Monday, June 27, 2011

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews


Director: Breck Eisner
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson

review written by Nickolas Cook

This is how you make, not only an adult oriented, emotional horror film, but a respectful remake of what most Horrorheads consider one of Romero's better early films.
Director Eisner finds what works in Romero's original 1973 film, that sense of madness from out of nowhere and disorientation, paranoia and isolation, and sticks to them in his remake. He keeps the dialogue intelligent and realistic. One gets the feeling that people who have been caught in similar situations probably have acted when their own government descends upon with them a less than altruistic agenda--think Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. The pacing is one of the best suspenseful buildups I've seen in modern American horror in years, staring in the first minutes and carrying all the way through to the movie's final grim moments.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why this movie did not do better at the box office, and how it missed being listed on more critical best of lists for 2010.
Picking Timothy Olyphant as the lead was smart casting. He's an actor who can pull off most every emotion in a character's palette.
I mentioned paranoia as being one of the high points of each of the films. After all, as you watch both films, you find yourself wondering when does true mental insanity meet Trixie's effects? After all, these people are being pushed into a situation that would probably cause the most stable of people lose it.
Another smart choice in this remake was making sure that the spfx are minimal, but effective and never do they use overblown CGI.
This is a 'siege' film that becomes a 'chase' film which also treats with the modern day 'zombie' film.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone looking for remakes that treat our past genre films with respect and professionalism, not as an excuse to pander to the lowest common denominator with cookie cutter PG-13 crap.
That's why this movie made our Horrorhead Award Best of 2010 list.

--Nickolas Cook

Directors: Barbara Brancaccio, Joshua Zeman

review written by Nickolas Cook

While this isn't a fictional horror film, it is a fascinating and absolutely chilling documentary about one of the Eastern coast United States' most infamous serial killers, a man known to those who feared him as "Cropsey". If you're a fan of "The Burning" (1981), then you know where they got the name for their mysterious scarred hedge clipper wielding maniac. Urban legends ran rampant for years about this mysterious killer around Staten Island, N.Y. Was he a hooked hand faceless monster who snatched children in the dead of night? Or was he a maniac who existed hermit-like in the greenbelt forest deep in the woods, around a deserted TB hospital?
Or was, as it's suggested early on in the documentary, an all around name for any mysterious killer who lived on the fringes of society and did unspeakable things to those unlucky enough to run afoul of whichever their particular "Cropsey" might have been.
There is a sense of doom and violence inherent in the subject matter, and the documentary makers used this to their advantage throughout the production.

Infamous places like Willow Brook, a place known for its almost inhuman lack of sanitary conditions for hundreds of mentally ill children and young adults who had been left to rot in a state run institute which was finally shut down by authorities because of it.

The history of Staten Island and "Cropsey" is the history of the legends of unseen killers and the many missing children who disappeared over the decades in that area.

Andre Rand was the first suspect who the police arrested in the first high profile case of the missing Jennifer Schweiger but there were many angles that did not quite match up with this too convenient arrest, even when the young girl was found dead and buried 150 feet from the insane man's forest campsite. Based on circumstantial evidence, he was sentenced nonetheless, seemingly more to close the case than for any real evidence.

Later, when more children who had gone missing before Jennifer were being laid at Rand's feet as well, it became evident to the citizens of Staten Island that there was something more to the "Cropsey" legend than first they thought.

Jennifer's 1987 disappearance came after another less than high profile missing girl case, seven year old Holly Anne Hughes, who had gone missing in 1981, but there hadn't been enough evidence to bring Rand in for questioning at the time. It wasn't until 19 years later that he was brought up on charges while still serving time for Jennifer's death. But unlike Jennifer, Holly Anne's body was never found.

Neither were the handful of more missing children in the same neighborhood, all with the commonality that they were mentally handicapped. A telling part of the accusations against Rand was the fact that he had once worked in the now shut down mental ward, where he had complete access to hundreds of mentally handicapped children during his employment. When the place closed down, Rand moved into the forest surrounding the deserted mental facility, as if he could not leave the place where he had thrived
thrived. Between '81 and '87, was when all these young people went missing in the same area, a place surrounded by deep woods, uninhabited but for drifters and homeless and the insane residents who had once lived in the shut down mental institute.

It didn't help that Staten Island happens to also be home for one of the largest landfills in the eastern United States, which had been used by mob and other criminal elements as hiding places for their own bodies.

The documentarians attempts to gain access to the infamous Rand were stymied most the time, leaving much of their information gathering up to legal records and second hand accounts from people who were tied closely to the cases.

It is a depressing film. One cannot help but feel the pain of the people left with no bodies, no answers to their lost loved ones. The missing having been young and mentally handicapped only makes it even more horrible to contemplate.

There is a theory put forth by many people interviewed, both civilian and legal authorities, that Rand had an unknown accomplice who has never been found. There was another possible suspect named Robert Graham, who the documentarians managed to also interview for his take on Rand's guilt. Beyond Graham, the documentarians tackle this theory as well, but also come up against the same wall which the law did all those years before. There was the theory Rand had an underground group of homeless who he shared his victims with, both alive and dead. Stories of Rand's necrophiliac activities are also examined, as if his other known evils aren't enough. His proclivity for digging up dead bodies for sexual congress seem to be stories his past acquaintances advised police about throughout the investigation into his alleged kidnappings of local children.

This is the kind of film which makes fictional horror seem like kid's play. Watch it only if you want to be disturbed by true life horrors.

As Rand tells his documentarians late into the film, as they keep trying to gain access to him in prison for interviews, for the truth: "EVILNESS SELLS".


Further into the film, we find out that Rand and his unnamed accomplices may have also been into Satanism and this may have played into his activities.

But with the nutcases who then came out of the woodwork, and still seemed to be working their own nutcase angles, it's difficult to know what is truth when it comes to this particular angle, just as it was with the necrophiliac activities.

A visit to the abandoned facility by the young documentarians does show many signs of possible Satanic activities within. The fact that they chose to visit after dark seemed fairly foolhardy, in my opinion, and definitely provides some pretty spooky moments, in an already horrifying true story of violent despicable murder of innocent children.

Finally, Rand seemingly agrees to an interview with our eager documentarians. But it is no surprise that they got nothing more from him than any of the other dozens and dozens of people who have tried to do so. When they arrive for the prison interview, Rand refuses to see them. Then begins sending them follow up letters filled with Biblical scriptures and insane ramblings. During these letters, they find out Rand's mother was put into an insane institute when he was a child...but is this another red herring? The documentarian crew seems to believe it is nothing more than that.

Towards the end of the film, they actually get a phone call from Rand, who leaves a voice mail, wondering if they got his letter.

It seems obvious Rand is playing a game with anyone who will give him media attention, as he keeps trying to get the media give him coverage--but only on his terms.

So by the film's end, he is convicted of a second homicide and is sentenced to another life sentence, with no hope of parole until he's 93 years old.

But as for the other missing children, we are left with the disturbing certainty they will never be found and that he is also responsible foe their heinous deaths.

Although there are no graphic portions of this film, showing the bodies, it is still nonetheless a harrowing experience for anyone with empathy and compassion for those people left behind with no answers.

--Nickolas Cook


Director: Norman J. Warren
Cast: John Nolan, Carolyn Courage and James Aubrey

review written by Nickolas Cook

First off, yes, I have reviewed this film once before, our October 2010 issue, but having recently re-watched it, I felt I might have not given the film the proper attention it deserved, so here is my 2nd take on a strange little British made horror film that probably me and less than a hundred readers of The Black Glove will ever remember or care about.

During the late 70s heyday of the drive-in horror revolution, this little oddity of British Gothic horror comes in as something betwixt and between that strange time in horror film making when the UK producers were trying to find the transition between the straight ahead Gothic style horror (usually filled with swirling mists and ancient castles and supernatural terrors) which had been so successful for the likes of Hammer Studio and the modern slasher film (usually a mostly unseen black gloved and/or masked killer who takes out the cast one at a time--i.e., "the body count" movie) which was becoming the popular style of horror in America, thanks to the international success of such directors as Dario Argento.
"Terror" takes several of those common Gothic horror film elements- namely the swirling mists and ancient haunted castle home- and plops them right smack dab in the middle of a modern film studio making a Gothic horror film based on the producer's ancient family history of witch burnings and bloody murders.
The film is stocked with modern egotistical movie star characters, none of which you feel the slightest empathy for because they spend much of the film being bitchy and catty, making obnoxious remarks and playing mean spirited practical jokes on one another. So when they begin to get massacred by our angry witch, Mad Dolly, via various violently supernatural means, such as being pinned to a tree by sharp instruments, a beheading by pane of broken glass (a means of murder which tends to be popular enough to have turned in 1976's "The Omen" and a couple of years later in Argento's 1980 underrated supernatural masterpiece, "Inferno"), a garroting, followed by a high dive onto deadly spikes, various dismemberments, etc., etc.

Another surprisingly modern twist is the appearance of openly homosexual characters as main characters, who aren't treated with the usual insulting Hollywood overly flaming-queen caricature roles. In 1978, in a horror film that had a fairly wide release in American theaters, that should be applauded and given rightfully respectful recognition. And they die just as violently as the heterosexuals, by the way. Apparently the ancient vengeful witch doesn't have any sexual prejudices.

The pace is lively enough, something you don't usually find in the more deliberately paced Gothic horror film, and the violence is treated with more realism than one usually finds in the old style of Gothic horror films. And there is a plot, such as it is; something about the pissed off witch taking revenge on anyone associated with the last two living descendants of the villagers who killed her for her Satanic crimes. And there's a great little McGuffin thrown in with an ancient sword used to kill the witch all those hundreds of years before, which is used effectively by film's end.

But other than the fact that is a good example of the UK/European transitional horror film between the old and the modern there isn't much more the recommend "Terror"...unless of course, like me, you're old enough to have caught this movie during the original run at one of those old American drive-in theaters. So, yes, I am biased when it comes to "Terror". I still remember the absolute 'terror' I felt watching it when I was a 9 year old Horrorhead in Florida, one of the states which boasted at the time the highest number of drive-ins in the country. I believe at the time only Texas had more drive-in than Florida in the 1970s. And that ending is full of sound and fury, and it's one I still remember with great fondness for its over the top violence and noise level. Very Argento-esque circa "Suspiria" (1977), albeit a cheaper version.

So. to be honest. my recommendation comes from the heart only. But as a great piece of cinematic horror, "Terror" falls a bit too short to be considered one of the greats of 1978, a year which boasted such classics as "Halloween", "Dawn of he Dead" and "The Fury". Still, it's entertaining, especially if you're a completest Horrorhead who loves to discover a forgotten gem in the rough.

Video here:

--Nickolas Cook