Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)

Inferno

Directed by Scott Derrickson [Other horror films: The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), Sinister (2012), Deliver Us from Evil (2014), The Black Phone (2021)]

Inferno takes a different route than previous Hellraiser films (the first, second, third, and fourth can be found here), and originally, the script wasn’t even meant as a Hellraiser film, which you could sort of guess by watching the final product. Instead of what we got before, this is much more a psychological-based horror than straight-out gore. It’s an interesting idea, but comes out a mixed bag.

The special effects in the film are okay for straight-to-video. I’ll say again that the Cenobite designs are pretty awful (Torso, while it’s nice to be reminded of Chatterer, just doesn’t do it for me), but because the movie isn’t as focused on the Cenobites as the main character’s battle with his sanity, it doesn’t hurt the film as much as it did the third or fourth movies. Gore throughout is moderately decent – the hook-whip scene in particular was pretty solid, and the sound effects nailed it (along with a few other scenes). While there’s not that many explicitly gory scenes, plenty of aftermath is seen, and all-in-all, it worked out.

The cast wasn’t amazing here. You could certainly get the straight-to-video feeling from them. Craig Sheffer was about 50/50, and his narration didn’t particularly help. He certainly got hokey at times, especially toward the end. Nicholas Turturro didn’t shine here either, and came across as generally weak. Of course, Doug Bradley did just fine as Pinhead, though didn’t have lines as quotable as he’s had in the past. I did like briefly seeing Kathryn Joosten (of The West Wing fame), and overall, I enjoyed James Remar’s performance, though his character didn’t make a lot of sense.

Which is the biggest issue with the movie, being the story, which just feels both underdeveloped and, at times, nonsensical. The time-frame stated in the film is entirely unrealistic, and though toward the end we’re given some answers, I can’t help but still feel unsatisfied. It doesn’t help that some portions of the movie just look rather amateurish (I’m happy to say, though, that the director, Scott Derrickson, greatly improved, and went on to direct 2012’s Sinister, a rather enjoyable film), and some sequences (the cowboy bar, for instance) just seem both random and not relevant to the plot.

I’ve seen this film some three or four times prior, and I probably liked it more in the past than what I do now. That said, I do think I’d prefer this one over the third or fourth Hellraisers, despite their generally more, for lack of a better term, ‘Hellraiser’ feel. Inferno has some interesting ideas, and I think a more clear-cut script would have helped the movie out greatly.

Nowhere near the best the series has to offer, but more enjoyable, despite its flaws, than the third and fourth movies, Hellraiser: Inferno would probably disappoint many going into it, but I’ve found it consistently an okay film, though still below average.

6.5/10

Filth to Ashes, Flesh to Dust (2011)

Filth

Directed by Paul Morrell [Other horror films: Huff (2013)]

I think that Filth to Ashes, Flesh to Dust reached for goals that they couldn’t quite realistically attain, but while the movie is certainly repetitive, I don’t think it’s all that bad. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly good or even memorable.

The special effects were decent. It’s not an overly gory film, but at the same time, they certainly don’t shy away from the good stuff. An okay throat-slitting, a decent decapitation, and a few other highlights exist, and though none are memorable, I think that most of them were competently done. The same could be said for the camerawork, while we’re at it – it was certainly shaky and amateurish, but in the end, it got the job done.

Most of the actors and actresses here didn’t really stand out. Linda Bella acted stoned out of her mind half the time. Allison Ochmanek did a pretty good job playing a racist bitch, almost a little too well. As the main character here, Derrick Bishop was pretty commendable, as was Bianca Lemaire in her role, though I sort of wish she had gotten more screen-time. Our serial killer, played by Nicholas J. Leinbach was moderately threatening, but I don’t think they fleshed his character out nearly as much as they should have.

For the most part, this film could be summed up as “running from killer, fighting, and running again.” Very little in the way of additional story was added. Sure, having one of the characters still getting over the murder of their girlfriend was a bit deeper than the norm, and in fact, some of their scenes had an almost-artistic look to them, but it didn’t combat how repetitive the film started to become.

I’ve got to talk about this, though, and that’s the basis of the film: a serial killer targets those he believes to be inferior, such as minorities and drug addicts. There’s a well-to-do little rich girl who says racist things casually (such as referring to a black friend as a ‘monkey’ behind her back – that kind of bullshit), along with another guy who truly thinks that whites are above blacks and Latinos on the evolutionary ladder. In today’s political climate, I think this movie addresses some pretty heavy topics (and this came out before Trump assisted in heightening racial tension), which was both a surprise and somewhat of an issue. I don’t know if you can accurately look at sociological reasons for racism whilst in the middle of a subpar slasher, but at the same time, I sort of do appreciate the intent.

Filth to Ashes, Flesh to Dust is a movie that has something to say, and that’s somewhat unique for a low-budget slasher film. Certainly, this movie tried to do much more than they reasonably could, but that’s probably something to applaud them for. No doubt, there are some decently-done emotional scenes in the film, especially the finale. But after having seen it twice now, I don’t really think it’s a movie that I would go back to. It’s competently-made, and some aspects are done quite well, but it’s far from the most enthralling piece of cinema.

6/10

Terrifier (2016)

Terrifier

Directed by Damien Leone [Other horror films: All Hallows’ Eve (2013), Frankenstein vs. the Mummy (2015), Terrifier 2 (2022)]

Originally a short from 2011, and then edited into the anthology All Hallows’ Eve in 2013, this film follows the homicidal Art the Clown as he dispatches multiple victims in inventively gory ways.

Plot isn’t really a high point of this film, but then again, I don’t think it really needs to be. No background information is given on Art, and he doesn’t utter a word during his stunning performance, but for a film like this, I don’t feel that’s a terrible drawback. What mattered was the gore and tension, and this movie has it.

Art the Clown was damn creepy. Even before he started killing people, he made me feel more than a little uneasy. A damn creepy performance by David Howard Thornton utilized facial expressions and hand gestures to amazing effect. Just by his actions in the pizza restaurant – that smile, his staring – it freaked me out. And I watched this during the day. I cannot imagine watching this in the dark of night. Seriously, Thronton’s performance here was one of the freakiest I’ve seen in a long time.

Jenna Kanell did well also, though of course was nowhere near as memorable as Thornton, no matter how cute she was. Same with Samantha Scaffidi – both of them can likely do well in the future (Kanell was later in The Bye Bye Man, though I’ve heard only negative things about that film). Neither was amazing, but they both did competently enough.

It’s true that the whole cat-and-mouse game, with Art chasing after a new victim just after killing the previous one, felt a bit old after a while, but given Thronton’s strong performance throughout the film, it didn’t really bother me all that much. What helped fight against the potential boredom was the strong gore – great gory effects throughout the film, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. Terrifier’s gore rivals some of the strongest stuff I’ve seen in recent times, so kudos to that department also.

Terrifier is a pretty tense and freaky movie, especially with the early scenes featuring Art. Talk about unsettling *shudders*. The ending was a bit weak, and if that was supposed to be a twist, then they need to try harder, but the gore and acting make this a film that I think many horror fans would enjoy, even without having previously seen All Hallows’ Eve.

8/10

The Boy (2016)

The Boy

Directed by William Brent Bell [Other horror films: Stay Alive (2006), The Devil Inside (2012), Wer (2013), Brahms: The Boy II (2020), Separation (2021), Orphan: First Kill (2022)]

I saw this in theaters shortly after it came out, and while I didn’t love it, I thought it was sort of interesting, albeit generic at times. Seeing it again for the first time in a few years, I pretty much feel the same way, which, in this case, is mostly positive, as the story’s grown on me.

The best part about this film is the atmosphere, hands down. It’s a dim mansion, and while there are jump scares, I feel more of the frightening portions are subtle. There’s a dream sequence I could have done without, but for the most part, I think the scares come honestly.

What helps is the cast of about two people. Sure, Brahms’ parents, played by Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle, are both fantastic, but neither has much screen-time. Ben Robson doesn’t show up until the end, and he’s not exactly oozing with interesting character traits (though to be fair, it’s more due to the script than Robson himself).

So who we have to entertain us for most of the film, providing you don’t count the creepy Brahms doll, are Lauren Cohan and Rupert Evans. Cohan does a pretty fair job throughout, and after discovering the doll’s more active than it should be, really comes across as crazy at times. Evans, who has previously appeared in such horror films as Asylum Blackout (or The Incident) from 2011 and The Canal from 2014, has a very enjoyable performance here, and really, he comes across as quite charming. Luckily, Cohan and Evans worked quite well together, which is great, as they were about the only important characters in the film.

Gore certainly wasn’t much a factor here, and really, special effects weren’t needed, as the film kept things pretty simple. Like I said, it’s the atmosphere that’s most commendable, but certainly the performances listed above help out. What also can’t be ignored is the moderately creepy mansion, which looked great and certainly helped add to the already well-done atmosphere.

The biggest issue with The Boy is that it sort of meanders a bit toward the middle of the film, which was fine for character building, but it’s not the most exciting material. That said, I did like how Cohan’s character’s personal issues tied in well enough to the film’s plot, and certainly gave her reason to want to stay after discovering the doll she was hired to watch over was alive.

The Boy didn’t really garner much attention when it came out (the director, William Brent Bell, hasn’t done that much before this, though he did director 2013’s Wer, one of the more interesting modern werewolf films), and I can sort of see why. Personally, I think it’s an enjoyable film with some solid acting, good suspense and atmosphere, and delightful misdirection, leading to a rather fun conclusion. While not a masterpiece, upon seeing this film again, and outside of a theater experience, I can say that it’s a solid film and I’d recommend it.

8/10

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Night of the Blood

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski [Other horror films: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), Black Noon (1971), Sssssss (1973)]

Despite the fun title, this late 50’s flick, produced by Roger Corman, ends up being a pretty dull affair.

There are portions of the film which do possess a decent atmosphere. Due to the small cast, there’s a sense of seclusion prominent also, which I think helps add to the feeling of dread (it’s never quite captured well, but that was the intent). A few decent shots of blood certainly helped a little, but given the design of the monster was pretty laughable, it’s somewhat hard to take seriously.

The cast did just as well as you would expect. Nothing too over-the-top, nothing too hammy, but also nothing that really positively stood out. Michael Emmet, Angela Greene, John Baer, Ed Nelson, Tyler McVey, and Georgianna Carter put in adequate enough performances, and though far from great, I somewhat doubt the acting would be one’s main concern when watching the film.

Really, it just comes down to the fact that it’s a slow-going movie. No, nothing as bad as Curse of the Faceless Man, which came out the same year, but if you get through this without feeling either bored or drowsy, I award you. The director of this picture, Bernard Kowalski, also directed the more enjoyable Attack of the Giant Leeches (from 1959) and much later, Sssssss (1973).

From his horror legacy, such as it is, I imagine many would consider Night of the Blood Beast to be his least favorable entry to the genre. Perhaps, for a dark and rainy night, this movie’s atmosphere could be amplified to an almost-threatening nature, but in most cases, this is a pretty weak film. Sad to say that my views haven’t much changed since the last time I saw it.

5/10

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

Wishmaster 2

Directed by Jack Sholder [Other horror films: Alone in the Dark (1982), A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), The Hidden (1987), Natural Selection (1994), Arachnid (2001), 12 Days of Terror (2004)]

The first Wishmaster film is a pretty enjoyable affair. There were portions I didn’t care for, but overall, it’s a solid piece of 90’s horror. The second film, however, is nowhere near as pleasing.

In terms of special effects, there are occasionally some solid scenes presented here. But it’s no comparison to the first film’s beginning and ending sequence. In fact, a somewhat similar sequence here, which takes place in the final 15 minutes, is so much worse and uninspired than what they managed a few years prior.

The story itself isn’t much to speak of. Honestly, it’s not necessarily even that bad, it just didn’t appeal to me. The idea of having to possess a thousand souls before the Djinn can do anything more is all fine and well, but when he gains 800 of those souls in the course of five minutes, it really takes away from the film. I didn’t expect them to show him gaining hundreds of souls (which is good, because, for the most part, his obscene granting of obscure wishes never really did much for me, and here, very few of them are that interesting), but at the same time, giving him 80% of souls needed in such a short time felt akin to cheating.

Still not the biggest issue, though. I know his performance is what draws some people to this movie, but the Wishmaster himself, Andrew Divoff, just drives me up the wall. Throughout most of the film, he has that same little grin on his face, and his intentionally hammy acting, while in the first film wasn’t that big a deterrent, goes overboard here.

Luckily, the other two main performances were decent: Holly Fields and Paul Johansson. Fields had that cute bad-girl look to her, and having her partner up with Johansson’s priest character was somewhat fun. Neither one has had a particularly impressive horror resume (Fields was in Seedpeople, but that’s about it), but for a movie of this caliber, they do pretty well. It’s just a shame that the story isn’t that impressive.

Evil Never Dies still manages to impress some people, and having seen it twice, I don’t get it. Most everyone agrees it pales in comparison to the first movie, which is certainly true, but seeing a lot of value out of this movie, in itself? More power to you if you enjoyed this. I just wish I could have done the same. In short, it’s not that it’s a terrible movie. It’s just not particularly good or even that memorable, which is a shame, as Jack Sholder, the director, also made Alone in the Dark (1982) and the second A Nightmare on Elm Street film, both of which were decent, if not good. It’s a disappointment he couldn’t do that here.

4.5/10

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

The Beginning

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman [Other horror films: Darkness Falls (2003), The Killing Room (2009)]

I don’t think anyone would posit that the TMC sequels are ever quite original. Some, such as the 1990 Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, can be quite fun, but original? Not so much.

This prequel to the 2003 remake doesn’t really add much of anything, which, for a prequel, is sort of sad. Sure, we get an “origin” story of Leatherface, but it doesn’t really mean much as this film and the remake are virtually identical. Hell, this even has a climatic fight in the meat packing plant, just like the 2003 remake did.

Certainly, the movie’s not lacking in gore. There’s plenty of gore throughout this flick, and more than enough to go around. Related, the special effects are generally pretty good also. Like the remake, there’s sort of a built-in grittiness here, which somewhat falters due to the polished nature of the movie.

The cast is generally pretty blah. Sure, R. Lee Ermey has some charm, but the four main protagonists, Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, and Matt Bomer are all pretty cookie-cutter, which, given the expected bleak ending, may well have been intentional. Aspects of the characters are interesting, such as the two brothers on different paths (one’s going back to Vietnam, the other is burning his draft card and going to Mexico), but there’s not much time to really touch on what makes the characters individuals.

Because the movie takes place in the late 1960’s, it makes the film a little more unique. Not much, though, and while the gore is, of course, pretty good (let’s be real – if a TCM movie can’t do gore good, then why bother?), and Leatherface is appropriately threatening at times, The Beginning is pretty much as bland as the 2003 movie was, even after having previously enjoyed it.

6/10

The Bells (1926)

The Bells

Directed by James Young [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve seen this once before many years back, and was rather bored by it. This time around, I was in a better state of mind to enjoy it, though I can’t deny it’s moderately derivative, as this movie doesn’t have much that The Avenging Conscience didn’t bring forth 12 years prior.

Plenty of solid performances can be found here: Lionel Barrymore (this was his first voyage into the horror genre – he later appeared in such classics as Mark of the Vampire and The Devil-Doll) does well here as the innkeeper. He’s a good man put under immense stress, and snaps. It’s easy to both feel pity for his characterization and to abhor his acts. Great with this role, Barrymore pulls it all together. Gustav von Seyffertitz (who we later see in the 1930 classic The Bat Whispers) does well here as a rather unlikable, but ultimately harmless, money-hungry individual.

The innkeeper’s daughter and her soldier lover (played by Lola Todd and Eddie Phillips, respectfully) make a pretty cute couple, though they end up not really being all that relevant to the plot (despite Phillips’ character being charged with finding the murderer). Of perhaps most interest, Boris Karloff makes a few appearances here. Most known for playing the Frankenstein monster in the 1931 classic, he’s been in various horror films from the 1930’s to the early 1970’s. In his first horror role, he plays a mesmerist (taking more than a few cues from Caligari) who, despite his relatively short screen-time, does make quite an impression.

As aforementioned, though, the rough story here can be found earlier in The Avenging Conscience: or, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’, and a few other murder melodramas, where one’s conscience effectively haunts the main character after they commit the ever-sinful act of murder. Despite this, though, I actually thought this film was put together more cohesively than The Avenging Conscience. It certainly looks better, and given it came out ten years later, it does feel a bit more fresh, insofar as cinematography goes.

Many find this just too derivative and perhaps even stale to stand out as a classic of silent cinema. They’re right, in part – The Bells shouldn’t be seen as a classic (especially the version I watched, which had a six-and-a-half minute piece of music looped through the whole hour and ten minute film). However, I think there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had from the solid performances and some of the scenes (including a quick ax to the back, leaving drops of blood on the snow, or the epic dream sequence near the end).

I fully admit I was bored when I first saw this. Luckily, it broke past previous my previous views of the film, and ended up being, while not the best horror film of the 1920’s (or even 1926), a pretty solid watch.

8/10

Beyond the Gates (2016)

Beyond the Gates

Directed by Jackson Stewart [Other horror films: N/A]

As much as so many of the elements of this film work, it’s main problem is that the story Beyond the Gates presents comes across as hollow.

There’s a plethora of things to like about this film. The whole 80’s aesthetic, from fantastic synth music to creative lighting, was fantastic. A few good gore scenes within also, and most of the characters themselves (especially the two bothers) are pretty decent.

Acting was a mixed bag. The brothers (Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson) worked well together, though Skipper’s acting, at times, was a bit dicey. Williamson was pretty solid throughout. Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Chopping Mall being her classics) was nice to see, despite most of the time she just stared awkwardly into the camera.

Matt Mercer (probably best known for his role in the Contracted films) didn’t have much screen-time, but was decent when he appeared. While I didn’t care for Justin Welborn’s character (and he didn’t really seem to add much), his resume’s pretty impressive: aside from this, he was in 2007’s The Signal, 2008’s Dance of the Dead, The Final Destination, Halloween II, My Super Psycho Sweet 16 (despite the title, that movie was actually pretty good), Southbound, and some film’s I’ve not seen, such as The Crazies remake, The Bay, V/H/S Viral, and Siren. Basically, if you’ve seen much modern horror, this guy might stick out. Lastly, there’s Jesse Merlin, who plays a goofy store owner. He had a pretty fun presence.

Still, despite a moderately strong cast, the story still came across as rather shallow. Great gore at points, along with well-done 80’s nostalgic aesthetics can only do so much when the story itself is lacking. Especially in the last 15 minutes of the film, things begin to fall apart, and the previous ominous feel the film had sort of gets thrown out the window. I did like the idea that the brothers were fighting to save their father’s soul (given how different the two brothers are, it was a fun dynamic), but there’s not enough meat.

Beyond the Gates certainly had potential. What they do well, they do really well. Again, I’ll direct your attention to the film’s score, filled with fantastic music. The special effects, lighting, and gore were all expertly done. But in the end, the film’s just missing something, and because of that, despite all that this movie does well, it falls below average.

6/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s second podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the film.

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Phantasm III

Directed by Don Coscarelli [Other horror films: Phantasm (1979), Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), John Dies at the End (2012)]

A definite drop-off from the first two of this cult classic series, the third entry still has a lot of solid stuff that makes it worth checking out still.

By-and-large, this film isn’t really that far removed from the second Phantasm. It’s another road-trip, chasing down the Tall Man-type deal, with a few new characters thrown into the mix. It is, however, a bit lighter in tone than the previous film. It takes some odd turns (what they do with Jody – and perhaps Michael – was, shall we say, an interesting choice), and feels somewhat disjointed toward the end. Not even the dreamy disorientation such as the first film, but a ‘I have no idea what’s going on’ type thing.

Before that, though, let’s talk cast: Unfortunately, the stand-outs of this movie are pretty much the stand-outs from the last one: Reggie Bannister and, of course, Angus Scrimm. A. Michael Baldwin came back, but I’m not wooed by his acting. And as fun as Gloria Lynne Henry sometimes was as Rocky, more often than not, she came across as over-the-top. The young Kevin Connors did fine enough, but his character struck me as moderately pointless.

So you put together a, on average, less-than-stellar cast with less-than-stellar plot points (those three zombies that popped up multiple times toward the end rubs me the wrong way), and you get a pretty flimsy Phantasm. Which isn’t to say the film is particularly bad – despite the lighter tone, some of these characters can be pretty fun, such as Rocky – but compared to the first two flicks, this has been a let-down each time I’ve seen it.

6.5/10