Is the The Witch “Real Horror?”

The Witch: There's screaming, but is it "real horror?"

It’s still early, but I’ll wager The Witch will be the scariest movie I see this year. Not because the makers filled it with jump scares, gore or even creepy black-haired girl ghosts. The Witch is frightening because it’s relentlessly downbeat and oozes a sense of dark menace from virtually the opening frame.

But more importantly, perhaps, The Witch works as a horror film because the audience understands that the movie is unfolding outside of the conventions of fright flicks that preceded it. Anything could happen.

And that fear of the unknown may be our deepest fear.

That’s why it bugs me to see some horror fans bashing The Witch for not being “real horror” — primarily, it seems, because the makers dared to tread into the territory of art-house cinema. It’s a knee-jerk response that, while thankfully not universal among horror fans, is sadly all too common. I’ve heard it invoked again and again by horror gatekeepers when they see movies like Black Swan, It Follows, Spring and Under the Skin.

Any time a scary movie comes off the festival circuit heaped with critical praise and a handful of awards, detractors line up to denounce it as lacking chills, being too artsy-fartsy or failing to deliver on its hype. Those condemnations are only amplified in the echo chamber of social media.

But for the horror genre to remain vital, it can’t retread the same old tropes. To break free of them, filmmakers need to push boundaries, often charting a course into artier territory. How many more times do you really want to sit through a story of a family that suffered a recent loss and moves into a haunted house? How many more needless remakes of horror classics? How many found-footage retreads?

As a music fan, I find the “it’s not real horror” argument a lot like the rockabilly aficionado who insists only music that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1958 is worth listening to. Or the jazz enthusiast who claims the more avant garde end of the genre can’t be called “jazz” because Satchmo wouldn’t recognize it as such. While one can respect the purity of their arguments, neither makes much of a case for the genre moving forward.

So, you can bet I’ll be watching the The Witch again, just like I did It FollowsSpring, Black Swan and Under the Skin. And I’ll remain eager to see the next offbeat indie that rolls of the festival circuit with positive reviews. I know it may be an… ahem… scary notion to some, but for genres to thrive, they must grow, evolve and move in uncharted directions.


Forgotten Films: Dr. Jekyll vs. the Werewolf (1972)

One of many Paul Naschy werewolf movies.

This is the 138th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

So, this week we have a Spanish werewolf movie featuring Paul Naschy as Waldemar Daninsky (el Hombre Lobo aka the Werewolf). Apparently he was the hit of Spanish horror in this role as this film is the 6th of 12 times he played the tortured werewolf.

In Dr. Jekyll vs. the Werewolf, Justine (Shirley Corrigan) is the young new wife of a successful businessman Imre Kosta (Jose Marco) who has decided to visit the Hungarian village where he was born (and his parents were murdered) deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Sounds utterly romantic, yes? At the local inn, they find the way to the cemetery. While visiting the family graves, their Jaguar is burgled by three men. Imre is killed and the killers have sex and violence in mind for Justine.

Enter Waldemar who kills one of the men and takes Justine to the nearby castle (isn’t there always a nearby castle?) where the witch Uswika Bathory (Elsa Zabala) nurses her back to health. Meanwhile, Otvos (Luis Induni) the leader of the thieves, wants revenge for the death of his brother and gets the villagers, complete with pitchforks and torches, to march on the monster. The witch is killed by Otvos, who in turn is killed by the werewolf. Justine and Waldemar leave.

She takes him back to swinging 70’s London where she introduces him to Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jack Taylor), the grandson of the Victorian killer. Jekyll wants to use his grandfather’s formula to help Waldemar, though he is not sure that the werewolf really exists. But the monster is soon trapped in an elevator with a nurse when he changes, and London becomes aware that the werewolf is there.

The European cut has more sex and violence and is 25 percent longer.

Jekyll wants to administer the formula and turn Waldemar into the Hyde character. He hopes that the transformation into Hyde can cure Waldemar of his lycanthropy. Jekyll’s mistress Sandra (Mirta Miller) wants him to get the werewolf DNA (or something, so they can make a fortune.) She is also aware that Henry is still in love with Justine, giving us a little love triangle. Justine sees only Waldemar. Sandra has other plans. Murder and mayhem ensue. Hyde tours London, goes to a disco, kills and loves.

Naschy is pretty engaging in his various roles. He also wrote the screenplay as Jacinto Molina! The copy I saw was chopped down substantially from the original Spanish version which ran 96 minutes. The DVD is 73 minutes, so about 25 percent is gone. The result is a series of abrupt scene changes and a storyline that doesn’t always make sense. Apparently the longer version contains some nudity and more violence, if you’re wanting that.

Given a chance I might watch more in the series. I am curious about The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman. That might be some fun.

Also, many thanks to weird movie fiend Mike Madonna for shipping this one to me. Thanks, Mikey!

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Forgotten Films: The Color Out of Space (2010)

If you don't mind subtitles, Germany's Color Out of Space serves up Lovecraftian chills.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 137th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

With this being the Halloween season, it is only appropriate that I review some horror-type films fir the next several weeks.

My friends Willie and Chuck brought this one to my attention. A German adaptation of The Color Out of Space based on the Lovecraft story of the same name. I do love the work of Lovecraft, as shown in more than a few columns of the Forgotten Books and Forgotten Films over the last six years or so. So when they expressed their pleasure in it, I checked up on it from Amazon and found that there was a Blu-Ray for a reasonable price and that it was limited to 1,000 copies. Sold!

When I first went to watch it, my Blu-Ray player seized up with the disc inside and would not respond. I tried the normal things – new batteries, manually hitting the control buttons on the machine, everything, and the disk remained stuck and the player was inert.

So, being the person that I am, I bought a new Blu-Ray player and set it up.

As I removed the old one, I looked for various ways to retrieve my unplayed disc but to no avail. As a last ditch effort, I plugged the player into another circuit. Suddenly, I saw the flickering of a power light. I punched the manual controls and out popped the tray. I grabbed the remote with its new batteries and the machine responded. Now I had two Blu-Ray players. I could not return the new one as I had pretty well destroyed the box opening it. So the old one went upstairs to reside next to the DVD/VCR combo in the guest bedroom. Another problem solved.

Last night, I watched this film. I had vague memories of the earlier version — Die, Monster, Die with Boris Karloff and Nick Adams — which I saw many years ago. I checked my movie listing and I do not appear to have a copy of that one. I know I have The Dunwich Horror and that one may show up soon.

This one was quite fun. It’s done in glorious black and white (mostly), and it’s set in three different timelines. The story starts with Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) returning to Arkham College to discuss the disappearance of his father with Mr. Danforth (Olaf Kratke), a librarian in the Forbidden Books area. The elder Davis had unexpectedly gone off to Germany a few weeks earlier and had not been heard from.

Jonathan heads over to the Swabian-Franconian Forest area of Germany to try to find his dad. He enquires at a pub and finds Armin Peirske (Michael Kausch) who did not recognize the father from the current pictures but did from his time in the war.

So we shift to the period at the end of World War II where the elder Davis (Ralf Lichtenberg) is a doctor looking to relocate people displaced by the war. Armin is returning wounded from the war to his farm when he encounters Davis. Davis asks him about the area, particularly the neighboring valley. Armin tells Davis not to go over there.

No one lives there. Anymore.

Now we shift to Armin’s tale from prior to the war when a meteorite has landed in that valley on the farm of Nahum Gärtener (Erik Rastetter), who has a small farm and orchard that he runs with his wife and three sons. Scientists come to examine the meteorite, which has some very strange properties and keeps shrinking. Testing does not determine its origins, so the scientists return and find a small opening in the fragment. They crack it open and something happens. There is a release and suddenly the fragment disappears.

Then strange things begin to happen. Giant pears begin to grow in the orchards but the fruit tastes spoiled. Frau Gärtener (Marah Schneider) sees something and goes very slowly insane. Things happen to the boys.

I’m not going to delve too much deeper here. You should see this film for yourself. It’s one of the best Lovecraftian films ever made. I can easily compare it to The Call of Cthulhu that I reviewed some time ago which was excellent.

The film is dual language – parts of it are in English but most of it is in German — so you will have to read your film. But, if you’ve read Lovecraft, you can easily read a film.

I’m not sure if it’s on Netflix or one of the other services. Amazon has it on its Amazon video and the Blu-Ray is still available for under $20.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Cocktail Hour: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Nigh highlights Persian flavors.

When a horror film is called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, we’re trained to think the girl in question is the one facing the dire threat. But in Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2014 debut feature film, the girl is the the predator, not the prey.

The nameless young woman, played by Argo actress Sheila Vand, wanders the nighttime streets of a fictional Iranian town called Bad City, populated by pimps, prostitutes, punks and junkies. She’s draped in a black chador which can make her appear anonymous or ominous, depending on the situation.

We learn early on that the girl is a vampire, and we see her savagely dispatch the local pimp, the first of several killings that make us wonder whether she’s simply quenching her thirst for blood or acting as a feminist avenger. When her path continues to cross that of the film’s protagonist, a small-time hood played by Arash Marandi, a new question haunts us: Does she actually have feelings for him or is she toying with him, amusing herself before the kill.

Amirpour does a great job humanizing the vampire without explaining too much about her. The girl’s ’80s-inspired clothing, the teeny-bopper posters on her wall and the synth pop she plays on her record player hint at who she was before she became undead. And those trappings also help us understand she’s more than just a murderous apparition.

Be careful of what lurks beneath the chador in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

The movie’s stark black-and-white photography and effective use of silence probably owe as much to the influence of Iranian New Wave cinema and early Jim Jarmusch as they do F.W. Murnau. A creepy atmosphere pervades, but the movie isn’t without humor. The vampire girl acquires a skateboard and uses that to glide along the street for much of the film, and we catch occasional glimpses of street signs warning motorists to watch out for women in chadors — an image that takes on a double meaning here.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night doesn’t deliver the kind of bump scares and roller-coaster thrills of a Hollywood-style horror film, but it’s refreshingly clever in the way it humanizes its monster and draws us into a dream world that borrows details from horror, Spaghetti Westerns and art house cinema.

That’s why it’s the inspiration for this week’s cocktail.

Lime, cherry and rosewater are all ingredients that figure prominently in Persian cuisine, and they all figure prominently in this cocktail. The cherry is doubly appropriate here because of a Persian saying that we taste cherry when we die. Our final reflection on life is that it’s been both sweet and sour.

The cherries’ sourness is augmented by the lime in this drink, while the gin and rosewater lend an aromatic dimension. Like its namesake movie, this cocktail is refreshing and complex without being cloyingly sweet.


2 oz. gin
¾ oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
½ oz lime juice
½ oz rosewater (available at most Middle Eastern and Indian groceries)
Maraschino cherry

Shake all the ingredients, except the cherry over ice. Place the cherry and a little of its syrup in the bottom of a chilled coupe glass then gently pour the mixed cocktail over top, allowing the red syrup to drift upward like drops of blood.

Forgotten Films: Zombeavers (2014)

Zombeavers: Best viewed with a sick sense of humor.

This is the 131st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I first heard about this film about a month ago and my initial thought was “No way! Such a wonderful play on words. It’s probably not any good.  But, is it bad enough to be good?” So, I checked Netflix and it was there, so, one afternoon, I waited for the wife to leave since I pretty well knew what her reaction would be.

This is got the makings of your basic R rated sex/horror film.  Three college sorority sisters (Mary, Jenn, and Zoe played by Rachel Melvin, Lexi Atkins and Cortney Palm, respectively) are off for a weekend away from their boyfriends, cell phones and civilization at a lake cabin owned by Mary’s cousin. Unbeknownst to them, two slacker idiots (Bill Burr and rocker John Mayer) who were texting and driving have managed to hit a deer. The resulting crash sends a barrel of toxic waste into the river that feeds the lake by the cabin.

The girls are trying to help Jenn who has caught a Facebook photo of her boyfriend Sam with a mysterious woman who is not her. So, no boys allowed – until they show up, in a plot hatched by Zoe.  Guys and girls get naked and sex happens. Except between Jenn and the cheating Sam.

Things are interrupted by the appearance of scraggly looking zombie beaver who does not know how to die. Everyone decides he is a fluke and goes back to the evening’s adventures. The next day, they all decide to go swimming in the lake except Jenn who is eventually coaxed into the edge of the water. Here she feels something brush up against her and everyone makes fun of her until the zombeaver attacks Zoe’s boyfriend Buck and it bites his foot off. Suddenly a full scale beaver apocalypse is going on and the zany kinds are out on a raft in the lake. They need a distraction and Zoe’s pissy little dog provides both a distraction and lunch for the beavers.

From here, the film becomes your basic Spam in a cabin with everyone trying to stay alive and the zombeavers trying hard to prevent that from happening. People die in the course of the film as well as a bear. Phone lines have been chewed, roads have been blocked, and Buck is not doing well.

Sandi came back home and watched the end of the film with me.  Her basic comment was “Ya’ll are all sick” which is why I was watching it alone. It’s a fun little film, lots of gratuitous nudity and swearing. It’s trying to be Evil Dead II good, but not quite there. There are some interesting scenes and effects. The beavers are cheesy but, hey, it is a low budget film, very low budget.

It will never replace Citizen Kane but I had fun. If the description sounds like something you might like, give it a try. If not, I’m sure there’s an Ivory Merchant film on cable (or in your library). And, as with all bad movies, your mileage and humor may vary from mine so keep that in mind.

And watch out for beavers – zombie or otherwise. Oh, and there is quick scene at the end after all the credits, for your amusement. Almost like a Marvel film.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Will “Drag Me to Hell” drag Hollywood horror back from the brink?

dragmeRead an interesting piece in London’s The Independent over the weekend. The author theorizes that the critical and boxoffice success of Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” could prompt Hollywood to break free of its lame cycle of horror remakes and torture porn. We can only hope.

I enjoyed “Drag Me to Hell,” and while it’s not high art, it was nice to see Raimi return to his fun brand of slapstick horror. The film works because Raimi understands that effective horror — even in a movie as gleefully lowbrow as this one — needs to have a psychological component to back up the grossouts and jump scares. It needs well-drawn characters an audience cares about. Otherwise the pain inflicted on them means nothing.

Will “Drag Me to Hell” help ignite a Hollywood horror renaissance? Hard to say, but I’m rooting for it. I have no desire to sit through another “Saw” installment.