Tag Archives: Shudder


Skull: The Mask

by Hope Madden

Practical effects, hallucinatory sequences and a throwback exploitation vibe keep Skull: The Mask interesting enough to watch.

The film’s opening is its strongest segment, a grainy video portrayal of a 1944 political bloodbath with the goal of enacting an ancient pre-Columbian ritual. Directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman bring a retro violence to the effort that makes the most of limited resources.

Flash forward 60 years or so and we move from the Amazon to Sao Paulo and a convoluted police procedural led by a one-note performance from Natallia Rodrigues as Det. Beatriz Obdias. She’s bad news! Damaged goods!

She also has no idea how to treat a crime scene, but there’s a lot of questionable policework going around, with no real leads to connect these corpses strewn from one end of town to the other. All of their hearts are missing. Sometimes their guts. Once in a while their faces.

The best thing about Skull: The Mask is Furmam’s extensive background in gore effects. You’ll find plenty of it here, some of it inspired, all of it bloody. The goregasm is in support of a story of a marauder in a stone skull mask, the same cursed mask from the 1944 massacre.

Brought to Sao Paolo by nefarious men with nefarious intentions, it falls into the wrong Goth girl’s hands early on and soon there’s a housecleaner ripping the hearts and guts out of club kids, drug dealers and priests all over town.

Does it make sense? Not really. Does it have to? Probably not. The film is a callback to a style and brand of movie that didn’t need an airtight plot or convincing performances as long as it did very nasty things in novel ways to the human body.

Skull: The Mask is a pretty dumb movie. Hell, even the title is dumb. But it knows where to invest its energy and money, and you cannot say it skimps on the goods.

In Search of Hunky Boys

Psycho Goreman

by Hope Madden

How much fun is this movie?!

Tons. Endlessly quotable and boasting inspired creature design and a twisted Saturday Morning Kidventure tone, Psycho Goreman is a blast

Mimi (a wrong-headed and glorious Nita-Josee Hanna) and her loyal (OK, cowering) brother Luke (Owen Myre) inadvertently summon—nay, control—an intergalactic evil so dastardly it can bring out the end of worlds.

But they totally control him, so they make him learn their favorite games, wear cowboy hats and do assorted hilarious and embarrassing things.

Fans of writer/director Steven Kostanski’s 2016 breakout The Void (a perfect blend of Lovecraft and Halloween 2) might not expect the childlike lunacy and gleeful brutality of Psycho Goreman (PG for short), but they should. His 2012 gem Father’s Day (not for the easily offended) and his 2011 Manborg define not only his tendencies but his commitment to tone and mastery of his material.

Kostanski’s films—The Void aside—fall on the intersection of silly and gory, most of them with a bold VHS aftertaste. I mean all those things in a good way. The tone here is more live-action children’s programming (gone way, way wrong)–perhaps a tad Turbo Kid in its execution.

There is so much joy here, not only in the lunacy of the story or of the creature design (PG’s nemeses from Planet Gigax make an appearance, natch, and they are a riot to look upon).

Will Mimi’s unphased cruelty and selfishness be curbed by friendship? Or will it save the day? Neither? Oh, ok, well then at least it makes for one fiercely funny central character.

Hanna’s command of this unruly heroine may be what sets the film above others in Canadian production company Astron 6’s arsenal. She’s not alone. Astron regular Adam Brooks steals scenes as the kids’ layabout dad, with Alexis Kara Hancey showing off deadpan delivery as his put-upon spouse.

The ensemble works wonders together, each hitting the comedic beats in Kostanski’s script hard enough that the goretastic conclusion feels downright cheery.

This movie could not be more fun.

This Old House

The Banishing

by Hope Madden

Filmmaker Christopher Smith has repeatedly proven a knack for horror.

Whether he locks us up in the tunnels beneath London with Franka Potente (2004’s Creep), transports us to the Dark Ages with Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne (2010’s Black Death), or forces us on a weekend corporate team building of death (the sublime 2006 horror comedy Severance), Smith takes an audience somewhere we probably shouldn’t go.

The Banishing drops us in rural England, just days before WWII. Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey) and her young daughter arrive at a beautiful-if-creepy estate where Marianne’s husband Linus (John Heffernan) has just been appointed Vicar.

Naturally, the house is haunted. The Church says one thing, but this odd redhead from town (Sean Harris, the picture of subdued weirdness) whispers another.

The Banishing is really the first Smith film to walk such familiar ground. His screenplay, co-written with David Beton and Ray Bogdanovich, takes inspiration from England’s infamous Borley Rectory—allegedly the nation’s most haunted house.

The direction that inspiration leads is rarely in question. Smith trots out a lot of familiar ideas, though he does package them well. Some incredibly creepy images accompany Marianne’s deepest fears, and Smith puts horror’s beloved old mirror prop to exceedingly spooky use.

Performances are solid as well. Findlay, in particular, finds depth and genuineness in the frequently portrayed role of the woman to be deemed insane in lieu of dealing with the supernatural.

Smith sometimes crosses over effectively into the inner working of the mind, and these scenes feel freshest and most engaging. They are overwhelmed, unfortunately, with stale plot devices.

The result feels very un-Christopher Smith-like (if there is such a thing). He’s been a tough filmmaker to pinpoint because each of his movies varies so wildly from the last. The Banishing looks and feels unlike anything else he’s done. Too bad it feels so much like what everyone else has.

Hot Pants


by Hope Madden

Does anybody remember those old Shrink to fit only you 501 jeans ads? They are creepier now.

Absurdism meets consumerism in co-writer/director Elza Kephart’s bloody comedy, Slaxx.

Brightly lit and colorful CCC clothing store—offering high priced garments that are sustainably sourced without sweatshops, GMOs, or any other unsightly thing—is on shutdown to prep for the 8am onslaught as their new line of jeans finally hits the market.

It’s not just any jeans. This denim adjusts to your body and makes you look even more glorious than you already do. And these jeans fit every single figure, from 5 pounds underweight to 5 pounds overweight. It’s a dream come true.

Also, they kill you. Their zipper might bite your hand off, the legs might slip around your neck like a noose, or the waist might just slice you in two.

Kephart is not the first filmmaker to animate bloodthirsty clothing. Peter Strickland’s 2018 treasure In Fabric followed a red dress wantonly slaughtering its wearers, while Yong-gyun Kim gave us murderous shoes in 2005’s The Red Shoes. And who can forget Martin Walz’s 1996 glory Killer Condom? (Well, no, they’re not clothes, but you do wear them.)

CCCis the type of trendy clothier that uses terms like ecosystem to define different sections of the store. Kephart’s message is that this kind of establishment is as dedicated to capitalism as any other form, and therefore it enslaves those working at the store, those working for the store before product makes it to their shelves, and even those who show up in hordes to purchase those wares.

Where Romero mainly pointed fingers at the hordes mindlessly drawn to stores like CCC, Kephart sees the villains as those perpetuating clean corporate hypocrisy. Still, it’s their customers and workers she murders—by the pantload.

Profoundly typical in its structure, Slaxx still has fun with its kills and characters. Romane Denis is likeably earnest as the teen on her first night at work, while Brett Donahue’s broad stroke sycophant boss fits into the general tone of the film.

Sehar Bhojani steals every scene as the cynical Shruti, but the jeans are the real stars here. Kephart finds endlessly entertaining ways to sic them on unsuspecting wearers.

Kephart can’t overcome tonal confusion once she and co-scribe Patricia Gomez uncover the source of the jeans’ power. The filmmakers are unable to balance the serious nature of this curse with the brightly colored bloodbath of the previous 80 minutes.

But it was fun while it lasted.

Bad Influence


by Hope Madden

People really hate social media influencers.

I mean, somebody must love them or who is it they influence? But horror definitely does not love them. Influencers have become the go-to objects of horror in recent years, seen as the vacuous product of a narcissistic culture that doesn’t value—or even make—human connections.

Meet Mia (Daisye Tutor). The rising makeup influencer has way more followers than her two besties and her boyfriend, so they’re unhappy when she pulls out of their livestream event this Saturday to dog sit for her sister.

But being selfless is totally on brand for Mia, and another makeup influencer just died trying to protect her own dog from a canine killer. Is it guilt? Is it opportunism?

Neither. It’s a setup for the premise of Shook. Mia is home alone with Chico (the dog, who’s awfully cute). But she’s never unplugged and soon someone is playing life or death games with her.

Writer/director Jennifer Harrington’s film really begins with a plot as old as the genre. It could be the babysitter and the escaped lunatic, the point is to have a vulnerable (and acceptably stupid) young woman alone, trying to protect those in her charge from an unseen and menacing force.

So, it doesn’t start out fresh, but movies have made a go of this plot. Harrington layers in newer cliches derived from our collective, plugged-in anxieties. The result is When a Stranger Calls meets Scream meets Unfriended.

It feels exactly that derivative, a fact that doesn’t entirely sink the film. It definitely never lives up to its opening, though.

Harrington makes her most incisive comment about the performance art that is influence culture as she pans back from a glamorous, opening red carpet photo shoot to show the bleaker reality of the staged event. It’s a smart, cinematic revelation that works on two levels.

Thematically, it underscores the film’s point about the artifice of Mia’s life. As a horror movie, we’re suddenly aware that someone is watching – someone who sees all of it.

Watching Shook, you’ll find solid filmmaking followed by two acts of uninspired, sometimes idiotic, sometimes enjoyable horror.

Queen of Mean

The Queen of Black Magic

by Hope Madden

Filmmaker Kimo Stamboel resurrects 70s exploitation horror with The Queen of Black Magic. Not a remake or really a sequel or reboot of the Indonesian cult classic, Stamboel’s film is more inspired by its namesake.

Fun throwbacks to Liliek Sudjio’s original over the end credits do more to remind you how comparably tame this one is.

Not that it is without merit. Or gore.

Hanif (Ario Bayu) returns to the orphanage where he grew up. The man who raised him is dying, and now Hanif and his two childhood friends reunite, families in tow, having come home to pay their respects.

But bad things haunt the old orphanage.

Of course they do! What are you, new?!

Stamboel and writer Joko Anwar can’t come up with anything particularly new when deciding what, exactly, is the problem with this orphanage. But they populate their scenes of carnage with actors who generate some empathy, and put those actors into scenes that are pretty compelling. Especially if you have a thing about crawly creatures. Or a sensitive gag reflex.

Anwar is a master of conjuring nightmarish environments, complete with nightmare logic. His 2017 remake Satan’s Slave and his 2019 original Impetigore throw narrative logic aside in favor of a denseness of dread punctuated with unseemly carnage.

The Queen of Black Magic makes more narrative sense, but somehow that seems to flatten it out a little. It feels less magically horrific and unsettling as the films Anwar directs. But strong, dimensional performances elevate every scene.

And both filmmakers know gore. They know what sounds make you wince, what sights make you look away. Between that, the performances, and a tight enough screenplay to keep your interest, they’ve pieced together a tough little horror flick worth a genre fan’s time.  

Tale from the Hood


by Hope Madden

It’s hard to tell a new story. People have been telling stories since the beginning of people, and eventually – probably millennia ago – we realized we were just recycling the same dozen or so tales.

This week’s Shudder premiere, director Vincent Paronnaud’s Hunted, feels especially familiar. He knows that, presumably, or the woman being chased through a massive forest wouldn’t be wearing a red hooded coat.

It’s clear in every aspect of the telling of this story that the filmmaker (and a team of writers including Paronnaud, Lea Pernollet and David H. Pickering) want you to understand how familiar this is.

Indeed, Paronnaud’s tale of a man chasing a woman is so ordinary that no matter how outlandish the circumstances, onlookers barely register it as more than a moment’s blip in their day.

Hunted opens with a fairy tale, spun by fireside in a deep, dark woods, of a group of men who turn on a woman. In this ancient lore, things don’t turn out so well for the men, not because a savior steps in but because of something more primal.

And so, eons later, the aptly named Eve (Lucie Debay) is dealing with a boss who underestimates her and a husband who can’t stop calling. She goes out for a drink. That might have been the last we ever heard from Eve.

Instead, after a series of events that escalate beyond the point of realism to something bordering on the absurd, the whole damn forest hears her.

Debay’s transformation is also marked very obviously and very visually, underscoring the cartoonish nature of this particular enactment. She does a wonderful job of evolving from something in Act 1 that feels garden variety for horror into something surprising and fierce.

Arieh Worthalter equals her as the psychopath, often lensed to give him the look of an animated wolf charming villagers.

Paronnaud’s background is in animation—he co-directed Marjane Satrapi’s sublime black and white wonder Persepolis. His move to horror benefits from his visual flair. While the red coat stands out as an obvious nod (not to mention terrible camouflage), a later splash of blue feels simultaneously insane and warrior-like.  

Or a fresh coat of paint.

Teenaged Chasteland


by Hope Madden

Have you seen Lamberto Bava’s 1985 horror Demons?

I can’t help but wonder if writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli have. It’s a low rent affair that suckers a group of moviegoers into watching a violent horror flick that unleashes—you guessed it—demons.

More than three decades later, Vannicelli and Black pen a more good natured horror that traps five Christian teens in the small town cinema where they work circa 1992. After closing they chase a homeless intruder into an unknown basement, find additional theaters, movie posters for Orgy of the Dead and other unsavory features, and a canister.

Here’s where things get a little familiar. The teens decide to screen the film from the basement canister. But it’s not exactly a grisly horror film, like Bava’s. For these sexually repressed teens, it’s worse.

It’s porn.

Hell for sure.

Black and Vannicelli give director Keola Racela plenty to work with, whether touching the funny bone or the gag reflex. Porno is strangely upbeat and even sweet for a film whose villain (Katelyn Pearce) doesn’t deliver a single line or wear any clothes the entire running time (unless you count her merkin).

And it’s gross. You don’t even want to know what happens to Heavy Metal Jeff’s nut sack.

Four of the five teens are afraid they’re pervs in one way or another and are therefore headed to hell. (Not Jeff. Jeff’s keeping his edge.) Racela and cast have fun with this idea, thanks in large part to charming performances.

Porno nails the time period and the mood, delivering some carnage-laden laughs pointed at both the uptight and the nasty. But Racela gets a little lost in the storytelling. Porno would benefit from a serious edit. It runs a mere 90 minutes but feels much longer, likely because storylines spin out all over the building with little thought to pacing or tension.

Between the sloppy structure and some sophomoric comedy, even the brightest and wildest moments can be overlooked. (Well, not that thing with Jeff.) The weaknesses pile up and by the end, Porno feels like a near miss.

Casa de los Muertos

32 Malasaña Street

by Hope Madden

What is it about haunted houses that always sucker in big families? We saw it in The Conjuring and The Amityville Horror before it. And now another big old clan is about to regret that bargain dream house over at 32 Malasaña Street.

Albert Pintó’s nightmare follows the Olmedos, who take their two teenagers, their 5-year-old, an aging grandfather, and their shame to Madrid, leaving the country and their old lives behind. But haunted houses smell shame and secrets, don’t the Olmedos know that?

Pintó creates a dreadful, dreamy quality to the haunting, every shot’s framing and color, light and shadow taking on a painterly quality. He conjures a mood, a vintage era where hope and freedom bumped up against tradition and oppression.

The film is set in 1976, and like those other films of dream homes gone wrong, Malasaña creates concrete tension. The first response to any haunting is to just get the F out, but where are you supposed to take three kids and an elderly father? Where’s abuela supposed to plug in his C-Pap? The “down to our last penny and nowhere to go” vibe feels authentic under these circumstances.

But Pintó seems out to do more with the size of the family than simply convince you that thre’s nowhere to go. 17-year-old Amparo (Begoña Vargas) dreams of becoming a flight attendant, of flying up and away from this life, but the house itself is the metaphor for the family as a trap.

Faith and culture beget big families and poverty, and old-fashioned thinking creates monsters.

Where Pintó takes the metaphor is less inspired than it might be. Troublingly, the filmmaker’s throwback vibe retains that old horror trope of the physically disabled character as conduit to the supernatural, and enlightened lip service can’t excuse the way the film falls back on cliches of the monstrous “other.”

32 Malasaña Street sets complicated characters in motion within a familiar world. It just doesn’t use them to tell us anything new.

Squeaky Clean

The Cleansing Hour

by Hope Madden

Almost a decade ago, Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz locked a couple of fraudulent online “ghost hunters” inside an abandoned hospital in the entertaining flick Grave Encounters. It wasn’t the best “supernatural huckster faces honest demonic peril” film of that year—that award goes to Daniel Stamm’s impeccably cast The Last Exorcism.

So, fast forward about a decade and writer/director Damien LeVeck (that is a horror name, my friends) gives us a mash up of both of those movies.

The Cleansing Hour is actually a full-length version of his 2016 short of the same name. In the feature, boyhood friends Max (Ryan Guzman) and Drew (Kyle Gallner) use what they remember of their Catholic school days to fake weekly online exorcisms.

Star of the show Max is a hottie and a bit of a d-bag. Dressed like a priest, he’s in it for the fame and groupies, or as he likes to call them, disciples. Drew is the brains behind the operation. But they’ve hit a plateau. Their viewership isn’t growing as fast as they’d like. Maybe Max is looking at other opportunities. Maybe Drew should just marry longtime girlfriend Lane (Alix Angelis) and get an honest job.

Or maybe a real demon will show up for their next episode.

LeVeck and crew mine that oh-so-Catholic nightmare of shame and confession well. Performances are fine, Guzman’s pretty, but there’s so little new being said here that the film grows tedious long before its 95 minute run is up.

The Cleansing Hour plays too much like a film made by someone who’s seen a lot of horror movies but lacks an original voice. Storylines fall back, not on primal scares or universal areas of dread, but on ideas from other movies.

LeVeck’s film offers a few speeches concerning the evils of the Catholic church (nothing inspired or vital, mainly obvious and hollow), points to our unholy dependence on technology, and shows anxiety about how tech both connects us and brings out the worst in us. Also, an ugly voice comes out of a pretty face.

Familiar stuff, that.

Most problematic (but least surprising) is the twist ending that’s so tired by this point, the idea was just mocked in another horror movie that opened last week.

There’s nothing awful about The Cleansing Hour. It is perfectly serviceable low budget horror. You could watch it. Or you could find any one of the movies it steals from instead.