Tag Archives: Shudder

28 Zombies Later

Virus: 32

by Hope Madden

It’s nearly impossible to watch a zombie film without seeing pieces of this, pieces of that. Virus: 32 does call to mind a handful of other genre flicks. 28 Days Later is all over it. Sequences call to mind Rammbock: Berlin Undead. The film’s claustrophobic, spook-house vibe might conjure Rec from time to time.

Still, Gustavo Hernández (The Silent House) braids these ideas into something unnerving, tense and moving.

Iris (Paula Silva), living an extended adolescence in Uruguay with her roommate, finds herself saddled with her young daughter for the day. She’d forgotten and picked up a shift, which means Tata (Pilar Garcia) will join her today at “the club.”

The club is an old, abandoned sports club. Iris is on security patrol. Tata can occupy herself in an old gym with some basketballs while Iris makes her rounds and keeps an eye on things from the security footage she accesses through her phone.

No sweat.

Unbeknownst to the two, a virus has infected Montevideo, turning people insatiably violent.

Sweat.

The title comes from the brief reprieve the illness offers. The infected become catatonic for 32 seconds after quenching their bloodlust. It’s contrived, but Hernández — writing again with Juma Fodde — enlists the pause button effectively.

Fermin Torres’s sometimes creeping, sometimes soaring camera generates anticipation and dread in equal measure. Security footage — often a lazy gimmick in a horror movie — gets real purpose and style here. Likewise, the poorly lit passages, shadowy staircases and rooms reflecting leakage and rot create an atmosphere of decay that suits the effort.

Nothing works harder or more forcefully, though, than Silva. Her believable tenderness, drive and instability combine to create a hero you root for, understand and worry about. She’s brilliant.

Daniel Hendler joins the cast at about the midway point, injecting a needed sense of calm and purpose. His presence pulls the narrative out of its chaos and points things toward resolution. He and Silva elevate scenes that could feel perfunctory. Their talent and Hernández’s skill turn even the most zombie-eaten tropes into riveting action.

Virus: 32 can’t entirely overcome its set of borrowed notions, but it grips and tears nonetheless.

Mojave Monster

The Seed

by Hope Madden

It’s got a little Brian Yuzna, definitely some Larry Cohen, a touch of Eraserhead, and the exact set of Revenge. Plus, sci-fi/horror flick The Seed maintains maybe the single most used premise of the last few years: three friends rent a place to stay and bad things happen.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. A small cast and limited locations are just smart plays for an independent filmmaker working with budget confinements, and there are moments when writer/director Sam Walker transcends such trappings.

Just not many.

Vampy social influencer Diedre (Lucy Martin), her somewhat vapid bestie Heather (Sophie  Vavasseur), and their down-to-earth pal Charlotte (Chelsea Edge) head to a luxurious, isolated spot in the Mojave desert and witness a meteor shower.

It’s gorgeous, but now their phones are on the fritz, which means they can’t call an uber or get in touch with civilization at all. Worst of all, there’s some stinky dead armadillo bear thing oozing all over their pool deck.

There’s no question Walker is a fan of late 80s horror. The social media angle is the only element of The Seed that feels like it wasn’t hatched in 1985, actually. Walker goes for a sharpness in the color that does call Yuzna to mind, and attempts at social satire by way of body  horror link Cohen as well.

Walker just doesn’t seem to know where to go with it all.

Martin does. She elevates tired mean girl dialog and cuts an exceptional narcissistic presence. Both she and Vavasseur find the comedy in the script, and their bickering buddies often entertain.

Edge is the weak link, which is unfortunate because – given the 1980s roots and the wholesome character – she’s telegraphed early to be the film’s hero.

The fact that The Seed is set in the exact house Coralie Fargeat used to gorgeous, bloody extremes in her 2017 treasure Revenge only makes you want to see Walker do more with his location.

So little about this film feels fresh and that retro vibe only carries it so far. The beast itself is sometimes laughable, but not often enough to be fun, which is par for the course with the film. Walker wades into dark comedy/satire territory for the first two acts, then abandons it entirely for a dusty, predictable, humorless finale.

Hell Bent

Hellbender

by Hope Madden

Unusual family dynamics tend to be at the heart of movies made by Adams Family Films, a collective that shares writing, directing, and acting duties.

They’re also a family: co-writer/co-director/co-star/mom Toby Poser, co-writer/co-director/dad John Adams, co-writer/co-director/co-star/daughter Zelda Adams, co-star/daughter Lulu Adams. No word on Cousin It.

The clan’s 2019 horror The Deeper You Dig centered on the bond between mother and daughter, both outsiders in a rural mountain town. The Family’s latest, Hellbender, orbits similar territory.

Poser — again cutting an impressive cinematic figure — is a mother who keeps her teenage girl Izzy (Zelda Adams) far, far from prying eyes. The two enjoy each other’s company, even playing in a 2-person punk band (bass & drums, hell yeah!) called Hellbender.

But Izzy is lonely, and she’s beginning to distrust her mother’s claims that illness prevents socialization. Izzy doesn’t feel sick.

It turns out, Mom isn’t trying to protect Izzy. She’s trying to protect everybody else.

A soundtrack full of the band’s music creates an effective atmosphere of rebellion, anger and evil. Zelda Adams haunts the film, a central figure of awkwardness and naivete blossoming with power.

There’s barely another face onscreen and even fewer behind the camera. Aside from Trey and Samantha Lindsay, who pull crew duties, every role from costume design to sound, editing to cinematography to music is handled by a member of the family.

They are impressive. Hellbender looks great. It sounds great. The story is fluid and creepy, punctuated with psychedelic carnage and informed by lived-in relationships.

A muddy backstory and slight anticlimax keep the film from utterly beguiling, but the coming-of-age center impresses. Hellbender delivers a moral ambiguity that questions society’s fear of female power.

The Adams Family doesn’t represent a gimmick or a “good for you for trying” brand of filmmaking. These people are the real deal and I look forward to their next effort.

Feed My Frankenstein

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster

by Hope Madden

Who doesn’t love Boris Karloff? From Frankenstein’s monster to the Grinch, he’s brought to life some of the world’s best (and greenest) baddies. And he did it with grace, understatement and more than a touch of weirdness.

Co-writer/director Thomas Hamilton, like many of us, loves Boris Karloff and wants to celebrate his legacy. The vehicle for this celebration is the documentary Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster.

Interviews from gushing fans including filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and Joe Dante, as well as film historians, colleagues and Karloff’s daughter, Sarah Karloff, ground the doc. With these voices, Hamilton shapes a picture of the actor as a lovely soul, humble, and more talented than audiences of his time realized.

We’re also treated to a smorgasbord of scenes from Karloff’s 50+ years onscreen. Ample time is spent with the many incarnations of Frankenstein, of course, including mention of the partnership Karloff and make-up magician Jack Pierce shared in the creation of cinema’s most iconic monster. The film hits the other obvious highlights as well: The Mummy (1932), The Black Cat (1934), Black Sabbath (1963) and Targets (1968) among them.

Hamilton also digs into Karloff’s TV experience, which reinvigorated his career as well as his love of acting. Low lights, such as Karloff’s list of racist Asian characters, most notably the abomination that is The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), are touched on if never fully examined.

Most interesting is footage of del Toro and Dante, two greats of genre cinema, both detailing the career and impact of a hero. Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich, who directed Karloff in the chilling Targets, leaves the most lingering impression.

Man Behind the Monster falls short in two fairly important areas. There’s no revelatory information, and that’s OK, but there’s little more insight here than what you might find on Wikipedia.

The second real shortcoming is in production value. Most subjects sit in front of weakly imposed green screen images. Even artwork rendered by Joe Liotta finds itself lost in front of garden variety backdrops.

The end result is a pleasant enough chance for Karloff fans to soak up like-minded love of one of cinema’s greatest genre performers. Hopefully everyone can come away from it with a list of new Karloff movies to discover.

Hard Candy Christmas

The Advent Calendar

by Hope Madden

Who needs a new Christmas horror story?

I do. Y’all can have your Hallmark romances but give me a little yuletide carnage and I’m filled with holiday cheer.

This Christmas season, writer/director Patrick Ridremont comes through with the Belgian horror The Advent Calendar.

It’s been three years since the accident that put Eva (Eugénie Derouand) in a wheelchair, but it’s still sometimes tough for her to tolerate the ableism and ignorance of those around her. Luckily her bestie Sophie (Honorine Magnier) cheers her with a visit and a gift — an antique wooden advent calendar she picked up in Germany.

There are rules. There is candy. There will be blood. (But there is candy, so how bad can it be?)

The “be careful what you wish for” storyline is as vintage as the ornate and impressive prop, but cursed object horror can be powerful when done well. Ridremont does it well, allowing time for his ensemble to develop their characters. And though the film skirts cliché, Ridremont respects his audience’s ability to keep up. We’re not spoonfed.

Better still, Eva has depth enough as a character that when she finally moves willingly toward doing the wrong thing, you feel her resignation more than her selfishness.

Derouand portrays Eva’s bitterness and longing so clearly that the film never has to bow to montage or flashback. And when the time comes to get spooky, The Advent Calendar delivers.

There’s plenty of blood, but it’s the way it’s meted out that ramps up tensions. We start off with people we’re trained to want to see picked off, but viewer beware: there’s a beautiful mutt in danger here as the cursed object worms its way into Eva’s life.

The FX are not as impressive as the performances, unfortunately, but the creature itself is creepy as hell. Better still, his existence and the origin of the Advent Calendar are left a bit to the imagination. It’s a clever sleight of hand, Ridremont taking advantage of our familiarity with his subgenre when he needs to, while still leaving behind the tangy taste of mystery.

The Bored and the Beautiful

Dead & Beautiful

by Hope Madden

Oh, they’re so attractive. They’re so rich. In fact, the five souls at the center of writer/director David Verbeek’s Dead & Beautiful are so attractive and rich that they have to stick together because literally no one else on earth can understand where they come from.

Each has a family fortune in the billions, and every week one of the five takes a “turn” — they decide what the group will do for fun, and their buddies have to participate, no questions asked. But it’s so hard! They’ve done everything.

Verbeek makes his point early. These five people contribute nothing to the world. As the rich and beautiful, they are the alpha predators. And yet, their unfulfilled lives spin out of control after one “turn” may have inadvertently changed them into vampires.

Thus begins the psychological experiment. When you have no soul to begin with, you’ve essentially lived off the masses your whole life, is there really any difference between you and a vampire?

We find out in rain-slicked, neon-tinted urban late nights, following five impossibly thin and unreasonably attractive people through a whole lot of nothing.

Very, very little happens during this movie. Camaraderie and sexual tensions feel fake. Individual suffering rings false. The psychological game at the heart of the action is as bloodless as the film itself. This is a horror film in the loosest sense.

Dead and Beautiful would play more like a social satire if it didn’t emulate the same tedious, vacuous billionaire youth that it pretends to skewer.

A handful of funny moments help the time pass, mainly thanks to Philip Juan, whose character believes he mind-controlled his way into a pack of Wrigley’s spearmint gum. A frustrating number of scenes begin with great promise — well-framed, intriguingly populated possibilities for those alpha predators to prove their label. What’s frustrating is how blandly these scenes all end.

Verbeek lenses a gorgeous late-night cityscape — never sinister, never forbidding, just pretty and mainly empty. Like his film.  

Monster Mash

Horror Noire

by Hope Madden

Remember Shudder’s 2019 documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror from director Xavier Burgin? It was great, wasn’t it? And if you thought to yourself that you’d love a sequel, you should know that this week’s Shudder premiere Horror Noire is not that. Not exactly.

Instead, it is an anthology of six horror shorts made by Black filmmakers. Writers, directors, performers, ideas, perspectives, points of view — everything the documentary made us realize we were not getting – is delivered by the anthology.

Production values and performances in every film are solid. Familiar faces of veteran talent elevate the individual pieces. Tony Todd, Malcolm Barrett, Rachel True, Peter Stormare, Lenora Crichlow and others turn in memorable performances in creature features, Gothic horrors, psychological horrors and comedies.

Todd, True and Barrett star as a married couple pulled apart by a cult in one of the strongest entries, Rob Greenlea’s Fugue State, a sly comment on a common problem. Kimani Ray Smith’s Sundown is a fun reimagining of horror tropes led by Stormare’s characteristic weirdness and the action hero stylings of Erica Ash.

Julian Christian Lutz’s Brand of Evil reworks familiar ideas, turning them into an unexpected creature feature that’s both savvy and strangely touching.

Other shorts are a little less successful. Robin Givens’s Daddy digs into parental horror but can’t balance build-up with payoff. Zandashé Brown’s The Bride Before You brims with insight and style, but an overreliance on voiceover narration keeps the film from developing the kind of atmosphere it hopes for.

Joe West’s The Lake also falls just short of keeping you interested and guessing, although a fuzzy backstory allows for a more thought-provoking lead character than you might expect.

The full stash runs two and a half hours and might have played better as a short series. It’s a long commitment, and every film has weak spots, which makes the time really feel like a commitment. But there’s much to enjoy with each episode. Taken as a whole, there’s variety enough in style and substance to promise something for everyone.

Bzzz

Mosquito State

by Hope Madden

Right from its scientifically precise and profoundly unsettling opening, Filip Jan Rymsza’s Mosquito State is almost unwatchable. The film, about Wall Street analyst Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) and the 2008 financial collapse, takes on an upsetting metaphor.

Richard, brilliant and socially awkward in equal measure, brings two bodies home with him one evening: the poised and lovely Lena (Charlotte Vega) and a thirsty mosquito. Thanks to Richard’s intimacy ineptitude, things don’t go well with Charlotte, but that mosquito gets all she came for.

Though the buzzing of the bloodsuckers that soon breed in Richard’s apartment may suggest those Wall Street parasites whose appetites will soon collapse the market, Rymsza has something less obvious on his mind.

Any underlying themes about benevolence versus predation serve the filmmaker’s somewhat confounding allegory, but his aesthetic is as pointedly horrific as they come. My god, that whining buzz! The sound threatens to overwhelm you as certainly as the insects themselves overwhelm Richard, who becomes utterly submissive, offering his naked body to the unholy swarm.

Rymsza orchestrates a certain ghastly beauty, but first he has to immerse you in sounds and sights that trigger an automatic, primal revulsion and need to swat and flee.

Knapp’s performance suggests a bloodless Nicolas Cage as Elephant Man — bloodless not just because he’s made Richard the mosquitos’ feast, but because Knapp drains his character of charisma and flamboyance. Richard’s as unpredictable and difficult to enjoy as the film itself, but that makes him —and Mosquito State — no less distressingly intriguing.

Rymsza’s anticlimactic finale will leave many unsatisfied with his film. But for a wild combination of revulsion and beauty, Mosquito State is worth a look.

Somebody’s Knocking

The Boy Behind the Door

by Hope Madden

Filmmakers David Charbonier and Justin Powell know how to do a lot with a little.

Earlier this year Shudder premiered their tightly packaged little horror story, The Djinn—very nearly a one-man, one-set show. Their latest to hit Shudder, The Boy Behind the Door, is slightly more expansive. A cast of about five knocks around one big, old farmhouse in the middle of an isolated, wooded area.

Two of those five are Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey, The Djinn), best friends who were kidnapped on their way to a little league game. Bobby wakes up in the trunk of a car without Kevin. He breaks free and makes his way clear of the house, but he can hear Kevin’s terrified cries and he circles back to try and save him.

The filmmakers leave it to Bobby’s sleuthing—and yours–to figure out what’s going on and how to end it. They make tremendous use of the hallways, floors and doors throughout their set, plus a well-placed wristwatch unnervingly ups the ante in a way the audience understands but Bobby does not.

There are times when the writing here hits too hard. I’m not sure the boys have to say they’ll always stick together quite so often; their actions speak to that. But the conundrums the filmmakers throw at Bobby as he tries to figure out what’s going on and how to get to his friend are believable.

More importantly, Chavis handles them with honest, childlike panic and courage. His performance would be enough to carry the film, but the adults around him offer supremely creepy turns.

Dewey’s less effective in this than he was in The Djinn, but it’s not enough to sink the film. The movie’s solid structure, paired with Charbonier and Powell’s gift for dropping clues and following up on threads make for a satisfying but never lurid horror show.

Mr. Nice Guy

Vicious Fun

by Hope Madden

Even serial killers need someone to talk to. Just hope it’s not you.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Cody Callahan’s latest, Vicious Fun.

In this 80s-era horror-comedy, sad sack Joel (Evan Marsh in kind of a Jon Cryer role) is a nice guy. He’s just kind of an idiot who can’t take a hint.

One evening he drowns his sorrows, passes out, and sobers up to find himself in a late-night support group for serial killers. He’s not a member—a fact the others sniff out pretty quickly—and shit goes south post haste.

Callahan’s script winks with a kind of embarrassed affection toward the horror nerd. Joel’s a screenwriter wannabe and is perhaps too proud of his position as horror journalist for a fan magazine.

The serial killers here are not so much your garden variety psychos as they are typical horror movie monsters. Vicious Fun shows no end of self-deprecating charm, and Callahan’s solid cast is in on the joke.

Earlier this year, Callahan impressed with the boozy Canadian hillbilly noir The Oak Room, where he took advantage of Ari Millen’s versatility and peculiarity. Here Millen dives more fully into his peculiar side, throwing shades of McConaughey at his most unhinged for a character who’s never quite what he seems but is always attention-getting.

The enormous Robert Maillet (Becky) fits his character, physically and emotionally, to a tee, while Julian Richings (Anything for Jackson) surprises in a dual role. Amber Goldfarb cuts an impressive presence as the film’s badass, and David Koechner is David Koechner, but when isn’t that fun?

There aren’t enough nice guys in horror movies. Hats off to Callahan for not only finding a unique and fun premise in an overcrowded genre but for appreciating the precious jewel that is the nice guy.