Sometimes movies take horror premises and than put more horror premises inside of them, like one of those Japanese Pizza Hut pizzas that has hot dogs inside the crust. In The Russian Bride, Nina (Oksana Orlan) plays a Russian woman in a desperate situation who is forced to become a mail-order bride for rich man Karl Frederick (Corbin Bensen). He seems kind enough but anyone who pays attention to the news knows there's no such thing as a kind rich man, all rich people are craven sadists looking to strip-mine the working class for parts. Her arrival in America (which looks suspiciously like the Eastern Europe she just left) gets more ominous with the appearance of a tongueless hunchback groundskeeper, a forbidden wing of the mansion, undiscussed children's rooms, stories of Karl's dark past and a ghost that may or may not be his former wife that won't leave Nina's daughter Dasha (Kristina Pimenova) alone.
Natalia (Sofia Del Tuffo) is a convent novice, fleeing some dark thing in her past. She has dark visions and sees auras circling the people around her. She has an unclear relationship with a young man there, an unresolved issue with her family, a tortured relationship with her sister. Some of these things will be answered by the end of Luciferina, a new possession horror film from Argentina, but very little will get more clear.
What a year for The Music Box Theatre with the Cinepocalypse film festival. Though I wasn't able to attend every screening, there were a couple of films I was able to view that truly were special. That's not to say everything was a home run. Despite having seen THE RANGER, I have very little to say about it aside from "yep, that was a slasher movie." Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. A genre film festival is supposed to present a little bit of everything, including something truly divisive and bizarre like the latest PUPPET MASTER film. Luckily, my cohort Patrick Ripoll and I were able to see a lot of interesting titles this year that were memorable and special. I know Patrick couldn't say enough good things about the latest from Joel Potrykus with RELAXER, and I found EMPATHY INC., to be right up my alley as well. The rep screenings were also marvelous with Lana Wachowski making an appearance for her debut noir thriller BOUND as well as the movie where Denis Leary got to play a gang leader, JUDGMENT NIGHT.
The world of heavy metal and horror movies have gone hand in hand ever since Ozzy Osbourne walked out of Mario Bava's Black Sabbath knowing the new name of his band. The imagery of demons, torture, curses and murder is an easy sell to unhappy adolescents the world over. Whether depicted on album covers or movie posters, a desiccated sneering corpse is just fucking cool and deserves to be hung on closet doors with reverence. But, with few exceptions, it seems the world of heavy metal's sole connection to cinema has been horror. Movies like Deathgasm may capture the epic and badass feelings we have when we listen to heavy metal, but the truth under those feelings is the truth at the core of every sub-culture: a group of dorks who have found something that makes them happy.
It's a year of unspeakable systemic cruelty at large with no psychic relief from the unspeakable systemic apathy at the cinema. We sat through Insidious 4, Liam Neeson Punches 7, Maze Runner 3, Cloverfield 3, Fifty Shades 3, Tomb Raider 3, The Strangers 2, Pacific Rim 2, Gnomes 2, Super Troopers 2, Star Wars 11, Ocean's 4, Jurassic Park 5, Purge 4, Sicario 2, and four more blows to our morale from the infinitely wearying Superhero Movie Dispenser. They even made God's Not Dead 3. Even motherfucking Evangelicals can't catch a break at the theater in 2018. We go to film festivals like Cinepocalypse seeking alternatives, praying low budgets equal bigger risks and, potentially, maybe, even an original idea now and then. The films we see are fun but generic as a rule. Another found footage spook-em-up, another post-apocalyptic shoot-em-up, another haunted house boo-em-up and, Jesus Christ, is that Puppet Master 12? From this darkness, a brilliant hot pink light emerges: The Secret Poppo.
That old expression, “try walking in my shoes,” takes on a literal form in the film EMPATHY, INC. We all wonder about why we are the way we are, and what it would be like to be someone else, even just for a day. No, this remarkable sci-fi tale isn’t your typical body switching story, it is far more complex and anxiety-inducing. Suffice to say, it’s quite possible that Roger Ebert would have enjoyed this particular film since it takes the idea of “empathy” and manifests it into something sinister. What if Ebert’s idea of an empathy machine wasn’t a metaphor for cinema, but an actual machine that could allow you some time to experience the lives of others?
A mother who cannot get pregnant makes a pact with the devil to have children, but at a terrible price. Her choice has deadly ramifications that echo through multiple generations. Satan's Slaves, the new film from Joko Anwar, who is certainly one of Indonesia's only working horror filmmakers, also echoes through generations. It's a loose remake of 1982 Indonesian black magic film Satan's Slave. which itself is often described as "the Indonesian Phantasm", though the connection there is even looser. But ultimately, most of Satan's Slaves can be tied back to the work of a single filmmaker: James Wan.
The reality is found footage is cheap. It's quick and easy. It is not the realm of artists seeking to challenge traditional ideas of suspension of disbelief. It is the realm of film producers seeking to challenge traditional ideas of fundraising. It is the realm of filmmakers who seek the shortcuts of simple jump scares. The Devil's Doorway follows two priests in 1960 Ireland who go to a Magdalene Laundry to verify a reported miracle. It's a premise that could combine righteous anger towards the Catholic Church's destructive power with the surreal emotional pain and systemic brutality of something like Titicut Follies.
Clearly everyone here has a lot of imagination, but this particular narrative isn’t quite enough to sustain interest or involvement. The cast does the best they can particularly Coleman and reliable character actress Beth Grant. Director Matt Osterman supplies some inevitable drone POV shots, which are definitely cool at times, but the rest of the character motivations seem non-existent and/or sloppy. HOVER is one of those unfortunate experiences of a movie in search of itself, that feels a bit lost at the beginning only to redeem itself way too late in the game. The most fun I experienced outside of the final act was attempting to piece together a parody of "Mother" by Danzig in my head: "Hover! Tell those drones just to go away!"
It's Christmas Day and the Milgram family (yes Milgram) wake in the middle of the night to find a mysterious black substance surrounding their house. It looks like something out of Cronenberg's VIDEODROME, particularly when a slit begins to pulsate. But this is not a prank of any kind. Something monumental is clearly happening right outside their door, but what exactly - an industrial accident, a terrorist attack, nuclear war? Clearly, it seems plausible that the government could be involved in helping families cope with an outside force as cryptic messages are prominently displayed on the TV.