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Bare Hands

 

Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

Home is your sanctuary. It’s the place where you sleep and the place you count on for privacy; home is sacred. Which is why the thought of some unearthly, malevolent presence invading that most personal of all spaces is so especially appalling. That is what makes the haunted house genre so effective at conjuring chills; it threatens us with the idea that our home is not safe—the idea that danger is living right alongside you in your most vulnerable moments. It is a fear that most of us have probably had, lying awake at night, listening to the house creak. It is this fear that The Changeling expertly preys on, using shadow and sound to stoke our imaginations, filling our minds with morbid fancies.

 

John Russell is a successful composer still coming to terms with the recent loss of his family. Seeking a new job in a new town, he takes up residence in a long-deserted, but stately manor house. However, he soon begins to notice strange sounds and inexplicable phenomenon in the house. These ominous signs seem to point him toward some dark, long-forgotten secret, and as he is pulled deeper into the mystery, Russell draws ever closer to danger from powerful foes both dead and living.

Russell in Repose Creepy Hallway

Like any good haunted house movie, the house itself is as much a character as any of the people, exuding an aura of menace throughout the film. The house is so compelling in fact, that it is hard to believe that it’s nothing more than an elaborately constructed set; the richness of its detail and design will have you utterly convinced of its realness. That’s important because the look of the house contributes greatly to the atmosphere of the film, with its many widely-framed shots, The Changeling puts the house on center stage, often dominating more screen-space than the human characters. Using only shadow, sound, and sly camera work, the house is given terrifying life. Point-of-view and over-the-shoulder shots are used to make it feel as if some unseen terror is about to pop out onto the screen, but then nothing does—a lesser film would take those opportunities to shock you with a cheap jump-scare, but The Changeling forsakes shock in favor of dread, teasing you with the possibility that something could happen. This is classic, slow-build horror craftsmanship, meant to be savored like a fine hand-rolled cigar.

The House Seance

Aside from this carefully calculated atmosphere of impending doom, there is also a real gem of a mystery to be found here. Perhaps even more than it chills us, the film intrigues us, pulling us deeper into its secrets. This mixture of haunted house and detective story is interesting—the mystery adds to the horror by playing on our fear of the unknown, inviting us to make ghastly speculations before the puzzle is at last solved. If I have one complaint it is that, in my opinion, it would have been far more terrifying to not solve the mystery. To pull the audience in, tormenting us with clues that hint at something terrible, and then to never reveal what it all meant would have been a deliciously sadistic touch, leaving us to conjure up our own macabre theories about what happened. As it is though, we are left with a perfectly satisfying conclusion that fulfills the promise of the engrossing mystery, even if it does somewhat dispel the terror.

Creepy Room Creepy Stairs

And finally, no discussion of The Changeling would be complete without a mention of George C. Scott’s refreshingly different performance as John Russell, who is gifted with several rare qualities not commonly found among horror movie protagonists. Firstly, he has common sense (gasp!), as he refuses to tell the police about the ghost, knowing he would not be believed. Secondly, he has courage and charges head-first into danger, not because he is a clueless dope that doesn’t know what he’s in for, but because he has big brass cojones. And finally, he has resilience; your common horror protagonist would be stereotypically suicidal and alcoholic after losing their family and would be a screaming, emotional wreck by film’s end, but we first find John Russell moving on with his life after a normal grieving period for his family, and even when faced with the paranormal, he takes his supernatural adventure in stride, terrified certainly, but still in control. George C. Scott must have hated horror movie clichés because he seems to have deliberately squashed them with his performance. Maybe it somewhat diminishes the film’s terror by having such a brave character at its center, since we feel sure this man is untouchable, but if that’s true, then that is a small sacrifice in the service of one of the most defiantly different trope-hating horror performances ever.

 

The Changeling is nothing less than a masterwork of supernatural drama, a film well-versed in the psychology of human fear and in the exploitation of that fear. Tremendous set design, top-notch acting, and savvy direction come together to make an unforgettable horror experience made with the highest craftsmanship and artistry.

 

 

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Tail, Claws, Teeth, Cement Tile, Street Sign, Bare Hands, Pump Shotgun, Bow & Arrow, Syringe, Revolver, Poison Gas, Metal Pole, Molotov Cocktail, Gasoline

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Reviewed by: Betty the Murder Mare

 

And no. Before we begin, we are not about to delve into the 2008 Twilight-esque movie about chrome plated pacifist pod people aliens with a shitty romance. What we are about to talk about, is the 2006 foreign monster flick that focus on a father’s dedication to finding his daughter.

Judging a movie by its cover, one would assume that The Host was nothing more than another South Korean monster movie. Even the intro is misleading, as we open up to some realistically irresponsible American military men dumping toxic waste down the drain. It nearly fooled me into thinking I’ll be watching an hour and a half long PSA of how I should dispose of my waste properly or else I’ll be directly responsible for mutating a guppy into a man eating river monster. Luckily, it was nothing more than a satirical interlude.

TheHost_SleepyGang-Doo  TheHost_ParkFamilyBawling

Instead the movie focus on a frumpy middle aged man named Park Gang-Doo, who never seemed to amount to very much in his family’s life. He struggles on near poverty as he runs a shabby food truck with his aging father, and his growing daughter Hyun-Seo. The cast of misfits grows as the movie progresses to include Song’s brother and sister. Nam-Joo, an Olympic grade archer, and Nam-il a drunken political advocate.

The plot starts rolling when the monster runs rampant, treating the viewers to some nice visuals of death and mayhem. The gore in this movie isn’t flaunted loudly, but there’s plenty of cringe worthy moments in this movie.

TheHost_Hyun-seo  TheHost_TheMonster

Hyun-Seo ultimately seems to be eaten alive before her father’s eyes, and it sends the entire family into a state of anger and mourning. But against all odds, the father ends up receiving a call from his thought-to-be-dead daughter and realizes she was still somehow alive. The family binds together to hunt down this monster, and fight to save their beloved Hyun-Seo.

What is truly amazing is that this movie plays heavily on your expectations, and it doesn’t take shortcuts. Characters you expect to die, live, and characters you expect to live, die. And it all weaves together into a bittersweet ending that somehow feels complete despite all the loss.

The movie’s true strengths is that while it does handle serious subject matter time to time, it never seems to take itself too seriously. You’ll find yourself laughing more often than you would expect yourself to, despite this movie not exactly being a comedy. The relationships between the characters are also truly touching and refreshingly realistic. The family fights with one another, but it’s never done in a hateful malicious manner. We’re simply being treated to seeing a dysfunctional family doing the best it can in sticking together through difficult times.

TheHost_Nam-Joo  TheHost_GasRelease

It is however not without its weaknesses. The movie as a whole does feel messy and unorganized with contrasting and conflicting methods of film and delivery. Are we in a monster flick, or watching a slice of life? Or, wait, is this a governmental action thriller? However, you could argue that this loose narrative actually is what gives this movie its charm.

A fine film that holds a stronger chance of making you feel rather than jump in your seats, The Host is certainly something worth checking out.

Event Coverage: Terror Expo

by: Jenicide

Over the past few years, San Antonio has begun to shine for its resident horror fans. We already have the San Antonio Horrific Film Festival, Monster-Con, and now this year, Terror Expo, billed as the city’s “Premier Horror, Villains, and Sci-Fi” show, has emerged. Anticipated as the biggest horror show in town, Terror Expo was launched in January 2016 and is brought to you by the founders of Alamo City Comic Con. Located in one of the large exhibition areas at the Henry B. Gonzales convention center, downtown in the Alamo City, fans from here and abroad gathered together to join in on the fun.

The celebrity lineup was excellent, ranging from classic icons to modern day actors, fans were able to meet and greet with all the guests at their table. One of the headliners, Cassandra Peterson, donned her infamous alter-ego “Elvira” all day Saturday. Meanwhile, Robert Englund, best known as Freddy Krueger, reunited with his A Nightmare on Elm Street alumni Ronee Blakley, Leslie Hoffman, Jo Ann Willette, Amanda Wyss, and Lisa Wilcox. The Elm Street gang had a fun and playful Q&A panel on Saturday. “I’m outnumbered by the Ladies of Elm Street!”, joked Englund. Other guests in attendance included Tobin Bell, Sid Haig, Tara Reid, Denis O’Hare, Bill Moseley, C. Thomas Howell, William Zabka, Major Dodson, Scott Wilson, and Denise Crosby.

Of course, one of the big attractions when attending these conventions is scoring some sweet merchandise, whether it’s an awesome t-shirt, beautiful original artwork, or some obscure b-movies. One of the vendors that stood out was Pallbearer’s Press. At this table, a person could nearly flip out over the stacks of new and used horror soundtracks, all on vinyl. I myself picked up a clean copy of the original Fright Night soundtrack, plus a great t-shirt of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. Pallbearer’s Press resides in the Austin area, for all you horror fans interested. We also ran into another fellow Austinite, artist Dale Carroll, whose creative horror prints are hauntingly gorgeous. Some would even make better posters than the originals! Rock Rebel Shop also deserves a mention, offering horror fans attire and accessories, from a glow-in-the-dark Universal Monsters t-shirt to a Rocky Horror Picture Show handbag, this store made a perfect fit at the con.

 

Overall, Terror Expo offers an enjoyable horror experience. The guest lineup was impressive and the Q&A panels were both amusing and engaging. Likewise, the vendor stands were loaded with all sorts of appealing merchandise. Although the show ran slower than most, with no activities set for day 1, the rest of the weekend made up for it, with back to back guest panels and a greater amount of cosplayers in attendance. Hopefully, Terror Expo will become a horror staple in the San Antonio scene for years to come.

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Bare Hands, Crucifix, Holy Water

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

You can look at a starry sky and enjoy the pure sight of it; you can marvel at its dark beauty, its mystery, but what are you looking at really? Beyond the veil of sky lies infinite space and each point of twinkling light is really a blazing orb of fire. You can watch The Exorcist and simply enjoy the masochist pleasures of a masterfully crafted horror film, but what is the film really showing us? It won’t tell us, it only suggests; there’s no hand-holding here. Two different people can see the same film and arrive at two different conclusions. Or the same person can watch the film twice and arrive at different conclusions each time. For the careful viewer, The Exorcist is rich with meaning and delves deeper than a casual glance would suggest.

 

In the district of Georgetown, an evil entity slowly encroaches on the lives of the community members as it takes possession of a young girl named Reagan. Drawn into this supernatural conflict are the girl’s mother, a young priest suffering from a crisis of faith, and an elder priest experienced in the rites of exorcism. Together they must perform the dangerous exorcism ritual and directly engage evil face to face, in order to save the girl.

Reagan Possessed Ms MacNeil and the Cross

The Exorcist wrote the book on possession movies in a style that has since been imitated countless times. But beyond the rather straightforward plot, at its heart, The Exorcist is a solemn meditation on the battle between good and evil. This is made clear right away in the opening scene, as the elderly priest, Father Merrin, stands face to face with a statue of the demon Pazuzu, foreshadowing the battle to come—a battle with evil personified.

Kinderman and the Stairs Pazuzu Pukes

It is this personification of evil that gives The Exorcist its power to scare. Everyday experience tells us that evil comes from within ourselves, by doing evil things, but The Exorcist shows us evil as a thing, as an elemental force of nature, divorced from human deeds. This evil is a concrete absolute, a concept that some people refer to as the Devil. The real genius of The Exorcist is that it is able to make that concept feel real by injecting it into a very realistic-feeling situation. The film carries itself with the sober matter-of-factness of a documentary and defies the conventional Hollywood formula. There is no one clear protagonist, there is no steady escalation of action (it’s rather slow actually), and even the climax is blasphemously anti-climactic as the titular exorcist dies quietly off-screen of natural causes, cheating the audience of the promised showdown. What kind of movie does that? It doesn’t conform to set patterns, it isn’t easily explained, and it delights in shattering your expectations. It feels more like real life, doesn’t it? That’s what makes the “Evil-with-a-capital-E” of this film so threatening, because it is intruding in what is otherwise a pretty mundane portrayal of what the real world looks and feels like, as if to say “this sort of thing really happens and it could happen again”.

Merrin Arrives Merrin and Karras

In fact, this Evil takes slow possession of the film itself in much the same way it takes possession of Reagan. At first it is only hinted at, heard, but not seen. Then, briefly, we begin to see images—a demonic face forcing its way into the narrative through dreams. By the third act, the evil force has seized total control of the story, forcing the narrative into Reagan’s room, where it remains for most of the rest of the film. This invasion is felt by the audience as well, as this alien Other forces its way into their viewing experience.

 

As sharply as evil is illuminated in this film, it takes a rather ambiguous look at the forces of good. The film seems to suggest that faith is the weapon of choice against evil, but then why does the tone of the film remain so relentlessly bleak? And though the forces of good ultimately win the day, the demon is never properly exorcised; it takes an act of self-sacrifice to finally get rid of the demon. Victory is achieved at such a steep price that it hardly feels like victory at all. And if Pazuzu and Father Merrin symbolize opposite extremes on the scale of good and evil, then why make Father Merrin so frail and old? It is my interpretation that the film’s message is that goodness, unlike evil, must be maintained through faith. Evil is an ocean wave crashing against the flood-wall of goodness. The waves are always strong and in endless supply, but the flood-wall will weather and break if it is not carefully maintained. Others have interpreted this differently however, seeing the priests’ Pyrrhic victory as evidence that faith does not work, but rather action, with the intervention of the younger priest, Father Karras, prevailing where Father Merrin’s prayers did not. It’s hard to tell exactly what The Exorcist is telling us, it remains as it has always been: a dark, enigmatic, poignant, and utterly compelling parable of unknowable mystery and ominous profundity.

 

 

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Bare Hands, Revolver, Butcher Knife, Hammer, Garrote, Scalding Water, Syringe, Scalpel, Fire

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Reviewed by: Jenicide

Since John Carpenter’s Halloween turned out to be a big hit, it prompted the typical studio response for a horror movie sequel to cash in on the predecessor’s success. In the case of Halloween II, the scare aspects of the film tend to include more gore over suspense, which is unforunate because the suspense made the original film terrifying. While the film fails to equal to Halloween , part II does turn out as an entertaining ride.

Halloween II picks up from the precise moment the last movie left off, continuing on Halloween night, 1978. Dr. Loomis is searching around town frantically for his patient, Michael Myers, while Laurie Strode is admitted overnight into Haddonfield Memorial Hospital for treatment. Once Myers learns of this, he heads off to the hospital and continues his killing spree in search of her.

Hospital Laurie carexplosion

After Halloween proved to be a massive hit, the anticipation of a sequel, like Halloween II, that picks up directly from the predecessor is exciting. This satisfies the audience’s curiousity of “what happens next”. Fans of the film were already attached to these characters and were eager to see where their adventures would lead them to next. Becuase of that, a lot of weight is put on the film’s shoulders to produce a sequel that fills the original’s shoes.

michaelstalk laurielurks

While Halloween II has its good points, one element that brings the story down is that the gore factor is substituted for suspense. The body count and gore exposure on screen is massively larger compared to the original, trading shlock and blood for atmosphere. Part of the problem is that part II takes place in a brightly lit hospital, where it is less possible to keep the mood as dark and creepy. Then there is the sibling relation factor. Halloween II makes the surprising revelation of Michael’s connection to Laurie in that they are siblings. This changes the whole premise where Myers was simply an evil being, killing without any reason. Giving Michael a motive now makes him less scary because it takes away from his mystique.

LoomisShootsThreat Bloody Michael

On the other hand, Halloween II manages to be an entertaining movie because it provides action sequences that makes this sequel a pulse-pounding thrill ride. For example, the movie featured multiple explosions and shooting scenes that would have been out of place in the original, but here, it gets the adrenaline flowing. Dr. Loomis becomes the classic “man-with-a-gun” hero, typical of action movies. Makes it a little hard to believe this is the same calm and collected character from the previous film, as he is forcing a federal marshall at gunpoint to drive him around. The action in Halloween II is fun, but it’s also what makes it lose its scary qualities from the original.

Halloween II is an enjoyable sequel, but it’s not as excellent as the original. This comes down to the tradeoff of suspense and ambiance for mindless kills and cheap thrills. Not necessarily a bad thing, but these popcorn-movie elements are inferior when compared to the craftsmanship of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

 

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Flashlight, Bare Hands, Pestle, Acid, Paper Cutter, Cleats, Revolver, Shotgun

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Reviewed by: Jenicide

High school. Some students have it made throughout their four years, while others do not. For Vernon Potts, our central character in the 1974 film Horror High (aka Twisted Brain), he definitely falls into the latter category. This film is a typical example of the exploitative drive-in schlock pieces of the 1970s, full of cheesy special effects and bad music. While overall a pedestrian effort, it is an enjoyable revenge-driven film, hitting a nerve for every social outcast that survived high school.

Vernon Potts is a high school kid who can’t seem to get a break. When he’s not tormented by the football jocks, he’s constantly belittled by the school staff. His safe zone is in the school laboratory, where he works diligently on a genetic enhancement formula for his guinea pig, Mr. Mumps. After drinking the formula himself, Vernon physically transforms into a raging, killer monster. As Vernon starts losing control of his new personality, the police, led by Lieutenant Bozeman, start to close in on him.

HorrorHighVernonExperiment HorrorHighVernonTransformation

Horror High uses the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” concept heavily. Vernon is a likeable guy; he excels in science and even attracts cute classmate, Robyn. Yet, he harbors rage towards his daily tormenters, such as bully Roger and the mean Mrs. Grindstaff. After drinking his formula, he can’t resist using his alter ego to get even with his enemies. The good versus bad inner-conflict in Vernon is the basis of his character and drives home the message of the movie: the further one allows oneself to go towards a dark path, the less self-control one has. Even so, it’s hard to feel any sympathy towards his victims and is actually satisfying to see Vernon get some vengeance.

HorrorHighMrGriggsAcid HorrorHighDetective

What brings down Horror High is bad music and cheap special effects. Music is a key ingredient in a successful horror movie, meant to escalate the tension of a scene and draw in the audience. However, the music played while Vernon attacks sounds plain silly at times, where it cannot be completely taken seriously. Instead of making the scene frightening, it feels almost laughable. Likewise, the special effects are weak as well. Vernon’s transformation is hardly visible, and what is seen does not look much different from his normal appearance. The monster Vernon basically just walks with a limp and has a low growling voice. On the other hand, some of the kills are exceptional, for example, the scene where Vernon stomps his victim to death using cleats is original and satisfying.

HorrorHighDetective&Vernon HorrorHighMrsGrindstaffSlashed

Horror High offers a decent interpretation of the classic “Jekyll and Hyde” story, but overall, fails to impress due to corny music and special effects. Still, its charm makes the film enjoyable to watch. Despite its low points, Horror High is a “so bad it’s good” type of movie that every nerd that ever got picked on in high school can appreciate for its vicarious revenge thrills.

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Sword, Bow & Arrow, Flail, Teeth, Bare Hands, Club, Fire Hose, Lever Action Rifle, Hammer & Stake, Holy Water, Revolver, Communion Wafer, Kukri Knife, Cavalry Sabre, Dagger, Bowie Knife

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

While remaining largely faithful to the novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula nevertheless makes an important change by reshaping the Count into a tragic, romantic figure, thereby turning the classic vampire story into a love story. As the Count, Gary Oldman delivers a towering performance that is by turns playfully fiendish and genuinely sympathetic. Romance and gothic horror are served up hand in hand with such stylized visual bombast that it may strike some viewers as excessive, but for other viewers, will prove a sumptuous feast for the eyes.

In 19th century England, Count Dracula, an ancient and powerful vampire, finds the reincarnation of his long-dead wife in the form of Mina Murray, fiancée to Jonathan Harker. As the Count vies for Mina’s love, Harker, and the renowned vampire hunter, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, begin the hunt for Dracula, while Mina finds herself increasingly unsure of where her heart truly lies.

The Count Mina and Lucy

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a love story, but not simply a romance, rather a story about love itself and the power it exerts on each character. The story begins with Dracula’s love for his wife and God, both of whom he is staunchly devoted to. Upon losing his wife and consequently renouncing God, Dracula is left without love, an event that marks the moment he becomes a monster. Deprived of his own love, Dracula deprives others of their love; he takes Mina from Jonathan and Lucy Westenra from her husband. He sucks up love like he does blood, because he is empty, because he needs it.

Lucy the Vampire Young Prince Vlad

On the other hand is Mina Murray, the bride-to-be who is torn between two loves. She loves Jonathan Harker with a timid love based on devotion and mutual caring, but for Dracula she feels unbound passion with a depth of feeling that swallows her up entirely. Her character represents the crises of choice between passionate and companionate love. Love drives each character toward inevitable fate, even Dracula, as powerful as he is, is the plaything of fate, helpless to do anything but allow his centuries-long love story to come full circle.

Vampire Beast Van Helsing

If all that sounds a tad highfalutin, that’s because it is a little, but this kind of grand vampire opera practically demands to be told ostentatiously. With its bold color palette, superimposed imagery, shadow puppetry, and weird camera techniques, you’ll scarcely believe that this wild bit of celluloid was directed by the same Francis Ford Coppola that made The Godfather. And in fact, it wasn’t; this was directed by the Coppola that made Apocalypse Now—crazy, risk-taking Coppola. With all the visual shenanigans going on, you’d be surprised to know that most of the special effects were accomplished using old-fashioned methods: projectors, body doubles, and lots of miniatures. Dracula’s various transformations are especially impressive feats of effects wizardry, as he goes from old age to youth, to wolf-man, bat-creature, and even a swarm of rats. Along with Oldman’s marvelous Dracula, Anthony Hopkins’ gleefully demented Van Helsing, and Eiko Ishioka’s beautiful costume design, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a titan in the canon of great vampire movies—a dazzling spectacle that even Keanu Reeves’ silly accent can’t diminish.