Movie Reviews: Horror Films
Director: Natalie Erika James
Cast: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin
Plot: An old, demented woman goes missing, her daughter and granddaughter arrive to find her…
Mood: The smell of a rotting house and looming death
Tags: Three generations of women, Body horror, Insanity
…and the country house is empty, untidy, fruits on a basket have rot, and there are strange, black mildew on walls. Kay (Mortimer), daughter Sam (Heathcote) and the police organize a search party on the nearby woods and found nothing. Soon enough and to their surprise, Grandma Edna (Nevin) reappears as if nothing happened. When asked, she changes the subject. They let that pass but then strange noises are heard the following days and grandma seems to be slowly losing it as her body seems to decaying at an alarming rate. As the madness grows, mother and daughter witness grandma’s terrifying transformation. A stunning debut film by young director Natalie Erika James and co-produced by Jake Gyllenhaal.
The Verdict: 7/10. While it is well-directed, it is also a real slow-burn of a movie. It is also not scary and no jump scares. Instead, you are treated to a terror connected to metaphors of loneliness, old age and eventually, the inescapable sadness of death with an ending that is poignant, and sickening at the same time. If you’ve organized a horror-movie watch party with popcorn and soda and expect screams, this might not be it. But, if you’re alone and feeling a bit melancholic, this is worth a try.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo
Plot: A plastic surgeon has created the perfect skin and experiments on a human subject
Mood: Kinky sexy flesh horror
Tags: Identity crisis, Anatomical reconstruction, Murder
21 years since Almodovar made a star out of Antonio Banderas in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989), this movie marks only their second movie together. With Banderas moving to Hollywood and Almodovar’s movies becoming woman-centric, The Skin I Live In, a psychological horror about beauty and sexual identity, seems to be the perfect movie for their reunion. Banderas plays a plastic surgeon who experiments in producing artificial skin that’s impervious to burns and insect bites. He keeps a mysterious woman locked up in his house which is revealed to be the recipient of his experiments. Their relationship at first, remains the biggest mystery until the gritty details gets revealed through flashback.
The Verdict: 8/10. The subject matter is just pure Almodovar. A homage to Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960) and movies that deal with sexual identities. It is not a terrifying film, no blood or gore. Almodovar has described it as a horror story without screams or frights. The only screams here would be the agony of sex. But it is very entertaining, a psychological thriller that is visually transfixing.
TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965)
Director: William Conrad
Cast: Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero, Virginia Gregg
Plot: The daughter of a famous stage magician must spend seven nights in his haunted mansion in order to get her inheritance
Mood: Half guy trying to seduce the girl romance, half horror house of magic tricks
Tags: Mad magician, Haunted House, Back from the Dead
After the magician Duquesne (Romero, Batman 66’s Joker) dies, he bequeathed everything including his 4-storey mansion to estranged daughter Cassie (Stevens). He also promised to return from the dead which makes passing the will seem ridiculous. The Press sure is confused by all of this, so an opportunistic reporter (Jones) forces his way into the daughter’s life to try and find out. Unsurprisingly of course, they fall in love up until the spook of the promise starts materializing. The movie, produced and directed by TV director and veteran actor William Conrad is more mystery than horror and rely on the big drop—the resurrection of Duquesne which came rather timely in the end. It is also not hard to figure out the twist of the story.
The Verdict: 7/10. The movie which really needed a better title, is not as mediocre as it was deemed to be, the duo of Stevens and Jones are actually quite watchable as they stumble room upon room of surprises. The house is interesting in the kind of late 60s Gothic way and Stevens sure could scream.
THE BURNING (1981)
Director: Tony Maylam
Cast: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Lou David, Larry Joshua, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter
Plot: A badly burned killer wreaks havoc in a summer camp
Mood: Fun-filled summer camp slash turned bloody freakin’ hell
Tags: Summer Camp, Deformed Killer, Horny teens
The Burning is basically a Friday the 13th rip-off. A group of teens play a prank on the camp caretaker named Cropsy who accidentally catches fire that envelopes his whole body. He survives but is a deformed freak vent on exacting revenge. His first victim is a hooker who is introduced to the garden shears, the weapon of choice, before turning his attention to the happy go campers. Hers and the subsequent teen deaths are visceral, bloody and shocking, which earns the movie some notoriety during the time of its release. This is just the third film released by Miramax and its worth mentioning that it came from the imagination of one Harvey Weinstein who is in part credited with the story and screenplay. Along with the extreme violence are a lot nudity that may have been cut from the original release. This is also the first full-length movie of then teenagers Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens and Jason Alexander.
The Verdict: 7/10. I wasn’t expecting much and was surprised at how shocking the death scenes were. I mean, the garden shears really did some major work on its victims. And it was amusing to see the familiar faces of would-be successful actors, so it was a fun ride despite the novice storytelling and some confusion between night and day situations.
BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRES (1966)
Director: Gerardo de Leon
Cast: Amalia Fuentes, Romeo Vasquez, Eddie Garcia, Mary Walter, Johnny Montiero
Plot: A vampiric curse threatens a wealthy family
Mood: Darklit, Spanish-influenced Filipino setting complete with slaves
Tags: Family curse, Forbidden Romance, Bewildered Vampires
An unconventional vampire movie from Filipino director Gerardo de Leon has the bloodsuckers possessing only of normal strength and are able to see their reflections in the mirror. They also happen to have third eyes because the movie also doubles as a ghost revenge story. The main plot is about a wealthy family besieged by an old curse of having ancestral vampire blood. When the patriarch is taken ill, he reveals to his eldest son that he had been keeping his wife who had died and turned into a vampire, in a coffin in a secret cellar. The following night, the son accosts his hungry mother alone. The story is solid at this point, but the screenplay by Ben Feleo is mired with inconsistencies and the next scenes does not go their best route. The patriarch does not die in bed like he should’ve, mother vampire should’ve played a better role in things, and the climax is a circus. There are so many elements thrown in that does not seem to fit together. Black-faced slaves that sleep in their master’s bedroom like pets? Fencing duel against a vampire? Rape in the middle of it all? Surprisingly, all these curiosities seem to be entertaining.
The Verdict: 5/10. You seldom see something like this. The script is awful but the camera and lighting are good. The actor Eddie Garcia is perhaps the Philippines most versatile actor and had made more films than anyone, until his recent death. How versatile? Here he plays son to Johnny Montiero who he is 10 years older. Amalia Fuentes, regarded as the most beautiful actress in Philippine cinema also stars.
YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020)
Director: David Koepp
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex
Plot: A family rents a house in rural Wales that has an evil past
Mood: Creepy in the Blumhouse tradition
Tags: Haunted House, Family of three, Marriage problems
Director/screenwriter David Koepp reunites with his Stir of Echoes star Kevin Bacon in this haunted house horror movie based on a German novella by Daniel Kehlmann. Some significant changes have been made from the source material, one of them so that Bacon’s character could be married to a much, much younger woman with a little daughter. Though it doesn’t really affect the story, it had to be established early on and be out of the way. The story: a middle-age man, his younger actress wife and their daughter vacation in Wales in a rented house they saw on the internet. The place is big, modern and looked great early on but soon they feel it has a sinister character to it. They decide to leave but it was already too late. Really, really sounds familiar. In fact, most of the other elements (i.e a labyrinth-like house, dopplegangers) are just derivatives of other haunted house stories. Cutting to the chase, the movie is not scary and there are no good jump scenes, the ending could’ve been made better, but the story develops rather well and its Bacon’s character that makes you feel committed to watch. As he struggled to keep his family together, especially in protecting his daughter, the father became an affecting figure.
The Verdict: 7/10. The acting is really good. The dialogue fresh and rings well. If there’s ever an award for Best Male Performance of a middle-aged father in a horror movie, Bacon would surely win. Seyfried was equally good too and would’ve stolen the show had her character not step aside for it to become a father-daughter ordeal, which was needed in the story. Also, it’s from Blumhouse Productions, so its worth checking out for die-hard fans of horror.
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977)
Director: Don Taylor
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Barbara Carrera, Nigel Davenport
Plot: Two men get washed ashore on an island zoo of a mad doctor.
Mood: Playfully romantic early on turns to the second act of Planet of the Apes.
Tags: Mad Doctor, Human Experiments, Remote Island.
The Island of Dr. Moreau. I am so drawn by the title. It just sounds so mysterious. This is the second movie I’ve seen with that title after the 1996 movie with Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer and David Thewlis, by now legendary for its commercial and critical failures. And for the second time I felt disappointed because the H.G. Wells story about a Frankenstein-like doctor playing god on an island held such promise of an entertainingly horrifying experience. Seeing that Burt Lancaster and Michael York were in it, my expectations were high. York after all, is an actor that makes the best of his screen time and Lancaster is a legend, who, had he been English, would’ve been knighted. And yet again, to my disappointment, the movie wasn’t close to being an entertainingly horrifying experience. Some scenes were anticlimactic, the special effects were not that good, camerawork was uninspired, and the only thing interesting was seeing how Michael York seemed to have morphed into Val Kilmer. So, why can’t they make it right?
The Verdict: 5/10. I could make myself watch the 1996 version a second time. At least it had Brando in his weirdest, and Kilmer who was at the peak of his career having made Batman Forever, Heat, True Romance and The Doors during the last five years. He might even thought he was the greatest living actor at that time. Or I could re-watch Island of the Lost Souls (1932), the first sound movie-version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Why they changed the title is beyond me. It stars Charles Laughton as the doctor, Bela Lugosi in heavy make-up as one of the experiments, and a woman billed as “The Panther Woman.” It’s the better one of the three versions and is considered a classic. But, I still think the best version is still out there.
Other movie reviews in the series:
- Movie Reviews:Comedies and Musicals
A weekly dose of short reviews of Comedy and Musical movies from the classics to new releases.
- Movie Reviews: Noir Films
A weekly dose of short reviews of noir/crime films from the classics to new releases.
- Movie Reviews: Westerns
A weekly dose of short reviews of Western movies from the classics to new releases.
- Movie Reviews: Action Films
A weekly dose of short reviews of action movies from the classics to new releases.
- Movie Reviews: Sci-Fi Films
A weekly dose of short reviews of sci-fi movies from the classics to new releases.
- Movie Reviews: War Movies
A weekly dose of short reviews of war movies from the classics to new releases.
- Movie Reviews: Biopics
A weekly dose of short reviews of biographical movies from the classics to new releases.