The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Directed by André Øvredal [Other horror films: Trolljegeren (2010), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)]

Directed by André Øvredal, who was behind the cult favorite Trollhunter, this movie has a high quality production, great actors (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch playing the main characters, father and son), and pretty suspenseful scenes. A moderately unique plot, also.

Prior to beginning the film, I didn’t much know what to expect. I was thinking maybe it’d be a murder/mystery-type thing playing over the course of a month or so. What it actually is happens to be a supernatural journey over a single night, culminating in a downer of an ending, for the most part. Truth be told, I think the film, as good as the first 2/3 of the movie was, ended up being a mixed bag.

The good: Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play a very compelling father and son. Their scenes together, for the most part, are very solid, and some even moving. It feels as though there’s a real relationship there, and I loved that. Also, some of the implications of the ending are cool. I’d rather not say any specifics, but things that happen in the film aren’t as obvious as they may otherwise seem. Also what has to be praised is the tense, claustrophobic feel of the first 50 minutes. Were there jump scares thrown in? Yes, and those bothered me, but the core of the first 2/3 of the film were great.

Onto the bad, we have a few elements, one being the aforementioned jump scares. I wish that mainstream horror films didn’t rely on these paper-thin jump scares in order to rev up the audience. Now, this film wasn’t nearly as bad as others, perhaps because Øvredal’s not been responsible for many mainstream flicks, but it was still prevalent throughout the film (including the last split second, which I find increasingly annoying).

There’s also the character of Emma, who was Austin’s (Hirsch) girlfriend. Now depending on your perception of the film, her actions seemed rather foolish. And the aftereffects of her actions didn’t seem all that important, in truth. I just don’t think she added much of anything, and that’s not a great thing. At the same time, given the fact she had less than 15 minutes of screen time, perhaps that can be excused.

The last thing, though, is arguably debatable. In my opinion, I don’t think enough, if any, concrete answers were provided. There were some potentially accurate conjectures, but one theory (according to IMDb, the most credible one) just doesn’t make sense to me. I will say, though, that the antagonist in this film was quite unique, and I certainly didn’t expect it to go that route. The Autopsy of Jane Doe was an interesting supernatural horror film – it had some great elements (the relationship between father and son) and interesting choices.

The movie didn’t fall flat at the end; if that’s the impression I’m giving, it’s unintentional. But the final thirty minutes are certainly more an average path than the first fifty. For it’s flaws, the movie’s not atrocious by any means, and is, when all is said and done, above average. Not by a lot, but it is.

7.5/10

Almost Mercy (2015)

Almost Mercy

Directed by Tom DeNucci [Other horror films: Self Storage (2013), Army of the Damned (2013)]

Almost Mercy isn’t your typical horror film. Narrated by our main character Emily, it chronicles her life growing up with her best friend Jackson, the difficulties they’ve both had, and how messed up they become.

It’s an interesting mix of real-world drama and sarcastic, almost manic at points, narration by Emily, as she lets the audience know about how she first meant Jackson, or how, after being raped, the authorities did nothing because the rapists were “important to the community.” While the first forty minutes has Emily focusing on Jackson and what he went through, it turns more toward Emily after an aborted school shooting.

Honestly, there’s not much horror going on for the first fifty minutes of so, save an instance or two of blood spill. It’s more a dramatic comedy, with Emily, while going through a shitty, disconnected life, goes on about Jackson, her screwed up mother, and the creeps who make the town they live in a terrible place. I can imagine that some would call a majority of the film both meandering and boring, not to mention disjointed in tone. One second, a boy is mocked and terrorized by bullies, the next, Emily’s joking about some aspect or another of her life. That said, I rather liked how the film played out.

While at times I thought the narration was a bit too comedic, I thought we really got to learn about and even care about Emily and Jackson. When Jackson is expelled from school, you can feel for him. When Emily’s mother attempts suicide, you can feel her disdain for her father, as he walked out on them. It felt real, in short. The film takes a turn in the final thirty minutes or so, and it was a logical, satisfactory one.

Let’s talk actors and actresses. Young Emily, played by Eva Senerchia, did a really good job, being as young as she is, showing us the dispassionate life that sometimes a young kid can go through. Danielle Guldin, who played grown-up Emily, did a fantastic job in her role and narration. Grown-up Jackson, played by Jesse Dufault, did pretty good also, though more focus was spent on Emily (which makes sense, as the film was through her point-of-view). Kane Hodder and Bill Moseley, playing a high school coach and a church pastor, respectively, are good in their roles.

Though it takes a while to get there, the gore is also quite solid, and the killing spree at the end was on point, if not occasionally riddled with unnecessary comedic commentary. Almost Mercy seems to be the type of film that will turn off some horror fans. It’s not conventional, it’s a bit enthusiastic in it’s presentation, and the “twist” might not do much for some. Personally, though, despite it’s few shortcomings, I thought it was a great quirky film. It’s not for everyone, but it was for me.

8.5/10

Sssssss (1973)

Sssssss

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski [Other horror films: Night of the Blood Beast (1958), Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), Black Noon (1971)]

I’ve seen this movie once before, but honestly, I don’t quite recall when. At first, this seemed like a new watch, but about 30 minutes into the flick, it hit me that it was awfully familiar. Which, whether that says something negative about the movie or myself, well, is entirely up to you.

That being said, that seems a moderately good anecdote when talking about this film, because despite some decent tension, solid acting, and a downer of an ending, Sssssss seems like a pretty forgettable affair.

Strother Martin is pretty well-cast as an almost Universal movie mad scientist-type guy, which becomes more evident as the movie drags on. His daughter in the flick, played by Heather Menzies (who, on a side-note, reminded me a hell of a lot of a younger Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park), was probably one of the most solid actresses of the film, her looks also standing out as a positive. The main character, of sorts (because really, this more feels like the Strother Martin hour than it does Benedict), is played by Dirk Benedict, who did well with what he was given, but honestly, I don’t feel he stands out all that much.

Which is sort of a problem, because this movie tends to drag at the beginning, and even when interesting things begin to happen, it’s not like the flick jumps into hyper-speed. Many 70’s flicks tend to have pacing problems like this. For instance, the 1972 Stanley (another snake horror movie, by the way), had next to no horror for the first 45 minutes. I’d argue, though, that Stanley had far more interesting and deep characters than what we’re given here.

When a movie drags, and the characters can’t really pull the weight the plot’s unable to, then you’ve got some bad problems.

Of course, this isn’t to say the movie is terrible. Dodgy special effects aside, I liked the ending, for the most part, and an earlier scene, the death of a snake, actually elicited a pissed off response from me, which isn’t really what one would expect from a 70’s film. Throughout a lot of the movie, there seemed to be sort of a darker mood, with occasional assistance from the score, culminating in the ending, which was perhaps the most stand-out portion of the flick.

All-in-all, I wouldn’t say that Sssssss is a bad movie. I can name plenty of other movies around the same time that I much prefer to this one, but given the output of 70’s horror, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s just hovering around average, held back by a sluggish pace and mostly uninteresting characters. As far as 70’s snake horror goes, I’ll probably stick with Stanley, as I found it both more consistently memorable and amusing.

6/10

Stung (2015)

Stung

Directed by Benni Diez [Other horror films: Galaxy of Horrors (2017, segment ‘Kingz’)]

What could have been a moderately enjoyable comedic horror romp, Stung came out far more stale than I’d have expected.

Giving credit where credit is due, the two main actors and actresses, being Matt O’Leary and Jessica Cook, were cute, and moderately adorable, together. They had some decently awkward exchanges that are always fun (well, not for those participating, anyways), and for the most part, felt real to me.

About everything else fell flat, though – even before the atrocious shift an hour or so into the movie, plenty of parts felt far more filler than substance. Hell, some parts even felt boring, which isn’t quite what I feel this movie was aiming for. Other portions felt generic, and I’m not entirely clear whatsoever on what Lance Henriksen’s purpose was, insofar as his character was concerned.

But then you hit the hour mark, and it just gets worse, culminating in the two characters making love in the back of an ambulance when, surprise surprise, hundreds of giant wasps start attacking. And cut to black. So not much of a conclusion, and honestly, pretty underwhelming all-in-all. I also didn’t care whatsoever for Clifton Collins Jr.’s character, but the less said about that aspect of the film, the better. I’d take Mosquito (1994) over this any day.

4.5/10

Prom Night (1980)

Prom Night

Directed by Paul Lynch [Other horror films: Humongous (1982), Mania (1986, segments ‘Have a Nice Day’ & ‘The Good Samaritan’)]

I’ve seen this movie around five times now, and I can finally appreciate it more than I’ve been able to in the past. My main problems stemmed from the fact that many of the characters seemed interchangeable – the difference between Kelly and Jude and Vicki and even Jamie Lee Curtis’ Kim never stuck with me, and so I lost track of who’s who and what relationship between everybody was as the movie dragged on, which wasn’t helped out by the fact Nick and Alex didn’t look all that different from each other either. With this most recent viewing, though, things were cleared up, and while it doesn’t save the film, it goes a long way in increasing my rating.

Aside from Jamie Lee Curtis (who, by the way, had some fantastically cheesy dance scenes toward the end), there weren’t a whole lot of stand-out performances. I liked Nielsen well enough, along with Eddie Benton (mega-bitch Wendy), Michael Tough (Kim’s brother, Alex), Joy Thompson (Jude), and Sheldon Rybowski (Slick, a deliciously fun character), but none of them blew me away. Which is sort of a shame, because for the first two acts, next to nothing horror-wise occurs to keep us otherwise occupied.

Which is my biggest gripe of the film – it’s drags on too long at the beginning. Once we get an hour in, I start having a great time (that decapitation is still a favorite of mine), but getting there is, more than anything else, a chore. It feels like Carrie (1976), in many ways, actually, as it just drags on and on until we finally get to an epic finale.

I did like the end, which was actually rather somber. There were plenty of attractive ladies throughout, and while nudity wasn’t high, it was still a nice plus. Again, Jamie Lee Curtis did a good job (even though that disco dance is so dated), though her role in Terror Train, also from 1980, stuck with me more. Lastly, the song that bled into the credits, ‘Fade to Black’ by Gordene Simpson, was beautifully sung, and though I didn’t notice it during my first viewings of this flick, it really is a nice song that I’ll not forget.

Prom Night, despite the problems I have (not mentioned, but I feel the killer’s absence would have been noted, for instance), has a lot of charm. It drags, but it is still a decently well-done slasher that is just outclassed by others from the same time (such as My Bloody Valentine, which came out a year later). I still don’t love this flick. But I’m closer than I have been before.

6.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s second podcast, so you can listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this.

It (2017)

It

Directed by Andy Muschietti [Other horror films: Mama (2013), It Chapter Two (2019)]

I’m a giant fan of the novel It – I read it annually. It’s all-around a fantastic book. I have great memories of the television mini-series from 1990, but let’s be honest: it certainly was lacking most of the great things the book brought us. And so when I went to go see this in theaters when it initially came out, I had my fingers crossed that we’d get a better adaptation. And though It was not without flaws, we basically did.

Let’s talk about the main seven kids, first. All actors did a good job, but the biggest kudos go to Finn Wolfhard (Richie), Jaeden Lieberher (Bill), Wyatt Oleff (Stan), and Sophia Lewis (Beverly). Richie was a crowd-pleaser, and for good reason. He had a plethora of fantastic lines, hilarious quips, and was overall a great character. Bill was as solid as you’d hope he’d be, and Lieberher did well to show the pain of losing his younger brother. Stan was a favorite of mine from the book, and Oleff played his careful nature (that bike stand scene gets a kick out of me) perfectly. And as for Lewis? Does wonderful with this new version of Beverly, who is so different from the mini-series.

While Mike, Ben, and Eddie were well-acted, I had a few gripes with some of their storylines. Mike no longer being the historian, that role instead going to Ben (in reality, both characters sort of filled the role in the book to a certain extent) really reduced the potency of Mike’s character, There wasn’t even a race-element, that we saw, of Henry’s bullying him. Mike just seemed like he had nothing much to do throughout the film. Ben played his lovesick puppy act well, but really, he was more a punching bag for both Henry and Pennywise than anything else. Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) was well-done, and while I prefer the four listed above, he was the fifth best-done kid.

Bill Skarsgård brought Pennywise to life in a whole new way. I’m not going to say that Curry didn’t do a good job. But I will say what another individual said about comparing the two: Curry seemed like an evil clown, moderately charming, even, and not much more. Skarsgård had moments that made him seem alien (the beginning with George, where his smile and laughter suddenly died, for instance), and he honestly felt more threatening than most of Curry’s performance. Playing more like a kid, also, was a great addition.

Patrick needed more scenes to show the extent of his insanity (such as in the book), and honestly, I thought all of the bullies, Henry included, needed more characterization. Showing Henry’s father embarrassing him once in front his friends doesn’t do it for me.

While there were certainly a high amount of jump scares, and occasionally some not-so-great CGI, there were some standout scenes I really liked, such as Stan’s encounter with Pennywise near the end, Georgie’s encounter at the beginning, and the projector scene (overall). The Neibolt House sequences were certainly enjoyable also.

As for drawbacks, I have a few: the run-time, even at two hours and 15 minutes, was too short, some portions feeling rushed. I feel as though another 30 minutes, to carve out a few more characters, such as Patrick or Henry, wouldn’t have gone amiss. What they did with Mike’s character just felt off, as they gave most of what he was known for to Ben, which gave Ben a bit more to do, but really left Mike in the dust. I do have to mention also that I dislike that they moved the children’s portion from the late 50’s to the late 80’s. I get why they did it, and it came out alright, but I still don’t particularly like it.

Some of the classic scenes of the book, such as Richie and Bill’s journey to Neibolt House, Mike’s encounter with the giant bird, and the Killer Eye in the sewers, were nowhere to be seen. Hell, the Smokehole would have been extremely cool also, and bringing up the Ritual of Chud should have been mandatory. Exploring more of Derry’s past too, would have been welcomed.

Overall, though, I think that It was a fine adaptation. Not as great as could be done – we’d probably need an HBO mini-series to get something even close – but very enjoyable indeed.

8.5/10

This was one of the movies covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, episode #12. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Wolves at the Door (2016)

Wolves at the Door

Directed by John R. Leonetti [Other horror films: Annabelle (2014), Wish Upon (2017), The Silence (2019)]

The only reason that I sought this movie out was due to Elizabeth Henstridge, who plays one of the main characters in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, a show I rather enjoy. And as it turns out, aside from Henstridge, this movie doesn’t have much going for it. Dramatizing the events of the murder of Sharon Tate and company (purely hinted at until the end, for some unknown reason), Wolves at the Door is almost utterly run-of-the-mill. If you’ve seen Ils (2006) or The Strangers (2008), or hell, even The Purge (2013), you’ve seen a more enthralling and tense movie than this one.

Adam Campbell (Wojciech) has some decent scenes, and if you like the ascetic of someone dragging a sledgehammer across the ground, well, Wolves at the Door has that also. But aside from Elizabeth Henstridge, who does a decent job despite the shallow script, the best I can say is that occasionally good 60’s songs play, such as ‘She’s Not There’ by The Zombies and ‘Lil’ Red Riding Hood’ by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. There’s nothing else though – this movie is otherwise empty. And while I wasn’t fond of it that first time I saw it, I’m even less fond of it now. Not much here to recommend, folks.

4/10

Phantasm (1979)

Phantasm

Directed by Don Coscarelli [Other horror films: Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), John Dies at the End (2012)]

In many ways, Phantasm comes across as a mess. There’s not much really explained, and the ending is pretty jarring and confusing. But what it might lack in comprehension, it makes up for in almost everything else. The upsides of Phantasm? Firstly, most of the actors do a great job. Angus Scrimm, as The Tall Man, just dominates every scene he’s in. A truly fantastic performance, despite not many previous roles. Still, there’s more than just Scrimm. The three protagonists, Michael, Jody, and Reggie (played by Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Reggie Bannister, respectfully) have a pretty compelling friendship, and specifically, Baldwin and Thornbury are decently believable as brothers. Even when annoyed with Michael’s antics, you can tell that Jody still loves him. And they both share the fear their parents were turned into dwarf zombies, so there’s that.

Which brings us to the creativity of this movie: a seemingly alien being turns corpses into zombie dwarfs and has flying metallic spheres is not something commonly seen, to say the least. So that’s fun. Need I mention the theme? It’s damn brilliant, and up there with the best themes of the genre (Halloween, The House by the Cemetery, and ANOES, for example). And the atmosphere? That dreamy, hazy, disjointed feeling? Nothing does it better than Phantasm. This might not sound like a great movie, but I’ve met very few horror fans who don’t adore it on varying levels. Not everything makes sense, but when the final product comes out this well, that hardly matters. A movie that stays fresh with each re-watch.

9/10

Ghostwatch (1992)

Ghostwatch

Directed by Lesley Manning [Other horror films: N/A]

This British entry to ghost films is immensely creative and enjoyable. First airing on BBC1 on Halloween, 1992, Ghostwatch is shown as a “live” television special about examining the supernatural, hosted by long-time broadcaster Michael Parkinson.

Throughout the event, he speaks to callers, guests who both believe and disbelieve in the supernatural, and learns about the supposedly supernatural happenings at a house in northern London, a live investigation (led by real UK television personality Sarah Greene). Even now, in 2017, it’s an immersive experience, unlike almost any other movie I’ve seen. It feels real, in short.

And I can only imagine, back during the Halloween of 1992, it felt real to the viewers too. Such was the furor and fright of the reactions that BBC actually placed a ten-year ban on the program before it could be aired again. And the film still holds up today.

When I first saw it, during one of the October Challenges of year’s past, I rather loved it, and it stood out easily. Luckily, a re-watch doesn’t dull the immersive sense of the film. A movie I totally recommend, and one of the highlights of the 1990’s. Lastly, kudos to Michael Parkinson – he did immensely well here, and I see why his own program lasted as long as it did. He has both a soothing voice and fantastic presence.

8.5/10

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Directed by Don Siegel [Other horror films: N/A]

The intense paranoia present throughout this fantastically-done science-fiction/horror movie only add to the final product – one that is, at any point in time, a thought-provoking and terrifying film.

The film, in which pod people begin taking over the citizens of a moderately-sized California town, highlights how, even in suburban, run-of-the-mill locations, terror and panic can spread. While potentially anti-Communist propaganda (which would be the single flaw of the film, were it intended), the struggle for individuality and love versus complete conformity is still thrilling to this day – plenty of the scenes still stand strong even now, such as Kevin McCarthy’s character running down the highway, screaming for people to listen to him, or the chasing of McCarthy and Dana Wynter’s characters by the pod people that used to be their friends.

Telling the story in the past-tense, and book-ended by events that take place almost a day after the core of the film, was a somewhat questionable choice, and one could certainly argue the movie would be better (if not more downbeat) had the movie ended without the final framing sequence (in fact, that’s exactly how the original creators had preferred it to end), but I still find it an acceptable finale.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a fantastic film, well-worth the highest honor among horror films for both the decade of the 1950’s and of all-time. If I had one complaint, it would be that occasionally, I felt it became a bit too melodramatic – luckily, if that’s the case, it doesn’t happen that often, and shortly afterward, we’re back to action of some form or another. In short, this is a great film, and comes highly recommended.

9.5/10