Fright Club: Dark Ages Horror

Witches, starvation, ghouls, oppression, Church and governmental oppression—there’s a reason they call them the Dark Ages! Filmmaker George Popov (Hex, The Droving) joins us to discuss the best horror movies about the Dark Ages.

6. Black Death (2010)

What Christopher Smith (Severance) delivers with Black Death that few if any horror filmmakers tackling the same themes match is a clear eye as to the flaws and merits on both sides of the witch hunt.

Eddie Redmayne is an innocent and a believer; Sean Bean is no innocent, but he does believe. Both are part of a Christian army who get word of a village untouched by pestilence—a village where some say the dead have been raised.

What follows is a punishingly human drama about using religion to suit your own ends, about what evil we are and are not willing to accept, and about the end of innocence.

5. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The sixth of seven Roger Corman/Vincent Price Poe films—and maybe the best—sees Price in a role that delights in its own evil.

No Corman film has ever used color to such glorious extreme, a tactic absolutely in keeping with Poe’s text. The film works from a short story, padding with subplots (one from Poe, one from elsewhere) that work well within the story and generate a little emotional depth beneath the lurid color and debauchery.

Stay through to the end, whatever you do, but do give this one a chance.

4. Hex (2017)

Two soldiers separated from their companies during England’s Civil War chase each other into a deep forest. The rebel Thomas (William Young) is young, soft and open to the dark poetry and doom of witchcraft. He’s not long in the woods before he sees his true enemy is not the countryman behind him with his sword drawn.

Richard (Daniel Oldroyd) fights for King and Country, strident and single-minded, logic keeps him from believing until he has little choice.

There is more happening here than you realize, and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that you only recognize the film’s purpose when they are ready for you to do so. The result is a satisfying tale with more power than just magic.

3. Army of Darkness (1992)

Easily the most fun you’ll have with a Dark Ages film, Army of Darkness is Sam Raimi’s third and silliest installment in his Evil Dead trilogy. In it, like a Connecticut Yankee, hero Ash (Bruce Campbell at his buffest) finds himself transported to dark times.

You know what he finds. Deadites.

Ash must woo the girl (and then maybe accidentally get her changed into a deadite, which will necessitate killing her), say the spell (which he may or may not entirely screw up, inadvertently raising an army of darkness), and save the day.

Endlessly quotable, utterly bananas, and just a thrill ride of Monty Python meets Three Stooges meets Ray Harryhausen fun, Army of Darkness is a treasure.

2. The Head Hunter (2018)

In a land of yore, the geography forbidding, a far off trumpet calls for the hardiest of warriors—those equipped to fight beasts.

Director Jordan Downey shows much and tells little in his nearly wordless medieval fantasy, The Head Hunter. The filmmaker parses out all the information you’ll need to follow this simple vengeance myth, but pay attention. Very little in this film is without meaning—no creepy image, no creak or slam.

In what is essentially a one man show, Christopher Rygh delivers a quiet, brooding performance for a quiet, brooding film. He cuts an impressive figure as the Vikingesque warrior at the center of this adventure and his work speaks of joyless endurance.

1.Hagazussa (2017)

Making a remarkably assured feature debut as director, Lukas Feigelfeld mesmerizes with his German Gothic poetry, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse.

Settled somewhere in the 15th Century Alps, the film shadows lonely, ostracized women struggling against a period where plague, paranoia and superstition reigned.

It would be easy to mistake the story Feigelfeld (who also writes) develops as a take on horror’s common “is she crazy or is there malevolence afoot?” theme. But the filmmaker’s hallucinatory tone and Aleksandra Cwen’s grounded performance allow Hagazussa to straddle that line and perhaps introduce a third option—maybe both are true.

The film lends itself to a reading more lyrical than literal. Feigelfeld’s influences from Murnau to Lynch show themselves in his deliberate pacing and the sheer beauty of his delusional segments. He’s captured this moment in time, this draining and ugly paranoia that caused women such misery, with imagery that is perplexingly beautiful.

Skeletons in the Closet: Oscar Edition

There’s nothing more fun come Oscar season than to dig around celebrity closets to find the long lost horror output of the year’s nominees. Of course we all remember Michael Keaton’s unfortunate late-career genre work in White Noise, while Reese Witherspoon starred years ago in the glorious American Psycho. You may not know that the always magnificent Eddie Redmayne starred as a conflicted friar in the low budget effort Black Death. But we don’t mean to pick recent scabs, and our point is not to applaud excellent early careers in horror. So instead, we thought it would be more fun to look at four gems of a different color. Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Patricia Arquette and Bradley Cooper star in this month’s Skeletons in the Closet: Oscar Edition.

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper) comes to believe he is snapping evidence of a serial killer – a meticulously groomed butcher who emerges from the subway in the wee hours every morning carrying a suspicious bag. Written by Clive Barker (Hellraiser), the film is meant to implicate the viewer. It opens on all out slaughter, followed quickly by an image of Cooper, the lens of his camera pointed directly at you, the viewer. Why are we watching? Why is he watching? What does he find so fascinating about the festering underbelly of the city that he chooses to watch no matter how ugly. Why do we keep watching this film, even after Ted Raimi’s eyeball bursts out at us? It’s a bloody, foul mess, this one, but somehow not terribly tense and rarely if ever scary. Cooper overacts, and while the premise shows promise, the conclusion doesn’t satisfy.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Patricia Arquette – a working actress with her first Oscar nomination, which only means that the Academy turned a blind eye to her awesome turn as Alabama Worley – got her start in 1987’s third Nightmare on Elm Street installment: Dream Warriors. Of course, Johnny Depp got his start in Wes Craven’s original nightmare, but by the franchise’s third episode both budget and inspiration were running short. Arquette plays a patient in a sleep clinic. Screechy Nancy (the epically untalented Heather Langenkamp – sole survivor of the original) is now an adult and a psychiatrist working with patients to take control in their dreams and kill Freddy. Arquette plays Kristin, lead dream warrior. Aside from being known as Arquette’s feature film debut, this is also the episode where we learn that Freddy is the bastard son of hundred maniacs. Sets are pretty ludicrous, we don’t get nearly enough Freddy, but Langenkamp’s wondrously wooden performance makes everyone else look talented by comparison.

The Dentist (1996)

Oh, we’ve celebrated the ridiculous glory of The Dentist previously, but given Mark Ruffalo’s Oscar nom, it deserves just another quick mention. The film follows a psychotic dentist (Corbin Bernsen) who goes off the deep end after his wife gets dirty with the pool boy. Director Brian Yuzna’s film misses every opportunity to capitalize on the discomfort of the dentist’s chair, and the film’s puffy hair and pastel sweaters suggests that it’s ten years older than it is. The sole reason to sit through this is the small, supporting turn from Ruffalo as the boyfriend/agent of one of the not-so-good doctor’s patients. God bless him, even in a film this bad, Ruffalo can act.

Grizzly II: The Concert (1987)

Here’s the crowning jewel for nearly any Skeletons in the Closet feature. It features not just a current nominee, but one past winner and ever-the-winner Charlie Sheen. It’s hard to come by and even harder to watch. The sequel to William Girdler’s 1796 forest-astrophe Grizzly was filmed in 1983 and never completed, but sort of, kind of released anyway in 1987. Every death scene ends just before the death itself, because the bear side of the struggle was never shot. So, we get a lot of bear’s eye view of the victim, but never a look at the bear side of the sequence. It’s surreal, almost.

Sandwiched somewhere between the non-death sequences is a never ending faux-eighties synth pop concert. The concert footage is interminably long, nonsensical enough to cause an aneurism, and awful enough to make you grateful for the aneurism. You will lose your will to live. So, why bother? Because this invisible grizzly puppet kills Charlie Sheen, Oscar nominee Laura Dern, and George Clooney. (Dern and Clooney are making out at the time, which actually probably happened).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dG0dfhbyXBQ

Check out our Fright Club podcast on the subject of Skeletons in the Closet and join us the 4th Saturday of every months for Fright Club live at the Drexel Theater in Bexley, OH.