I sat for just a little over two hours last night in a cold, darkened theater and watched a film unfold into one of the most disturbing horror films I’ve seen in a very long time. It wasn’t horror in the sense of monsters, jump scares, demons thrashing about, or horny teenagers being hacked to death in the throes of drug-fueled passion. No, the horror I watched on screen yesterday ran far deeper and dysfunctional than anything a guy in a ski mask or fedora could come up with. It was a family in turmoil because of a death. A death that caused more relief than sadness(at least for 3 out of the 4.) But it was a death that opened an existential wound from which deep dark secrets made themselves known. A supernatural force rose from this family rift and wreaked havoc for two hours, leaving my son and I sitting in that cold, darkened theater as the end credits rolled with a sense we just watched pure mind-melting brilliance. We were also left reeling from two hours of dread, tension, disturbing images, supernatural violence, and an ending that completely hollows you out.
It was everything horror should be.
What we saw last night was Ari Aster’s Hereditary, and if you couldn’t guess I absolutely loved it. From the cast to the writing to the cinematography to the score, everything came together brilliantly. The film is a tour-de-force of a family melodrama; a family melodrama steeped in cults, ghosts, overwhelming tragedy, resentment, mental illness, intricately-created dioramas, creepy grandmas, a treehouse, lots of getting high, and truly disturbed teens. It’s not an easy film. It’s densely layered with hints of what this family is about, but nothing is laid out for you to easily digest. And when you get to the point in Hereditary when you realize you are indeed seeing what you’re seeing you have no time to prepare yourself for those last 15 minutes. It’s utterly fucked up in the best way possible.
As a lifelong fan of horror, I’ve seen my share of bluster over “the scariest movie ever made” and “the most disturbing film in years”, as well as “the most frightening film in years”. I cannot stand that sort of hyperbole in regards to horror cinema(or any cinema.) It’s disingenuous(while I loved It Comes At Night, that was sold as something it was not.) Everything is subject to the person watching. One might find it absolutely brilliant, while another is going to call it rubbish. That’s how it is. So with that in mind, Hereditary isn’t “the scariest movie ever made”. That goes to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer(don’t argue!). But what Hereditary is, is one of the best horror films I have seen in a long time. From the get go you have the feeling that you’re watching something quite unique. There’s a psychic dread that hangs over everything; from the opening shot of grandma’s newspaper obituary to that last batshit, haunting shot. Aster has a clear vision and a unique voice from which to tell this story. He is also quite brilliant in his casting choices.
With Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne as the mom(Annie Graham) and dad(Steve Graham) you have two veteran actors which to build the story around. Ann Dowd as the mysterious friend Joan adds both a smiling, great aunt sort of comfort as well as a twinge of silent speculation in regards to her intents. The true two surprises here are Alex Wolff as Peter Graham and Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham. The children in the Graham family play the biggest roles in this spiritual and psychic battle of sorts that’s raging throughout the film. Both of these two are incredible in their roles and portray these characters as real teens, not hyper-stylized versions of you’d see on Disney XD or a CW series. Of course, given what’s going down in this film there’s a morbid and disturbed lean happening with both of them.
The cast is small, but super tight. Everyone clicks(just like Charlie) perfectly here. And for my money, Toni Collette should win a damn academy award, with Wolff getting a best supporting actor nod(my opinion, leave yours below.)
Is this movie for everyone? Hell no it’s not. Then again, neither was The Witch, It Follows, The Babadook, Blackcoat’s Daughter, RAW, The Devil’s Candy, and It Comes At Night. There seems to be a new generation of voices rising from the ashes of shitty slasher films and regurgitated horror remakes that want to truly disturb us, while also telling a real story. There’s a lot of horror fans that don’t want to necessarily think about what they’re watching. They just want to be “entertained”, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s like going to the circus, or a football game. You don’t have to think about that kind of entertainment. You sit in your seat with a bag of popcorn or a warm beer and you laugh and yell “Look at the clowns!” or “DEFENSE!! DEFENSE!! DEFENSE!!” while your brain goes on autopilot for a couple of hours. There’s no intellectual engagement involved. I do that with baking shows and reruns of Burn Notice and Regular Show.
But as someone who does enjoy higher thinking and sometimes difficult art I am very excited about the prospect of a new generation of horror filmmakers that want to get our synapses firing and truly disturb us with their art. I want to be challenged. Much like I want more in my music than a good beat and catchy melody(but man I do love a good beat and a catchy melody), I want my horror films to challenge me. And challenging horror has been hard to come by the last 15 to 20 years(with a few outliers thrown in here and there.) With filmmakers like Ari Aster, David Robert Mitchell, Robert Eggers, Sean Byrne, Oz Perkins, Julia Ducournau and Trey Edward Shults making films in the future I feel confident that I will be intellectually and viscerally stimulated for years to come.
I think it’s a good time to be a fan of horror cinema. Hereditary made me very aware of that yesterday afternoon. Go see it.
You may not be familiar with the name Graham Reznick, but I don’t think it will be long until you are. Reznick has been working in the independent film world for years now, wearing multiple hats. What hats, you ask? Well he’s done sound design, engineering, mixing, and scoring. He’s also acted, written, composed, and edited on films going back to 2001. Some of the films he’s worked on include The House Of The Devil, In A Valley Of Violence, The Mind’s Eye, V/H/S, Stake Land, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and he wrote and directed the 2008 film I Can See You. He’s been a lifelong friend to writer/director Ti West and he worked under the tutelage of writer, producer, director, and actor Larry Fessenden(don’t know that name either? Believe me, you’d know him if you saw him.) Reznick also wrote the hit PS4 game Until Dawn with Larry Fessenden.
So Graham Reznick is a guy that’s been behind the scenes for years doing the work and making some great indie films. He’s very adept at sound design, which brings us to his debut album on Mondo/Death Waltz Originals titled Glass Angles. It’s a hallucinatory musical trip. There’s elements of Berlin School, EDM, synthwave, and independent electronic like Boards of Canada, Four Tet, and even Flying Lotus at times. But really, Glass Angles is unlike anything you’ve heard. It’s quite brilliant. It’s also a kind of a concept album, really. Reznick wrote the album while adjusting to life in Los Angeles after being a New Yorker for years. The album is an ode to an alternate world version of Los Angeles. Odd angles in mirrors that turn the familiar into something new, unknown, and maybe slightly sinister.
I got the chance to talk to Graham about his childhood, how he got into film, and the making of Glass Angles. We also discussed musical influences, David Lynch, his stoner path in Austin, Texas not taken, and album number two that’s coming out later this year on Burning Witches Records.
J. Hubner: So where did you grow up?
Graham Reznick: Born in New Jersey, raised in Delaware, died in New York, live in LA.
J. Hubner: What was your childhood like? Were you making Hi8 films with your pals in the backyard?
Graham Reznick: I spent a lot of time taking things apart and trying to put them back together again. Radios, science kits, clocks, whatever. Anything I liked as a kid I tried to replicate – so yeah, making movies with old cameras and two VCR’s, usually blowing up GI Joe’s in the backyard with Ti West, or drawing comics, or making patches for DOOM.
J. Hubner: So were you always interested in film and music?
Graham Reznick: I was always very interested in art and drawing, and movies, though I didn’t really know that you could express the things I wanted to express in film until I discovered Twin Peaks and David Lynch.
J. Hubner: So Lynch was the gateway for you?
Graham Reznick: He was the first director that I understood was an artist, able to synthesize all the elements of the medium into something greater than the sum of its parts.
J. Hubner: Lynch is a true auteur, mixing sound and music so incredibly flawlessly.
Graham Reznick: Music and sound went hand in hand with the other elements of film for me – they’re equal pieces of the puzzle and need to be treated with the same amount of attention as the script, the camera work, the acting, the editing. For some directors, the balance is different – music and sound are means to an end – but I’ve never been able to approach it that way. Cinematic gestalt is axiomatic.
J. Hubner: All the elements come together equally, at least they should. I think if you’re not giving equally to each then you’re doing a disservice to the art.
Graham Reznick: I’ve always felt that if a screenplay expressed an idea perfectly, it should remain a screenplay. If a photo expresses an idea perfectly, it should remain a photo. If a song… etc. Cinema should use all the tools at its disposal to express an idea impossible to express in any other single medium.
J. Hubner: So where did this commitment to cinematic artistic integrity come from? How did you get started in independent film?
Graham Reznick: I grew up with Ti West (director of THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE); he went to SVA for film, I went NYU, both in NYC. We shared resources and experience – best of both worlds. Through Kelly Reichardt, Ti met Larry Fessenden, who was already a legend to us because of his incredible 90’s NYC vampire indie film HABIT (and Larry and I went on to co-write UNTIL DAWN and related games together). Larry financed Ti’s first film, THE ROOST, in 2003. I was just out of college and considering moving to Austin and becoming a stoner, but Ti convinced me to move back to Delaware for a year and live in our parents houses and put the film together. It was a remarkable opportunity to learn the entire professional filmmaking process. I did almost all of the post sound work, and some additional music (Jeff Grace did the great score), in my parents basement. I had a Pro Tools LE license and a Digi001, an SM57, a DOD Buzz Box pedal, a Line 6 Delay Modeler, two broken guitars and a Roland HS-60 – which I got dirt cheap because in 2000 when I bought it, people didn’t realize it was virtually the same keyboard as the Juno 106! That was basically my entire music setup for the next 10 years. After THE ROOST, my filmmaker friends asked me to sound design or contribute music to their films. It was a good way to collaborate with directors and friends I admired, as well as pay the rent while I tried to get my own projects off the ground.
J. Hubner: Speaking of your own projects, could you tell me a bit about your 2008 feature film debut, I Can See You? Where did the idea for the film come from?
Graham Reznick: In the mid 2000’s I worked with a group of friends from NYU who had started a company called Waverly Films (filmmakers who have gone on to direct some interesting things, including CREATIVE CONTROL and SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING) and they made a lot of music videos. I crashed on their couch in Bushwick for months and edited music videos for them (including The Juan Maclean’s “Give Me Every Little Thing” and LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum.”) One video, which will go unnamed, didn’t turn out the way the label expected, and things went pretty sideways. The experience of being part of a group of young, creative professionals being completely taken advantage of by a big company looking to scrape talent for peanuts had a big effect on me. I CAN SEE YOU is about a lot of things, but that experience was a major influence.
J. Hubner: And you worked with Larry Fessenden once again on that film. Besides being in the film, did he have any other role in the production?
Graham Reznick: Larry Fessenden financed the film (which was ultra low budget) and allowed me complete creative freedom. I knew I had the opportunity to try things and say things I would never be able to achieve in a larger budget, more traditional situation – so I went for it.
J. Hubner: Let’s talk about your Death Waltz Originals debut record ‘Glass Angles’. I’ve been filling my head with it for the past couple weeks and it’s amazing. How did you get involved with Death Waltz?
Graham Reznick: I met Spencer Hickman, founder of Death Waltz, after he released Jeff Grace’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL score on vinyl, but I’d been familiar with the label already because of his incredible run of soundtrack reissues on vinyl. Around the time I’d put the album demos together, I heard through a few friends that he was considering putting out original material as well as soundtracks, so I took a chance and sent it over.
J. Hubner: Regarding the record, what was the writing process like? You’d said that you were learning to work with Ableton and soft synths while writing the album. Was the software inspiring you to create? The album also feels like it has the specter of Los Angeles haunting it.
Graham Reznick: After living (on and off) in NYC for almost 15 years, I relocated to Los Angeles in 2013. I had just finished sound designing three films in New York – CLOWN, BENEATH, and THE SACRAMENT – and had some time off to get acclimated to the new city. I’d also just had a track included on Joseph Stannard and Justin Watson’s incredible compilation THE OUTER CHURCH, and it was receiving some nice attention. I wanted to make more electronic music, but I’m really not a very good keyboardist (not as good as I’d like to be). Most of the music I made for myself or for the films I worked on involved a ton of sloppy live playing and then heavy, time consuming editing (of both synth and guitar feedback). So I invested in Ableton, swapped out my Roland HS-60 for a midi controller, and started learning soft synths – which had come a long way from when I first tried midi compositions in the early 2000s, and when I had tried the early versions of Ableton.
J. Hubner: So learning Ableton helped the process along?
Graham Reznick: Ableton 9 was a huge revelation and I started writing a ton of material immediately. The HS-60 only makes one appearance – as a lead line halfway through the final track, “Palm Freeze.” There’s a unique, buzzy, disorienting, thick sound you can get when using the 106 / HS-60’s dual oscillator monophonic mode – I’ve never heard anything like it in any soft synth. But that’s the only true analog synth on the album – the rest is entirely software.
J. Hubner: And the subtle nods to Los Angeles in the song titles?
Graham Reznick: The culture shock of jumping from NYC to LA informed my mood and I’d write songs during the day, and drive around the city late into the evening, listening to the mixes. I realized that depending on where you positioned your car, on particular streets, around the city, at particular times, you could look into your mirror or out your window, and if you were listening to the right music, you would see another Los Angeles.
J. Hubner: There’s a real hallucinatory feel to the album. Listening with headphones on, songs like “Beverly’s Crop” and “Highland Steel” have a really psychedelic, sensory overload feel to them. They make you feel off-kilter, but in the best way possible. Even with something like your film ‘I Can See You’ there’s a real hallucinogenic feel, as if you’re not sure what your seeing is real or not. What was the influence on the sound of ‘Glass Angles’?
Graham Reznick: There’s an interesting theory about brain plasticity (which I’m sure I’m misrepresenting here) that says we create new neural pathways when we think about familiar things in a new way, and we rely on preconceptions and existing pathways when we are presented with the familiar – which means we may discount important new info that is hidden by the familiar. For a piece of art – story, music, film, whatever – to be effective, I think it should find a good balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Sometimes the complete unknown can be exhilarating, and sometimes the familiar can be comforting – but a good balance of the two can allow the audience a way in and then hold their attention while their brain has to literally rebuild itself to keep up. That’s all just a way to say that there’s always a new angle on things, and those new angles should be explored.
J. Hubner: So from a mixing and engineering standpoint, did you intentionally want to create a dizzying, almost psychedelic feel with the songs?
Graham Reznick: In regards to the album specifically – I did a lot of the initial work and mixing in headphones. It wasn’t ultimately mixed for headphones specifically, but a lot of the creative choices were geared towards a dizzying, psychedelic, headphone experience.
J. Hubner: Speaking of hallucinatory, your video for “Highland Steel” is insane. It’s dark, nightmarish, and you can’t stop looking at it. What was the influence for what you created? And should there be a seizure warning on this thing?
Graham Reznick: I wanted to capture the experience of the way the mind works, or doesn’t, during a panic attack. I didn’t want to recreate the unpleasant experience of a panic attack in the viewer (who wants that?) – but I wanted to find a way to express the terrible awe of how our racing, spinning minds malfunction in fear.
J. Hubner: It’s really hard to pinpoint influences on your sound. The record has bits of 80s electronic in it, but your sound is very much your own. What are some albums that have made an impact on you that may have made their way into your sound?
Graham Reznick: It’s very likely that I’m directly ripping off the artists and music that influenced me. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will list at least some of the artists and pieces of music that I was consciously aware of directly ripping off while making Glass Angles. I cannot claim that the music I made comes anywhere near the excellence of any one of the pieces in this list.
In no particular order:
Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe, and Appalachian Grove
Terry Riley – Happy Ending
La Monte Young – The Black Record
Steve Moore – Light Echoes
Aphex Twin – all
Tangerine Dream – White Eagle
MGMT – Congratulations
Tangerine Dream – Force Majeure
Harold Faltermeyer – Beverly Hills Cop
Tangerine Dream – Phaedras
John Carpenter – Assault on Precinct 13
Tangerine Dream – Encore
Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man
Tangerine Dream – Ricochet
The Amps – Pacer
Emeralds – Just to Feel Anything
Valium Aggelein – Hier Kommt Der Schwartze Mond
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture & Morality
Steve Hauschildt – Tragedy & Geometry
This Mortal Coil – It’ll End in Tears
Isabelle Adjiani screaming in the subway in POSSESSION
Angelo Badalamenti – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Oneohtrix Point Never – Rifts
Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby
Pye Corner Audio – Prowler
Outer Space – Outer Space
Heart – Dreamboat Annie
Pierre Bachelet – Gwendoline
High Rise – High Rise II
Add N To X – On The Wires of Our Nerves
Donovan – Open Road
Heron – Twice as Nice & Half the Price
Tangerine Dream – Encore
Future Sound of London – We Have Explosive
Butthole Surfers – Psychic, Powerless, Another Man’s Sac
Olivia Tremor Control – Dusk at Cubist Castle
Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage
Shellac – 1000 Hurts
Disasterpeace – Fez
Wendy Carlos – Sonic Seasonings
Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump
Tyrannosaurus Rex – A Beard of Stars
Maurice Jarre – Witness
Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Akira
Little Wings – Light Green Leaves
New Age Steppers / Creation Rebel – Threat to Creation
Daniel Johnston – 1990
Monolake – Cinemascope
Don Caballero –American Don
Mercury Rev – Deserter’s Songs
Gary Numan / Tubeway Army – Replicas
Mazzy Star – So Tonight that I Might See
The Flaming Lips – In A Priest Driven Ambulance
Proem – You Shall Have Ever Been (disc 2)
Popul Vuh – Cobra Verde
John Stewart – Bombs Away Dream Babies
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
Richard Lloyd – Alchemy
Can – Monster Movie
Mike Oldfield –Ommadawn
The Holy Modal Rounders – Indian War Whoop
Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends
Kraftwerk – Autobahn
Electric Light Orchestra – El Dorado
Roky Erickson – All That May Do My Rhyme
Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy
The Microphones – Mt. Eerie
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Godspeed You Black Emperor – F#A#Infinity
Chris Bell – I Am The Cosmos
The Feud – The Feud Vs. Yr Universe
Klaus Schulz – Audentity
Mikal Cronin –Mikal Cronin
Manuel Göttsching – E2-E4
Yume Bitsu – Giant Surface Music Falling to Earth Like Jewels From the Sky
John Cale – Fear
William Basinski – Silent Night
Os Mutantes – “Virginia”
Mark McGuire – A Young Person’s Guide
Gangpol und Mit – The Hopelessly Sad Story of the Hideous End of the World
Paul McCartney – RAM
Thee Oh Sees – Warm Slime
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Start a People
Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Harold Budd – The Serpent In Quicksilver
Zombi – Digitalis
Chromatics – Kill For Love
Cliff Martinez – Only God Forgives
Also, I’m between 15 and 90 percent certain that if you play every one of these albums simultaneously it will be no different than listening to Glass Angles.
J. Hubner: Glass Angles isn’t the only album you have coming out this year. You have ‘Robophasia’ coming out with Burning Witches Records. How did this record come about? How does it compare stylistically with Glass Angles?
Graham Reznick:Glass Angles is very specific mood, tone, moment in time. Robophasia is a much darker record, in a much brighter package. Less textural; more acid electro-funk with vocoders and sharp edges. Faltermeyer factored heavily in some of it.
J. Hubner: It seems like 2018 could be Graham Reznick’s year? With two albums and a great video, what else do you have planned? Are you working on any films? Maybe a feature you’re writing and directing?
Graham Reznick: There’s a ton more music in the pipeline. Some more videos, too, hopefully… And on the film side, I directed a first episode of a live-action interactive show last year called RAPID EYE, about a sleep study gone very wrong. It’s full of surprises – it’s going to be a heck of a mindfuck. Stay tuned on the release info. I’m also a few weeks out from shooting a new series for SHUDDER, called DEADWAX… but that’s all I can say about that for now!
Head over the Mondotees and grab a copy of Glass Angles before they’re all gone(only a limited run available.) And follow Burning Witches Records on Facebook for a future announcement on Robophasia.
Occasionally I like a good dose of tongue firmly planted in cheek when it comes to horror/action/violent cinema. You get too much of that serious, brooding, bloody cinema and I think it starts to affect you. Like, you only want to eat organic food and drink purified water and you forget the pleasures of a cheap, $5 pizza and indulging in an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting. Don’t get me wrong, I love the seriously scary and dark stuff. That sort of thing is what molded me into the fine, upstanding citizen I am today, don’t you know. But on occasion a big, splattery, no-hold-barred horror/comedy is just what the doctor ordered. Shaun of the Dead, Fright Night, Zombieland, Scream, and many other movies over the years have given me great joy as I watched their bloody hijinks. As a parent, it’s also great to have some lighter fare to sit and enjoy on a Friday night with the kids. Sure, I’m sure there’s some parents that would scoff, or dare I say freak the f**k out, at the thought of their pre-teen watching Zombieland. To those parents, I say you’re not doing your kids any favors. Our oldest was watching The Simpsons and Futurama at 2 years old. She’s now going to one of the best private high schools in the state with colleges all over the country falling over themselves to get her to commit to them. Maybe it was all the Baby Einstein videos and being breastfed and read to every night that made her smart, but I’m still giving Matt Groening credit.
Anyways, a movie that can be added to the list of great horror/action/comedy films is Joe Lynch’s Mayhem. The premise is simple: workers at a consulting firm are quarantined to their office building due to being infected with a virus called ID-7. The virus isn’t lethal but it causes people to act on their most basic urges; be it love, hate, anger, happiness. In the case of this building, these are people that work in an office and subjugate their true feelings for just “going through the motions” as they’re at work. It’s a corporate world, and as we know it can be a dog-eat-dog kind of environment. The protagonist Derek, played by Steve Yeun(The Walking Dead‘s Glen) has just been framed for losing a big account and is fired. As he’s walked down to the lobby of the building he realizes the building has been quarantined and everyone inside infected with the ID-7. After years of selling little pieces of his soul here and there for a corner office and a seat at the executive table he lets all those feelings out and turns into a one man wrecking machine. He teams up with a woman(The Babysitter‘s Samara Weaving) who came to the firm to try and get an extension on her mortgage but was turned down and they battle their way through each floor of the building so Derek can get to the board room and plead his case. Oh, I forgot to mention that any acts of violence, mayhem, and murder will not be prosecuted because the courts deemed anyone committing crimes under the influence of ID-7 can’t be held accountable for their crimes or actions.
All bets are off.
So basically this movie is a cross between 28 Days Later, Enter The Dragon, The Towering Inferno, and Office Space. Yeun is great in it, as is Weaving. There’s all the office stereotypes and they’re turned up to 20 in this thing. Scissors, nail guns, staplers, hammers, and fire extinguishers are used accordingly to exact punishment on those who get in the way. The film has that SyFy original look, but fortunately the acting and action make up for any lack of a sleek look. And there are no Sharknados to be found, so that’s a plus.
The other thing that brought me to this film was the soundtrack by Steve Moore. Moore has quickly become one of my favorite film score composers, doing amazing work for The Guest, Cub, and The Mind’s Eye. The Mind’s Eye saw Moore shortening the pieces, where as before he made longer tracks. With Mayhem that trend continues. It’s a double LP with 6 or 7 tracks to a side. They’re shorter but feel punchier. He’s utilizing more dancier tracks, with an almost techno feel in certain pieces. I’d say this is probably one his most unique scores to date. You can really hear Steve Moore stretching out a bit with this one, and his deft synth playing works well to pump up the action and anxiety throughout the film.
So hey, if you like action and comedy but horror isn’t really your bag, you should give Mayhem a try. It’s a mess of Friday night fun. Well, Saturday night fun for us as that’s when we watched it. The wife and the teens and I. Honestly, I’m not sure if my wife and 14-year old daughter even paid attention to it. But my son and I loved it.
Come on, who doesn’t want to see Glen beat a bunch of executives up with a hammer?
Happy Halloween, folks. If you’re in a different time zone or on a different continent maybe you’re already handing out candy. Maybe you’re in a costume yourself hitting the hard cider a little too hard for a weeknight. Either way, here’s to you and that poor man’s Savini makeup effect you’re touting.
I don’t have much today. Just wanted to say have a great All Hallow’s Eve. It’s kind of hard to when the 31st falls in the week. My favorite Halloweens were always the Friday and Saturday variety. There was nothing quite like hitting the streets like a prepubescent Frankenstein or C3-PO and snagging a paper grocery bag full of candy in a little over an hour. Then heading back home to count the loot. After giving all the candy I hated to my dad I’d enjoy a few confections and then figure out what was going to be playing that night. Hopefully something good like Motel Hell, Humanoids From The Deep, Blood Beach, or Howard Hawks’ The Thing. Occasionally I’d get lucky and Halloween would be on, but those ghoulish stars rarely aligned.
Speaking of Halloween, one of my least favorite in the Michael Myers canon was, not surprisingly, the one Michael Myers wasn’t even in. Halloween III : Season of the Witch was the outlier in the collection as it had nothing to do with Michael Myers. It was instead about a mad scientist that created masks that would turn kids into maggot-infested corpses if they were wearing them just as a crazy commercial would play on TV as they sat and watched. The story was ludicrous and the acting was pretty bad. The mad scientist looked like Herbert Lom in full-on crazy Inspector Dreyfuss mode, while the protagonist was played by Tom Atkins in total “what the hell am I doing?” mode. Like he did in The Fog, he plays a 40-something year old man hooking up with a girl that is old enough to be his granddaughter, so the story relies on the heroism of a dirty, middle-aged man and his various stays in sleazy hotels.
I watched this not that long ago after not seeing it for over 30 years. I have to admit it holds a certain wacky charm that didn’t connect with me as a teenager looking for horny teens to die at the hands of a mentally challenged serial killer the size of a defensive lineman. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is just this quirky goofball of a movie that borders on something John Waters might’ve made. I can appreciate it for that. And really, who doesn’t love this goddamn Silver Shamrock commercial? The movie’s worth watching just for this. Happy Halloween.
We’re knee deep in the month of October. Things are finally starting to cool down and the foliage is browning and withering like it’s supposed to. We’re also well into the season of horror. Here at the Hubner house there’s been lots of proper horror viewing going on. Some good, some not so good, but it’s always entertaining.
Are you wondering what are some good horror flicks to hit play on this Halloween season? Well let me throw a few your way if you don’t mind some suggestions.
Imagine a cross between The Thing, Hellraiser, The Beyond, and H.P. Lovecraft and you’re well on your way to falling for this low budget, practical effects smorgasbord of metaphysical horror. Plot is fairly simple: A group of people are trapped inside a rural hospital one gloomy evening when the whole place is surrounded by cloak-wearing weirdos with long daggers. They’re part of some cult that are of course trying to bring some ancient creature back from some other realm. It starts out as your typical jump scare fare with decent enough acting and mood and visuals for miles. Soon enough, though, things go from tense and brooding to just plain bizarre and transdimensional.
This is probably one of my favorite horror films in recent memory. Not because it’s perfect in every way and the effects are mind-blowing, or that the story is solid. It’s pretty much a hodge podge of ideas and cheaply put together practical effects. It’s that the filmmakers just fucking go for it. Who cares if the story makes complete sense, or that the effects are somewhat limited. The acting is done well and the effects look pretty damn good for a shoestring budget. This movie oozes mood and a general uneasiness. If you like your horror a little on the Lovecraftian side of things, look no further than The Void.
The Devil’s Candy
The Devil’s Candy is a disturbing film. There are far more disturbing movies for sure, but this one is pretty disturbing. The story involves a man, his wife, and their daughter buying an old farmhouse on the cheap and being overjoyed at their find that seems too good to be true. The man is a painter and the land has an outbuilding where he has his own workspace to paint commission paintings as well as his own work. He begins to start working on much darker pieces, as if he’s being possessed to do so. They’re upside down crosses, black voids where the faces of screaming children are coming through the darkness. He doesn’t even remember doing the paintings. Meanwhile a large, bald man appears at the house saying that it’s his home. Turns out he lived there with his parents and ended up murdering them both when he was told by him mom to turn down the metal guitar he was playing in his upstairs bedroom. The loud noise is the only way he can stop the voices from telling him to kill.
This film, despite being disturbing(our bald psychopath murders a little boy and dismembers him, though not seen), is so well made and the acting is perfect. Ethan Embry, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and F. Murray Abraham all do great work here, and the music is every metalhead’s dream. The score is pretty much crunchy guitar stabs mixed with some otherworldliness thanks to Sunn O))). There’s some occult vibes, as well as some 80s “Satanic Panic” feels. If you grew up in the 80s you would remember all the “metal is the devil music” talk, and this movie really goes a far way to prove those church ladies right.
I’m a sucker for horror anthology films, especially when they’re done well. V/H/S and V/H/S 2 were done very well. The ABCs of Death? Ehh. Of course there’s the classics like Creepshow, Twilight Zone : The Movie, and Tales From The Darkside. Hell, I even liked Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye. Nightmares from 1983 was great, too. Southbound is another horror anthology well worth giving a shot.
So Southbound is 5 stories that sort of/sort of not intertwine. There’s two guys on the run from these floating black specters on some desert highway; three girls in a rock band get stranded on the same stretch of highway and are picked up by a strange couple in a station wagon; a man hits a girl in his car in the middle of the night on this same stretch of desolate road and ends up in the world’s most unhelpful ER; when a guy comes looking for the sister that went missing years before he finds more than what he was bargaining for and finally there’s a home invasion that goes horribly wrong and brings us back to where we started.
I’m not going to say this one was perfect because it wasn’t. But what it was was pretty entertaining with some interesting twists. Each story sort of bleeds(no pun intended) over into the next which gives the whole film a nice continuity. Each of our doomed characters are somehow or another heading south on this stretch of road that looks like Mad Max could show up any minute. Are they all heading to Hell? I don’t know. It may not be perfect, but it’s a fun ride regardless.
The House of the Devil
This is an older film by Ti West, but for me it’s an absolute classic.
A college girl recently gets a great apartment for herself and takes a babysitting job to help make some money in order to afford the sweet new living situation. When she arrives at the house where she’s babysitting she’s told by the man that hired her(the always excellent Tom Noonan) that in fact she would be watching his wife’s ailing mother. He tells her she shouldn’t be a problem as she’d probably just sleep all night. Of course, that’s not the case and weirdness ensues.
This film looks just like some creepy horror movie you’d come across late night while trying to find something to watch. It has the look of an early 80s film, though it was made in 2009. It pulls from slasher films, haunted house movies, occult, and that satanic panic I mentioned earlier. The cast is excellent, the score is brilliant, and the house it was filmed in evokes so much uneasiness that you can’t help but feel for this young woman stuck in the middle of nowhere with God knows what upstairs. It’s a classic in the genre of horror. Probably one of my favorite horror films that plays very well as an arthouse movie. Ti West has continued to make solid movies, but none as good as this. AJ Bowen, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Dee Wallace, and Joceline Donahue all turn in incredible performances. There’s no “wink and a nod” irony here, either. They’re true to the times and the style and stick to it, which makes the film all the more enjoyable.
Okay, that’s it. You want more suggestions? Then let me know. I’m happy to blabber on about more films if you’d like. Until then, check these out and get ready to get weird.
I recently picked up the Southbound S/T, which was done by The Gifted. Great score done with all analog synths. Check it out if you get a chance.
George A. Romero had a way with zombies. His first three zombie films, the trilogy if you will, stand as a testament to the whole zombie genre of filmmaking in my eyes. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were not only horrific tales of the dead rising from their graves(or from wherever they may have dropped dead initially), but there was real biting(no pun intended) social commentary within those two films.
Night came out at a time when the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, and segregation were all still very much in the forefront of social and political discussion. He mixed old school horror, new school gore, and very real race issues into a one of a kind late night drive-in flick.
Dawn took a small group of survivors(including two from a news channel and two soldiers) and dropped them in the relative safety of an abandoned mall to attempt to rebuild their lives. It really spoke to a time in the late 70s when malls were becoming all the rage and on some existential level a place where we felt at home. A one stop shopping experience where we could buy clothes, appliances, semi-automatic weapons, jewelry, and grab an Orange Julius while we were at it. As our protagonists found out, no matter how many amenities we may have, life and living can’t be created out of thin air.
So that leaves us with the third film, Day of the Dead. It is obviously the lesser of the three. It had the potential to be another amazing horror film, but the budget was cut drastically which caused Romero to cut down the screenplay significantly which caused his story to lack. Here’s the thing, I think that may be partially true. There’s a feeling that Romero had a lot more to say about the militarization of the country in an apocalyptic situation such as a zombie invasion. And I could see a case for science vs soldiers. These could have been really interesting topics to explore had their been the money and proper resources for Romero to work with. As it turns out he took a 200 page script and cut it down to an 88 page script. I would’ve gladly sat through a 3-hour epic story about zombies, soldiers, scientists, and the battle to save civilization. What we got was a movie with a lot of overacting, scene-chewing, lots of yelling, a strong female lead, stereotypes, misogynistic soldiers, and some of the best gore from the 80s.
So many characters over shot in this film; in-particular Joseph Pilato as Capt Henry Rhodes, Anthony Dileo Jr as Salazar, and the gruesome twosome soldiers under Pilato’s Rhodes. There was just so much chewing of the scenes here that it made it hard to even concentrate on the well done acting that was going on(Lori Cardille, Richard Liberty, and Sherman Howard were actually great in this.) I’m not against hamming it up a bit for the sake of fun, but the crassness of the soldiers towards the female doctor was just a little over the top for me. I think it would’ve been more effective for the misogyny to take a backseat to more existential dread of being stuck in an underground base for all eternity.
Despite all that I still love this film.
I recently grabbed the reissue of John Harrison’s excellent score courtesy of Waxwork Records. Putting this on the turntable I was reminded how much I really liked the music in this film. When it starts playing I’m instantly taken to those scenes. The opening scene of Dr. Sarah Bowman’s nightmare, to the title sequence with Tom Savini’s handiwork, to the scenes with Bub re-learning to be human again; the score was a very visceral experience for me. It’s the sort of thing that hits you like something locked away in your subconscious for years that’s set free at the drop of a needle.
Before I oversell this thing, let me first say it’s definitely a dated score. The film came out in 1985 and the soundtrack shows. There’s lots of 80s keyboard tones here. Some of these motifs could have been stand ins for 80s network TV melodramas, but don’t judge it on that. It’s all well done. Harrison made a career out of working with George Romero, having been a Pittsburgh guy himself. He seems to have locked into what Romero needed for his films. As well as Day of the Dead, he scored Creepshow and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, as well as serving as executive producer on Romero’s Survival of the Dead. He had a lifelong connection with the king of the Dead, so he added just the right touches to Day. It’s a very warm score; human, even. It goes a long way to help add humanity to a lot of living characters that come across as dead inside as the zombies they’re hiding from.
Though Day of the Dead didn’t turn out the way the late master of Horror wanted it to, it’s still a solid chapter in the zombie canon of George Romero. It also has some of the best gore from any film in the 80s thanks to Tom Savini. It’s also got one hell of a score by John Harrison.
October is finally here. Let the horror(of the cinematic variety) begin.
I was sad to wake up to the news that we lost yet another “Master of Horror”, Mr. Tobe Hooper. While he never quite had the career or accolades of guys like Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and George Romero, he still contributed to the genre in a big way.
His biggest and most prominent work was 1974s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. For me, that film felt like watching a snuff film. It was jaunty, awkward, and seemed to be cinema verite for horror. The way Hooper shot the film it almost seemed like a found footage movie. The frankness in the deaths made my stomach churn. The Leatherface family was scarier to me than any boogeyman hiding in my closet. It truly seemed to be the bloody, violent death knell of the peace and love crowd. It was like Hooper was saying “The grand experiment failed, so here’s what you get. Don’t choke on your own rib while you’re at it.” This was one of those movies that sat on the wall of the video store with a gnarly layer of dust on it, taunting me each time I’d come in. It was daring me to take it home and destroy my psyche with it. When I finally did, it did not disappoint. In the 80s he made the sequel and did something amazing. He turned a horrifying, gut-wrenching film into something more. He added gallows humor and made the Leatherface clan into joke-cracking psychopaths and created something as equally entertaining as the original. It was much maligned when it was released, it’s now considered a cult classic. It was also the start for Bill Moseley, a Rob Zombie regular.
Besides TCM, Hooper also made Poltergeist, Lifeforce, Spontaneous Combustion, and The Mangler. While he never reached the plateau of the Chainsaw films and Poltergeist, he always made entertaining bad films. I quite liked Lifeforce and Spontaneous Combustion. The 80s were a great time for decadent, sleazy horror. Hooper was a big part of that.
He also did some great television work, most notably on Amazing Stories, Freddy’s Nightmares, and Tales From The Crypt. But the greatest thing he ever created for television is easily Salem’s Lot. To this day I’ve never been more freaked out or scared than I was watching that two-part miniseries based on Stephen King’s vampire novel. I still get freaked out if I hear something that resembles someone scratching at my window. If all Tobe Hooper had done was Salem’s Lot, he could still feel solid in knowing he made that truly horrifying film.
Another horror master gone. RIP, Tobe. I think I’ll have some roadside BBQ in your honor today.