the end of the day it’s still a fairly fun, nostalgia-baiting B-tier genre offering that isn’t afraid to wallow in the red stuff and white meat. And let’s face it: is there anything out there that’ll make you pine for those bygone VHS glory days more than watching Sid Haig stabbing hippies and Bill Moseley giving Kane Hodder Lovecraftian lectures while wearing a spacesuit?

WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director: B. Harrison Smith
Writer(s): Gunnar Hansen, B. Harrison Smith
Stars: Cortney Palm, Cody Longo, Dee Wallace, Kane Hodder, literally everybody who was in any horror movie made between the years 1980-1989 who’s still alive
Release: VOD (iTunes) — Nov. 06; Blu-Ray and DVD — Dec. 11

Studio/Production Co.: Entertainment Factory, LLC
Language: English
Length: 95 minutes
Genre: Splatter, Slasher, Retro, Nostalgia

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Suspiria (2018) Conjures Shocking Images and a Disturbing Atmosphere

Wicked Horror is the author of Suspiria (2018) Conjures Shocking Images and a Disturbing Atmosphere. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Well, prepared to be shocked. Not since Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan was released in 2010 has the fairytale atmosphere of the ballet world been so unsettling. The Suspiria update from Luca Guadagnino reminds one more of Black Swan than Dario Argento’s original. The similarity between Aronofsky’s psychological thriller and Guadagnino’s update does not begin and end with simply the ballet references. However, Suspiria is what would happen if Black Swan was gutted open by a witch with an oversized fish hook. And then she danced around naked.

Suspiria will likely invoke a strong reaction from audiences. As this happens to be its main objective, one can argue that the remake (revision, homage, etc.) is successful. Meaning, Guadagnino’s justification for this production was to create an homage to the feeling the original gave him. Often, when I am describing 1977’s version (or describing Dario Argento flicks, in general), I use phrases such as: “it’s not about the plot, it is how it makes you feel” or “it is like watching a dream, or nightmare, come to life on the screen.” I will give them the basic plot details regarding how an American ballerina, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), is traveling to Germany to attend a ballet academy; however, I add in the suggestion that the story has very little to do with the film’s intention.

2018’s Suspiria revives the same general plotline, but has far more narrative depth than the original piece. Argento’s Suspiria uses ballet as an arbitrary device to pull the audience into the story. The plot is both straightforward and thin. Fans of the original understand this to be fine because the story is not Argento’s main focus. When showing the first version to friends, I find myself silently justifying in my head any narrative gaps. What occurs on the screen in this current incarnation is Guadagnino’s own interpretations to fill in those gaps. And he has plenty of ideas. There is an abundance of storylines, character developments, and dance sequences to fill out Argento’s 98 minute run time into a 152 minute film.

Also See: A Beginner’s Guide to Dario Argento

But, considering Argento’s intent was not to focus on storyline and instead emotion, is all this additional content a good thing? Art is generally considered to be subjective. If a person is a fan of a particular piece, then he or she usually tries to find the reasoning behind this admiration. In the medium of film, we are conditioned to make narrative sense out of what we are seeing. If there are too many holes or the plot becomes confusing, we are tempted to reject the picture as a good film.

The original Suspiria is one of the few exceptions to this rule. Guadagnino’s update is the director’s attempt to show what he loves about the original, while at the same time revealing his “silent justifications” of the plot. Argento’s piece is not about Suzy’s journey or growth as a character. Nor, is it specifically about witchcraft. These are machinations to get the viewer settled into a certain frame of mind.

So, in terms of plot, Guadagnino’s added ideas are dark and interesting. Whatever I found to be missing in the narrative of the original, this Suspiria has now delivered in spades. Truthfully, that leaves me feeling like I miss what was missing before. I did not see the ultimate reveal coming because I had Jessica Harper’s Suzy still in the back of my mind. Regardless, had that not been the case, I believe I would have found this outcome to be predictable. Obviously, having a preconceived expectation affected my outlook. Still, this plot twist seems like something I was subconsciously hoping would not happen. Mainly because it changes the lore of Argento’s Three Sisters Trilogy.

To be clear, I was conflicted with the twist of the ending. The finale, itself, is something to see and experience. The intense range of emotions I felt watching the climax unfold left me overwhelmed. Everything in the film leading up to the finale is uncompromisingly captivating. The film is, perhaps, bloated and could be trimmed down by about thirty minutes; however, Guadagnino tells a compelling story with shocking events. One such event involves temporary lead dancer, Olga (Elena Fokina), as she fights back against authority. The resulting sequence, as it is intercut with the frantic dancing of new Susie (Dakota Johnson), is relentlessly grotesque.

And that is where this new Suspiria is successful. Like the original, whether you love or hate it, you are going to feel penetrating emotions. These emotions could be awe or hate or terror. One could even feel resentment at Guadagnino’s clear manipulations. Others might enjoy having their emotions horrifically contorted for two and a half hours. There are few films that I watch where I am left wondering just what the heck do I feel? I noticed as the credits began to roll, nobody in the surprisingly full audience moved right away. One or two eventually rose to leave; however, the majority just sat there seemingly numb as they stared at the screen.

Related: Back to the ’80s: Dario Argento’s Phenomena

Similar to Argento’s original, there is something hypnotic to this remake. The result of this hypnosis is very different. After the first film, you snap out it as if you had just awakened from an intense nightmare. With this incarnation, you wake slowly as if from a drug-induced slumber. Of course, the cause might be the differing selections in color palette. Guadagnino elected for a muted color scheme which is a sharp contrast to the bright, Technicolor-effect from Argento’s choice. The earlier film tends to pop where the later choice subconsciously brings the viewer’s emotional level down.

No matter the color scheme, the Tanz Academy is brought to life with outstanding performances. Where company members seem to conveniently disappear in the original, this new release develops an intricate hierarchy between the cast of teachers and students that remains intact until the end. Or, if not completely “intact,” they at least have a part to play in the finale. Suspiria focuses on Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion. Johnson crawls with feline precision into the naïve and child-like quality of the character. Never losing her confidence, she develops Susie as one quietly stunned with her new surroundings into a woman ready to face her future.

While Johnson is decidedly the lead, Tilda Swinton is the star of this fresh take on Suspiria. Ever the chameleon, Swinton pours a unique quality into each of the three roles she played. Personally, I did not know about the publicity surrounding her portrayal of Dr. Josef Klemperer. She fooled me. And again as Helena Markos. She is equally fascinating as Klemperer and the lead choreographer, Madame Blanc. Particularly captivating is her enigmatic portrayal as the chain-smoking Blanc. She is like a deceitful spider spinning you into her web, and you are unable to resist being enthralled. Even as she is about to take her bite.

The rest of the company is composed of fascinating characters. Wanting to see everything, the viewer never quite knows where to look. Each student and teacher brings a different nuance to the screen. Particularly memorable are Sara Simms (Mia Goth) and Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Goth’s character differs from her predecessor’s (Stefania Casini) portrayal. Where Casini’s Sara was overtly paranoid and suspicious, Goth is reluctant as she gradually comes to see the truth of her surroundings. She is concerned of Patricia’s disappearance; however, she has no doubts to the legitimacy of the academy. When the audience is introduced to Patricia, they are greeted with a young woman spiraling into madness. She is frantic in her movements and speech. As she claws away at her madness, Moretz delivers a bluntness that is both heartbreaking and terrifying.

An additional performance sweeps in at the eleventh hour of the film. Jessica Harper’s cameo is hauntingly sweet as Anke, the lost lover of Swinton’s Josef. Harper portrayed the inherently different Suzy from Argento’s creation. Little is known about her Suzy (in comparison to Johnson’s Susie) other than she has an aunt that was also a dancer. In contrast to the update, Harper’s Suzy appeared sophisticated and polite, albeit with a low tolerance for any nonsense. Johnson’s Susie has an ethereal quality encapsulated by a quiet fearlessness developed from a Mennonite childhood spent in Ohio.

One further change in Guadagnino’s interpretation is the handling of the dance sequences. A significant amount of ballets feature fairytales on the stage. Complete with vulnerable princesses and malevolent witches, the director does not shy away from utilizing these elements to tell his story. Accompanied by Thom Yorke’s eerily introspective score, the inclusion of specific dance movements punctuate each change in character or narrative development. Argento had minimal use for dance in his picture as it was primarily an arbitrary device. Dance is so essential to Guadagnino’s Suspiria that the film could almost be categorized as a ballet of the bizarre.

Related: How Argento’s Deep Red Influenced Surrealist Cinema

Everything comes together for this remake of Suspiria in a way that will leave audiences more exhausted than a ballerina performing a continuous series of fouette turns. And as shocked as if her ankle broke right on the stage. There is dark humor, breathless movements, and a grotesque horror that will leave haunting images in the viewer’s mind. The overwhelming range of ideas will attempt to drown the audience in a sea of emotion. Some audience members will resent what they have seen. Others will be fascinated. Either way, the effects of this Suspiria update will be lingering. And love it or hate it, that is what both Argento originally desired, and Guadagnino was hoping to achieve.

Wicked Rating 8/10

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer(s): David Kajganich, Based on Suspiria by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz
Release: October 26, 2018 (United States, limited), November 2, 2018 (United States, wide-release)
Studio/Production Co: Amazon Studios, K Period Media, Mythology Entertainment, First Sun, Memo Films, Vega Baby
Language: English, German, French
Length: 152 minutes
Genre: Supernatural Horror

 

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Silencio is Based on True Events, but Uninspired [Review]

Wicked Horror is the author of Silencio is Based on True Events, but Uninspired [Review]. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Lorena Villarreal’s second feature film, Silencio, opens with a short scene and then a title card telling its viewers that the film was “Inspired by True Events.” A lot of movies tell this lie, and in the case of a story that’s trying to be true-to-life it makes sense. It fails in movies like 2013’s mostly forgotten Gangster Squad, where the picture opens with a promise of realism and then ten minutes later one of the principal officers chasing down the gangsters decides it would be more effective to throw knives than shoot in a gunfight. There’s nothing wrong with movies that strive for realism or movies where characters have knife-throwing gimmicks. But there’s a tonal clash when a feature claims to be inspired by true events then proceeds to introduce outlandish elements.

Silencio falls into that trap. It’s telling the story of Ana (Melina Matthews as an adult/ Shayne Coleman as a child), who died as a young girl. Her grandfather Dr. James White (John Noble) remembers her death, but he also remembers resurrecting her. He and his assistant Peter (Rupert Graves) were cleaning up the remains of a U.S. test missile that crashed in the Zone of Silence—Mexico’s equivalent to the Bermuda Triangle. They were experimenting on a strange stone they found at 3:33 am. It fell, and when White caught it, he and Peter were transported to the site of car crash that killed Ana. They manage to save her, but not her sister and parents. This all happens within five minutes of the title card telling the audience that the story was “Inspired by True Events.”

From there, the story flashes forward twenty years. There’s a mysterious unnamed criminal (Hoze Meléndez) who’s intimidating grandpa White, trying to force him to give him the stone. White wants to acquiesce, but his failing memory doesn’t allow him to. Meanwhile, Ana is a practicing therapist, whose psychic patients are telling her that she and her family are in grave danger. Again, all of this within minutes of the title card reading, “Inspired by True Events.”

A movie like The Mothman Prophecies can pull off its claim that it’s based on actual happenings and then wade into the supernatural because it beats around the bush. There’s barely an in-focus shot of the Mothman throughout the entire movie, and not a single character believes in it until they’re forced to. The relationship between the real world and the supernatural is also more clearly defined: a bridge actually collapsed in West Virginia. A real person claims the titular mothman prophecies saved her from dying on that bridge. But in Silencio, those real life events aren’t as clear. There was a U.S. missile that crashed in the Zone of Silence, but the similarities end there. And even without the strange framing, asking viewers to see this as true events, the film has a other issues.

Meléndez does the best with the script he’s given, but he doesn’t have the kind of intimidating presence his character requires. He’s the physical stand-in for the movies mysterious villain, but there’s no fear when he comes on screen. It’s clear he’s got bad intentions holding a gun and glaring, but it’s never clear that he’s got the size, strength, or competence to follow through on the threats he makes. He’s miscast, because the film tries to frame him that way.

And then there’s the twist when the mysterious villain reveals themself. It doesn’t work on a few different levels. On a basic plot level, the cast is too small for it to be much of a surprise. On a character level, it erases the relationships and motivations of nearly everyone in the main cast in a way that makes very little sense. Either they’re friends or they’re not. But friends don’t hide the the lifesaving stone from each other. The word for that is “enemies.” 

RELATED Six Baffling, Unexplained Real-Life Paranormal Events

Perhaps what’s most indicative of what’s wrong with Silencio are the scenes where different characters are trying to dig up the stone. There are multiple scenes and multiples characters digging and none of them ever goes more than a few inches into the dirt. They’re much too shallow to have hidden anything of value, and that’s the case with this film: it’s too shallow to hold anything of value. Silencio hits theaters October 26, 2018

Wicked Rating 4/10 
Director: Lorena Villarreal
Writer: Lorena Villarreal
Stars: John Noble, Rupert Graves, Melina Matthews
Release: October 26, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Barraca Producciones, Fotokem Creative Services
Language: Spanish, English
Length: 98 minutes
Genre: Supernatural

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Mandy is Metal AF [Blu-Ray Review]

Wicked Horror is the author of Mandy is Metal AF [Blu-Ray Review]. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Red and Mandy live a peaceful and pleasant existence in their forest dwelling. But their idyllic way of life is interrupted when a sadistic cult leader becomes obsessed with Mandy and abducts her. Having his love snatched away from him sends Red into a revenge-fueled tailspin of epic proportions.

I am a big fan of Panos Cosmatos’ style. He is a visionary director and although this is only his second feature film, his aesthetic is unmistakable. His previous filmic effort, Beyond the Black Rainbow solidified his reputation as a force to be reckoned with and he has only further proven just how tremendous his talent is with his sophomore outing.

Related: Five Contemporary Horror Films that Perfectly Recaptured ’80s Horror (Including Beyond the Black Rainbow)

Cosmatos tells a visually striking and profoundly surreal story with Mandy. It features breathtaking cinematography and a surreal and hazy color palette that makes the picture feel even more dreamlike. He proudly wears his influences on his sleeve–not afraid to pay homage to that which inspires him, yet still telling a wholly original tale. The result  is a film that is part ’80s metal video, part fever dream, part acid trip, and part exploitation flick. It sounds like an odd juxtaposition but the film very much exists at the intersection of grindhouse and arthouse.

Director Panos Cosmatos penned the screenplay for Mandy with cowriter Aaron Stewart-Ahn. The duo created a script that is exceptionally imaginative on paper but even more so when realized (under Cosmatos’ keen directorial eye) onscreen. Mandy boasts one of the most creative and original screenplays I’ve seen brought to life in recent memory. It’s unpredictable and takes the viewer on a wild ride.

One of Mandy’s many strong suits is that it is highly convincing as a period piece. It feels very much like a lost classic from the VHS era. The wardrobe and styling serve to transport the viewer back in time to 1983 when the picture takes place. The characters authentically look like they walked right out of a heavy metal music video from the early ’80s. Everything from the set design to the hair and makeup gives Mandy an impressive air of authenticity.

What separates this heavy metal fever dream from typical grindhouse fare is its exceptional performances and focus on character development. Nicolas Cage turns in a heart felt and gut-wrenching appearance as Red. When the love of his life is taken away, the audience feels like they are there with him. His heartbreak is not only believable, its palpable. Cage isn’t overacting or phoning it in like he has in a lot of his more recent outings. He is certainly still intense but his intensity is appropriate to the role and it never really approaches the level of scenery chewing. Andrea Riseborough is equally good as the titular character. She comes across as strong but fragile and tough, yet vulnerable. Linus Roache is perfectly cast as the sadistic cult leader. He oozes evil and projects a sense of utter instability.

If I haven’t managed to sell you on the emotional aspects of the film, perhaps I can interest you in the FX work. Mandy is full of messy, gory, nauseating practical effects that would feel right at home at a GWAR show. It even features one of the most grotesque blood vomit scenes I’ve seen in some time. And that’s to say nothing of the numerous decapitation sequences and various acts of stabbiness.

I was also taken with the film’s wicked, dark sense of humor. In one particularly memorable scene, Nic Cage lights a cigarette in the flames of a recently decapitated character’s flaming severed head.

My only qualm with Mandy is that it has some pacing problems. I realize that Cosmatos wanted to spend the first half of the film establishing the authenticity of Mandy and Red’s relationship so that the retribution sequences would feel authentic and warranted. However, taking over an hour to get to the revenge spree is almost certain to alienate and bore some viewers. With that in mind, if you can be patient with the slow build, the payoff makes the anticipation more than worthwhile.

The Blu-ray transfer of the film is crisp and vivid, allowing the viewer to see the director’s vision in all of its crazy glory. The home video release includes an insightful and honest behind-the-scenes featurette and a series of deleted and extended scenes. Mandy is metal af and you should make haste to check it out when it drops on Blu-ray October 30th.

WICKED RATING: 8.5/10 

Director(s): Panos Cosmatos
Writer(s): Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, and Linus Roache
Release: October 30, 2018 (Home Video)
Studio/ Production Co: SpectreVision, RLJ Entertainment
Budget: $6 Million (estimated)
Language: English
Length: 121 Minutes

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Halloween Succeeds by Bringing the Franchise Back to the Beginning!

Wicked Horror is the author of Halloween Succeeds by Bringing the Franchise Back to the Beginning!. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Another sequel has been released for the beloved Halloween franchise. Fans can rejoice because this one is quite good. This 2018 release has retconned the chaotic timeline of the previous sequels and has established itself as the now-official sequel to the original film. However, with such a confusing timeline, Malek Akkad and Blumhouse should have generated a more distinctive title than Halloween. The series begun by John Carpenter is not known for coming up with the best of titles (Halloween: H20, for instance). For the sake of clarity, this article will refer to the new film as: Halloween (2018).

Picking up 40 years after that fateful Halloween night when Michael Myers (Nick Castle) returned to Haddonfield, director David Gordon Green has revitalized the waning franchise. Virtually every director of a Halloween sequel has stated that the goal was to return to the series’ roots. Green is the only director to even come close to this achievement. Each subsequent sequel appeared more a product from the contemporary horror of its time than something created in 1978 by John Carpenter. The first Halloween II upped the gore to compete with the burgeoning 1980’s slasher craze. Halloween: H20 looked like another late-90’s flick influenced by Scream, only with Michael Myers. Rob Zombie’s remake combined the director’s bizarre signature style with the mid-2000’s insistency of real-looking gore.

Green has shelved any concerns about making the film with any other style than that which John Carpenter envisioned when creating the original. His own roots are linked to comedy, but there is nothing unintentionally funny with Halloween (2018). Combining Carpenter’s minimalist style and a Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley screenplay, Green has created a film that will both please die-hard fans and deliver scares to newcomers. Halloween (2018) is not perfect; however, this sequel succeeds where so many in the horror genre fail. The respect to the original film is prominent and generates excitement with each passing scene.

Another cause for fans to celebrate is the triumphant return of iconic Scream Queen, Jamie Lee Curtis. This is not the first reunion with Myers for Curtis; however, this one is very different from what audiences have seen before. Previously, Curtis portrayed Laurie Strode as a terrified and falling apart Keri Tate in Halloween: H20. This time around, Curtis’s Strode embodies a capable woman full of strength and determination. Instead of hiding from the infamous babysitter killer, Laurie is impatiently waiting for him to come for her. So, she can kill him. This fuels her existence and damages the relationship with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer).

Jamie Lee Curtis’s skill as an actress and involvement with the series has created the most multifaceted final girl of all time in Laurie Strode. One of the best justifications for carving out a new path in an already complicated timeline is to see the development of Laurie Strode. It is such a rare occurrence to see a woman in Hollywood be able to play every incarnation of one single character. Laurie has been a resourceful babysitter, a terrified alcoholic, and now a no-nonsense survivalist. Curtis is not a fan of the genre; yet, she has penned another love letter to horror fans.

As stated before, Halloween (2018) has made the wise choice of disregarding every flick after the original. The other sequels have certainly had their moments and should not be forgotten by fans. Nevertheless, this particular sequel would have been hard-pressed to pick up at any other place in the timeline than directly after the original. The exposition alone explaining prior events would have taken up an entire film. Instead, Green is able to cut right to the chase and lead the viewer directly into a suspenseful atmosphere. The most controversial change then was to make Halloween (2018) into the new Halloween II. And in doing so, the relationship between Michael and Laurie was altered.

Take a look here for further analysis of why Michael needed to stop chasing family!

There are certain nuances in the new feature that blur the first Halloween II into this new universe. For instance, one scene shows Michael entering a kitchen in a way very similar to the Elrod kitchen in 1981’s Halloween II. This sequence is now affected by the changed relationship between Michael and Laurie. In 1981, Mrs. Elrod was allowed to live because killing her would not make sense. Michael’s primary motivation was to eliminate his sister, and he was willing to slay anyone that got in the way. Mrs. Elrod possessed a much-needed weapon; however, murdering her would serve no purpose to his ultimate goal of killing Laurie. This time around, there is no reason for Michael to keep “Mrs. Elrod” alive. This scene mirrors Halloween II while at the same time signifying Halloween (2018) is now the “original sequel” in the new Halloween timeline.

Thus, no longer having 1981’s Halloween II as canon alters the relationship between Michael and Laurie. The franchise is lucky to have Jamie Lee Curtis return, but keeping the previously established relationship would basically be a repeat of Halloween: H20. There are other ways to keep the two characters as siblings; however, the end result would be the same. Halloween: H20 was certainly a highlight within the late 1990’s slasher reemergence. Nevertheless, the style (like the rest of the flicks released at the time) was clearly inspired by the contemporary success of Scream. Trademark elements included the use of television actors, background alternative rock, and teens with a snappier sense of highly elevated dialogue.

Read more about the sincere efforts of H20 right here!

The style of Halloween (2018) does not appear to have any specific contemporary inspiration. Instead, this segment seeks influence only from the original source. In making complicated and controversial decisions, Blumhouse has simplified the direction of the franchise. In doing so, this eleventh installment of the franchise succeeds on many levels. The visual style, the updated nostalgic music, and Curtis’s performance all elevate Halloween (2018) above the majority of sequels from this franchise.

Despite containing fun jump-scares and an impeccable visual style, the film is, unfortunately, not without its problems. At times, this sequel is uneven and struggles with unbelievable aspects. One problematic element centers on Dr. Ranbir Sartain (or the “new Dr. Loomis” as christened by Laurie) played by Haluk Bilginer. Sartain is, perhaps, meant to be a social commentary on the questionable psyches of those that govern the mentally ill. This idea is jarring to the flow of events and seems to belong in another film. The sequence ultimately plays out with an unlikely and convenient escape for one main character.

Halloween (2018) also focuses on the wrong teenagers. Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson, is well-cast and does a fine job carrying her scenes. The film would have been better served to focus on Allyson and her friend, Vicky (Virginia Gardner), than on the dull and ill-conceived love-triangle with Cameron (Dylan Arnold), and Oscar (Drew Scheid). Vicky has the potential to be a run-of-the-mill stereotype. Instead, Gardner elevates the character to a genuine and charismatic teenager of whom the audiences feels nothing but compassion. Her scenes with charming youngster, Julian (Jibrail Nantambu), serve as comedic relief before illustrating the rising terror to come.

The rest of the cast help to balance out the few uneven moments. Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall are effective in their scenes as British true-crime podcasters. Will Patton nestles in comfortably with all the established Haddonfield sheriffs of previous films. Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney work together to create, arguably, the scariest Shape that audiences have seen since the original. Somehow, the age of Michael Myers does not become inhibiting and is actually effective in adding to the creepiness of one of horror’s most iconic screen villains. Even before the mask is ceremoniously worn, the aged Michael Myers is malevolent in appearance.

This newest addition to the Halloween franchise has its flaws; but, ultimately, this feature is a successful piece. Parading throughout the film is a welcomed tribute to strong women. The climax of this movie is a celebration of final girls everywhere. The fragmented relationships between the main females must be repaired in order to achieve any chance of success. Like the majority of most successful films in the horror and science fiction genres, they reflect the current climate in which they are made. At a time when the ladies of Hollywood are representing women everywhere to stand strong, Halloween (2018) reflects that message with dignity and hope.

Unfortunately, watching as a fan of the series, one woman was missing from this new installment. This writer planned to avoid any dialogue surrounding the mild controversy of Danielle Harris’ absence; however, without the iconic horror actress, the powerful climax was missing an added emotional punch. Judy Greer is more than capable as Laurie’s daughter, Karen. She comes together with Curtis and forms a believable bond. With a finale that highlighted the power of women in Halloween, fans growing up watching Harris as Laurie Strode’s daughter will feel something missing. Newcomers to the film will feel that joyful terror that comes with a good horror film finale. As a dedicated fan of the series, the thrilling climax is still worthwhile. And yet, there is a nagging feeling as to what might have been.

Click here to read more about Danielle Harris’s contribution to the Franchise!

The eleventh installment breathes new life into the Halloween franchise. This production resurrects a classic style that justifies a bold new timeline and its place as a direct sequel to the original Halloween. Fans of the series should not throw away the rest of the sequels. Instead, there is cause to celebrate a new vision that allows the franchise to carry on sensibly. This update taking place 40 years after the original will have newcomers and old fans alike jumping at the fresh scares as well as the possibilities to come in the future.

Halloween premieres nationwide in theaters on October 19th.

Wicked Rating 8/10 
Director: David Gordon Green
Writer(s): Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Virginia Gardner
Release: October 19, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Miramax, Blumhouse Productions, Universal, Trancas International Films, Rough House Pictures
Language: English
Length: 105 minutes
Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller

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Camp Death III in 2D! is … Something [Review]

Wicked Horror is the author of Camp Death III in 2D! is … Something [Review]. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

The taglines for Camp Death III in 2D!, to give it its full title, include “This Movie Is Stupid,” “Terror Has Two Dimensions!” and “Sometimes Terror Can’t Be Smelled.” The movie knows exactly what it is and wears its innate badness, to use a completely subjective term, on its sleeve. With pride. Annoyingly, for those who would wish to warn us off it, the flick is actually pretty good fun.

Ostensibly, Camp Death III is a piss-take of Friday The 13th Part III, which boasted AMAZING 3D technology that allowed the onscreen characters to poke the audience in the eye with the end of a broom and whatnot. As much as the tech was probably exciting back in the day, it didn’t actually add anything to the story (it robbed the movie of some much-needed tension, particularly during the sillier moments).

Related: Seven 3D Horror Films that are Completely Unbearable!

It makes sense, then, that this parody would dispense with the third dimension entirely. However, director Matt Frame and his 17(!) credited co-screenwriters somehow manage to include pretty much everything else one could imagine. There are explosions. There are lightsabers. There are villainous squirrels (via brilliant puppetry in one of two instances of its usage).

The plot, such as it is, concerns Camp Crystal Meph (see what they did there?), which is being reopened by a couple plucky counsellors and their perma-angry boss, for the process of rehabilitating the criminally insane. It’s a goofy setup that would make slightly more sense if everybody in the camp was a killer rather than a thinly-veiled take on a mentally ill person.

Still, when one of the best sight gags involves a counsellor in a wheelchair lying immobilised on the ground trying to get up while an introductory speech happens just a few feet away, such complaints seem redundant. This may be a Canadian movie, but it’s anything but polite. Camp Death III wants to offend, if only to prove that the Great White North isn’t filled with goody-two-shoes eh.

There is a killer on the loose, a kind of Jason-Michael hybrid who has a hockey mask more akin to Voorhees but a boiler suit more suited to Myers. He doesn’t have a signature weapon, instead using whatever is within arm’s reach — a toaster, at one point (“How can it toast so fast!?”) — to attack his victims.

The slasher element is kind of an afterthought, but the Chapter III tie-ins, when they do happen, are pretty clever. Still, considering how over the top everything else is, it would have been nice to see some gorier kills (with less of the dodgy CGI). The body count is relatively high, but aside from the toaster, I can’t think of one other memorable death, which is a real shame.

When the humour works, it really works. There’s a sense that the script is throwing absolutely everything at the wall in the hopes something, anything, sticks, so naturally there are a few laugh out loud moments — it’s the law of averages. In films like this, there’s the danger of feeling like the people making it were having more fun doing so than we are watching it, but there isn’t a drop of cynicism, or a suggestion of pat-on-the-back meta commentary, which is great.

The three leads; Dave Peniuk, Darren Andrichuk, and Angela Galanopoulos, are all terrific, particularly Peniuk as the perennially optimistic Todd, whose tussles with his uncle (a hilariously unhinged Andrichuk) are among the funniest moments in the film. His romance with Galanopoulos’ Rachel feels slightly underwritten, but the two have a natural, easy chemistry.

Elsewhere, it’s stock characters ahoy as a parade of stereotypes trundle by purely to fall victim to the killer’s knife, or lightsaber, or whatever (a comment on post-Halloween slashers’ reliance on one-note characters as human meat, perhaps?). An Irish character who I’m going to refer to as Spuds McGinty, due to his predilection for potatoes, is incredibly offensive and yet also often very funny.

I’m annoyed at myself for laughing at him playing the spoons while doing a jig because I know it’s a caricature and I should fight back against this attack on my people but even thinking about it now is making me chuckle. I’m sorry, everyone. Anyway, Spuds is the most well-developed of the rest of the characters, and yet I genuinely cannot remember his name, even while looking at the movie’s IMDb page.

That’s the kind of flick Camp Death III is: fun, dumb, and memorable for all the wrong reasons. It reminded me a bit of Pool Party Massacre or Kids Get Dead 2: The Kids Get Deader because it’s so low budget and scrappy that its very existence gives me hope for anyone out there with a camera, some buckets of fake blood, and a load of low-level actors willing to give up their time for a project that won’t crack the mainstream because it doesn’t need or even want to.

It’s offensive, it’s crude, and it makes little to no sense, but Camp Death III In 2D! is kind of impossible to hate. Maybe it’s the unstoppable spirit of Todd Boogjumper, maybe it’s those murderous puppet squirrels, or maybe it’s just because I’ve got a truly terrible sense of humour, but I did not hate this movie and I cannot, in good conscience, advise you to stay away from it.

WICKED RATING: (7/10)
Director(s): Matt Frame
Writer(s): Matt Frame, Chris Allen, Katherine Alpen, Darren Andrichuk, Léonie Armstrong, Shawn Bordoff, Emma Docker, Kyle Fines, Petar Gagic, Angela Galanopoulos, Deb Graf, Niall King, Dave Peniuk, Hans Potter, Nathan Robinson, Nikki Wallin, Starlise Waschuk, Molly Wilson
Stars: Dave Peniuk, Angela Galanopoulos, Darren Andrichuk, Emma Docker
Year: 2018
Release date: TBC (currently on the festival circuit)
Studio/ Production Co: Frame Forty Films
Language: English
Length: 82 minutes
Sub-Genre: Slasher, horror comedy

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Back to the ’80s: Fright Night

Wicked Horror is the author of Back to the ’80s: Fright Night. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Welcome to Back to the ’80s. This recurring feature aims to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from horror’s most beloved decade. Regardless of which category a particular film falls under, this segment will spotlight films that horror fans can appreciate for one reason or another. We will look at how some of these flicks have stood the test of time and others have not aged quite so well. Regardless of what they look like today, these efforts from the 1980s laid the groundwork for the horror genre as we know it today. In this installment, we take a look at ’80s horror comedy classic Fright Night.

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is an average teenager living with his single mother (Dorothy Fielding). He has a girlfriend named Amy (Amanda Bearse), and he is a fan of horror movies. In particular, Charley enjoys watching a late-night horror show called “Fright Night” starring aging actor, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). Charley’s run-of-the-mill existence is turned upside down when the dashing Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) moves in next door. Before long, Charley comes to believe that Jerry is a vampire.

With 1985’s Fright Night, Tom Holland has written a tongue-in-cheek love letter to horror audiences. And after his experience with Michael Winner on Scream for Help (1984), Holland insisted on being the person to direct the feature. According to various interviews, the penned script for Scream for Help was intended to have a very different style. Holland safeguarded his vision of Fright Night and, in doing so, provided horror audiences with one of the most enjoyable flicks from the 1980’s.

In the 1980’s, the slasher film was the prominent selection for horror fans. Obviously, there were other horror sub-genres prevalent throughout that time period; however, slashers dominated the foreground. Fright Night was a way for Holland to bring back Gothic horror and have it creep into a contemporary setting. Long before the suave, postmodern kids from Scream (1996), Charley and his friends were hip to the conventions of Gothic horror. Peter Vincent brings the formidable (if not fake) Holy Water. Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) reminds Charley of the power that comes from crucifixes and garlic. A dropped prop mirror reveals the truth to the disbelievers.

In addition to the fun and self-aware elements, Fright Night is a genuinely scary movie. The level of suspense is raised because the audience is able to relate to Charley and his companions. There is a small network of people in Charley’s life that he can trust. Of course, they all believe he is completely losing his mind. Nevertheless, Amy and Evil Ed band together to convince late-night horror host, Peter Vincent, to help sort out their friend’s problem. The audience feels the risk for these characters as the truth is slowly unveiled.

William Ragsdale’s authentic portrayal of Charley helps the audience to suspend their disbelief throughout the events in Fright Night. The viewer is happy to follow alongside Ragsdale as he struggles in school and poorly navigates his relationship with Amy. As Charley’s off-again/on-again girlfriend, Amanda Bearse allows Amy to grow from rash immaturity into a poised woman fully in control of her destiny. She falls under Sarandon’s spell; however, the choice becomes ultimately up to her to make. Stephen Geoffreys is memorable as the outcast horror fan, Evil Ed. His one-liners and echoing laughter have become iconic in their association with 1980’s horror.

On the flip side of the cast, Chris Sarandon’s performance as Jerry Dandrige infused sexuality and charm back into vampire lore. Jerry’s charisma is what makes him dangerous as he lures in an insecure Ed and a confused Amy. Sarandon paints Jerry as a multifaceted vampire. Within seconds he switches from a malevolent force into a lonely creature in pain. Sarandon exudes confidence that soon melts away into vulnerability. His companion is played by Jonathan Stark. As Billy Cole, Stark is both playful and menacing. He manages to convey Billy with a twisted sense of humor laced with just the right threatening touch.

Combining the names of two horror heavyweights, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, Roddy McDowall’s performance as Peter Vincent anchors the rest of the cast in Fright Night. His deft comedy skills are in fine form and are only outshined by the sincere terror on his face. McDowall easily demonstrates to the viewer the kind of film they are watching. The cast of Fright Night is strong and each personality compliments the next. Even still, one can tell that McDowall’s expertise helped keep everyone tethered to Tom Holland’s stylistic choices.

Each sequence in this ‘80’s horror flick is as well-crafted as it is fun or scary. The clichés are observed and played with in order to put a contemporary spin on the genre. The production of Fright Night collided with the Brat Pack era, and a staple of the decade was to add a dance sequence to any teenage-centered films. The moment that Gothic horror emerges completely into the modern age is when Dandrige seduces Amy at a club with all the right moves. Like the rest of the movie, this scene fights off any overt cheesiness and is completely effective. Amy transforms into a sexually mature woman enamored with the idea of a vampire lover. This scene foreshadows the allure of attractive vampires to come afterwards in popular culture.

Also worth mentioning is the soundtrack to Fright Night. The score was completed by Terminator (1984) and True Lies (1994) composer, Brad Fiedel. His main composition is titled “Come to Me” and nicely compliments the synthesizer approach of horror films from the decade. In the retrospective documentary, You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night, Holland and Fiedel discuss how every selection from the soundtrack was created for the film by various artists. Each song could be worked as an independent piece while at the same time lyrically narrating the corresponding scene. The outcome is a memorable soundtrack that denotes a sense of maturity above the standard scores of the time period.

In addition to a solid soundtrack and entertaining sequences, the special effects from Fright Night were state-of-the art at the time. That does not translate to the effects holding up well today; however, they do retain a certain 1980’s charm. There is a sense of detail and production quality that only adds to the personality of Fright Night. In particular, the make-up for the actors combined with an oozing liquid can have a fake and still frightening result. Sarandon’s make-up, in particular, enhances his performance and works to create a magic trick in conjunction with any given practical effect.

To be fair, there is one unfortunate mistake in the film having to do with special effects. During the club scene, Dandrige’s reflection is caught in a mirror. As the vampire struts closer and closer to Amy, he is slowly coming up behind a man in the foreground. The man is leaning up against a large mirror. Dandrige’s reflection only catches for a quick moment; however, it is certainly there. The plot in Fright Night is dependent upon a vampire’s lack of reflection. The filmmakers successfully achieve this effect early on in Mrs. Brewster’s bedroom. Yet, somehow this has been overlooked at the club.

Fright Night has a wicked personality that sinks its teeth into horror audiences. Viewers will laugh and scream as they join Charley Brewster on a roller-coaster ride of perfect timing. Fright Night stands apart from a genre that was becoming heavily saturated with slasher films. At the time, similar to Peter Vincent, Dracula and Frankenstein creatures were relics of Hollywood’s past. The vampire myth was revitalized and, before long, would lead to substantial franchises for Tinsel Town. Fans of 1980’s horror will enjoy this sincere effort from Tom Holland. For Holland is a fan of the genre and his extensive resume (Psycho II, Child’s Play) backs up his insight into what audiences enjoy. Like an aging vampire, he helped Gothic horror rise from the dead.

Be Sure to check out our Script to Pieces feature on the planned third installment in the series that never materialized. 

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