H.P. Lovecraft

Black Site

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The Elder Gods once ruled over the human race, until humans found a way to deport them to another world. A secret military base is dedicated to finding, catching, and deporting the few remaining Elder Gods on Earth. When an Elder God who killed one soldier’s parents is caught, the site is thrown into chaos and it is up to her to send it back to where it came from.

When I pressed play to start this film I had fairly low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying Black Site. Tom Paton (Redwood) wrote and directed this Lovecraftian sci-fi thriller. The film wisely begins with a bit of text to establish context for the audience, making it much easier to understand what is happening when the film really begins. We are then introduced to a young girl as her parents are killed by an Elder God. Years later that same girl is a young woman working at the Black Site. The plot is interesting because it brings in ideas created by Lovecraft with other worlds and Elder Gods with long tentacles, but it also has a woman going through internal turmoil when the god who killed her parents is captured. Things become even more tension-filled with a group of highly trained humans infiltrate the site. They are clearly trying to get to the Elder God, but why they want to reach him is less clear. This aspect of the plot gives the film an 80’s John Carpenter feel such as Escape From New York. It is one part Lovecraft, one part Carpenter, yet still feels like a fresh take by Patton.

While the general plot and various twists and turns it takes are very well done, there are some parts of the dialogue that are less successful. Specifically, there is something about the two main female characters and how their dialogue is written that comes across as unnatural. These characters are written so they say a lot of witty one-liners and talk tough, but there isn’t a lot to their speech other than that, especially with the young female protagonist. She is written in a way that seems like her only mode is sarcastic one-liners. It almost comes across as if her lines were written for Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was definitely an aspect of the film that stood out and not in a good way. I still think the rest of the plot is well done and the dialogue for the Elder God is fantastic.

The acting in Black Site falters in a few scenes, but as a whole the cast is entertaining to watch. The film stars Samantha Schnitzler (Viking Siege, The Sitter) as Ren Reid. Ren has to be tough because of her work and she uses that toughness to mask the trauma of seeing an Elder God kill her parents. Schnitzler does a great job of occasionally letting Ren’s inner vulnerability break through as she tries to get to the god, but at the same time the writing hinders the performance a bit. She does what she can with the one-liners, but there are many times where they fall a bit flat. The performance that will likely stand out in the minds of audience members is Kris Johnson (Airborne, Who Needs Enemies) as the Elder God Erebus trapped inside a human body. Johnson is lucky to have some of the best dialogue in the film, but his delivery is what sells his portrayal of the god. It truly feels like there is something very powerful trapped inside the man on the screen.

There are many artistic elements that work very well throughout the film. The special effects are surprisingly well done. The CGI is primarily used to create the imagery Ren sees in visions, which includes seeing what the Elder Gods look like in their true form. There are also more subtle ones used to show the high tech security of the site as well as what appears to be electricity that comes off Erebus when he is trapped in the man’s body. Many of the effects also look great because of stunning cinematography and iconic use of lighting. The score for the film is also fantastic. It sounds as if a John Carpenter film and a 1950’s sci-fi film had a musical baby. All of these elements help to enhance the plot while also moving it forward.

Black Site is a modern sci-fi tale with elements of Carpenter and Lovecraft while also having heart. I was pleasantly surprised with the film, especially when it came to the beautiful effects and the excellent score. The plot itself is also quite fascinating as it slowly reveals many secrets, although there are times where the dialogue detracts from the plot a bit. This also affects the acting in some scenes, but as a whole the cast does a great job. Black Site delivers plenty of entertainment to the audience and it makes me interested to see what Paton does next.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: In The Mouth of Madness (1995)

John Trent is an insurance fraud investigator. After the disappearance of a famed horror author Trent is assigned the case to discover the truth behind what happened. Along with the help of the author’s editor, Linda Styles, Trent descends into a dark world. The more he learns about the author and his work, the more the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur. It seems like there is more to this story than meets the eye.

To be completely honest, I had never heard of this movie until June of this year. I was at John Carpenter’s Live Retrospective. Carpenter started playing a theme I had never heard before and was showing scenes from a film I had never seen. As soon as I got home I looked the film up and discovered In the Mouth of Madness. After watching it for the first time 21 years after it was released I can say that this film is truly another masterpiece by the great John Carpenter. This is a very different kind of film for Carpenter. It is the kind of film where you have to pay close attention or else you might miss some vital little details. It is also different from other films that Carpenter directed in that it deals with Lovecraftian themes and it makes you question what is real.

The basic premise of the plot focuses on John Trent. When horror author Sutter Cane goes missing Trent is hired to see if Cane’s publishers faked his disappearance in order to get the insurance money. Through this investigation we as the audience are taken on a journey that does not have a linear timeline. This adds to the feeling that reality is bending as the story continues. We also learn that Cane’s books not only seem to have a psychological effect on the readers, but that they may be part of a plan to unleash monstrous creatures from another world. This plot really drew me in because it was unexpected, and it made you pay attention. If you didn’t pay attention you were likely to miss some of the best parts.

This was a brilliant performance by Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon) as John Trent. Neill has been in many major motion pictures, and he never disappoints. His portrayal of Trent stood out as another great performance because of the transformation his character goes through. Again, this isn’t something you see in a linear timeline. The audience is introduced to Trent towards the end of his transformation; then they get to see what lead to his downward spiral into madness. His journey as the ever practical and skeptical investigator that eventually becomes a man whose world has been turned upside down is breathtaking.

Carpenter is known for having gorgeous practical effects in his films. This one is no different. For the most part we see simple makeup effects on the people who have been infected by Cane’s writing. There were only a few of the practical effects that truly stand out. One amazing effect was of the editor, Linda Styles, as her body contorts and twists into a grotesque thing. Another practical effect from the film was brilliant because of it’s subtlety. The sweet little old inn keeper, Mrs. Pickman, becomes a horrific tentacle covered monster. What is clever about the practical effect is that you never see the monster full on. There are small close ups of a tentacle here and there, but for the most part it is a simple silhouette. The final stand out scene is when the evil beings from the other side break into our world. There are many giant, slimy, tentacle covered beasts ready to wreak havoc in our world. The effects, much like Trent’s grip on reality, become more and more fantastical as the story progresses.

The only negative I can say about this film is that I wish I had seen it sooner. In the Mouth of Madness is another marvelous work of art by John Carpenter, albeit a lesser known work. This is the kind of film that you will come back to again and again, each time finding new details that you had never noticed before. It will also stick in your mind for days after viewing, making you ponder reality, fantasy, insanity, and where the lines are drawn. All those who are in need of a horror film that will give you a mental workout, this is your film.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: Re-Animator (1985)

A medical school student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is trying to find a classmate to be his new roommate. When a mysterious new student answers his add, Dan’s world gets turned upside down. This new student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), is obsessed with finding an agent that can re-animate dead tissue. Dan slowly gets sucked into Herbert’s work. It doesn’t take long for things to go awry, with some dire consequences that the two students may not be able to get themselves out of.

I know this may come as a shock to many horror fans, but this was my first time seeing Re-Animator. I know, I know! It’s shocking. There are many classics that I need to catch up on (which is why I do Throwback Thursday reviews). This is a film I’ve always wanted to watch. I see clips of it here and there on different horror TV networks, plus it has quite the reputation as a cult classic horror film.

Going into this film, the one thing I was the most excited about was the practical effects. Luckily the film lived up to my expectations. Eighties horror and scifi films always have the most creative and elaborate practical effects. Re-Animator doesn’t use as many practical effects as I was expecting, but the ones they do use are pretty amazing. Two of the stand-outs are a mangled, deceased cat that gets re-animated and a re-animated headless body (along with the severed head). With the severed head they did a great job going back and forth between using a model head and the actual actor’s head (which was stuck through a hole in a table).

Generally speaking, the story was interesting and kept my attention. While I wouldn’t technically call this a zombie film, it takes an interesting approach to the how and why the dead would be brought back to life. I enjoyed that it went in a more scientific direction than many living dead films do. There were some aspects of the plot that I don’t think worked quite as well. There were many times during the story where I couldn’t help but think “why?” Why was Herbert so obsessed with proving he could re-animate dead tissue? Why did Dan trust Herbert so easily? Why was Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) obsessed with Megan (Barbara Crampton)? These pieces of the story made things more exciting, but I hate not knowing why they happened in the first place.

Considering this is a campy eighties horror flick, the acting is surprisingly good. Jeffrey Combs (Frighteners, From Beyond) was equal parts creepy and intriguing as the obsessive Herbert West. Throughout the film he does an amazing job of portraying the borderline psychotic need Herbert has to prove his theory, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. Bruce Abbott (Dark Justice), while not really a standout in the film, was still enjoyable to watch. At times his character felt a bit bland, but that could have been more due to writing than his acting. My favorite performance came from David Gale (Bride of Re-Animator) as the menacing Dr. Carl Hill. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to play a severed head, but he pulled it off in a way that was disturbing and comical all at the same time.

While I couldn’t say this film is my favorite eighties horror film, it’s definitely a fun watch that will appeal to many viewers. Re-Animator is a cult classic for good reason. Whatever it lacks in the scares, it greatly makes up for in weirdness and humor. It’s a fun story with a bizarre cast of characters. Add that to the delightfully cheesy eighties practical effects, and you get a recipe for a fun flick that will entertain people for years to come. This is a film that every true horror fan should see at least once.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Killer Rack

Betty (Jessica Zowlak) has low self esteem. She gets treated poorly at her job and by her boyfriend. The common theme Betty notices in all this is that she gets overlooked because she doesn’t have big boobs. She decides to get breast implants, hoping they make her life better. Little does she know that the plastic surgeon worships H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods, and this surgeon plans to implant more than silicone into Betty’s breasts.

This film really took my by surprise. I won’t lie, when I first saw the trailer I was not expecting much. What I got was a hilarious satirical film that not only knew how to make fun of itself, but also knew how to make fun of the entire horror genre in the best way possible. There are even several scenes where the filmmakers purposely introduce stereotypes you would commonly find in horror movies. For example, when you first meet the detectives investigating a mysterious string of murders they are introduced as the older cop who is a week away from retirement and the rookie who just got married and is trying to have a baby with his wife. If that isn’t a stereotype setting them up for disaster, I don’t know what is. There is even a “reviewer” that talks about how the events at the climax are a metaphor for a woman taking control of her body and becoming empowered, and he plans on posting their review online. The writing was probably my favorite aspect of this film. The dialogue was witty, humorous, sarcastic, and downright ridiculous all at the same time.

The writing was greatly helped by the acting. Much of the acting was over the top, which is to be expected in this kind of horror comedy. One of the best over-the-top performances came from Debbie Rochon (Axe to Grind) as Dr. Thulu. She pulled off the evil scientist persona so well, and she had me laughing in every scene she was in. Dr. Thulu’s interaction with her nurse, played by the hilarious Robert Bozek (Hope), are some of my favorite scenes that made me laugh the hardest. I was also pleasantly surprised by Jessica Zwolak (Dry Bones). She did a great job portraying poor, self-conscious Betty. What I loved most about her performance is that she managed to appear to be self-conscious and rather mousy, but she did it in a way that wasn’t pathetic or annoying.

Most of the effects in this film were practical effects, which I always love. Without giving too much away, the big reveal for the “killer rack” at the climax of the film will have you laughing out loud, even with all the carnage and bloodshed that ensues. Just when you think things can’t get more ridiculous, they do! I’m really not surprised that the killer rack tied for best monster at the 2015 Fright Night Theatre Film Festival. The only part of the killer rack creature(s) that I didn’t like was when CGI was used**. It is really only used in one scene during the climax, and I understand that logistically what they did with CGI could not be done with practical effects, but the CGI ruined the look a bit for me. Other than that, the only other visual aspect I didn’t enjoy was the set for the office where Betty worked. The other sets were perfectly fine, but the office seemed like it was almost thrown together as an afterthought.

One of the aspect of this film that stood out for me was the music. This film has an original song called “Fun Bags” that plays during a dream sequence. This song is probably one of the funniest songs I have ever heard, and it is incredibly catchy. Since watching the film, I have got in stuck in my head on more than one occasion. The song also earned this film the Best Song award at the 2015 Fright Night Theatre Film Festival.

The entire concept reminded me a bit of “vagina dentata.” It’s the idea that something straight men desire can bring about their ultimate demise. I agree with the “reviewer” from the film that this had a lot to do with female empowerment as well, but not necessarily in the sense he describes. It’s more about Betty learning to be okay with her body and realizing there will always be someone out there who will love you for you. At the same time, this film is also simply about a pair of man-eating boobs that want to take over the world. The beauty of this film is that it can be both, and that is part of why it is so hysterical.

I said it once and I’ll say it again: this film really was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, it is only on the film festival circuit right now and not available to rent or buy. Per director Greg Lamberson, the film should be available on DVD in August or September of 2016. So you can either try to catch the film at a festival near you, or wait until the DVD comes out. I will be sure to keep everyone posted on social media when there is a more precise DVD release date. You all should watch it when you get the chance. Killer Rack is a titillating tale about a pair of outrageous monsters that will have you laughing from start to finish.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

** I have been informed since writing this review that the tentacles that I thought were CGI are actually stop-motion. While that makes me appreciate the effort more, I still think the creatures would have more impact without them.