Synopsis: The student-athletes of the Falcon Academy of Athletics are getting ready to compete in the Nationals. Their coaches are tough, but these talented youngsters are training hard. They're all hoping that one day they'll be good enough to compete at the Olympics. As part of their training regime, they have regular check ups with the Academy physician... and he's got each of them on a special supplement recipe of his own design. It isn't long before the aspiring youths are being killed off one by one by a javelin-wielding madman. Will any of the athletes outrun, outwit, and outlast the killer? It's the ultimate competition, and there can be only one winner.
Tag Line: The Second Prize is Death!
Annie Rivers is a teenage gymnast with a heart of gold. She's struggling with her studies, and her father is understandably encouraging her to spend a little less time training in the gym. She's dedicated to the idea of winning at the Nationals and making her way to the Olympics though, a goal that she feels like her entire life has been leading towards. She's your typical final girl, a pure of motives type of gal, and is played admirably by actress Lynn Banashek. Fatal Games is the only leading role for Banashek, who appeared in one other movie also released in 1984 (Sam's Son, credited as an unnamed cheerleader). Outside of these, Banashek never appeared in any other films.
Annie is supported in her endeavors by her boyfriend, Phil, played by now-veteran actor and writer Sean Masterson. This was very near to the beginning of Masterson's film career, with Fatal Games being his third professional acting credit, and his first role in a feature film. Together, Annie and Phil try to keep each other motivated and focused on their training, all the while navigating the typical stresses of a young, romantic relationship.
The rest of the characters consist of several other student athletes, all of which have similar desires and goals as Annie and Phil. Additionally, there are two coaches, a medical doctor, and his nurse. Coach Weber (Christopher Mankiewicz) is your typical hard-nosed athletics instructor, pushing the students to train harder and harder. Meanwhile, Coach Drew (Spice Williams-Crosby) is having an inappropriate relationship with one of her female swimming protégés. Mystery begins to seep into the film's proceedings when it becomes clear that Dr. Jordine (Michael Elliot) is doing more than simply practicing medicine. He seems to be performing some sort of research into maximizing human performance through the use of supplements, steroids, hormones... and who knows what else? Nurse Diane seems very concerned for the athletes' well-being, and tries to convince the doctor to end his research. It isn't long after this basic plot set up that the killings begin. A hooded figure begins stalking the halls and fields of Falcon Academy, killing off our young cast with their themed weapon of choice - a javelin!
The movie was originally filmed under the title The Killing Touch, and it's unclear whether the film ever saw wide release in theaters. The title was changed to Fatal Games before its release on home video by Impact Films in 1984, and the cast was never made aware of the change. Famously, Spice Williams-Crosby (Coach Drew) was asked by a fan about her experience filming Fatal Games, and she denied having ever been in a film with that title (IMDB - Trivia).
In 1987, Fatal Games was re-released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment, the same company that was responsible for the original home releases of countless horror classics like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film has never appeared on DVD or Blu-ray, and, as of early 2021, the most accessible versions of the film are a low resolution copies hosted on YouTube and The Internet Archive (archive.org). This movie print on the Internet Archive actually bears one of the alternative titles for the film, Olympic Nightmare, indicating that this may be the Netherlands release of the film which is purported to be 2 minutes longer than the North American cut.
Diane is played by Sally Kirkland, who gives the strongest performance in the film. She's got a few eye-rolling takes, but she's definitely trying. Kirkland would go on to have long and successful movie career. The fact that Media Home Entertainment re-released Fatal Games on VHS in 1987 was likely due to Kirkland, as this was the same year that she won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Anna.
Coach Drew, the female swimming coach, is played by Spice Williams-Crosby. Although this was early in her career, Spice Williams-Crosby would go on to have a very successful career in movies, working both as an actress and as a stunt woman. Athletic and muscular in stature, Williams-Crosby would describe the types of roles she was typically cast in as "warrior women." She would go one to appear in other genre favorites, movies like The Lost Boys, The Guyver, and Arachnophobia.
The other coach is played by Christopher Mankiewicz, one of the writers of the film. The athletic team's doctor is played by the film's director, Michael Elliot, whose only other credit listed on IMDB is for a rewrite of the script for To Kill a Stranger. While Fatal Games is by no means a masterpiece of the genre, I thought that it was serviceable enough overall. As such, I was mildly disappointed to find that Elliot only directed this one film. As I was reading up on Fatal Games, I did find references to at least one other film that Elliot was said to have directed. The film in question is a 1992 Roger Corman production called The Quake and which was written about in Psychotronic magazine (Issue 16, page 14). You can see the magazine clipping below.
Unfortunately, Psychotronic's attribution seems to simply be a case of mistaken identity. On IMDB, Roger Corman is listed as the executive producer of a 1992 film called Quake, but the director is Louis Morneau. Morneau is also listed one of the film's producers, in addition to a person named Mike Elliot. However, this Mike Elliot is not the same person as Michael Elliot, who directed Fatal Games. It seems like whoever was writing for Psychotronic saw the name and made an assumption that isn't true. Sadly, it does seem as though Michael Elliot only ever directed this one film.
As a slasher film, Fatal Games suffers from a lack of creativity in its murders. It's a superficial consideration, sure, but it's important. Horror movie fans come to these films to see how the characters are going to die. The killer itself is a simple design, a person clothed in striped sweat pants and a hoodie. The athletic-wear is appropriate given the theme, but comes off a bit too simplistic.Further, since the Falcon Academy Killer uses no weapons other than the javelin throughout the film, the kills comes off as repetitive and unimaginative. Many sequences are also filmed in near-total darkness, obscuring whatever practical effects the filmmakers had designed. Overall, Fatal Games cannot be recommended based on its special effects.
That's not to say that the sequences around the murders are dull. To the contrary, some of these set pieces are rather well done. One highlight features a fully nude girl, Sue, being chased from the sauna and then running throughout the halls of the school. The scene is more tasteful than it sounds, as darkness again shrouds the details of her form. Sue eventually makes her way to a classroom on the second floor, and the camera perspective switches to her friends out in the parking lot. We see Sue in the background, banging on the windows frantically, but unable to be heard by her potential saviors. Another fun scene involves a swimmer training in the pool during an after hours session. The killer is shown underwater with a scuba tank, biding their time as the athlete swims several laps, tiring themselves out. When the moment is right, the killer makes short work of them with the sharp, business-end of their implement of destruction. While fun, I couldn't help but wonder - shouldn't the pool been stained with blood the next morning?
Almost every article about Fatal Games, including its Wikipedia page, makes the claim that this movie "shares many of its plot points with an earlier slasher film, Graduation Day (1981)." Having watched both, I think the similarities are mostly superficial. Both films feature a group of student athletes being killed off, and the killer crossing off the victims on a group photo. Both movies begin with montages of sporting events, but that's about where the similarities end. The cast of Graduation Day are much more clearly portrayed as a High School athletics team, whereas the characters in Fatal Games seemed much more like future Olympians in training. Graduation Day also does a better job of varying the methods of murder employed by the killer, and is a better polished film overall.
More interesting to me, though, is that the casts of both Graduation Day and Fatal Games feature the iconic scream queen Linnea Quigley. While Quigley has a speaking role in Graduation Day, she only appears in Fatal Games as a nude body-double for lead actress Lynn Banashek. If you watch the massage therapy scene carefully, you'll note that Annie's face is only shown from a frontal view, and that the rest of her body cannot be seen in these shots. The legs and buttocks on display belong to Ms. Quigley, whose credited role is identified only as an unnamed "Athlete."
There's actually a surprising amount of nudity in this film, but I suppose that makes sense when you can casually set scenes in saunas and locker rooms. Interestingly, Quigley is not the only well-known 1980's Scream Queen to appear in Fatal Games. Brinke Stevens also appears in the film in an uncredited, nonspeaking role. Stevens is another glorified extra, appearing as one of the girls showering in the background of one of the locker room scenes. You'd be hard pressed to recognize that it is her, but Stevens can be seen around the 14 minute mark of the movie. She's the one showering with a blue towel on her head in the background of the scene between Annie and Nancy.
A quote from Brinke Stevens on Fatal Games:
"I only worked one day on a shower scene here. I believe it was an erotic thriller about a serial killer at the Olympic games. I've never seen this film myself, and I didn't even know its title until I read it in "The Bare Facts Video Guide"."Focus, Issue 2, Draculina Publishing
That's two actresses from the film that didn't know its title. Not a great record!
Fatal Games should probably be better remembered for at least two reasons, both of which may be controversial by today's cultural standards. First, the film depicts a romantic lesbian relationship between Coach Drew and her student Shelley. The possibility that Shelley is a minor is concerning, but since her age is never made clear I'll give the benefit of the doubt and mark that one as a non-issue.
More concerning is the power dynamic that exists between coach and student. This quietly manifests during a tense, personal scene between the two characters. Drew has just returned from her morning jog, revealing Shelley laying in her bed, implied nude beneath the covers. The scene comes the morning after Shelley has failed to qualify for the Nationals. Shelley is disappointed in herself and is questioning her commitment to Drew. The young girl was depending on her coach to give her the training that she needed to be ready, and she feels as though Drew has failed her. Some of this may be my own interpretation, but you can almost see the wheels turning behind Shelley's eyes. She's desperately trying to parse if she's simply been used by the older woman.
Trivia for the film often cites that Lauretta Murphy, the actress playing Shelly, became increasingly uncomfortable with the relationship as filming went on. After a short break from filming for the Christmas holiday, Murphy returned to the set as a borne-again Christian. She stated that she was no longer comfortable with the idea of kissing on camera, which would have been a part of the scene I just described. As a compromise, Williams-Crosby instead kisses Murphy's forehead several times during the scene. In some ways, these decidedly non-intimate forehead kisses contribute to making the scene subtly uncomfortable - just as it should be, given the subtext.
All of that said, I was surprised to a see a lesbian relationship presented in such a nonchalant way, especially for a film released in 1984. Ignoring the concerning elements of the relationship for a moment, it was refreshing for the relationship to appear in the film as simply another plot point. The relationship is just a trait shared by these two characters, much like any of the male-female relationships present in the film. It would be almost sweet if the implications of the relationship weren't otherwise so gross.
The other reason that Fatal Games should be remembered is for the ending and the reveal of the killer's identity. In the climax of the film, Annie is chased around the school by the hooded killer and is stabbed in the side by the javelin. Wounded but not dead, Annie meets back up with her boyfriend Phil, who manages to get her back to the safety of the nurse's station. Luckily, Nurse Diane is there to give immediate medical attention to Annie, and Phil leaves to continue scouring the school for the killer. Unknown to Annie and Phil, Nurse Diane has just removed her disguise behind the medical partition - Annie has been left in the care of the killer herself!
For no discernible reason, Annie glances at the ground and sees a newspaper whose headline reads, "Sex Change Operation Doesn't Work: Olympic Champion Disqualified. Diane Paine, Javelin Winner, Tests Showed Too Many Male Hormones." This is the sudden, climatic revelation that she is a trans woman. As the climax unfolds it becomes clear that Diane underwent a sex change operation not because of any sense of gender dysphoria, but rather from a desire to win at the Olympics. Since Diane's performance was not competitive as a male, she chose to have the sex change operation so she could win competing against female athletes.
While I can understand the script's twisted logic for the character undergoing the sex change operation, it is not clear why Diane would turn her murderous impulses against the students under her care. Earlier in the film we witness her arguing with Dr. Jordine about the nature of his research. This scene establishes that Diane is concerned for the teens' safety. In retrospect, it is possible that her argument was disingenuous. Perhaps Diane wasn't concerned with the students' health, but rather that the medical treatment would make them better athletes than her. Her delicate psyche began to unwind as she was forced to watch all of these young athletes succeed where she has been disgraced.
Ultimately, during the film's climax, Diane explains that she has to "disqualify" all of the athletes that are going to the Nationals in order to prevent them from going to the Olympics. Diane goes on to say that she has to "disqualify" them so that she can win. Frankly, this logic is unsatisfying. It is very unclear why Diane would see herself as competing with her victims. It would have been more satisfying for Diane to recognize Dr. Jordine's hormone treatments as cheating. With this explanation, the script might have been able to developed a sense of misplaced morality. The very best villains are nearly always those that believe they are doing the right thing. It would have been poetic for Diane to "disqualify" her victims for having committing essentially the same transgression of which she is guilty.
Either way, the revelation strikes me as being the product of the scriptwriter having seen Sleepaway Camp when it was released the year prior. While Sleepaway Camp is certainly guilty of reinforcing negative trans stereotypes, there is at least an internal logic to that killer's actions. While this could be a thesis unto itself, all of the victims in Sleepaway Camp challenge the killer's sense of self-identity in some way. Further, Sleepaway Camp continues to live in the collective consciousness of horror fans largely based on the shocking final image of Angela, fully revealed, on the beach. There is no such shock imagery in Fatal Games, which is unfortunate in only one sense: without it, the film and its climatic reveal are forgettable.
Fatal Games is a serviceable, slash-by-the-numbers horror film. The acting is decent, but more memorable special effects would have improved its score. Given it problematic plotting, it is perhaps for the best that Fatal Games has largely been forgotten.
Please allow me a moment to regress before getting to the meat of this review for Rabid Grannies. I've been writing on B-Movie Geek, off and on, for more than 10 years now. In this time, I've watched all sorts of films. I've assigned the full range of possible scores, from 1 to 5 stars, and everything in-between. And yet, after all of those other reviews, it was only today that I came to the realization that none of them were produced by Troma Entertainment, that great bastion of B-grade cinema.
I was floored by the realization- flabbergasted, if you will. How could I run a site which calls itself B-Movie Geek and yet have never once mentioned any of the multitudes of Troma productions? A true travesty, if there ever could be one on a website as frivolous as this. Thankfully, I am happy to say that this review of Rabid Grannies is here to rectify this rather unfortunate oversight.
Well, sort of. When I sat down to watch Rabid Grannies, I thought that I was sitting down to watch a Troma film. However, a bit of research afterwards tells me that Troma merely struck a deal to produce and distribute the film in the United States. In other words, Troma wasn't directly involved in the making of the film. Filming for Rabid Grannies occurred on location in Belgium and the production featured French speaking actors that were dubbed over for the English release.
Written and directed by Emmanuel Kervyn, Rabid Grannies is a horror-comedy in the vein of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1981), or Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (1987). There's some competent direction happening behind the camera throughout the film, so it's a bit of a shame that Kervyn never went on to direct any other films. He does have a small part in Kickboxer 2, though, so you can check him out on screen there. Another piece of trivia worth noting, Rabid Grannies and Kervyn went on to be nominated for Best Film at the International Fantasy Film Awards in 1990. Rabid Grannies may not have won, but I'm sure that it was an honor just to be nominated.
While Troma Films did contribute to the budget, the film was a joint venture with Stardust Pictures, Nr 1. The latter company presumably handled international distribution. Interestingly, this business arrangement resulted in Rabid Grannies becoming a piece of Belgian movie history. In Europe, it was common practice for film productions to be subsidized by the government. However, in light of the production and distribution deal with Troma, the Belgian government elected to not subsidize the making of this film. Thus, Rabid Grannies holds the distinction of being the first independent production of the Belgian movie industry.
The basic synopsis is as follows: The Remington family gathers at a lavish, European estate to celebrate the 92nd birthday of their two aunts. The relatives are all horrible people in one way or another. One is a spineless family man, accompanied by his uptight wife and two poorly behaved children. Another is a cowardly priest of clearly low moral integrity. Another still is a war profiteer, relishing in selling small arms to various foreign entities. There's more characters too, but you get the idea. As if these glaring character flaws weren't enough, each of the nieces and nephews makes it clear that they are only present at the birthday party because they hope to remain in the aunts' good graces for the sole purpose of inheriting large sums of money once the aunts pass away. As a result, the family members take every opportunity they can to throw each other under the bus, trying their best to get everyone else written out of the will.
It's a serviceable set up, and one that allows the audience to enjoy themselves once the mayhem begins. There's very little reason to feel any sympathy on behalf of any of these characters. Even the children are pretty awful, presumably so you don't feel badly when they get dismembered -which they do.
If there's one complaint that I have, it's that neither of the aunts actually appear to be grandmothers to any of the characters in the film, all of whom refer to the elderly sisters as "Aunt" or "Auntie." That's right, there are literally no grandmothers in a film titled Rabid Grannies.
As if to make the entire promise of this film a lie, I can also confirm that at no point do either of the elderly sisters become rabid. I was waiting for a bat, or maybe a wolf, to make an appearance at this birthday party, but it never happens. Instead, we get an elderly woman dropping off a birthday gift on behalf of yet another nephew, Christopher. The identity of this third woman is never really addressed, but I speculate that perhaps it is a third sister? Perhaps this is the mother of all of the nieces and nephews that are in attendance at the birthday party, and therefore the only actual grannie to appear in the entire film? Sadly, we may never know.
A scene of cumbersome exposition tells us that the absent Christopher has been disowned by the family due to his role leading a satanic cult. It's established that he was long ago written out of the aunts' wills, and the gift turns out to be a wooden box full of... cursed mist? Once the box is opened, the mist proceeds to somehow contaminate the aunts' wine glasses. The cursed wine is imbibed and the kindly, old aunts quickly undergo a grotesque physical transformation as they are, seemingly, possessed by demons. The demonic aunts then proceed to eat their family members.
To reiterate, in this movie, which is in fact called Rabid Grannies, there are no grannies, and at no point does the rabies virus factor into the plot. I will admit that the title "Demonic Aunties" doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but what is the world coming to when you can't even believe the titles of low budget shlock cinema?
On the positive side of things, the film has plenty of gross, wet special effects, which by my eye were heavily reminiscent of Lamberto Bava’s Demons. The transformation sequences in particular seem to pay homage to that earlier film, featuring similar close up shots of demonic talons growing out of the aunts’ fingernails. I was particularly fond of the constant dribble of undetermined wetness flowing from the aunts' mouths throughout most of the film, in a manner that might be best described as both disgusting and entirely satisfying. Is it spit? Is it bile? Is it afternoon tea? Once again, the mysteries of the Rabid Grannies plot run deep, and the true answer to this may never be known.
Deaths are similarly fun and entertaining. For example, the gluttonous man literally dies from a giant bite being taken out of his ass. If that's not irony, I don't know what is. A few of the other deaths also take imaginative turns, elevating above the typical, straightforward dismemberment. At one point, the small arms manufacturer goes to the trunk of his car and pulls out some firepower. In a stroke of brilliance, we are treated to a sequence in which one of the demonic aunties dons a suit of armor. Never mind that we already know that the aunts can grow back entire limbs pretty much instantaneously, having been previously established in a scene in which one the aunts loses both hands to a sword. The suit of armor, clearly necessary, makes for a great piece of humor in the middle of the carnage.
Also of note, the film is relatively progressive in one key area. One of the couples in attendance at the family gathering are lesbians. Outside of one remark by the most unlikable character in the movie, and honestly this remark is more insulting due to his tone when saying the word "lesbian" than anything else, the film steers clear of using this as anything other than an additional character trait. That said, Rabid Grannies isn't some sort of shining beacon of progressive thought either. The girlfriend pretty much immediately sleeps with one of the male characters that is pressing her about the man-hating lesbian stereotype, and the family member is the very first victim of the possessed aunts. Nevertheless, the girlfriend does go on to be, more or less, the protagonist or final girl equivalent of the film, so I thought it deserved some mention.
Rabid Grannies isn't high cinema, but you probably knew that coming into this review. What it is, however, is a somewhat lesser known shlock film from the late eighties, with good special effects and a good-enough storyline. The most serious issues with the film are that none of the characters are really likable, and that it takes entirely too long setting up the family dynamics before getting to the demon mayhem. You might also find the action of the film somewhat predictable, as this is one of those movies where the antagonists methodically hunt down and pick off the remaining characters one by one. For me, there was enough humor and imagination spread throughout that I didn't really mind the presence of these genre contrivances. Frankly, this is the sort of film where I welcome them.
Coherence is a 2013 science fiction movie, but I'd wager that the term horror could be applied just as well. A great sense of foreboding and dread permeates the entire film. The movie is the directorial debut of James Ward Byrkit, also known for his work writing the Oscar-winning animated film Rango and serving as a conceptual artist for the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.
In interviews, Byrkit explains that Coherence was his attempt to separate himself from the Hollywood machine. He wanted to make a movie without a script, without a crew, and with little resources. Filmed for under $50,000, Coherence is a film that is much greater than the sum of its parts. The movie was filmed almost entirely within the living room of Byrkit's own house, utilizing actors well-versed in the art of improvisation. The science-fiction aspect of the story was borne from an attempt to make this living room feel much larger; an interesting approach to expand what is mostly a single-set film. As an aside, I've covered several other single set films on this site previously, including Last Shift and Alien Raiders.
The story begins as eight friends come together for a dinner party in a quiet suburb of California. The gathering happens to coincide with the arrival of Miller's comet. There's some exposition about the last time the comet passed by the Earth in the early 20th century when there were reports of radio interference and mass confusion. We learn that this time the comet's orbit will bring it into much closer proximity with the planet, setting the stage for the strange events that begin to unfold. I won't go into the story much more than this. Do yourself a favor and watch Coherence with as little prior knowledge as you can. Heck, feel free to come back to this review later.
The main character is Em, played by Emily Foxler. She is joined at the party by her boyfriend and three additional couples. Em is a professional choreographer and dancer, and, it is explained that a series of bad decisions resulted in her missing out on performing a dream project. Her relationship with Kevin is also on the rocks, evidence by Em's hesitancy to commit to accompanying him on a four-month work trip. Not helping matters is the presence of Laurie, Kevin's ex-girlfriend who also wants to get back together with him. Each of the eight characters is flawed in some way and, without spoiling anything, the film is ultimately about the rippling consequences of the decisions we make. Albeit, with a heavy science-fiction flare.
The dialogue through the early part of the film is natural and flowing, a welcome effect of filming with no script. Brykit says that on every day of filming he provided each actor with a series of 5 points that he wanted them to convey throughout that day of production. These points were not shared with the other actors beforehand, and so were naturally woven into the improvised dialogue. That said, Coherence is a complicated film, one that is trying to convey a (very) complex narrative. While everything in the film is serviceable, I can't help but think that some of the more exposition-heavy plot points could have benefited by more subtle conveyance. Any such lighter touch definitely would have required more scripting.
This isn't to say that the filmmaker relied solely on the improvised performances to create the narrative of Coherence. Brykit spent the better part of a year developing the backstory of the film, piecing together outlines for scenes and thoroughly tracking continuity. The resulting 12-page outline was used to keep the actors oriented and the narrative moving forward. There is an incredible attention to detail present here, layers upon layers that can only be appreciated on repeated viewings. There are few movies that I've seen that approach the mind-bending nature of Coherence, and fewer still that have done it this well.
The Collection (2012) is the sequel to the 2009 torture/slasher flick, The Collector. The story of this follow up begins shortly after the events of the previous film, and chronicles the ongoing and horrifying exploits of everyone's favorite etymology-obsessed, woolly gimp mask-wearing, booby trap fanatic, the Collector (Randall Archer). Also returning is the safe cracker with a heart of gold, everyone's favorite handyman and child savior, Arkin O'Brien (Josh Stuart).
Before the return of the good Mr. O'Brien, a new series of fodder characters are introduced, including new protagonist, Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick). Ignoring the news reports recapping the horrific event of the first film, Elena sneaks out of her father's mansion to attend a killer rave party alongside her two underdeveloped buddies, Josh and Josh's blonde sister. I feel sort of bad that this character's name doesn't appear in my notes, but between you, me, and the spoiler on the wall, she isn't around long enough for her name to matter.
Elena and pals show up to this exclusive, back-alley party and proceed to rave as hard as their little hearts will let them. The plot starts to move when Elena runs into her boyfriend, who is busy making out with a random party lady. The boyfriend's nonchalant shrug earns him a straight jab to face by Elena, and this draws the attention of our black-clad antagonist, whom is perched on the rafters above the party like a creepy, gimp-masked gargoyle.
Distraught, Elena stumbles backstage and the audience begins to get a better idea of just how screwed everyone at this party is. Hidden away in one of these backrooms, Elena comes across an oddly placed red steamer trunk. As one does in these films, she opens it, and out tumbles Arkin, last seen at the end of the first film being shoved into said trunk by the Collector. His release starts our first Rube Goldberg booby-trap activation sequence and, just like that, the first major set piece of the film is set into motion.
I've been describing the events of the film thus far mostly just to talk about this scene. The entire rave warehouse has been rigged with the business end of a farm thresher, which descends upon the multitude of party goers. To say that the blood begins to flow is a significant understatement. I was reminded of the oft-remembered opening sequence to Ghost Ship, but brought to the complete next level. This is one hell of a kill sequence, and is one which horror fans owe to themselves to see.
As the plot machine continues, Arkin manages to escape from the grasp of the Collector, and Elena is snatched in his place. Turns out, Elena is the daughter of a very wealthy man with his own personal private security team. The security team recruits Arkin to take them to the Collector's lair, so that they might save Elena from her horrible fate.
Without following the scenes of the film further, the rundown warehouse which serves to hold the titular Collection is a true horror show. Our would-be rescue team encounter horror after horror, and the full extent of the Collector's demented depths are more fully explored than in the first film. Highlights of the collection include people in drug-induced zombie-like state which are essentially kept as attack dogs, and a room full of water preservation tanks holding monstrosities of literally stitched together body parts. The Collector clearly sees himself as something as an artist, and its an interesting direction for the character given the narrow focus on torture and booby-traps demonstrated in the first film.
As impressive as I found the opening kill sequence in scope, I was somehow left with the impression that The Collection skews more towards action than straight horror. This basis of this feeling is difficult to adequately explain, as the amount of horrific scenes shown on the screen can't really be denied. Despite the abundant use of slow motion in the various trap sequences, I felt like the camera never quite hung on any of the special effects in a way that emphasized the horror of what's occuring on screen.
Despite this, The Collection is a worthy follow-up to the first film. The mythos of the Collector is suitably expanded, and the scope of the film is far grander than the single house setting of the first film could ever support. The imagery of some of the items kept in the collection are so vivid and provoking that I can't help but want to watch this film over again. Although the ending of the film is fairly clear, it certainly does leave room open for additional entries in the series. Should a third installment of The Collector appear, I'd be game for one more round.
The Pick: Netflix got me again with their short, 30 second looping trailers with the pumping, genre-appropriate music. I was further intrigued by the face of the man or creature that appears on the cover art for the film. The satanic overtones proved to be too enticing, and Last Shift ended up playing on my television for this, the ninth night of Shocktober 2017.
The Film: Directed by Anthony DiBlasi, Last Shift tells the tale of Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy), a rookie cop assigned to watch over a decommissioned police station on its final night of operation. During the night, Loren is anticipating the arrival of a Hazardous Materials team to dispose of some leftover evidence. On the surface, it's a straightforward task and Officer Loren is given only one directive by her superior; do not leave the police station.
As the night begins, Loren finds the police station to be empty and quiet, as would be expected given the situation. Loren is surprised by the sudden intrusion of a homeless man who promptly urinates in the lobby. After moving the man to a holding cell, the night begins to further unravel. An emergency call is received at the station, despite having been told that all such calls have been rerouted to the new station. Chairs begin to move; closed doors are found open; and lights in the back of the station are found turned on. And then, there's the soft, ghostly singing that seems to waft forward from the deep, dark recesses of the station.
Without going into spoiler territory, the story told in Last Shift is engaging and tightly wound. DiBlasi competently uses an array of psychological thriller elements that certainly kept me engaged with the story. The film feels small and quaint; the single location of the police station is isolated and claustrophobic in the ways that the settings of many good horror films are.
Further. as the sole character on screen for much of the film's run time, Juliana Harkavy does an admirable job remaining engaging and believable in her role as the beleaguered Officer Loren. The mature sensibilities of this character is key to the film's success, especially as the supernatural elements continue to pile up, and we see the toll of the night's events on Loren's frame of mind.
Last Shift is a slow moving film, but one which uses its single location and atmosphere to its advantage. The supernatural elements of the story are used to good effect, creating an unsettling tone which only becomes increasingly disturbing as the events of the film unfold. The few special effects in the film are well used, and the late-film make up effects are suitably unnerving and horrifying. The less that you know about the story going into the film, the better I think you will enjoy it.
The Pick: I've had to admit to being shallow on at least a few different occasions in my life, several of which were explaining previous movie picks for this Shocktober 2017 season. It should come as no surprise then, dear reader, that House on Willow Street was chosen based solely upon the strength of its poster art. More accurately, I chose this film based on the font choice on said poster. Look at that font!
The Film: House on Willow Street has quite the premise; do try to stay with me on this one. A group of criminals plot to kidnap the daughter of a business man who has access to diamonds. Said criminals successfully kidnap said girl, and bring her back to their warehouse lair where they go about filming a ransom video. The kidnappers then experience difficulty contacting the girl's parents. They return to the house from which the girl was kidnapped only to find that the girl's parents are dead. They also find a video tape which shows them that the girl is possessed by a demon and that she killed her parents and also a couple of priests. Then the girl suddenly starts acting possessed again. Also, there are other ghosts. Oh, and one of the kidnappers has a heart of gold. Guess who survives?
You cannot accuse House on Willow Street of not trying. From the overly complicated story, to the grotesque special effects, to the stylish and gritty cinematography, this film is really trying to hit on all cylinders. The only problems is it's trying way too hard to hit above its weight class. The acting can't quite keep up, and the story never resonated. Also, I have difficulty being sympathetic towards kidnappers, hearts of gold or not. The protagonists really earn everything they get.
That said, this is not a simple demon possession story. No, like everything else in this film, Willow Street has to up the ante to the extreme. There's nothing short but the FATE OF THE WORLD at stake! You see, the demon possessing the girl is a very bad, terrible demon! One that consumes the souls of people! And it grows EXPONENTIALLY more powerful for each soul it consumes! And it only needs FOUR SOULS to... to... WALK THE EARTH!
So despite the hamfisted exposition delivered via videotape, I never got the impression that the demon actually became more powerful with each soul it consumed. By the climax of the film, the demon needs only one more soul to complete its barbershop quartet of DOOM, but feels just as powerful as it did before. I mean, if you can choke a person with a super-strong, invisible force power, why not just hold them still while you eat their soul? Or, at the very least, why not use your Sith powers to break your restraints? Is this somehow breaking demon hospitality rules?
Also, I guess I don't understand how possession works in this film. The demon's stated goal is to consume four souls. Somehow this correlates with putting some sort of tentacle appendage down a person's throat to possess their body. I'll let this one go, and I will presume that in the lore of this film, possession equals soul consumption. However, one of the kidnappers is somehow possessed by playing tentacle-tonsil-hockey with the ghost of his dead mother. Admittedly, french kissing your mom, dead or not, is probably a sure-fire way to kill your soul, but how this counts as a soul consumed by our demon friend is never addressed.
Again, it could just be that my definition of demon possession is too narrow for the lore of this film. While the demon is said to manifest our worst fears to gain power over us, and it could be assumed the ghost of this guy's dead mother is a manifestation of the demon, this is the only possession in the film that works this way. No other possession is done via a proxy entity. No other possession is done via long distance. How this demon is able to possess a guy that is somewhere in the middle of the woods while the demon itself is chained up in some warehouse is never addressed. And, really, if the demon can possess people this way, why does it matter that it's physical body is chained up in a warehouse? Why not just possess four people via satellite and be done with it already?
You know what else bothers me? I don't like my own explanation that the dead mother's ghost is simply a manifestation of the demon created with the express purpose of possessing her son. There are other ghosts in the film and none of them ever try to possess anyone. In fact, one of the ghosts ends up being there to help.
You know what? None of this makes any sense, and I'm thinking about it way too hard.
The Pick: I found The Void on Netflix as I was flipping through, looking for Shocktober films. I quickly fell in love with the poster art; who doesn't love the promise of tentacles in their horror movie? Further, the backdrop of space hinted pretty strongly to me that I was in for some sort of cosmic terror story line that would likely do H.P. Lovecraft proud.
The Film: Written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, The Void is clearly a labor of love. This is a low budget film that feels like a million bucks in terms of its scope, visuals, and practical effects. Interestingly, the film was partially crowdfunded on Indiegogo, where it raised $82,510 to help support its creature creation efforts. I couldn't find any records on the total budget of the film, but I find it unlikely that this crowdfunding was the sole source of financials for The Void, as its entry on Wikipedia seems to imply. The film is simply too well produced to have not received any additional funding.
The story begins when small-town police officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) comes across a badly injured man limping down an old backroad. Carter delivers the unknown man to the local hospital, where his ex-wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) works as a nurse for the kindly old Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh). There is an additional small cast of characters present, including Nurse Beverly, intern Kim, a pregnant girl and her grandfather, and patient Cliff. Not long Carter's arrival, the hospital is surrounded by a group of mysterious hooded figures, who seem bent on not allowing anyone to leave. Without giving too much away, the group inside the hospital soon discover that the hospital is also inhabited by slimy, tentacled creatures, and the race for their survival is on.
In terms of overall feel, I was reminded of John Carpenter's The Thing in several respects. The understaffed hospital is isolated and, although this film is not set in Antarctica, it becomes quickly apparent that our group of protagonists are just as effectively cut off from the outside world. Like Carpenter's classic, claustrophobia permeates this film, building an excellent sense of dread. Thankfully, Gillsepie and Kostanski never veer into spoof territory, and The Void is played completely serious and deadpan.
As a final comparison to The Thing, The Void is full of the moistest practical creature effects that any horror fan could ever want. The majority of effects are done in camera, and look phenomenal. The camera work isn't trying to hide anything, and there are a good many long, steady shots of the creatures on display. You might be able to accuse them of intentionally under-lighting some of the effects, but given the overall confidence in their effects on display, I am personally happy to forgive this slight transgression.
Horror genre fans will likely be pleased by The Void. It is not often that cosmic terror is depicted on film, and rarer still when these films are as well-made as is this one. The claustrophobic setting and the gratuitous creature effects kept me occupied for the film's duration, and I was left wanting more by the time the story came to its end. I don't think you can ask for much more from a film.
The Pick: Lights Out began life as a 5 minute short film, which I had the pleasure of stumbling across on one of my many journeys across the vast wilderness that is the internet. So impressed by the originality and execution of this short film, that I even wrote a quick blurb about it in a much earlier article on this very website! That said, I've been interested in this particular film for longer than I ever knew a feature-length film was to be based upon it. This Shocktober season seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally catch up.
The Film: In some ways, the feature-length Lights Out film follows in the footsteps of classic supernatural slasher films, like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is doubtlessly good company to keep. I really adore the underlying conceit at the heart of Lights Out, that of a monstrous creature that only physically exists in the absence of light.
I thought it was interesting for the film to give its other-worldly shadow monster the name Diana. This alone makes it difficult to not want to draw comparisons to other named slashers, like Michael, Jason, and Freddy. It's that last one with whom Diana shares the most common ground, but even still, she remains a fresh and original entity throughout the film. The central conceit of the character remains a great concept, and it allows for some fun visual tricks that are well-mined throughout the length of the film.
Still, the movie falls flat for me when it comes to basically everything aside from the basic nature of Diana. To be more specific, I really adored that concept in the Lights Out short, but was less fond of the complicated backstory added in the feature length film. Frankly, the medical science explanation of how and why this creature exists was a bit too goofy for my tastes. Still, Diana did get quite the upgrade if you're considering her appearance in the short as compared to the film.
Further, I found most of the characters relatively one note and, frankly, boring. The main protagonist of the film also makes some off decisions once the nature of Diana becomes better known to her. Arming yourself with only a crank-operated flashlight with short battery life seems like a poor choice, especially when there has to be a Walmart with all the giant LED lanterns and size D batteries you could want within a 20 minute drive.
Finally, and this may be verging on spoiler territory, but I also didn't care for the "relationship" that Diane shares with one of the other characters in the film. Namely, having Diane's physical manifestation be somehow linked to the expression of another character's mental illness. Admittedly, this isn't a story I've seen before, so while it does feel like original territory, I'm not sure a goofy slasher movie is the exact right cinematic vehicle for what is ultimately a pretty heavy message about mental illness and suicide.
Between the two, I'd probably just watch the short again.
The Pick: This particular film has been on my radar for some time now. I remember watching a full trailer for it around the time that it originally dropped on Netflix, and I recall being intrigued by it even then. I think I may have read some less favorable reviews for the film, which resulted in delaying my watching of it, but that's what Shocktober was built for!
The Film: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House begins with the introduction of our protagonist, Lily Saylor. Lily is a twenty-eight year old hospice nurse that has come to an old country farm house to serve as caretaker for the elderly Iris Blum, a famous author of horror and mystery stories. We know that Lily is twenty eight years old because she tells us soon after we first meet her in a sort of narrator voice over, which becomes the primary method of exposition delivery throughout the film. Chillingly, after telling us her age, Lily also tells us that she "will never be twenty nine."
The artifice of Lily acting as our narrator, guiding us through this haunted tale, worked tremendously well for me. Although the styles are different, I was reminded of the sensibilities of noir, but here applied to a Gothic horror story. Much like a classic noir, much of the narrator's monologue lacks subtly but is delightfully hard-boiled, or on the nose. There is a sense of poetry to much of it: I have heard myself say / that a house with a death in it / can never again be bought / or sold by the living / it can only be borrowed from the ghosts / that have stayed behind.
There are dueling veins of wonder and terror running throughout this steadily paced film. The tale that unfolds is deliberate, and depending on your tastes, you might accuse the film of being slow. No doubt, this is a ponderous film, but it invites you to soak in its wonderful atmosphere and palapable mood. In modern horror cinema, films of this ilk are few.
From Lily's first night in the house, things are amiss. Small items are off: a carpet in the downstairs foyer is found with its corner constantly folded over; an ancient television can never quite find a steady signal; the receiver of a telephone is pulled by its cord and wrenched from Lily's hands; a troublesome mold spot begins to grow on one of the walls in the downstairs hallway.
I think to say much more regarding the events of the film would be to give too much away. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is a finely crafted, atmospheric ghost tale. It won't appease those looking for a special effects showcase, like the Insidious or Conjuring films. Honestly though, there are enough movies like those. The best thing I can say about I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is that I don't see nearly enough films like it.
Fans of Shirley Jackson need apply.
The Pick: It's Shocktober! That means Halloween! This movie literally has Halloween in the title! I hate to disappoint you, as I imagine you thought my movie pick requirements were far more stringent than that, but that's pretty much exactly the way it happened. Sorry.
The Film: Tales of Halloween is an anthology film with ten stories centered around, you guessed it, Halloween night. The ten stories are all wildly different in terms of the ideas on display, but each demonstrates a great sense of style that pervades the entire film. This really is all the more impressive given that each of the ten tales is written and directed by a different filmmaker, much in the vein of other recent anthology films like XX, The ABCs of Death and Holidays.
I rather enjoyed the first story of the film, entitled Sweet Tooth, in which a babysitter and her boyfriend tell her young charge a local legend about a young boy with an unhealthy obsession with his Halloween candy. In the legend, the boy has very strict parents that never let him eat the candy that he collects on Halloween. One night, after sneaking out of his room after begin sent to bed, the boy finds out what his parents have been doing with the confiscated candy, and thus the monstrous Sweet Tooth is born. Directed by David Parker, Sweet Tooth is a fun take on a modern holiday boogeyman, not entirely unlike Sam from Trick 'r Treat, but still wholly original. Frankly, I found the entire concept to be pretty inventive, and yet obvious in that way that makes me wonder why I've never seen a similar idea on film before now.
Another story I enjoyed was Ding Dong, a unique take on the old witch's tale. This story, written and directed by Lucky McKee (All Cheerleaders Die), centers around a middle-aged couple that are unable to have children. The wife is particularly damaged by this, and is shown physically abusing her husband during a moment of anger. Fast forward to Halloween night and the couple tries to put on their best faces, dressing up as a witch and Hansel to answer the door and performing an elaborate skit for each child. The steady stream of children proves overwhelming, and we witness the gradual breakdown of the wife's psyche. As the situation deteriorates and violence begins to bubble up just beneath the surface, the husband begins to see his wife as a multi-armed, red-skinned demon. Beyond the striking, stylish makeup, it's an interesting physical depiction of the domestic violence that the husband endures.
The last story I'll tell you about, Friday the 31st directed by Mike Mendez, is a twist on a classic slasher horror film. We pick up near the climax of what could be any of countless slasher films. We join the final girl, here dressed as sexy Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, as she discovers all of her murdered friends in an abandoned barn. The disfigured killer emerges and chases her down and, contrary to the popular slasher formula, he succeeds in killing her. The story continues to surprise as the disfigured killer is then visited by an UFO and a little green alien that wishes to partake in some traditional Halloween trick or treating. Without any candy to appease the otherworldly creature, the killer and the alien go to war. This was an incredibly surprising and fun short, one which had me laughing throughout its duration.
Tales of Halloween transcends its low-budget, demonstrating a great sense of style and presenting a wide variety of original ideas. With so many stories, there is bound to be at least a handful that catch your attention. However, with only a 90 minute run time, I did feel as though many of the stories were too short and underdeveloped. Although I might wish that the film had decided to focus on 4 or 5 of the tales, the film does keep a quick pace, making it compulsively watchable. While I think I still have to give the nod of best Halloween anthology to Trick 'r Treat, I don't think that Tales of Halloween has anything to be ashamed of. Put it on for your next Halloween party.