HOLY HELL (2016) dir. Will Allen

Producers: Will Allen, Tracey Harnish, Alexandra Johnes
Stars: Will Allen, Michel Gomez, Cristala Allen, Gina Allen

CNN poster for Holy Hell, depicting people sitting cross-legged in a field

HOLY HELL (2016) dir. Will Allen

What’s in a cult? Our culture is saturated with them. The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, and The People’s Temple (the site of the Jonestown Massacre) may be the most famous of American cults, but they’re hardly the only few. A cult is defined by three characteristics, all of which are rather vague: a charismatic leader, the use of “coercive persuasion,” and some form of exploitation. In movies, cults are glaringly suspicious. The leaders are always heavy-browed and blank-eyed, darkly hinting about “transcending Earth” or “becoming one” or something equally as ominous. But, if in real life cults were so obviously spotted, it’s safe to say that they would have died out long before now. Would you notice a cult if the leader demanded no sacrifices? If the fellow members were the smartest, most creative people you had ever met? If your siblings were also members?

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MISERY (1987), by Stephen King

“Annie, Misery is dead.” But already, incredibly, he was thinking, I could bring her back. The thought filled him with tired revulsion but no real surprise. After all, a man who could drink from a floor-bucket should be capable of a little directed writing.

“No she’s not,” Annie replied dreamily. “Even when I was . . . when I was so mad at you, I knew she wasn’t really dead. I know you couldn’t really kill her. Because you’re good.

“Am I?” he said, and looked at the typewriter. It grinned at him. We’re going to find out just how good you are, old buddy, it whispered.


“Annie, I don’t know if I can sit in that wheelchair. Last time—“

“Last time it hurt, you bet it did. And it will hurt next time, too.”

–Stephen King


MISERY (1987), by Stephen King.

by Stephen King
Viking Penguin, Inc., 310 pp., $16.00

When acclaimed author Paul Sheldon finishes writing Misery’s Child, he is elated—finally, he can publish what he believes might be the next great American novel, a fast, clever manuscript he has titled Fast Cars, quite the drastic move for a writer known for a series of pulpy romance novels. To end the series, Misery Chastain has died and, truth be told, Sheldon’s not shedding tears over the matter. But when Paul awakens days after leaving the Boulderado Hotel where he writes, he finds himself in close quarters with his self-proclaimed “number one fan,” Annie Wilkes, an eccentric nurse with a maniacal obsession of Misery and her ilk. When Annie learns of Misery’s demise, it quickly becomes clear that Annie has no qualms about asserting her will, in ways that are bound to turn your stomach.

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TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001) dir. Claire Denis

Director: Claire Denis
Producers: Georges Benayoun, Phillipe Liégeois, Jean-Michel Rey
Writers: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
Stars: Vincent Gallo, Béatrice Dalle, Tricia Vessey

Little is clear when TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001) begins, dark and skewed imagery of the before and after of a bloody murder juxtaposed with a sustained shot of a couple groping and kissing in their car, a scene which feels even more obscene to behold than the former. Many viewers, like me, will be bewildered by such an ambiguous beginning … yet these images, perplexing as they are—and the gorgeous, brooding “Trouble Every Day,” by the Tindersticks, possibly my favorite horror-pic musical theme of all time—sum up the two most vital themes of the film: lust and destruction—and, inherent in each, raw instinct.


Coré (Béatrice Dalle), drenched. (Image courtesy of Claire Denis and Agnès Godard.)

Mr. (Vincent Gallo) and Mrs. Shane Brown (Tricia Vessey) travel to la ville d’amour purportedly to celebrate their honeymoon. Soon, however, it is revealed that Shane is on a less than romantic mission, determined to find renowned medical researcher Léo Sémeneau (Alex Descas), who specializes in the treatment of an ailment so maligned that other physicians refuse even to speak of it. As the Browns’ sojourn to Paris stretches ever longer—and poor June Brown scarcely leaves the hotel room, more or less abandoned by her monomaniacal lover—Shane must face ghosts he believed he long left behind … and himself.

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GREEN ROOM (2016) dir. Jeremy Saulnier

CONTENT WARNING: The following review contains discussion of white supremacy (including the appearance and activities of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups) and repeated references to the Holocaust.

Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Producers: Neil Kopp, Victor Moyers, Anish Savjani
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Imogen Poots

“What was the name of your second to last song?”

“Uh … ‘T-Toxic Evolution.’”

“It’s fucking hard, man. That’s the one I did her to.”

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The Ain’t Rights, a traveling punk rock band desperate for cash, know for sure that they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel when they reluctantly agree to play at a dive bar where an acquaintance’s cousin works. Tadpole (David W. Thompson) describes the punk rock scene at their new venue as “right-wing,” anathema to rebels Pat (Anton Yelchin, giving a captivating final performance before his sudden death in June 2016), Reece (Joe Cole), Tiger (Callum Turner), and Sam (Alia Shawkat). Still, they reluctantly press on, hoping for the best. Unfortunately, things could not be worse: what Tadpole understated as “right-wing” turns out to be a band of neo-Nazi punks … and that’s only the beginning of the misfortune to come. When Pat stumbles upon the scene of a stabbing, he is detained with the rest of his band and Amber (Imogen Poots), a local punk caught up in the same illicit mess.

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DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941) dir. Victor Fleming

Director: Victor Fleming
Producer: Victor Fleming, Victor Saville
Writer: John Lee Mahin
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Ingrid Bergman

Good and evil are so close as to be chained together in the soul. Now suppose we could break that chain, separate those two selves … free the good in man and let it go on to its higher destiny …

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This Halloween season, the Turner Classic Movie channel did not disappoint. (It rarely does.) I was busy enough that I wasn’t able to tune in until the week before Halloween and, when I did, I started off with DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941), director Victor Fleming’s interpretation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous gothic tale. In case you’re unfamiliar with the plot, “The Mysterious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” concerns the Gothic theme of the double (or, as it’s more familiarly called today, the doppelgänger). Dr. Jekyll, a prominent scientist, is fascinated with man’s spiritual duality, particularly after observing the case of a mentally ill gentleman who is transformed from friendly family man to hostile recluse after sustaining brain damage. Jekyll begins to develop a potion that he believes will cure the man, exorcising the evil from his spirit and leaving only the purest good, but the subject dies before he can test his groundbreaking new formula. Left with no other choice, he decides to test the potion on himself, consequences be damned. What emerges is Mr. Hyde, a sociopathic monster who wreaks havoc and threatens to end Jekyll’s life as he knows it.


Dr. Jekyll (Spencer Tracy), hard at work developing a rather controversial new medicine. (Image via IMDb.)

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BLAIR WITCH (2016) dir. Adam Wingard

Director: Adam Wingard
Producers: Jess Calder, Keith Calder, Roy Lee, Steven Schneider
Writer: Simon Barrett
Stars: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott


Dark: the nonnegotiable dark that can only be found in the depths of the wilderness dominates BLAIR WITCH (2016). This much-anticipated sequel—and remake—slowly unveils what we most fear: that which we cannot see, the tangible unknowable that lurks beneath a particular velvety night.

BLAIR WITCH is—and should be—viewed as a direct follow-up to 1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, as no self-respecting fan acknowledges the first film’s unfortunate follow-up, BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (2000) as any relation to the smashing first installment. In contrast, BLAIR WITCH will more than satisfy fans of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, echoing all of the Gothic eeriness of the first film, while peppering in new scares sure to thrill a current audience.

When a YouTube video surfaces, depicting previously unseen footage of the night of the Burkittsville disappearances, James Donahue’s (James Allen McCune) interest is piqued. He has a special interest in the case: Heather Donahue, the documentary filmmaker who disappeared in Burkittsville, is his sister. Over the years, he has kept a keen eye out for new evidence, hoping to recover her from the depths of the forest where she vanished—and in the video, he sees a blurred woman’s face. Enlisting the help of his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who is eager to record their investigation as her own documentary film project—a girl after Heather’s own heart!—and friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid), he sets out to Burkittsville in hopes of solving the mystery once and for all.

Peter (Brandon Scott) and James (James Allen McCune) help Ashley (Corbin Reid) across the creek by Coffin Rock. (Recognize it?) (Image courtesy of IMDb and Chris Helcermanas-Benge.)

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THE INVITATION (2015) dir. Karyn Kusama

Director: Karyn Kusama
Producers: Martha Griffin, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, Nick Spicer
Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman


Director Karyn Kusama is a force of nature cinema; in 2000, she swept film festivals—awarded at Sundance, Cannes, Deauville, Ghent International, Gotham, and Sitges—with GIRLFIGHT, the groundbreaking tale of a young girl blazing trails as a boxer and, in 2009, JENNIFER’S BODY rocked the worlds of horror fans and lesbians alike. THE INVITATION (2015) is something of a departure—most apparently, the empowered and deeply complex female protagonist typical of Kusama’s films is absent. Perhaps this absence of transgression is what makes THE INVITATION comparably dull … Kusama’s latest film is somewhat lackluster.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) has suffered tremendously in the recent past: after his son, Ty (Aiden Lovekamp), dies in a tragic accident, his wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), meets another man at a grief support group and promptly divorces him for her new lover. Given all that, it’s understandable that he is loath to accept an invitation from Eden to attend a dinner party—held at their old home, where she and her lover, David (Michiel Huisman)—now her husband—live. However, with some convincing from his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzi Corinealdi), Will agrees to give Eden and David a chance. When he arrives, Eden’s and his mutual friends are all in attendance, making themselves at home in a strange situation. What only Will seems to intuit is how strange things will become—and how dangerous.


The attendees gather together, at David’s (Michiel Huisman) insistence, and watch a video on his laptop. (Image courtesy of Karyn Kusama, Bobby Shore.)

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FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984) dir. Joseph Zito

Director: Joseph Zito
Producer: Frank Mancuso, Jr.
Writer: Barney Cohen
Stars: Kimberly Beck, Corey Feldman, Ted White


Spoiler alert: It’s not the final chapter. Guess how many FRIDAY THE 13TH DVDs I own? Ten. This is the fourth. Despite its now-laughable misnomer, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER does ring of finality when it winds to its end. Aside from that, THE FINAL CHAPTER is, in the best possible way, more of the same—if bloodier, sexier (although PART 3 is nearly equal), and a significant step up in quality.

THE FINAL CHAPTER begins—like HALLOWEEN II (1981)—in the hospital following the killing spree of the last film. Unlike in HALLOWEEN II, the spectator follows not the survivor but the corpses into the ward. Two police officers wheel in body bags, rolling their eyes at the distracted flirtation of the nurses. As is so often the case in FRIDAY THE 13TH, such obliviousness will cost them dearly. A body bag disappears from the hospital that night—and the Camp Blood stalker returns to his turf to terrorize a new wave of camping teenagers.

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CHILD’S PLAY (1988) dir. Tom Holland

Director: Tom Holland
Producer: David Kirschner
Writers: Tom Holland, Don Mancini, John Lafia
Stars: Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, Brad Dourif


Chucky gets a bad rap—he’s the lowbrow equivalent of eighties slasher superstars like Michael and Jason. He’s more akin to Freddy—albeit with a fraction of his popularity—garish, silly-looking, and yet unsettling nonetheless. Truthfully, though, Chucky deserves props in his own right—he’s foul-mouthed, ugly as hell, and downright nasty. That would be more than enough for me—are you kidding? I was sold halfway through reading the synopsis on the back cover of the DVD—but for more discerning critics, the influence of the gothic and even the underlying social implications will supply a surprising amount of intellectual fodder.

When little Andy’s (Alex Vincent) sixth birthday rolls around, he wants nothing more than a Good Guy. It’s not a metaphor—the hottest toy in America is an overalled, ruddy-faced doll actually called “a Good Guy.” Unfortunately, Andy’s mother, Karen (Catherine Hicks) is supporting the family alone following Andy’s father’s death and cannot afford the grossly overpriced toy. When a homeless man approaches the back alley of the department store where she works peddling a beat-up doll at a discounted price, it seems like bona fide serendipity. What she could never have imagined is the spirit that lies within, and his thirst for revenge.

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CREEP (2014) dir. Patrick Brice

Director: Patrick Brice
Producers: Jason Blum, Mark Duplass
Writers: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Stars: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice


CREEP (2014)

I dare you to name a movie scarier than CREEP (2014). I bet you can’t.

Granted, “scary” is a pretty subjective term; some might be most frightened by blood and guts, some by truly grotesque monsters. If you’re like me, you most vehemently fear the psychopath, an antagonist who is truly deranged. CREEP lacks the former two, but represents the latter—in droves.

When filmmaker Aaron (Patrick Brice) responds to a Wanted ad for a short-term freelance gig, he is uncertain what the assignment is—the ad is vague, and Aaron jokes on the way to the job about it being a spinster’s bid for male attention—but he is optimistic, and willing to go out on a limb for some cash. When his client, Josef (Mark Duplass)—late for their meeting—finally hits the scene, he explains to Aaron that he has cancer and, given the bleak prognosis he has been given, will likely die in a matter of months. He has hired Aaron, he explains, to record a short video to leave behind to his unborn son after his death, an imitation of Michael Keaton in MY LIFE (1993). Aaron is struck by Josef’s tragic situation but, as the film progresses, it dawns on him that he has matters of his own safety to contend with …

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