Review: Horror Express (1972)

Horror Express (1972)
Director: Eugenio Martín (as Gene Martin)
Writers: Arnaud d'Usseau (screenplay), Julian Zimet (screenplay)
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas


I love John Carpenter's The Thing. Who doesn't? I love the more recent prequel film too, also called The Thing. Who does? Before those, there was the classic The Thing From Another World, and before that, there was the original 1938 novella they were based on. And here we've got... uh... none of those.

We've got 1972's Horror Express, but the plot may sound familiar.

An ancient figure is found frozen in ice. Scientists remove it and it thaws out. The next thing you know, people are getting killed and the creature begins to adapt, absorbing their memories, their personalities, and it can look like anyone. It's an alien creature from the dawn of time, and the only way to tell who's now real and who isn't is to medically check everyone. As paranoia begins to grow amongst the poorly-armed survivors, things are looking bleak as the creature attempts to escape...

Wait, run that by me again?

Yes, the story is almost identical, even if the surroundings are different. Here our alien popsicle is brought aboard a train in 1906, the Trans-Siberian Express. Professor Saxton is proud of his find, boxing it and wrapping up the crate with chains. His rival, Doctor Wells, is keen to sneak a peek and pays someone to drill a hole in the crate and have a good look at what's inside. Naturally, someone gets killed and the body goes missing.

Inspector Mirov then orders the crate opened and the dead man is discovered inside, although the frozen body isn't. Before long, the body count rises and the autopsies are confirming that their knowledge is being drained out of them through their eyes. The prehistoric being is shot and killed, but that's when Saxton and Wells learn that it's only a host body and the creature can become anyone. It's an alien being, and the only way to detect it is for Saxton and Wells to study everybody's eyes. Well, you can probably figure out the rest.

But is Horror Express actually any good? Sadly, you'll also either love this or hate this, depending on what you're after.

If you want an action-packed horror film, this isn't it. If you want nail-biting suspense and jangling paranoia, you'll be disappointed. It's a cheaply-made film with music that sounds more like it belongs in a Western at times, and the story seems to get away from itself. Oh, and the ending is a little disappointing. So knowing that, what are its good points?

First of all, it has two heroes who don't get along with each other. They may be colleagues, but they're competitive, and while it may not be used to its full advantage, it still makes a nice change. Also they're played by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, which boosts the quality of this production and makes it feel like a Hammer horror film. It even has Telly Savalas in it for the last half an hour or so, for good measure. And he's not in Kojak mode, but Maggott from The Dirty Dozen mode.

Some of the moments and images on display are the fuel of classic nightmares too, including the white-eyed stares of every victim as blood pours down their faces. It has a wry sense of humour at times too, in particular when Dr. Wells tries to charm a gorgeous redhead who's too young for him. The train setting may not have the Arctic ambiance of The Thing, but it's a confined space and that means a claustrophobic atmosphere.

Also, remember that means that the creature is constantly drawing nearer... and before long it'll escape into society.

It's a smart take on it. Except the unhurried pace of the film turns what should have been a frantic race against time into a slow ride on a slow train. I know, that was the style of horror movies back then and it does work as a film, but it just feels like a missed opportunity to turn those tension screws a few more times. That being said,  I liked this movie, even if the story is familiar. Lee and Cushing are always a joy to watch

Horror Express isn't an express ride. But it has horror, and the journey is smooth and steady with lots to see. It's worth the price of the ticket, so climb aboard.

- Rick Austin

The Deaths of Elm Street: Blow by Blow

Let’s take a grim trip down memory lane and examine some of the standout death scenes from one of the best horror/slasher franchises ever, A Nightmare on Elm Street, may they rest in peace...

Best Death - Tina Gray (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

Most Elm Street fans agree the death of Tina Gray is Freddy’s finest kill.  Tina is not only Freddy’s first kill, but we as a collective audience are introduced to one of the greatest characters in horror cinema, through Tina Gray.  It’s her nightmare that opens the series and her thoughts that invite us into the nightmare world of Freddy Krueger, a violent force to be reckoned with.  Unfortunately for Tina, she is the vessel for which we see firsthand just how violent a force Freddy is.  No one really knew where this movie was headed, who this Freddy guy was, or how he was going to end this innocent girl’s life.  In my opinion, this is one of the most violent and disturbing deaths in film history, not just for a horror film, but for any film.  

By 1984, slasher films had already become a caricature of themselves, with dumb, uninspired death scenes that made more people laugh than scream.  Why would this be any different, it is just a slasher film, right?  Initially thrown off by the fact we can’t actually see Freddy in the room killing her, four single slash marks appear down Tina’s chest, an obvious infliction of the weapon Krueger wears on his hand, and immediately bleeds profusely.  Before we even have a chance to cover our mouths and bid this girl farewell, she is ripped from the mattress and violently thrown around the room like a ragdoll, blood splattering the surrounding walls and ceiling.  To make matters worse, Tina isn’t quite dead yet, and if the sights are too much to bear and you planned on covering your eyes, plan on bringing some earplugs too because the sounds may be even worse.  Tina does nothing but beg for her life, a life she’s already lost, based on the amount of blood on the floor, and we can only imagine what’s going through her mind as her body is dragged up and down the walls.  Moments before finally plummeting to the mattress below, she reaches for her semi-conscience boyfriend who's witnessed the whole thing, unable to defend her from this unseeable force.  Tina dies, and this is a scene I can’t imagine made anyone laugh.  End act one, and don’t even get me started on how the deleted footage on the Infinifilm DVD managed to make this scene even more frightening.

Tina’s Death also wins the award for “Scariest Death” and “Most Violent Death.

Worst Death - “John Doe” (Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare)

Freddy’s Dead sucked, and so did the “John Doe” character and the way in which his character is killed.  Basically, John thinks since he is the last surviving child (now a grown man) of Springwood, he must be a spared offspring of Freddy.  He’s wrong, and Freddy wastes no time disposing of him.  Freddy seems as bored with this guy as the audience is, thus, what is probably the weakest, most unfulfilling death of the series.  As John dangles from a parachute way up in the clouds, Freddy cuts the straps, sending him falling to his death.  We then see Freddy on ground level positioning what can only be described as a bed of spikes, for John to land on.  He does, and that’s that.  It’s a real Wile E. Coyote moment for Freddy, except in this case, he successfully catches his roadrunner.

Most Climactic Death - Glen Lantz (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

By “most climactic” death, I am referring to a death that everyone saw coming, knew would be glorious, and despite this, still shocked the hell outta us and lived up to our own built-in hype.  Johnny Depp’s onscreen debut is that moment.  Glen is a surprisingly likable boyfriend to lead heroine Nancy Thompson, and because of this, you know he’s doomed.  Foreshadowed quite heavily, Glen is urged by his girlfriend not to fall asleep, or else Freddy will get him.  Fully aware that his closest friends are mysteriously dying around him, he still isn’t completely convinced by Nancy’s claims of a dream stalking dead killer, so he doesn’t heed her warnings as best he should and ends up dead because of it.  In a very well edited sequence, as we go back and forth between what’s happening in Nancy and Glen’s bedrooms, Freddy informs Nancy he is about to kill her boyfriend, as Glen passes out with his headphones on.  As she scrambles to save him, we cut to Glen’s bed literally chewing him up then spitting him right back out in a geyser of dark blood.  It’s an amazing moment in horror cinema and has become quite the iconic Elm Street moment.  Only one question really remains: what did Freddy do to him down there?

Most Anticlimactic Death - Donald Thompson (Part 3: Dream Warriors)

Estranged for years, Nancy reunites with her policeman father when the kids of Elm Street begin dying again.  He’s now quite disgraced, drowning the sorrows of his past, a past that involves vigilante justice and the death of many children.  He unkindly aids Dr. Neil Gordon on his quest to defeat Freddy once and for all, at the site of his original junkyard burial.  In the end, Freddy’s bones emerge into a fully functional Freddy skeleton (reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s work) and impales Thompson with the rear of a pink Cadillac.  Aside from the ridiculous use of weaponry, it’s just a pointless extra piece of gore.  There is no glory whatsoever in the death of what is essentially a pivotal character in the series.  I personally thought he should have died in a more honorable way.  Sure, he was a sourpuss, but who wouldn’t be in his position.

Best Personal Death - Debbie Stevens (Part 4: Dream Master)

When Freddy’s feeling extra cruel, he likes to get personal.  He likes to deliver that last fatal blow in a manner that hits way too close to home.  He’s used many personal feelings, ideas, and objects against his victims; everything from hard drugs to naked swimsuit models.  In the case of Debbie Stevens, a girl terrified of cockroaches, Freddy has her turned into a cockroach, literally.  But Freddy takes things even further by not just turning Debbie into a cockroach but making it, so Debbie is torn apart from the inside out by a cockroach.  He actually doesn’t even lay a hand on her, except the initial barbell he pins Debbie’s arms down with, tearing them wide open at the elbows, unleashing the horrific monstrous insect within.  The arms, legs, and eventual face of the cockroach emerge, tearing off Debbie’s face with it.  As though all of this isn’t bad enough already, this particular cockroach isn’t free and happy to be alive, but trapped inside a roach motel, fighting for its new life.  So not only has Freddy murdered Debbie, but he’s also even torturing the cockroach he killed her with.  Freddy then squashes it.

Best Quick Death - Roland Kincaid (Part 4: Dream Master)

Sometimes Freddy just means business and doesn’t have time to screw around with flashy set pieces.  Sometimes he needs to get in, get out, and move on to the next victim.  On occasion, Freddy has been known to simply stab his razor blades somewhere into someone’s torso and be done with them, and I’d say the best occurrence of this has to be fan favorite, Kincaid.  Always a force of entertaining energy, Kincaid was a character most fans enjoyed and did not want to see killed.  The fact that he’s Freddy’s first order of business in Dream Master, tying up loose ends from Dream Warriors, makes you really feel for Kincaid.  It still comes as a bit of a shock; assuming the writers let Kristen, Joey, and Kincaid survive the previous film, they wouldn’t just kill them in the first reel of the following film, would they?  Well, yes, they do.  Overall, it’s a pretty tense scene, and one of the series’ best.  Freddy is resurrected through burning dog piss, climbs from his grave, and after some hide and seek, finds Kincaid, sticks his razor glove into his stomach and bids farewell.  Honestly, if Freddy’s gonna kill you, I think this may be the best option, one quick swipe and hope it’s over.  For Kincaid fans it’s a sad moment, even Freddy seems kinda touched as he cradles Kincaid’s lifeless head on his shoulder.  They also exchange some final parting words which help break the tension and make this the most entertaining “quick death” of the series.

Most Creative/Unique Death - Phillip Anderson (Part 3: Dream Warriors)

Phillip is the first to die in one of the greatest sequels of all time, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  He’s a nice, laid-back kid, talks like Corey Feldman and has a collection of marionettes he makes himself.  None of this foreshadows Phillip’s death, but we do wonder why we’re even made aware that the kid collects puppets, until one night a puppet morphs into Freddy and murders him.  In one of the series’ most memorable moments, Freddy literally turns Phillip into a human marionette, complete with strings and everything.  The only thing is those strings are Phillip’s own veins and tendons.  In what can only be described as torture, Freddy uses Phillip’s insides and “walks” him to the roof of the hospital he’s admitted to, brings him to the edge, cuts his strings and laughs as he falls.

Most Undeserving Death - Sheila Kopecky (Part 4: Dream Master)

Sheila, the meek, nerdy girl with huge glasses and serious case of asthma, really didn’t deserve the “kiss of death” Mr. Krueger indulged her in.  That isn’t to say anyone in the Elm Street universe deserves to die, but Sheila, for one thing, was not an Elm Street child.  Kristen Parker was the last of the original (the real) Elm Street children, so anyone killed thereafter is simply a greedy extra point for ‘ol Freddy.  Maybe this is exactly why as soon as Freddy eliminates Kristen in a fiery inferno, his kills get zanier and more comedic for the duration of the series.  Perhaps with Freddy, knowing he’s achieved his goal of killing every offspring of his vigilante killers, he’s now able to enjoy himself more and have fun with his kills.  Enter Sheila, the first “bonus kill” of Freddy’s career.  Semi-long story short:  Kristen’s ability to pull people into her dreams is transferred to new series heroine, Alice, and Sheila is the unfortunate guinea pig in this unplanned experiment.  While taking a test at school, Sheila is confronted by Freddy, who slowly slithers to her desk and literally sucks the life out of her.  It’s a perfect cover for Freddy, not that he really needs one; but with Sheila’s medical problem, and since Freddy made it appear as though she died by loss of breath, her death is still not enough to convince many that she was murdered by an invisible force.

Saddest Death - Ron Grady (Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge)

Grady’s death is a perfect example of wrong place at the wrong time.  Had Jesse simply not shown up at Grady’s house that night, Grady would most likely still be alive.  He already avoided being a victim of the pool party massacre earlier that evening, content to spend a grounded night in his room watching tv and hitting the sack early.  However, awkward friend Jesse shows up with claims of possession, and just like a good friend does, Grady lets the kid crash at his place for the night.  Obviously, Grady doesn’t take Jesse’s warnings seriously, otherwise he’d have told him to get the fuck out.  But Grady was a good dude, despite his moronic bully nature in the film’s first act and remained loyal to his friend.  A loyalty which unfortunately gets him killed moments later.  As soon as Jesse dozes off, a relieved Grady bids goodnight, only to be confronted by Freddy himself, literally tearing through Jesse’s body from the inside out.  Grady also wins the award for most realistic reaction to a charred killer emerging from your friend’s stomach.  He, like most other level-headed human beings, immediately heads for the door, then upon realizing he’s locked in, screams at the top of his lungs and pounds on the door as loud as he can for help.  Perhaps we only get this reaction from Grady because his death, unlike most Elm Street deaths, actually occurs in reality, thus making screaming for help a viable option.  Regardless, the realistic, non-comedic nature of this scene (like Tina’s death) leaves you in a stunned state of silence once Grady is dead.  It’s almost too realistic for its own good, leaving many with a bad taste in their mouths, and think what you will about lead character Jesse, or the now infamous reputation this film has on alleged/confirmed homosexual themes, but Jesse’s guilt-soaked reaction to his friend’s death is heartbreaking and one of the most surprisingly poignant moments of the series.

Best Freddy “Death” A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master

Last but not least, the many deaths of Fred Krueger.  Being that he’s already dead, Freddy is never “killed," just defeated, which probably deserves to be in quotations just the same.  But the best instance of this has to be the finale of Dream Master, as Alice helps the souls of Freddy’s victims fight back and take their killer down once and for all, or at least until next time.  Accompanied by some pretty gnarly effects, Freddy’s chest of souls (first introduced in Dream Warriors) comes alive as the heads, hands, and bare breasts attempt to escape the confines of Freddy’s twisted cauldron, busting through his burned skin with everything they’ve got.  In a somewhat bland maneuver, they basically tear his jaw apart, which then instantly releases their souls to continue peacefully into the afterlife, as Freddy’s carcass drops to the floor.  Alice then caps the scene nicely by kicking Freddy’s glove like it’s nothing.  No surprise he’s reflected in the fountain a minute or so later, but that’s their problem to figure out in the sequel.

- Peter DiGiovanni

Review: Insidious (2010)

Insidious (2010)
Director: James Wan
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins

Insidious is a strange hybrid of a ghost story. Writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan drew inspiration and homage from so many different sources that they wound up creating a patchwork creation that shouldn’t work...but sort of does. There are so many shifts in focus and story, in fact, it would be hard not to talk about the film without spoilers. So be warned, I plan to bring up a few specifics below and I really loved going into this film completely in the dark (so to speak).

The film gets off to a slow start. Josh and Renai Lambert move their young family into new house where creepy things immediately begin to happen. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The first act of Insidious is a world filled with cliches and tropes (there’s a moment where a mother finds that her books have been moved and accuses her children of the ghostly pranks. Not only have we seen that exact scene dozens of times, but it doesn’t quite make sense with what we later learn). It’s not terrible, Rose Byrn and Patrick Wilson are capable actors and give the usual family-moves-into-haunted-house yarn some believability. Plus, I’ll give Wan full credit for sprinkling in some truly subtle (blink and you’ll miss them) and creepy scares. I mentioned in my Oculus review about the tired setups of all ghost story films these days, and Insidious follows it religiously.

Things pick up, though, when the film takes a refreshing turn, and the family actually decides to move the house. Of course, if things were that simple, there wouldn’t be much of a movie. No, it turns out it wasn’t the house that was haunted, but their comatose son! This is where the film begins shifting gears and gaining some energy. You could rightly level the criticism that Insidious become a thinly veiled Poltergeist homage at this point. However, there’s enough cosmetic differences to the same core story that I was okay with it. Besides, I’d rather it be hewing too close to one single movie than every haunted house movie ever, ala the first act.

You could also lay the criticism that the tone shifts dramatically here. Broad comic relief characters are introduced in the form of paranormal investigators, and the subtle scares are being replaced with more blatant jump scares. But again, the shift was unexpected enough to refuel the lagging story, yet still felt like it belonged in the same universe of the film. Plus, it made me realize, I had no idea what direction the rest of the film was going to go in, which I loved. So, there’s a change, sure, but it feels more like the next chapter of the story, than an entirely different film.

Things get weirder and more outrageous, yet I found myself loving every minute of it. We’ve got an old woman acting as medium utilizing some bold choices in equipment. Red faced demons crawling on ceilings. Unveiled backstories that connect dad to the current predicament.  Some of it is a bit silly, but it also feels fresh and inventive. I’ll take interesting and off-beat over safe and boring any day.

The final sequence of the film features Josh venturing into the astral world to save his son. Though I enjoyed some of the bits here, overall, I felt like the world could’ve been more imaginatively realized. Instead of something hitherto unseen and unsettling, we get smoke and the old house with a different color temperature. Still, the final chase is filled with knuckle biting tense moments and a few good scares. The final moments of the film are the obvious choice and only serve to undermine much of what just happened. But I suppose it does set us up for the sequel.

So, the first part of the movie is subtle yet common, while the second half is broader, yet interesting. Re-reading some reviews, I see I’m a minority in preferring the latter, but at least you know you’ll probably enjoy one half of the movie. Which half depends on your tastes.

3.5 out of 5
- Cameron Harrison

Review: Occupant (2011)

Occupant (2011)
Director: Henry Miller
Writer: Jonathan Brett
Stars: Van Hansis. Cody Horn, Thorsten Kaye

Occupant begins with the death of an old woman in her apartment. She shakes around, gasps, coughs, and finally kicks the bucket.  We have our title and credits on display and the movie begins to chug along.  The scene isn’t particularly frightening, in fact, it's pretty goofy. 

The setup goes as such; the old woman’s grandson, Danny, arrives to confirm the death of his long estranged grandmother.  When, at her apartment, he discovers that it's rent controlled on the lease and obscenely cheap, considering it has 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, living room, dinning room, and a kitchen.  Or, we’re told that’s how big it is; we hardly see more than 4 rooms the whole time.  

The, at first, apprehensive and grumpy Danny is told that if he can stay in the apartment for 12 days without leaving he becomes the lease holder in the eyes of the law and it remains rent controlled.  Once he finds out… he still doesn’t seem to really give a damn.  Until the aggressively friendly doorman and lawyer convince him he should stay… hell they even make arrangements for him, deliver his food, and help him avoid being kicked out.  The entire plot relies on a New York doorman and a New York lawyer selflessly trying to get a 20 something guy a nice apartment on the cheap.  Next time I go house hunting, I want that kind of representation.  Yet this guy kind of treats them like shit anyways.  He’s such a passive character he even starts painting the apartment and stops after like 3 minutes, leaving a few red blotches for the whole movie, which makes it just that much more a chore to get through.

- Sir anything you need, I will get you.
- Hey f*ck off man, don’t be pressuring me into the best situation ever.

Danny’s also got himself a sexy, blonde, web stalker, she first appears when Danny’s on the way to his grandma.  She videotapes him and follows him around a bit before they flirt.  She comes back again, because we need a female presence in the movie, saying she tricked the doorman into letting her in. It’s not creepy because A. She’s hot.  B. She has whiskey.  They hang out, have dinner, have sex, and then she films herself going through all his stuff, for her “stalk blog.” She treats it like an episode of “MTV Room Raiders” but… it’s not his stuff… it’s his dead grandmother’s…ok.
- Hey how’d you know where I lived?
We only met once, when you told me you run a “stalk blog.”
- Don’t worry about that, I’m pretty.
I’m just here to judge you based on this dead lady's stuff.

Occupant sets up a lot of potential scares and even more possible resolutions as Danny slowly goes unhinged.  Is the building owner trying to scare him away?  Is the doorman preparing to kill him?  Is it all a plot by stalker-cam girl? Is there a monster in the closet?  Is the apartment haunted? However, what the movie fails to see is setting up all these scary possibilities doesn’t actually make it scary.  Especially when the protagonist has no desire to actually do anything.  It would be scarier if something started to actually happen. Instead, we have a repeat of the stalker girl set up.  Someone comes to the door, we build to a scare, and we cut away to the next day. 

Sure, there are a few good moments. A dark figure standing in the background here or there is actually pretty spooky. Watching a totally unhinged Danny build death traps near the end is pretty fun, because he is actually doing something proactive.  The atmosphere built in the apartment is decent, and the film is shot better than it has any right to be.  There’s just barely enough good to make you sit through it thinking there will be a decent pay off.  But… no… they even tell you the ending right as Danny starts to hit on his stalker girl.  Sadly. It turns out Danny was just crazy!

I don’t know why I even bothered to think otherwise.

After Danny’s suicide by a door filled with nails… yeah that happened and it was hilarious and awful. We watch a new family move into the apartment.  We can only assume that it’s no longer rent controlled.  A little kid finds stalker girl's camera (which was left there because?) and watches the footage and what he sees is terrifying.  No, it’s not the sex tape they made. Just footage of Danny killing and hiding the girl’s dead body!  Then the door buzzer rings and the kid looks at the door in fear.  We close the movie. 

The movie leaves so many unanswered questions, sets up so many cool little things, and then fails to deliver on any of it.  Outside of a few cool shots and the doorman’s funny facial hair there is nothing redeeming about this movie.  Just skip it.

Hello, I’m your friendly doorman… and this is my mustache. 

- Will Woolery

Review: Contracted (2013)

Contracted (2013)
Director: Eric England
Writer: Eric England
Stars: Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams, Alice Macdonald

Whether you like it or not, horror movies are known for characters that make bad decisions. Contracted is no different. Nearly every person who crosses the screen makes stupid choices, and people love to call the movie out for it. Despite all of the dumb moves, Contracted is still worth arguing for, and for a number of reasons.

Written and directed by Eric England, Contracted shares the garish, three-day transformation of Sam (Najarra Townsend) caused by what she believes to be an STD contracted during a one-night stand turned rape. While England is fairly ambiguous about Sam’s past, it’s easy to see that things aren’t the best for her. She recently had a falling out with her girlfriend, Nikki (Katie Stegeman), and had to move back in with her mother (Caroline Williams) who isn’t the most accepting of Sam’s lifestyle choices. All in all, it seems as if she is going through a pretty turbulent time in her life, and things only get worse.

Sam is an easy enough character to sympathize with at first. Her uncertainty towards her place in life make her the poster child for the confused young person (she does wear Converse after all), but her responses to her growing symptoms put a damper on this sympathy and threaten to bring down the whole movie. I don’t think England intended for his characters to be stupid, but some of the things Sam does make you wonder. She blames what seems to be a gallon of blood that gushes from her and crippling cramps as her period, and piercing headaches and pains as a prolonged hangover. While it hurts to watch her try to brush her symptoms off, her actions are still excusable. It makes sense to be in denial about an illness, especially if it was caused by regretted actions, but the point of no return is reached when Sam decides to go to work instead of the doctor. Keep in mind, both her hair and teeth are falling out at this point; she works in the food industry too, by the way. Now, I zoned out during the whole sex-ed section of health class, and apparently the doctor she visits did too, but I think that’s something more serious than an STD and should probably take priority over going to work.  While her choices are painfully bad, they’re not worth hating the movie over; especially when it has so many merits.

The movie-long transformation of Sam is hands down the best part of Contracted, and it alone is worth watching the movie for. Contracted itself may not be that great, but Sam’s metamorphosis is. The film’s slow pacing lends itself to this transformation, and so does the phenomenal makeup effects. By the end of the movie, you can barely remember the beautiful young woman Sam once was, and when a visual comparison is made, the shock is real. The acting is nothing to complain about, I personally adore Townsend, and the movie is filmed with both a soft glow and crispness that generate an almost dreamy feel. Regardless of the fact that you’ll be seeing some unpleasant things Contracted really is a pretty movie.

Sure, the actions of the characters may wear your patience thin, but there shouldn’t be any regret involved in watching Contracted.  Whether you watch it for the special effects, Townsend or to scare yourself away from sex, just do whatever you must to excuse the character’s actions and let yourself enjoy the movie.

- Marysa Storm


Review: The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007)

The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007)
Director: Dario Piana
Writer: Brendan Hood
Stars: Mike Vogel, Jaime Murray, Christina Cole 

I will admit, I do some digging before I head to the video store (Yes, I still go to those; they exist). And when I saw the reviews for this flick, I was not at all encouraged. It fared better than a few of its partners in the 2nd batch of the After Dark series, but ya know… Anyhow, I think this is one of my favorites in the bunch I have seen so far. Although, I’m not far into my After Dark journey.

The open scene is in the last few precious seconds of a hockey game. Ian has just scored the goal that should have won him the game, but it turns out the clock stopped for him. By the way, you might notice that our gentleman hero is played by Mike Vogel, who is no stranger to the horror world. You would have seen him in Stephen King’s Under the Dome, Bate’s Motel, and the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  (I just saved you from pausing to IMDb that; you’re welcome.) But anyway, as Ian leaves after the game, obviously upset, he gets that weird feeling. That feeling that all horror movie characters get right before shit starts to hit the fan. And wouldn’t you know it; he’s right! He ends his night being killed. Bummer.

But never fear; he wakes up the next morning! In a new life, that is.

This would be a tough one to go into detail about without ruining in, but as you can imagine from reading the plot line, this happens a few times to young Ian, with each life getting progressively worse. And then it takes a real turn for the bizarre. I’m talking some Clive Barker level weirdness going on. But that can be taken as originality, so thumbs up on that one!

This is one of those where the start and middle of the movie were entertaining, if not a touch slow to start. But I will say if it had continued, this would have been a pretty solid movie. But a slightly weak reveal and a bit of a dragger for an ending shuffled it down a few slots. That and the terrible CGI. I can forgive the CGI though.

The acting was pretty spot on. Nothing crazy, but it’s great to see some familiar faces in the After Dark franchise. This is one to check out; forgive and remember what it is, and you’ll be just peaches. 

- Maddy Griep 

Review: Bloody Pit of Horror (1965)

Bloody Pit of Horror (1965)
Director: Massimo Pupillo
Writers: Robert Nathan, Robin McLorin, based on the writings of Marquis de Sade
Stars: Mickey Hargitay, Walter Brandt, Louise Barrett

Bloody Pit of Horror (1965) opens with the execution/imprisonment of a mean son-of-a-bitch known as the “Crimson Executioner," who looks more like a professional wrestling parody than deadly executioner.  We don’t know exactly what this guy is being sentenced to death for, but we can make the assumption he’s grown a bit overzealous in his profession.  Sometime later, a crew of models and photographers interested in gothic locale arrive at the castle in which our Crimson Executioner is entombed beneath.  Right away we assume someone will somehow summon the dead man below to rise and kill again.  Which is exactly what happens.  Sort of.

The Crimson Executioner certainly does rise and kill again, only it’s not the real Crimson Executioner.  Once the owner of the castle, an isolated former actor named Travis, recognizes one of the models, he assumes the identity of the Executioner to carry out his legacy, a legacy of violent torture and revenge.  One by one, Travis the new Crimson Executioner, enacts violence on unsuspecting prey.  At the center of this is Edith, Travis’ former fiancé, who reveals Travis’ bizarre past; his obsession with physical perfection and distaste for those inferior, who according to him, “corrupt the harmony of his perfect body.”  So yeah, the guy is a certified wackadoo who minors in over-the-top theatrics.  He’s also the kind of bad guy who wastes most his time rambling on about his master plan instead of just getting to the point and killing his opponent when he has the chance.  In perhaps the most monologues ever given by the killer in a horror movie, the imitation Crimson Executioner running rampant for the majority of this film is nowhere near as compelling as the real Crimson Executioner featured in the first five minutes, swearing his eternal revenge moments before his demise.  I would have preferred this version of the Executioner take center stage, and not Travis the understudy.  While Travis certainly kept me entertained in his oddity, there was never a moment I was actually afraid of him, whereas fear virtually emanated off the guy in the first five minutes.

With a number of elaborate set pieces, complete with iron maiden, giant spider web, and what I assume was a stretching machine, Bloody Pit of Horror is no doubt a fun little movie to watch.  It has a certain goofiness to it, considerably Mickey Hargitay’s over-the-top (but rightfully so) performance, but even the soundtrack has a lightness to it, with the opening credits feeling more like a beach movie than horror film.  Originally released in Italy, most if not all the dialogue is dubbed in English and barely matches the movements of the actor’s mouths, which again adds to the fun. 

- Peter DiGiovanni