Shudder

Nightmare Cinema

MV5BNTk2NGE1YjItZWYyNS00YmJiLWJlNjgtYTJlMTQyNTg1MzZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI4Mjg4MjA@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_

One by one, people are drawn to a seemingly abandoned movie theater. As they take a seat in the empty rows the lights go down and the projectors starts up. What these people see on screen is their worst nightmares. Each person must face their fears. Then they must face the projectionist.

Horror fan-favorite Mick Garris (Hocus Pocus, Sleepwalkers) brought his latest Masters of Horror-like film, Nightmare Cinema, to the Portland Horror Film Festival. In this film, Garris brought together other well-known horror directors to create an anthology that touches on many different subgenres. The connecting plot is by Garris himself and revolves around characters from each segment being drawn to the old movie theater. Once inside, a creepy projectionist shows them their greatest fears on the big screen. From there the film goes into different segments, each with a very different look, feel, and tone.

The first is written and directed by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead, ABCs of Death) that starts out as an 80’s style slasher, but quickly turns into something else. Then the audience is shown the more horrific, if not darkly funny, side of plastic surgery directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling). From there we get a more traditional demonic possession segment directed by Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Versus) that has an epic climax. Writer and director David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) takes on the fourth segment with a black and white Twilight Zone-like story about a woman who is struggling to keep hold of her sanity as she sees monsters all around her. Finally, Garris returns in the last segment in his heartwarming supernatural thriller about a boy in a hospital who can see the dead.

What makes this anthology work so well is that each chapter feels entirely unique and independent from one another. Yet, at the same time, the overarching story of the projectionist and his empty theater acts as a fantastic connector between each segment. The film also delivers a little something that every horror fan can enjoy. There are parts that are in the realm of horror-comedy, some of it is supernatural and eerie, and there are even some aspects that venture into the sci-fi side of things. I personally enjoyed each chapter of the film, but even if others don’t, there will at least be one segment that tickles their fancy.

There are a wide array of acting styles in Nightmare Cinema, and each of them is incredibly entertaining. Each actor does a great job of molding their performances to fit with the tone of the segment they are acting in. There are a few select performances that stand out. One of the most powerful performances comes from Elizabeth Reaser (The Haunting of Hill House, Ouija: Origin of Evil) in Slade’s chapter, “This Way to Egress.” Reaser plays Helen, a mother struggling to determine if the world she sees around her is real or all in her mind. She acts with her entire body, showing the depth of her tension and anxiety in a powerful way. A surprise performance can be seen in Brugués’ segment, “The Thing in the Woods,” in the form of Sarah Elizabeth Withers in her first feature film role as Samantha. What I love about Withers’ performance is how she perfectly captures the acting style of classic 80’s slasher final girls. While these two performances are my favorite, it is a difficult decision to make because everyone truly does a wonderful job.

With each segment of Nightmare Cinema being completely different, there is a wide variety of effects used. For the most part the various chapters utilize practical effects. This can be seen in everything from corpses, extreme plastic surgery, people with monstrous faces, and more. All of it is beautifully done and enhances the stories being told. CGI effects are used a bit more sparingly, aside from certain scenes in “The Thing in the Woods” segment. The CGI in that story can look a bit cheesy, but it is in keeping with the classic 80’s theme. It is clear that a lot of thought was put into each effect and how they could be used to add visual interest to each chapter.

Nightmare Cinema brings together horror greats to create a variety of chilling tales to appeal to every kind of horror fan. Each chapter is completely unique when compared to the others and each one is highly entertaining. There are shocks, laughs, scares, and everything in between. The various segments are filled with fantastic performances and amazing effects that only help to make each story all the more fun to watch. Mick Garris clearly knows how to gather the best directors to create brilliant works of horror. I hope Nightmare Cinema is just the first in what has the potential to be a fantastic anthology franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Boar

BOAR-OfficialPoster-WEB-723x1024

There are many things that can kill you in Australia. In one remote part of the outback, there is a wild boar on the loose. This isn’t your average wild boar and it is out for blood. One family unwittingly wandered into the beast’s territory. They are in for the fight of their lives.

I remember first hearing about Boar a few years ago, but then it drifted off my radar. Now, it is being released as a Shudder exclusive. The film is written and directed by Chris Sun of Charlie’s Farm fame, which makes the reference to Charlie’s Farm in this film even more hilarious. I’m generally a fan of the killer animal subgenre of horror. Fans of other killer animal flicks such as Razorback and Lake Placid will definitely enjoy Boar. The plot is appropriately simple and doesn’t bog itself down by creating an elaborate backstory for why the boar is so huge. Instead, the focus is on the ensuing carnage caused by the boar and the people it terrorizes.

While the focus of Boar is clearly the savage kills, it does a surprisingly good job of including character development. There are two families who get the most screen time. They are introduced in fairly organic ways and the audience is given time to get to know them. This is an important aspect of horror films because if the audience doesn’t care if the characters live or die, then the tension and suspense will be lost. Yet the filmmakers wisely placate the boar’s (and the audience’s) thirst for blood by throwing in a few kills of random characters along the way.

Almost all of the main characters are likable, with one exception, but the performances are just okay. Audiences don’t necessarily expect Oscar-worthy performances from killer animal horror films, so there isn’t anything wrong with that. My personal favorite performance is Melissa Tkautz (Game Room, Houses) as Sasha. She is the independent and strong-willed bar owner in the small town. Tkautz makes Sasha an enjoyable character by making her both sassy and charming. Probably the most well-known actor in Boar is Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2) as Bruce. Bruce is the lone American of the group and he’s basically a kindhearted dork. This is a nice departure for Moseley as most horror fans know him as a villain. Nathan Jones (Charlie’s Farm, Mad Max: Fury Road) plays Bruce’s brother-in-law, Bernie. Jones is a beast of a man, which makes it hilarious to see how the men fear him yet he is so sweet to all the ladies. The dynamics between each of the main characters draws the audience in so we want them to outlive the boar.

The effects team behind Boar uses a combination of practical and CGI effects. For most of the shots of the massive beast the effects are entirely practical. These effects are honestly a bit on the hokey side, but even that seems to be par for the course when it comes to killer animal movies. The practical effects for the boar are still impressive just because of the sheer size it had to be built in. For the scenes where there is more wide shot action, such as when the boar runs around, the team went with CGI. The CGI isn’t quite as good as the practical effects, but it doesn’t detract from the overall appeal of the creature design.

Boar delivers on laughs, excitement, and one killer animal. The plot is simple, but gives the audience enough to keep them engaged. This is helped by having a group of likable characters. Much of the acting and the effects are average, but the film makes up for it by being fun to watch. If the allure of watching a killer boar on the loose isn’t enough to get people to watch this film, then the star-power behind Bill Moseley’s name definitely will.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

The Nightshifter

nightshifter

Stênio works the night shift at a morgue in Brazil. While his life seems fairly mundane, there is one thing that makes Stênio unique; he can speak to the dead. Each night he communicates with the dead who end up on his slab. When Stênio messes with forces more powerful than he understands, he unwittingly unleashes his own hell on Earth.

This frightening Brazilian film is an adaptation of the novel by Marco de Castro. Cláudia Jouvin (Alone Man) co-wrote the adaptation with director Dennison Ramalho (ABC’s of Death 2). What makes The Nightshifter so fascinating is the unique mythology it creates. The film quickly established Stênio’s ability to speak with the dead and that he has always had this ability. Yet he keeps it a secret and it is not revealed why he has this strange gift. For the most part all the dead can do is talk. That is, until Stênio breaks the rules of the dead and unleashes an evil that is dedicated to ruining his life. Unfortunately, this is also where the mythology gets a little foggy. The rules are not well established and result in a bit of confusion as to what the dead are capable of doing.

One thing the filmmakers of The Nightshifter are very skilled at is the building of tension. Even when the dead are not a threat, there is something absolutely disturbing about them. As things get more intense, the suspense becomes palpable. Some of the most tense scenes involve an evil entity attempting to make Stênio appear as though he’s insane. Many of the scares are also quite effective. I watched the film on a computer during the day and certain scenes still managed to make my hair stand on end. I can only imagine how terrifying the film would be on a bigger screen in the dark. While for the most part the film has great intensity, the pacing is a bit off in certain areas. It leads to strange lulls interspersed throughout the tension and makes the film seem like it goes on longer than it truly does.

The performances in The Night Shifter are all fantastic, even if some of the characters aren’t that well written. Daniel de Oliveira (Liquid Truth, Boca) is a delight to watch as Stênio. He may not be perfect, but Stênio is dedicated to his work and clearly loves his children. When his children are in danger, he does his best to protect them. Oliveira commands attention every time he’s on screen. While the female leads are written as unfortunate stereotypes, the performances are fantastic. Fabiula Nascimento (492, A Wolf at the Door) plays Stênio’s wife, Odete. She is the stereotype of the bitchy, unfaithful wife who seems to hate her husband. Bianca Comparato (3%, In Treatment) plays the virginal, sweet, and helpful Lara. Both Nascimento and Comparato play their characters well despite the archetypes they represent. I can only imagine these are how the women were written in the book, but I wish the filmmakers had made these women a bit more complex.

There are some really great effects used in the film. The Nightshifter utilizes a combination of CGI and practical effects in order to achieve gorgeous imagery and spine-chilling frights. For the most part, the bodies in the morgue are made to look gruesome through practical effects. It is nearly impossible to tell these are not real bodies, even during the autopsy scenes. The CGI comes in when the dead talk to Stênio. There appears to be CGI layered over the face of the cadavers to create a truly eery and disturbing appearance. The filmmakers also smartly utilize lighting in their favor, illuminating scenes in a way that draws focus to a specific area while also making the film beautiful to look at.

The Nightshifter is a spine-chilling tale that shows one should never meddle with the dead. While I’m not familiar with the source material, Ramalho and Jouvin clearly delivered an effective adaptation. It brings plenty of tension and scares, along with fantastic performances. There are some areas where the pacing falters a bit and the female characters leave something to be desired. Despite that, the film is still an achievement in Brazilian filmmaking. Horror fans, be sure to thank Shudder for bringing such a beautiful film to the states.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel

4408401.box_art

Eight years after the Hell House LLC tragedy, and the subsequent disappearance of a documentary film crew, the mystery of the Abaddon Hotel remains unsolved. An anonymous tip sent to a journalist claims all the evidence of what happened is hidden inside the hotel. The journalist and her crew, along with the only surviving member of the original documentary crew, decide to go back to the hotel to find the truth. They will have to sneak past police and break in, but the real battle will be getting out.

The highly anticipated sequel to Hell House LLC hit Shudder just in time for the Halloween season. Stephen Cognetti returns as writer and director of this found footage haunted house flick. The sequel is filmed similarly to the first film. There are documentary filmmaker shots, videos from phones and handheld devices, news reports, and interviews. This allows the filmmakers to include multiple different perspectives outside the main cast of characters. The scares are also done in a very similar way. They are subtle, and generally lack jump scares. This makes the film itself terrifying, but the fright factor has a lasting effect even after the film is over. Fans will recognize a couple of the more iconic frightening faces, including the absolutely creepy clown mannequin and the haunting ghost woman.

Unfortunately, there are certain aspects of the plot that make Hell House LLC II less successful than its predecessor. One of my only critical notes in the first one was a few unanswered questions. In a haunting film it is fine to have those, but there were some parts left a little too ambiguous. This film goes in the polar opposite direction. Not only does the plot try to tie up every loose end in this film, but it even goes on to answer the questions I had from the first film. The filmmakers end up putting everything into a neat package that is almost too clean. The film goes into so much explanation that it slows the climax to a crawl, taking any suspense out of the moment. The suspense leading up to that moment makes up for the sudden halt, but the climax still comes across as lackluster.

The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Vasile Flutur (Far From Here) gives the strongest performance as Mitchell. He is intense, skeptical, but he also strives to find the truth behind the disappearance of his friends. A less enjoyable performance came from Jillian Geurts (The Algebra of Need) as the journalist, Jessica. This is partly due to writing and partly the performance itself. In terms of the writing, Jessica is just a generally unlikeable character because of her unwavering need to get the scoop on the history of the hotel. Geurts’ performance comes across as a bit over-rehearsed and her delivery is sometimes a bit exaggerated. It almost feels like a performance for the stage, which doesn’t fit well with the tone of this film. Kyle Ingleman (Attack of the Slime People) delivers a similar performance to Geurts, but it works better for his role as the psychic, Brock Davies.

One common theme amongst all the characters, perhaps with the exception of Brock Davies, is that the motives behind their actions don’t quite come across. In a found footage film it is so important to convey why these people would put themselves in these situations and film the entire time. The first film did this successfully, but it doesn’t hold up as well in the sequel. Davies can be written off because he is a TV psychic, so communicating with the spirits in the Abaddon Hotel and getting it on film would be huge for his career. As for the others, some of their motivations for going to the hotel make sense, but their reasons for staying and continuing to film are a bit hazy at best.

With the use of simplistic scares the filmmakers wisely went with simple effects as well. As I mentioned before, the eerie clown mannequin makes an appearance in this film. Not only is this the most frightening and simple look, but it is also the source of some of the most spine-chilling scares. There are other makeup looks done for some of the ghosts seen in the hotel that are the same as in the previous film, but they are more visible in Hell House LLC II. This may not have been a wise decision, as I am a firm believer in less is more when showing ghosts/creatures in horror films. The brighter lighting makes it more obvious that these characters look as if they are from a Halloween haunt, but that also lends itself well to idea the of this location being the ultimate haunted house.

Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel has many hits and misses. What works well is the subtle scares, which start earlier in the film than fans saw in its predecessor. It is also great to get some of the answers I was looking for in the first film. What doesn’t work as well is the film’s overall lack of direction. It doesn’t flow quite as well, likely because a lot of effort was put in making everything clear and obvious to the audience. It results in a subdued climax that should have packed more of a punch. Fans who enjoyed the first film will likely be disappointed, but this sequel is still likely to give you chills and make you avoid any abandoned hotels for a while.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

 

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

sweetsweet

Adele has always been a shy, sweet, responsible girl. Adele’s mother sends her to live with and care for her sick, agoraphobic aunt. Soon after moving in she meets Beth, a sensual, mysterious young women. The more time the young women spend together the more Adele’s limits are tested. Soon her life begins to spiral down a path of lust, obsession, and something much darker.

From the very first frame this film has the feel of the 1970’s. Everything from the clothing to the cinematography transports you to a different era. It isn’t until we see Reagan on a television in the background that the time period is confirmed as likely being in the early eighties. To be honest, the addition of Reagan on the TV was unnecessary to determine the time the film takes place in, and I believe the film could be a bit more intriguing if this had been excluded. The gorgeous cinematography, the haunting music, and the mysterious nature of the plot all lend to the early-seventies, Italian-inspired atmosphere of the film. It gives the film a distinct giallo look and feel.

The film has a very sexy gothic quality to it that only enhances the relatively simple story. Adele is so innocent and naive. As she spends more and more time with Beth, who is a wild and a free spirit, Adele starts to do things that she normally would never do. What is even more interesting is how her actions directly affect the aunt that she cares for. It is fascinating and tense to watch Adele’s actions spiral out of control as she becomes increasingly infatuated with Beth. While the story is interesting and the film itself is beautiful to watch, the end is a bit rough. It adds a supernatural element that works with the style of the film, yet it doesn’t make very much sense. When I finished the film I found myself trying to analyze the end and was unable to make sense of it. It is almost as if there should be one more scene in the film, that perhaps got cut, that would better connect all the elements.

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl continues the horror film trend in recent years that focuses on young women coming into their own. Adele is shy, awkward, and clearly repressed in more ways than one. She always does what she is told whether it be by her mother or her aunt. Beth is the conduit that allows her to break free from the bonds of responsibility. Their friendship allows Adele to branch out from her comfort zone, both by breaking the rules and discovering her inner sexuality. It is almost as if Beth is the embodiment of the person Adele wishes she could be.

Both of the young actresses in this film do a stellar job. Erin Wilhelmi (Disconnect, Perks of Being a Wallflower) is brilliant as shy little Adele. She is so innocent and follows all the rules. It is fascinating to see Wilhelmi convey Adele’s transformation as she has a sort of sexual, rebellious awakening as she spends more time with Beth. Quinn Shephard (Unaccompanied Minors, Hostages) is also brilliant as Beth. Shepard plays the character in such a way where you sense there is more to her than meets the eye, and she simply oozes sensuality. Wilhelmi and Shephard together have amazing on-screen chemistry. It is impossible to take your eyes off of them.

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is a seductive and atmospheric film that will take you back to a different era of film. The sinister and sexual nature will draw you in and hold your focus, as will the astounding cinematography and remarkable performances by both Wilhelmi and Shephard. This could almost be a flawless film if not for the somewhat confusing ending. While it doesn’t necessarily ruin the film, it may leave you scratching your head as the credits roll. My advice would be to simply take the ending for what it is, and don’t attempt to read too much into it. Either way, you are in for a treat.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10