*turns cap around, sits backwards in chair*
Hey folks, I don't often give shoutouts to Brands, but I would be remiss if I didn't give Shudder its propers. It's basically Netflix for horror (plus other obscure, uncategorizable movies) and it's where I watched a few of the movies I've very briefly reviewed below. The others can be streamed on Netflix or rented on YouTube as indicated.
A Farewell to Kings Entertainment Company
Black Mountain Side (Dir. Nick Szostakiwkyj, 2014, YouTube) - An archaeological dig in the Yukon wilderness uncovers an obelisk dating back to the ice age, unwittingly unleashing a pathogen on the researchers that inspires paranoia, murder and collective visions that no simple virus could explain. It's basically John Carpenter's The Thing but explicitly set in Canada, so I was going to think pretty highly of this movie already, yet I can't understate how Szostakiwkyj's direction and Cameron Tremblay's cinematography blew away my expectations. They either undersell or misdirect the tension they're building, so you're as surprised and unnerved as the protagonists when bad things come to a head. The last movie to subvert the conventions of suspense that well was Eduardo Sánchez's Lovely Molly, which I wrote a glowing critique of on a previous occasion. And for all of the (justifiable) comparisons to The Thing, Black Mountain Side wisely avoids aping the former's "Who is it?" conceit and approaches from a minimalistic and consequently more believable angle. I'll be writing a lot more about this movie in due time.
The Blackcoat's Daughter (Dir. Osgood Perkins, 2015, Shudder) - Two teenage girls are forced to stay at their Catholic boarding school in upstate New York over the winter break. It quickly becomes clear that they're sharing the old campus with something deeply destructive and unknowable, building to an utterly nihilistic conclusion in the vein of The Witch. Like Perkins' more recent movie, Netflix exclusive I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, there's little in the way of jump scares, with far greater emphasis on building an utterly oppressive and dreadful atmosphere. Though if you prefer a bit of splatter in your horror, trust me, its ending will not disappoint. To give you a taste of its vibe, it contains the only instance the words "Hail Satan" didn't make me laugh out loud and in fact sent chills down my spine. Keep an eye on one of the leads, Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka; the girl shows incredible range.
He Never Died (Dir. Jason Krawczyk, 2015, Netflix) - Black Flag's Henry Rollins is Jack, a curmudgeonly loner living in not-Toronto who discovers he has a daughter from a romantic fling many years ago. This throws a bit of a wrench in his lifestyle, which consists of being immortal, finding non-lethal ways to indulge in cannibalism, and not forming attachments to anybody over his countless years of existence. It's darkly funny, especially Rollins' endearingly withdrawn take on Jack, however the actual turns its plot takes are unimaginative, hinting toward a larger mythology but ultimately resolving as a vaguely supernatural revenge flick. There is supposed to be a limited series follow-up, which might be a better means of exploring Jack and all the weirdness surrounding them, hopefully with Rollins still in the lead. You may also recognize the lead villain, Alex, as being played by Steven Ogg, the voice of Trevor in Grand Theft Auto V. He's great when not given ersatz South Park material to work with.
Warner Bros. Pictures
The Ninth Configuration (Dir. William Peter Blatty, 1980, Shudder) - This psychodrama is Blatty's spiritual follow-up to The Exorcist, which he wrote both the screenplay and original novel of, though one would be hard-pressed to call it horror. I'm certainly not the first to compare it to Robert Altman's original M.A.S.H., using the setting of a radical military psychiatric facility to send up the morality and absurdity of war. Blatty being Blatty, this movie veers into much darker territory than Altman ever did, with genuinely wonderful performances from Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson and Ed Flanders. While not scary, it's eminently quotable. Keep an eye out for Jason "Father Karras" Miller, Robert Loggia and Blatty himself as just some of the patients.
Noroi: The Curse (Dir. Kôji Shiraishi, 2005, Shudder) - You know how in lesser found footage movies, the in-universe cameraperson doesn’t have the good sense to stop filming and just book it? And it kind of takes you out of the movie despite all of the formalistic attempts to make it feel authentic? Noroi comes close to that on more than a few occasions. But thanks to the quite frankly fucked up imagery this movie is rife with—especially some sequences during the climax—it’s all worth it in the end. Combining a paranormal investigator’s documentary with staged talk show sequences and some convincingly faked archival footage, it feels like a direct bridge between the woodland horror of The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity's suburban haunting. Oddly adding to its authenticity is the fairly large cast and variety of locations. It really does feel like a documentary that happened to go very, very bad.
Pontypool (Dir. Bruce McDonald, 2008, YouTube) - I'll have to elaborate more on this at a later date, but I'm fascinated by a very specific trope wherein things that aren't viruses act like they are: ideologies, personalities, concepts, etc. In the case of Pontypool, the zombie-like infection overtaking the residents of the eponymous central Ontario town travels by language rather than a physical contagion. It's set almost entirely in Pontypool's community radio station, where a shock jock (the criminally underrated Stephen McHattie) and his production crew learn of the outbreak through traffic reports and concerned listener call-ins. Despite completely explaining the phenomenon—usually a big no-no for good horror—it succeeds at remaining tense thanks to its small cast, claustrophobic set and by leaving a lot of the overt horror to the imagination. It's effective enough on its dialogue alone that one could conceivably adapt it as a radio play. And please, stay until the end of the credits for a seemingly non sequitur but metafictionally kind of brilliant epilogue.
That's all for now. I'm partway through the first draft of a piece on Black Mountain Side, which I'll ideally have up later this week. Until then, ~~~~