Mama (2013)

Directed by Andy Muschietti [Other horror films: It (2017), It Chapter Two (2019)]

This isn’t a film I had much interest in seeing, but given it’s directed by Andy Muschietti (who later went on to do It Chapters 1 and 2), I was holding out hope that it could transcend the typical Hollywood ghost story. As it turns out, while there were a few things in Mama to enjoy, it wasn’t really able to do that.

Off the bat, the first thing I noticed was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was one of the stars. Now, I know him only from Game of Thrones, but I still thought it was sort of cool seeing him here. Jessica Chastain I know only from the aforementioned It Chapter 2, and she was pretty good here also. I really liked her punk look, and the fact that she was thrown into the role of a mother was pretty heart-wrenching. I really liked Coster-Waldau and Chastain together – they made a cute couple here, only to be ruined by the children, though Megan Charpentier, who played the older kid, was pretty decent.

The only other character that really made an impact (aside from Mama, of course) was Dr. Dreyfuss (played by Daniel Kash). It’s through him that we, the audience, discover the story behind Edith, the woman who becomes the ghostly Mama. Her story isn’t without interest or tragedy, but to be blunt, I didn’t find myself caring that much.

There is a really solid scene about thirty minutes into the film, where the camera shows both the hallway and the kid’s room, and something happens there that I thought was pretty cool. It was expected, no doubt, but I still liked the execution. I bring that up because otherwise, I didn’t think there were that many noteworthy things in the film. There was an okay dream sequence, and the emotional ending was solid, but otherwise, it was just generic ghost movie #1523.

Mama had potential, and I wish the final product was better. The design for Mama wasn’t great, in my opinion, but what helped the film avoid a worse rating was the feeling the film occasionally possessed. Seeing Charpentier slowly warm up to Chastain’s character was nice, and the ending, like I said, packed a decently emotional punch. Mama isn’t a great movie, and I do think it’s below average, but I could probably see myself giving it another go in the future, and perhaps if I’m in a better mood, the movie will come out slightly more enjoyable.

6.5/10

Il trono di fuoco (1970)

Directed by Jesús Franco [Other horror films: Gritos en la noche (1962), La mano de un hombre muerto (1962), El secreto del Dr. Orloff (1964), Miss Muerte (1966), Necronomicon – Geträumte Sünden (1968), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), Der heiße Tod (1969), Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969), The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969), Paroxismus (1969), De Sade 70 (1970), Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht (1970), Les cauchemars naissent la nuit (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Sie tötete in Ekstase (1971), Jungfrauen-Report (1972), Drácula contra Frankenstein (1972), Der Todesrächer von Soho (1972), La fille de Dracula (1972), Dr. M schlägt zu (1972), Les démons (1973), La comtesse noire (1973), La maldición de Frankenstein (1973), La nuit des étoiles filantes (1973), Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973), Al otro lado del espejo (1973), La noche de los asesinos (1974), Les possédées du diable (1974), La comtesse perverse (1974), Les gloutonnes (1975), L’éventreur de Notre-Dame (1975), Sexorcismes (1975), Frauengefängnis (1976), Jack the Ripper (1976), Un silencio de tumba (1976), In 80 Betten um die Welt (1976), Die Marquise von Sade (1976), Greta – Haus ohne Männer (1977), Die Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen Nonne (1977), Die teuflischen Schwestern (1977), Der Ruf der blonden Göttin (1977), El sádico de Notre-Dame (1979), Mondo cannibale (1980), El caníbal (1980), Die Säge des Todes (1981), La tumba de los muertos vivientes (1982), La mansión de los muertos vivientes (1982), Revenge in the House of Usher (1983), El tesoro de la diosa blanca (1983), Macumba sexual (1983), Sola ante el terror (1983), Sangre en mis zapatos (1983), Mil sexos tiene la noche (1984), El siniestro doctor Orloff (1984), Lilian (la virgen pervertida) (1984), La esclava blanca (1985), Faceless (1987), Killer Barbys (1996), Tender Flesh (1997), Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula (1998), Lust for Frankenstein (1998), Vampire Blues (1999), Dr. Wong’s Virtual Hell (1999), Helter Skelter (2000), Vampire Junction (2001), Incubus (2002), Killer Barbys vs. Dracula (2002), Snakewoman (2005), La cripta de las mujeres malditas (2008), La cripta de las mujeres malditas II (2008), La cripta de las condenadas (2012), La cripta de las condenadas: Parte II (2012)]

This Jesús Franco film didn’t really do a whole lot for me. While there are some solid scenes of torture every now and again, much of the film came across as a historical drama, and were it not for Christopher Lee (playing the sinister Judge Jeffries), I would have liked this film a lot less.

Widely known as The Bloody Judge, I really appreciate, as a moderate student of history (a minor of mine in college) the historical nature of the film, though I am slightly put off by how it overshadows any and all of the horror aspects (which come primarily from the torture sequences).

Of course, this film isn’t without it’s positives. Christopher Lee does great in his role (though I don’t think the conclusion insofar as Jeffries was concerned was that satisfactory), and Hans Hass Jr., Milo Quesada, and Maria Rohm stand out also. Also, there was a solid sequence at the end once William of Orange came ashore. Alas, the ending played out somewhat quickly, which gave it a somewhat anticlimactic feel.

Personally, I think the biggest problem with this film is it’s meandering plot. The basic plot, in which the son of a Lord is looking to get married to the sister of a woman killed for being a witch and escape out of England is all well-and-good, but at an hour and forty minutes, I will admit to having stopped caring past a certain point. Loved the torture sequences (though none were overly over-the-top), and every scene with Lee, but much of the film just wasn’t my cup of tea.

As it is, when it comes to historical horror films, I already have the 1968 Witchfinder General to fill the void. If you see this for any reason, it should be Lee’s solid performance as a despicable judge killing innocents in the name of God and country. Truth be told, I was hoping for more than I got from this. The Bloody Judge may work for you, but it didn’t do a lot for me.

5.5/10

El orfanato (2007)

Directed by J.A. Bayona [Other horror films: N/A]

This Spanish flick (better known as The Orphanage) might be a lot better for fans of more emotional ghost stories as opposed to more horror-tinged tales, but it’s still quite well done with some fantastic mystery, an enjoyable back-story, and a memorable (if not potentially anticlimactic) conclusion.

El orfanato’s setting is great, taking place at an old orphanage on the seaside, overlooked by an old, defunct lighthouse. With the ocean constantly rustling and rainstorms no stranger to the area, it sets things up as rather dismal, which helps sustain the tone as the movie goes on.

So, onto a lot of Spanish names that I definitely don’t know.

As the lead, Belen Rueda did well and played a very sympathetic character, and despite the fact that she’s not really been in that many things before this (though she was in a TV series that ran for around five years called Periodistas, so she’s not a no one), she shined pretty much throughout the film. Fernando Cayo was good also, but I wish he was a bit more prevalent to the story than he ended up being. Others that I enjoyed include Geraldine Chapin, Edgar Vivar, Andres Gertudix, and Montserrat Carulla.

What really helped this movie along, because honestly, it’s not really my type of thing, is the mystery behind the disappearance of one of the characters. I like how that’s resolved, and though it took supernatural means for Rueda’s character to come to find out what happened, I was okay with it, as we discover some interesting (and somewhat morbid) things out along the way.

As decent as El orfanato is, it’s not the type of film I really go out of my way for. The conclusion didn’t quite pack the punch I was hoping for, though it was a tad more emotional than one might expect. Still, it’s definitely a well-made movie with an engaging plot, and certainly worth a watch, but if Spanish ghost movies aren’t your cup of tea, you may find this film a bit more average than others.

7.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, go ahead.

Faceless (1987)

Directed by Jesús Franco [Other horror films: Gritos en la noche (1962), La mano de un hombre muerto (1962), El secreto del Dr. Orloff (1964), Miss Muerte (1966), Necronomicon – Geträumte Sünden (1968), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), Der heiße Tod (1969), Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969), The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969), Paroxismus (1969), De Sade 70 (1970), Il trono di fuoco (1970), Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht (1970), Les cauchemars naissent la nuit (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Sie tötete in Ekstase (1971), Jungfrauen-Report (1972), Drácula contra Frankenstein (1972), Der Todesrächer von Soho (1972), La fille de Dracula (1972), Dr. M schlägt zu (1972), Les démons (1973), La comtesse noire (1973), La maldición de Frankenstein (1973), La nuit des étoiles filantes (1973), Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973), Al otro lado del espejo (1973), La noche de los asesinos (1974), Les possédées du diable (1974), La comtesse perverse (1974), Les gloutonnes (1975), L’éventreur de Notre-Dame (1975), Sexorcismes (1975), Frauengefängnis (1976), Jack the Ripper (1976), Un silencio de tumba (1976), In 80 Betten um die Welt (1976), Die Marquise von Sade (1976), Greta – Haus ohne Männer (1977), Die Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen Nonne (1977), Die teuflischen Schwestern (1977), Der Ruf der blonden Göttin (1977), El sádico de Notre-Dame (1979), Mondo cannibale (1980), El caníbal (1980), Die Säge des Todes (1981), La tumba de los muertos vivientes (1982), La mansión de los muertos vivientes (1982), Revenge in the House of Usher (1983), El tesoro de la diosa blanca (1983), Macumba sexual (1983), Sola ante el terror (1983), Sangre en mis zapatos (1983), Mil sexos tiene la noche (1984), El siniestro doctor Orloff (1984), Lilian (la virgen pervertida) (1984), La esclava blanca (1985), Killer Barbys (1996), Tender Flesh (1997), Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula (1998), Lust for Frankenstein (1998), Vampire Blues (1999), Dr. Wong’s Virtual Hell (1999), Helter Skelter (2000), Vampire Junction (2001), Incubus (2002), Killer Barbys vs. Dracula (2002), Snakewoman (2005), La cripta de las mujeres malditas (2008), La cripta de las mujeres malditas II (2008), La cripta de las condenadas (2012), La cripta de las condenadas: Parte II (2012)]

To be honest, I’ve not seen that many Jesús Franco flicks (and as you can see, even within just the horror genre, he was hella prolific). Off the top of my head, The Bloody Judge and Oasis of the Zombies are the only others from him I’ve seen. Not that I have anything against Franco – I’ve heard pretty mixed things about his work, but plenty of it sounds interesting. All of this is to say that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going into this one, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.

Sure, the gore here is definitely good, and I’ll touch on that in a bit, but the story was surprisingly solid, sympathetic to both sides of the violence. Things went a bit deeper than I’d have expected, and on a whole, it was a nice surprise.

As far as performances go, the only one that really stood out was Helmut Berger. Gérard Zalcberg was pretty solid as a degenerate rapist and murderer, to be sure, but Berger is by far the most memorable. It’s not as though we’re inundated with bad performances, though – most people here do perfectly fine.

The gore within Faceless is most paramount, though. It’s just fantastic – the most brutal scene is a botched removal of a face (utterly sickening, but it really does it’s job), but even the successful facial removal is gruesome (especially given the victim is still alive, and taunted with their own face in sociopathic fashion). You also have a decapitation by chainsaw, a stab through the throat by some scissors, a needle stab in the eye, some power drill and hook action, all the goodies. This movie came to play, and play it did.

Even without the great gore, there were some really suspenseful scenes here. In one, a victim was just about to make herself known to someone searching for her, but last second, she’s dragged into another room and all hope vanishes. Speaking of vanishing hope, the conclusion here is a lot darker than I’d have initially expected. Talk about a dreary finale.

Faceless isn’t the most amazing Italian movie of the late 1980’s, nor do I suspect it’ll be the most memorable as the days move on, but it was a surprisingly solid time, and I’d certainly recommend it to fans of the genre.

7.5/10

And for even more on this, Faceless was one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, episode #28. If you’re interested, listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Los sin nombre (1999)

Namless

Directed by Jaume Balagueró [Other horror films: Darkness (2002), Frágiles (2005), Películas para no dormir: Para entrar a vivir (2006), [Rec] (2007), [Rec]² (2009), Mientras duermes (2011), [REC] 4: Apocalipsis (2014), Muse (2017)]

Known as The Nameless to American audiences, this independent Spanish flick seems to be going for the bleak feel of movies like Se7en, which came out just four years prior. Unfortunately, while it succeeds in that endeavor, I don’t think I got much more out of this one.

In itself, the plot is pretty interesting, working itself like a solid mystery movie with occasionally rather gory scenes. I enjoyed the inclusion of the cult, but I don’t think they were particularly explained as well as they could have been, which is where a lot of my problems with this come from.

The main cast, being just two people, work decently well together. Emma Vilarasau acts way too hysterically at times, but given what her character’s going through, that could probably be excused. Karra Elejalde (who, in 2007, starred in the somewhat fun Los cronocrimenes, or Timecrimes) did well here as a retired detective, and I think he stood out because of his mostly unassuming look. Though he had just a single scene, Carlos Lasarte (who appeared later in the [Rec] films) was rather creepy, and gave off a Tim Curry vibe. No one else really stood out in one way or the other.

Parts of the plot didn’t work for me, mostly revolving around the aforementioned cult. I liked the ending, but it was pretty obvious from the get-go that this movie wouldn’t end in sunshine and daisies. Aspects of why the cult went after children, though, didn’t really seem to have a good explanation. Part of this may be the fact that the version of this movie I own on DVD is dubbed, and dubbed horribly. I rather dislike dubbed versions of foreign films, and given how badly this one was, it stood out very negatively. That possibly could have obfuscated some of the message that this movie was going for.

Still, Los sin nombre does have an interesting feel to it. Some pretty violent scenes, some involving children, and a good ending despite it’s expected nature. The problem is some parts don’t do it for me. I did happen to like this more this time around than when I first saw it, but I still find it quite a below average film. Director Jaume Balaguero later went on to direct the flawed Darkness, but also some better films, such as [Rec], so at least his later attempts were more solid.

Many people enjoy this movie, some calling it a lesser-known classic. I’ve seen it twice, and I just don’t get it. Portions are pretty good, especially for a movie of this independent a feel, but until I find a subtitled version (and chances are, that might not help as much as I hope), this isn’t a movie I’d care to see a third time.

5.5/10

Pet (2016)

Pet

Directed by Carles Torrens [Other horror films: Emergo (2011), ABCs of Death 2.5 (2016, segment ‘M is for Mom’)]

This was an interesting film. While I expected some of the twists throughout the film, others came as a surprise, which is a positive thing.

The shift in the film that occurs a little over halfway into the movie was a unique one, and changes the dynamics of the movie and the characters. Hell, for the most part, I even liked the ending. It’s not perfect, of course. I thought portions were extremely unrealistic, especially toward the end, and I have doubts about the “solution” to the problem, as it was. I have to admit also, as much as I thought the main twist was interesting, I lost interest a bit, as the rest of the movie seemed to fall into a suspected mold.

All-in-all, though, the positives outweigh the benefits. The problem is, while it’s a technically fine film, and I had little qualms with it aside from what’s been mentioned, the movie didn’t do a lot for me. It’s reminiscent of Green Room, actually – I liked the movie, but beyond a slightly positive outlook, it didn’t stand out. While Pet’s plot is a memorable one, I find myself feeling lukewarm toward it. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, it just didn’t do much for me. Because of that, I’ll rate it around average, though to others, I’d suspect a warmer reception to it.

7/10

Broken Notes (2008)

Broken Notes

Directed by Alex Slevin [Other horror films: N/A]

If you’re a fan of Silent Hill 2 (the video game, to be clear), then you may get a kick out of this moderately obscure Spanish flick. It’s basically a live-action version of the game, which has it’s pros and cons.

Pros being, if you’re a fan of the game, then you’ll probably enjoy how closely the movie follows it. But if you’re like me, and know next to nothing about the games, then the movie seems mostly like a mess.

There’s a plot, being a man going to Silent Hill in order to find his wife (who died three years earlier, but as he got a letter from her, he’s understandably hopeful), but it feels rather disjointed. The dialogue is both stilted and awkward (though that may be partially due to the fact the game’s dialogue, to my understanding, is much the same), and some things don’t make much sense. Almost everything’s a metaphorical representation of something, and while occasionally deep, that doesn’t do much for me.

Parts of the movie just don’t seem to follow the previous scenes, and that’s not something I care much for. What also has to be discussed is the audio quality of the film. There’s not a whole lot of talking in this movie, but there’s also not much “in-world” sounds, and by that, I mean if a character hits another character with a crowbar, there’s no thump. It’s just silent, as if it’s in a vacuum. It happens throughout the film, and it’s at best mildly distracting.

The color scheme of the film (sort of a faded palate; you can see different colors, but the only one that really sticks out is red) was unique, and did help with the dreamy quality of the film. That’s one thing the film should really get props for – the dreamy atmosphere. It’s helped along by the aforementioned disjointed scenes, odd dialogue, color scheme, and audio. So basically, everything in this movie adds to the dreamy atmosphere, which does come across as cool, but again, that’s not something I’m a big fan of.

It’s somewhat similar to another obscure film titled Silver Cell (2011), though I actually liked that one quite a lot more. Broken Notes seems to be for hardcore fans of Silent Hill 2, but anyone else who watches it, while they can get a plot out of it, will feel as though something’s missing. So for the right crowd, this movie may actually be, if not a fun ride, an interesting one. For me, though, given it’s hour and 40 minute run-time, it was just tedious. I felt the same when I first saw it, and sadly, little’s changed.

4.5/10