This week I spoke to Carl Medland, writer and director of The Spiritualist, and the Paranormal Farm movies. Carl took time to chat with me about his films, about filmmaking, about his horror inspirations, and about the future of found footage.
For more information on Carl, please follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Watch his films, The Spiritualist, and Paranormal Farm, on Amazon Prime. For the full unedited version of this interview, please go to my YouTube page! And don’t forget to check out my full review of the Paranormal Farm trilogy!
Since a new decade is up and running, I wanted to look back and discuss what I think are ten amazing horror movies from the past ten years. I’m not saying these are the best; I’m just saying these are ten movies I love and deserve a mention. Have fun reading, and if you haven’t seen this films yet, please seek them out and watch them! You won’t be disappointed!
10. World War Z (2013) The best zombie movie since 28 Days Later. An adaptation of Max Brook’s popular book was always going to be scrutinized by fans no matter how good it turned out. Luckily, Marc Forster’s $100 million-plus movie version is a crackerjack thrill ride from beginning to end, and, dare I say, better than Brook’s overrated novel. Brad Pitt is fine in the role of Gerry Lane – although, honestly, the role could have been filled by any competent actor – but it’s Forster’s aggressive, frenzied direction that creates scenes of incredible suspense and makes the movie work so well.
9. V/H/S 2 (2013) This cinematic roller coaster ride is the best anthology movie in years. Fast-paced, funny, and scary, V/H/S 2 delivers five stories that are all successfully thrilling, but two stand out as mini-classics. “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” features a small group of kids besieged by a horde of space visitors during a sleepover (flashes of The McPherson Tape come into play), and “Safe Haven,” which follows a film crew as they descend into (literal) hell while investigating a mysterious Indonesian cult, is itself is a near-masterpiece in grueling horror.
8. Willow Creek (2013) Bobcat Goldthwait’s suspenseful, slow burn creep-out is probably the closest a found footage movie has come to replicating the claustrophobic dread of TheBlair Witch Project. The premise is simple yet effective: a young couple (Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore) venture into the wild terrains of Northern California to find evidence of Bigfoot only to get in over their heads when fiction turns into reality. Goldthwait understands how POV horror works at its best and utilizes this by slowly building the tension with sound effects, suggestion, and imagination. It all culminates in a hold-your-breath ending.
7. The Witch (2015) An atmosphere-drenched 17th century setting elevates this minimalist supernatural chiller above most other ilk, as does powerful acting and a genuinely creepy environment. The dark, bleak woods of Ontario, Canada, create a surreal world of shadows and mystery, conjuring up more powerful imagery than most of 2015’s horror movies combined. And who can forget Black Phillip, perhaps the cleverest manifestation of evil depicted on screen in years?
6. Midsommar (2019) Never has a movie awash in such bright sunshine been so claustrophobically intense. Director Ari Aster followed up Hereditary with a wild road trip of sheer, raw, emotional suspense – not only delivering a daring horror story, but telling a powerful tale of mental illness. The film’s robust two-and-a-half hour runtime seems daunting, but Aster wisely fills the time with a build-up of dread, leading to a powerhouse climax that will feel like a gut-punch.
5. The Conjuring (2013) James Wan moved past his torture porn legacy in the Saw series by setting his sights on old-fashioned ghostly antics, following up the brilliant Insidious with this instantly iconic supernatural shocker. Wan took the haunted house subgenre and turned it on its head, making it feel as alive and fresh as Poltergeist did when it was released in 1982. The Conjuring was so successful that it launched its own cinematic universe (including the terrific Annabelle: Creation) and made international stars out of real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, portrayed wonderfully by Patrick Wilson and Vera Famiga.
4. Sinister (2012) Future Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson returned to the world of horror after directing The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005 with this bleak tale that involves snuff movies and the ghosts of murdered children. A roller coaster ride from beginning to end, Sinister contains some of the creepiest, and scariest, moments in a horror film since TheBlair Witch Project.
3. A Quiet Place (2018) One of the more original horror movies of the last ten years, A Quiet Place reminds me of the classic thrillers of Hitchcock, and proves just how powerful misdirection and suspense can be. Director/writer John Krasinski, with fellow writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, wisely avoid a world-view disaster-type of scenario and instead focus on a family’s fight for survival against a species of ferocious, hearing-enhanced predators. The film’s intimate setting heightens both the scares and the emotional impact.
2. Insidious (2011) The second James Wan film on my list, Insidious is perhaps his finest hour since Saw. A literal funhouse of a movie, filled to the brim with creativity, classic storytelling, and good, old-fashioned scares, Insidious is the ultimate modern haunted house chiller. Wan elevates a familiar scenario by infusing it with colorful characters, witty writing, and a rich, otherworldly atmosphere that drenches the movie in a mist of frightening, yet playful, images.
1. Hereditary (2018) Before 2018 nobody had heard of filmmaker Ari Aster, but that all changed after the release of this spellbinding, nerve-shredding venture into hardcore horror. The brilliance of the film is how Aster keeps the plot moving with unpredictability, perfectly weaving a web of mystery, terror, and mythology – juxtaposed against brutally painful family drama – right up until the shock ending. Toni Collette, as the family matriarch, delivers a compelling, emotionally-draining performance that, quite frankly, puts most actors to shame. A horror film that gets under your skin, and that deserves to be on the same shelf as The Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs, and Psycho.
The early 1980s were a great time for the movies, especially horror, specifically the slasher. The successes of Halloween and Friday the 13th opened the floodgates for independent filmmakers to make movies on the cheap with a guaranteed profit, especially if they supplied the audience with their growing appetite for on-screen splatter.
One of the more infamous slashers of that era was Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s cheerfully sleazy Silent Night, Deadly Night. Originally called Slayride, the flick opens on Christmas Eve, 1971, as a young mother (Tara Buckman) and father (Geoff Hanson) drive their small children to see crazy old Grandpa (Will Hare), who’s living at a remote mental health facility. It’s here that young Billy (Danny Wagner) is told by the old coot that Santa Claus punishes kids who are naughty, forming a distorted view of Santa in Billy’s mind. Hours later and Billy watches as Mom and Dad are murdered by a degenerate in a Santa costume.
Billy and his younger brother, Ricky, are sent to live at an orphanage ruled over by the strict Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin), who (naturally) reinforces the “punishment” method, sending Billy into an unhinged mental state throughout his childhood. By the age of 18, Billy (Robert Brian Wilson), now a hotbed of sexual anxiety and explosive violence, gets a job at a toy store and, come Christmas, is asked to step into a Santa outfit.
Billy’s mental state eventually collapses and, with axe in hand, he runs around on Christmas Eve night punishing the local residents. Those on Billy’s naughty list include a rapist, some street bullies, and two fornicating teenagers, one of whom (Linnea Quigley) gets impaled on the antlers of a mounted deer head in one of the movie’s most notorious gore scenes.
Released in November of 1984, SNDN was the target of angry parent protests. Thanks to its super effective marketing campaign – I still remember as a kid seeing the old VHS cover of the axe-wielding Santa sliding down a snow-covered chimney – SNDN was put in the spotlight for essentially doing a good job at (literally) scaring people. But, instead of parents telling their children it’s only a movie, they decided to protest the film over its depiction of a killer Santa. I guess they had never seen Tales from the Crypt (1972), or Christmas Evil (1980).
The protests were so successful that SNDN‘s distributors removed the movie from theaters before the Thanksgiving holiday, but not before it pulled in brisk box-office. Although re-released in the spring of 1985 after the panic had subsided, the movie didn’t find its audience until it hit video stores, and by 1987 its cult status garnered it a sequel. Grade: A–
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 opens at an undisclosed location, in a plain, white room where an adult Ricky (Eric Freeman) is being interviewed by a psychiatrist (James L. Newman). A title card informs us that it’s Dec. 24, foreshadowing later events of Ricky killing the shrink, escaping the room, and seeking revenge on Mother Superior. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…
Ricky is being interview not only about his serial killer brother, Billy, but about Ricky’s own psychopathic personality. The whole plot of Part 2 is essentially told in flashbacks (with nearly 30 minutes of footage from the first movie!) as Ricky recounts not only Billy’s murder spree from Part 1, but his own hand in bloody murder in the years after Ricky left the orphanage.
SNDN Part 2 is not loved within the horror community. Many consider it the ultimate bad sequel. It suffers from a sluggish pacing (after Part 1’s flashbacks, nothing new actually happens until 40 minutes into the movie), inconsistent casting (Ricky at 17, played by Darrel Guilbeau, looks completely different, and actually older, than Ricky at 18), and its psychoanalysis of Ricky’s motives for killing comes off as sloppy and ham-fisted. Ricky kills simply because the script (by director Lee Harry and Joseph E. Earle) calls for him to do so, and in very OTT fashion. And despite Harry’s attempts at making the movie more lighthearted (as mentioned in the behind-the-scenes segment from Shout! Factory‘s Blu-ray release), Part 2 is more mean-spirited than the first movie ever was, although a few instances of black humor help.
Also, what happened to Mother Superior’s (Jean Miller) accent, and why does she have a gigantic, blistering scar on the side of her face?! Grade: C+
Better Watch Out!
Like many low-budget sequels in the late ’80s, Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out went directly to the video market in 1989. And like many horror films of that era, this one seems to have been somewhat influenced by the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
The film features a young woman named Laura (Samantha Scully), who’s blind and psychic, and who’s being used by a sinister doctor (Richard Beymer – who goes around muttering lines like, “There are no innocent people…”) to communicate with Ricky (Bill Moseley), now comatose six years after Part 2. Participating in these experiments gives Laura the ability to enter Ricky’s dreams, and we, the audience, get even more flashbacks to the first movie.
Clad in hospital gown and with a plastic dome covering his exposed brain, Ricky awakens from his coma and, now sharing a psychic link with Laura, follows her and her brother, Chris (Eric DaRe), to her grandmother’s on Christmas Eve. Much like Laura, Grannie (Elizabeth Hoffman) also has psychic abilities, but doesn’t seem to foresee Ricky’s arrival as dangerous, instead offering him food and shelter. He still kills her.
The mostly mute Ricky now seems to have some sort of supernatural, superhuman strength as he goes around punching through doors and overpowering anyone he comes into contact with. And much like Jason in his later years, Ricky can predict people’s whereabouts, a horror movie trope that eventually became massively overused.
Stiff direction by Monte Hellman and a dead-serious tone – most of the likable characters are needlessly killed off – make SNDN 3 a bummer. Grade: C
For the fourth entry in the series, the producers decided to drop the Ricky-killer Santa angle and made a stand-alone story. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation offers a supernatural tale of witchcraft in modern day Los Angeles. The ambitious plot tackles lesbianism, self-empowerment, and women’s rights (or a lack thereof) within the male-dominated world of newspaper journalism.
Looking to make a break at the weekly newspaper she works for, struggling writer, Kim (Neith Hunter), investigates the bizarre suicide of a woman, whom her male coworkers dismiss as unimportant. Kim soon discovers the victim was part of an all-female secret society that worships the Biblical Adam’s first wife, Lilith. This cult is lead by feminist bookstore owner, Fima (two-time Bond girl Maude Adams), who immediately takes a liking to Kim (never a good sign!). It isn’t long until Fima sinks her fangs into Kim and eventually recruits her into their society of wine, slime, and giant bugs.
Directed by Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator), Initiation gets points for trying something different with the series and for its semi-serious look at new age feminism. But the screenplay (by Yuzna and four other writers) never truly makes sense and is, at times, a bit too cartoonish with its woman-as-hooker-or-mother metaphor. Character dynamics are also a bit muddled: Kim flip-flops too much between being a strong, vocally expressive character and a whimpering victim.
That said, Initiation is one the better of the SNDN sequels and features some terrifically gross Screaming Mad George (Nightmare on Elm Street 4) make-up FX and a scene that may make you think twice the next time you sit down to a plate of spaghetti. Grade: B
The Toy Maker
Written and directed by Martin Kitrosser (Friday the 13th Part III and PartV), Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (released direct-to-video in 1991) features a plot so obviously perfect for a Christmas-themed horror flick it’s surprising it hadn’t been done before.
Traumatized after witnessing his father’s death by a malevolent toy that was mysteriously delivered to his house, young Derek (William Thorne) follows in the footsteps of Halloween 5‘s Jamie Lloyd by losing his ability to speak. His mother, Sarah (Jane Higginson), is warned by her ex-lover (Noah Adams) that the local toy maker, named Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney), is making toys that kill their child owners. The switch is that it’s actually Joe’s robot son, Pino (Brian Bremer), who’s behind the evil creations, and if you haven’t figured out the Pinocchio references yet…
Co-written by Yuzna, The Toy Maker isn’t going to win any awards for writing or deep character development, but it’s probably the best of the SNDN sequels. It’s well-paced, features mostly likable characters, and is surprisingly self-aware – the character of Kim (Hunter) from Initiation lives next door to Sarah, and Sarah works for Live Entertainment, one of the distributors of SNDN 5. The movie also has a welcoming sense of humor after the dead serious tones of the previous few flicks in the franchise. Grade: B
The Omen is a good example of a terrific stand-alone movie that was forcibly serialized in the hopes of making money. When 20th Century Fox released the first Omen film on June 6, 1976 to unexpected critical and commercial success, the studio most likely saw potential for a franchise goldmine.
The Omen is a classic horror film, and quite frankly there really isn’t much to be said on the matter. Coming right at the tail end of the popularity in devil/possession movies, The Omen could have been yet another head-spinning, vomit-throwing, Exorcist wannabe. Instead it turned out to be a breath of fresh air, an exciting film that — while borrowing elements from Rosemary’s Baby and other supernatural horror movies — held its own as a true original.
While the success of The Exorcist let loose a wave of imitations, so did The Omen, including the 1977 Antichrist Kirk Douglas melodrama Holocaust 2,000. And like Exorcist, The Omen got its own sequel. Well, three sequels, actually!
Whereas The Omen feels fresh and exciting, Damien: Omen II (1978) feels old fashion, and often meandering. After archeologist Bugenhagen (Leo McKern), the man who informed Gregory Peck of the daggers, learns of Damien’s survival after the events of the first film, he along with a friend is killed. Seven years later, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor), now 13, is living with his clueless uncle (William Holden) and aunt (Lee Grant) in Chicago and attending military school where he’s watched over by the sinister Sergeant Neff (Lance Henriksen).
Whereas Peck and Lee Remick (as Damien’s mother) felt personable and likable in the first movie, Holden and Grant come off as unsympathetic and cold. A reason for this becomes clear during the last several minutes of the film (secrets revealed!) for at least one of the characters. Henriksen is wasted in a small role that amounts to no more than a convenient plot point.
Omen II also suffers from laziness. A sequel about Damien reaching pubescence and coming into his own should really give us full-throttle spectacle, a sort of male version of Carrie, if you will. The filmmakers were most likely trying to avoid sensationalism in that regard, but in doing so really shot themselves in the foot. Director Don Taylor (also once an actor – Stalag 17) gives the film a feel of stoicism, the opposite of Donner’s fast-paced direction; Omen II is so grounded in its soap opera stuffiness that it forgets to just have fun.
Then we come to The Final Conflict (1981), which at the time was planned as the closing of the Omen trilogy.
Now in his early 30s and CEO of Thorne Industries, Damien (Sam Neill) becomes appointed by POTUS as the new US Ambassador of Great Britain after the previous one commits suicide. Meanwhile, a sect of priests from first film’s Italian monastery is hot on Damien’s heels. Their plan is to execute Damien before he can thwart the second coming of Christ. Damien’s plan, though, is to murder every male infant born in Britain on the morning of March 24th of that year — the same morning in which a constellation generates the “second star of Bethlehem.” Yeah, I really didn’t get it, either.
Final Conflict looks great (the cinematography by Phil Meheux and Robert Paynter is gorgeous), and there’s no question Neill has great fun in the role of Damien; the screenplay (by Andrew Birkin) gives Damien a few juicy moments. But much like Omen II, Final Conflict doesn’t deliver the goods. It’s almost as if the filmmakers forgot they were making a movie about the Antichrist! Also, by this point in the series the “creative deaths” have been all but erased from the show.
The film attempts to sell a pointless rape as an example of Damien’s evil nature, but the scene really comes off as tasteless and sleazy. It’s made even more tacky when Damien, while sodomizing his girlfriend (Lisa Harrow), mutters something about life being pain, or some such nonsense. Wouldn’t the son of Satan have better things to do?
The series also seems to have forgotten its own rules. In the first film Bugenhagen tells Thorne (Peck) that all seven daggers must be used in order to kill Damien. Harrow stabs Damien with one dagger and he still dies. Poof. OK, bye!
In closing, The Omen is a wonderfully fun and inventive piece of 70’s cinema that was needlessly followed by underwhelming sequels. The remake from 2006 managed to capture some of the energy from the ’76 film but could not measure up at the end. I think The Omen was a movie of its time and part of that era’s culture, which can’t be replicated.
The Omen saga is now available from Shout! Factory in a deluxe Blu-ray. box set. The series, as well as the remake, are currently streaming on Hulu.
There were some horror films released in the decadent 1980s that were so quintessential of their era they can’t be replicated in any shape, way, or form. John Grissmer’s 1987 splatter classic, Blood Rage, is one of those movies, a slasher flick that’s dripping in early ’80’s fashions, sensibilities, and outrageousness.
The movie opens in 1974, Jacksonville, Florida, at a drive-in showing a movie called The House That Cried Murder. Parked in a station wagon is single mom Maddy (Louise Lasser) on a date with what looks like a much younger man. Packed in the back (or along for the ride) are her twin boys, Todd and Terry (Russell and Keith Hall). While Maddy makes out with her date, Todd and Terry sneak out of the car and before you can say foreshadowing, psychopathic Terry steals a hatchet out of the back of a pick-up, kills a poor schmuck in his car, and frames Todd for the murder.
Flash forward ten years later and poor, innocent Todd (Mark Soper) is living in a mental health facility while Terry (also Soper), a college student, is spending Thanksgiving with Maddy and her fiancé (James Farrell) at the Shadow Woods apartment complex. As the family sits down for turkey dinner, they’re informed that Todd has escaped from the hospital. This news causes Terry to malfunction and go on a killing spree, once again framing Todd for his horrific crimes
Filmed as Slasher (and released in some territories as Nightmare at Shadow Woods) in and around Jacksonville, FL, in late 1983, Blood Rage is a no-holds-barred, unashamed gorefest. It’s a movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a fun, spirited splatter epic, overloaded with hammy acting, feathered hair, a pumping synthesizer score, and some terrifically gruesome murder set pieces created by Ed French (Sleepaway Camp).
One of the reasons Blood Rage works so splendidly is because it doesn’t go the mystery-killer route like 90% of the slashers of the ’80s. Instead it tells us who the killer is (young Terry) within the first five minutes, because the movie isn’t about figuring out who is doing the slashing. It’s about the slashing. In one way, Blood Rage is an unconscious satire on slashers in general, and in another, it has the look and feel of an H.G. Lewis flick
Blood Rage has within recently years been certified a cult classic. From Arrow Video‘s wonderful Blu-ray release, to multiple Terry-inspired t-shirts and pins, Blood Rage has successfully, and deservedly, branded itself into the 80’s horror zeitgeist.
From its synth-pop-pounding opening, to Terry’s memorable one-liners (“That’s not cranberry sauce, Artie!”), to the surprise, downbeat ending, Blood Rage is in a class of its own, and one of the few horror movies that take place at Thanksgiving. Unabashedly zany and cheerfully sadistic, it’s a classic of its time period, and despite having been filmed in the early part of the decade is an example of OTT late ’80s excess.
Road rage is one of those universal events that plague people every day, and while we’ve seen it portrayed in movies before (Duel, Joy Ride) it’s offered up as a straight-forward, unapologetic thrill ride in Unhinged. Directed by German filmmaker Derrick Borte, Unhinged is a high-octane psycho-thriller that moves at a fast pace and, although overloaded with plot conveniences and one of the biggest foreshadowings I’ve ever seen, it’s a film that understands the mechanics of a good race-against-the-clock chiller and how to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Caren Pistorius plays a harried single mother whose busy morning gets even more chaotic when she pisses off a mentally unbalanced killer (Russell Crowe, who gives amazing rage face). Crowe passive-aggressively asks for an apology, but instead gets a face full of dust as Pistorius drives off, leaving him stewing in his own crazy juices and plotting deadly revenge on her and her family.
Essentially a slasher flick with cars, Unhinged is slow to start as we listen to the vapid conversations of cut-and-paste characters. But, when the action kicks in (with a literal slam), the movie becomes a nonstop cat-and-mouse ride that manages to keep you engaged, surprised, and, a few times, shocked. What I liked most about the screenplay (by Carl Ellsworth, writer of Red Eye and Disturbia) is that it wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty.
Crowe is perfectly cast as the madman of the title. Nearly unrecognizable, the Australian actor brakes for no one and goes all out bananas. Just his side-eye glare is enough to send shivers down your spine in what is one of the better, more authentic psycho roles since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.
Will Unhinged win any awards for originality? Not likely. But if you want a fun, easy way to spend 90 minutes I highly recommend it.
To rent or purchase Unhinged please go the the website for details.
This post contains some spoilers. I recommend watching the films and then come back and read/watch.
If you’re a fan of found footage horror you’ll most likely have heard of the Paranormal Farm series, one of the more inventive in the Paranormal Activity sweepstakes. The first Paranormal Farm, released in 2017 and directed by British filmmaker Carl Medland, has paranormal investigator and psychic, Carl (Medland), traveling to a remote country farm to meet Lucy and Darren, who believe their home and surrounding land are haunted.
Upon meeting Lucy and Darren at their sprawling farm, Carl is informed that Lucy’s and Darren’s daughter, Jessica, disappeared in the nearby woods five years earlier. Carl suggests the supernatural activity happening in their home could be the spirit of Jessica, and uses the idea as the basis for his investigation. Lucy also mentions the presence of a “beast” that roams the land but Carl seems to dismiss that as unimportant. Carl also takes note of the strange collection of scarecrow-like mannequins that are scattered throughout the property – great material for any horror film.
Carl is left to spend the night at the farm by himself and experiences several creepy incidents, including objects moving by themselves, body possession, and someone stalking the grounds in a clown mask. It all comes to a chaotic conclusion with a relatively satisfying, if weird, ending, but if you’re expecting anything resembling normality in this film you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Paranormal Farm is not your typical FF movie: it sits in a higher, surreal level of both campy self-parody and imaginative storytelling. This is a film that knows what it is and knows how to navigate through the template of the FF arena, at the same time offering up some impressive visuals and original characters.
This is also a movie that throws a lot of information at you at a fast pace, and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll feel like you’re in a maze. But that’s one of the charms of PF, its ability to disorient and confuse you, which just adds to the intriguing mystery of the story; often you have no clue what you’re actually looking at. It’s like the David Lynch of found footage movies.
Paranormal Farm II: Closer to the Truth (2018) is the ultimate meta sequel as it doesn’t continue the story from PF but is more of a spin-off. Picking up a few months after the events of the first movie, Carl is back on the farm interviewing Lucy and Darren, not as a paranormal investigator, but as a filmmaker. Carl is making a behind-the-scenes feature for the DVD release of PF, which we’re told was Carl’s fictionalized account of the real supernatural events Lucy and Darren have experienced over the years. Got it? OK, let’s move on!
With his friend and editor, Taz (Mumtaz Yildrimlar), along for the ride, Carl gets more of the real story from Lucy, Darren, and their neighbors about what inspired him to make PF. We also find out the disappearance of a local girl, Sarah, was the basis for Jessica in the first film. There’s also talk of nearby cults, and, of course, the infamous beast that roams the area. While investigating the story, Carl discovers a nearby house where the father (Robert Gray) of Sarah lives and who some of the neighbors think is actually the beast.
The deeper Carl digs into the local “cult,” a group of people who meet in the woods around a fire (not unlike the climax of PF), the stranger Darren and Lucy act; and a makeshift séance performed by Carl contacts the supposed ghost of Sarah, upsetting Lucy, who says, “Nothing has been done incorrectly. It was all done ages ago. Why is it being brought up again?” Are Lucy and Darren hiding the truth about what happened to Sarah?
PFII transcends the found footage subgenre: it doesn’t play by the rules and it doesn’t care if you don’t like that.
How can Carl and the gang take the premise any further? That’s answered with Paranormal Farm III: Halloween (2019), which sees Carl and Taz back on the haunted farm a month after their visit in PFII. They need Lucy and Darren to sign their contracts in order to get the footage included on the DVD release of the film, but once Carl and Taz arrive they find both Lucy and Darren being attacked by two of the mannequins that dress their property.
But the supernatural occurrences don’t stop there. Later on, Carl seemingly moves an object with his mind and is attacked by something that covers him in blood. But, in PF fashion, Carl and the gang move passed the incident to uncover even more oddities, including a mysterious box with a petrified rat, and Darren’s increasing anger and annoyance with what he thinks are Carl’s fake movie antics.
We’re also introduced to a local blind woman who, like Carl, has psychic abilities and who may be able to help Carl uncover the truth about the paranormal activities plaguing Lucy and Darren.
All of the information from the three films sounds scattered and random, but everything eventually comes together, including revelations about the beast and the truth of Lucy and Darren’s haunting.
One of the clever things about PFIII is that we’re actually told what happens in the very last frame of PFII while Taz is editing the scene on his computer. You can’t get much more meta than that.
If you want a bit of crazy, creepy, and sharply funny entertainment you can’t do any wrong with the Paranormal Farms. As of this writing, Paranormal Farm II and III are currently streaming on Amazon Prime. You can purchase all three Blu-ray discs through Amazon.
For more information and updates on the films check out director Carl Medland’s Instagram!
Anthologies are apparently hot right now, and if you’re a fan of cinematic short stories, you’ll want to check out some of these creep-filled titles
Written and directed by Ryan Spindell, The Mortuary Collection is set in the wind-swept, seaside town of Raven’s End and stars Clancy Brown (who’s make-up makes him look like Monty Burns from The Simpsons) as a retiring funeral home director who tells his prospective successor (Caitlin Fisher) about the weirdest cases that have come through his doors.
Not counting a super short introductory story, the first case involves a fraternity brother (Jacob Elordi) whose sexually inappropriate treatment of women gives him a taste of his own medicine; the second story revolves around a married man (Barak Hardley) whose decision to end his comatose wife’s life backfires with destructive consequences; the final tale pits a babysitter (Fisher) against a mysterious man who shows up inside her house.
The telling-how-the-corpse-died angle isn’t a new one – it was done in the 1993 made-for-cable chiller Body Bags, which I recommend watching (more below). But with its retro period settings and widescreen framing, the film looks and feels like a companion piece to last year’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Its dark, David Fincher-esque photography is at times a bit too dark to tell what’s going on.
I would have preferred four or five shorter segments than three long ones; several of the stories (including the middle one) felt long and overstayed their welcome. That aside, the film mostly looks great and uses the wide aspect ratio to good measure.
Is it scary? Well, not really. It’s almost too polished (and bloated) and handsome to be truly effective.
Let’s go back a few decades… Amicus Production’s Tales from the Crypt from 1972 is easily my favorite anthology movie of them all. Spinning five juicy tales from several EC Comics of the 1950s, the film features five strangers who are told their fates by the sinister Crypt Keeper (Sir Ralph Richardson). The best and most famous of the stories is “And All Through the House,” featuring Joan Collins as a murderess who, while trying to cover up the murder of her husband, must also protect her child from an escaped maniac roaming the grounds in a Santa costume. This story was later remade by Robert Zemickis as the first episode in the HBO Tales from the Crypt series.
Released the same year is Amicus’ similar anthology, Asylum. Written by Robert (Psycho) Bloch, the film follows a psychiatrist who interviews five patients at an institution for the “incurably insane” to find out which one used to actually be the former head of the hospital. The stories range from a dismembered body coming back to life, to tiny robots that can harbor the soul of a human being, and all are genuinely fun and gruesome. And look out for a young Charlette Rampling!
If you’re into more modern stuff, check out the ‘90s gem Body Bags, from directors John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. Carpenter stars as a creepy morgue attendant who spins three tales of horror: the first is a homage to Halloween about a young woman (Alex Datcher) at an all-night gas station who is terrorized by an escaped maniac; a wonderfully hammy Stacy Keach stars in the second story about a man obsessed with getting a hair transplant; and the third segment features Mark Hamill as an ex-baseball player whose eye transplant turns him into a different person.
And of course you can’t watch anthology films and not see Creepshow, the 1982 American classic from George Romero and Stephen King. Creepshow is a perfectly constructed live-action comic book with five fast-paced stories, including the infamous cockroach sequence. And, of course, you can always check out Shudder’s reboot/original series of Creepshow; the entire first season has been up and running since last fall and features episodes directed by Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero.
The Mortuary Collection is streaming on Shudder. Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, and Body Bags are currently available on Amazon Prime.
Since October 31st is right around the corner I decided I would go through the entire Halloween franchise one film at a time and discuss what I love (and dislike) about each film. Since I’m not a fan of “best of” lists (isn’t it all just a matter of opinion?) I will be ranking the movies in order from my least to most personal favorite. *This post contains spoilers so if you haven’t seen all of these films please read no further!*
9. Halloween: Resurrection – 2002
What can I say about Resurrection besides that it’s a massive misstep in the entire series? It took what Halloween: H20 created and dashed it to pieces in an opening that actually sees Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) getting killed by Michael Myers, who was beheaded at the end of H20! The movie concocts an unbelievable excuse for Michael’s survival and from there only digs itself deeper into retcon purgatory.
8. Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II – 2007-09
There are plenty of fans of Zombie’s Halloween twosome out there, and while I do enjoy some of what he created with his “revisioning” of John Carpenter’s material, I think his biggest mistake was in writing a needless backstory involving a young Michael Myers and his cartoonish hillbilly family. This is something that would eventually become a trademark of Zombie’s. This information on Michael’s childhood turns the character into more of an Ed Gein-type of simpleton than the killing mastermind we’ve come to love.
Scout Taylor-Compton is also no Jamie Lee, and while I’m not trying to compare the actresses, Taylor-Compton doesn’t seem to have the chops to handle a character as beloved as Laurie. But, to be honest, who does? That question is answered by Curtis’s return to the role. She IS the only Laurie.
7. Halloween – 2018
Curtis’s return to her star-making role was one of the biggest deals in recent cinema history, which equalled massive box-office when this reboot opened two years ago. The result? Fans seems to love it. I felt, and still feel, indifferent towards it. I love the idea of Laurie Strode returning to kick some Myers ass, yet I felt the character had turned into too much of a hardened Linda Hamilton/Sarah Conner type. After a few repeat viewings I got over my initial dislike of Laurie’s personality changes and somewhat enjoyed the film for what it was – but the subplot involving Michael’s new doctor (Haluk Bilginer) is completely useless.
But every time I watch this Halloween For A New Generation I feel like something is missing. I find the fact the filmmakers decided to ignore Halloween II a bit annoying and pretentious – Laurie and Michael will always be siblings to me – but I think what really bothers me is the lack of respect for the subject matter. This doesn’t feel like a genuine Halloween movie but a hallow replica. Albeit a good-looking and entertaining one.
6. Halloween: 20 Years Later – 1998
Just like with 2018’s Halloween reboot, there was buzz about Jamie Lee returning to the role of Laurie Strode for H20. But unlike the reboot, H20 feels like it’s having more fun with the character. While it does ignore the events of Halloween 4 and 5 this does give credence to Laurie’s secret life as Keri Tate after her encounter with brother, Michael Myers, in 1978. There’s also a nicely-written relationship with her son (Josh Harnett) that seems genuine.
Although H20 often feels like it was inspired more by the then-popularity of the Scream movies than Halloween – John Ottman’s original score was rejected and Marco Beltrami’s music from both Scream and Scream 2 were added to the soundtrack – H20 is a harmless and fun series entry that never overstays its welcome.
5. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers – 1995
Let’s be honest: Curse of Michael Myers is not a popular title in the franchise. It’s dreary, inconsistent, and a little too ambitious for its own good. Yet, the flick attains a certain, bizarre charm throughout. It also brings back a character from the original film, Tommy Doyle (played by then unknown Paul Rudd), and pays respect to the first film as well as the continuing mythology of Halloweens 4 and 5.
This storyline might not be the most popular – it’s even borderline X-Files inspired! – but I have more respect for filmmakers who appreciate and work with pre-existing plots and characters than those who disregard previous films by ignoring important story structure and retcon the situation to their desire.
4. Halloween II – 1981
A worthy sequel to Carpenter’s classic, this is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a mini-classic of its own. The hospital environment works wonderfully and gives the film its own personality and creepy atmosphere.
Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is given more to do and the backstory we come learn of Michael’s and Laurie’s sibling relationship works well and even gives the movie a mythological feel. Check out the 2008 Norwegian slasher sequel, Cold Prey 2, which is a spirited homage to Halloween II.
3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers – 1988-89
I’ve always been a fan of the Jamie Lloyd saga. Maybe because I’m a child of the VHS boom of the late ’80s and watched Halloween 4 a lot and have grown an attachment to it. I also think Halloween 4 is a terrific return to form for Michael Myers and smartly avoids sensationalism in favor of suspense and good characterization. Both Jamie (played by Danielle Harris) and her stepsister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), are rich, complex characters but most importantly they are likable and you want to see them survive.
Halloween 5, a brash, exciting, and off-the-wall extension of 4, deserves credit for not being a carbon copy of 4 but also by being daring and going places you wouldn’t think it would go. Harris as Jamie also gives one of the strongest performances by a child in any horror film.
2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch – 1982
I’m probably going out on a limb here (and sawing it off) by saying Halloween III is my favorite of the sequels. I know in some circles that’s considered blasphemy, but I’ve always found Season of the Witch to be a terrifically fun and energetic piece of genre filmmaking that reminds me of the cheerfully cheesy anthology films of the ’60s and ’70s.
Fans were PO’d when III was released in ’82 and did not feature their favorite mask-wearing slasher. But I think the decision to take a break from the Myers universe and tell a separate supernatural Halloween tale was smart. Though they should have left the Halloween title off, Season of the Witch is clever, creepy, and at most times feels like a live-action comic book.
1. Halloween – 1978
I guess it’s predictable that my favorite of the series is the original, trendsetting masterpiece from John Carpenter. There isn’t much to say about this film that hasn’t already been said. I’ll just say that the film is pretty much perfect thanks to Carpenter’s eye for sustained suspense and the way the film builds to incredible moments of tension.
Why the film really works is the wonderful structure of the screenplay and the characters. Laurie and gang feel like real people we’d want to hang out with, which adds to the horror of placing them in danger.
The biggest mistake a lot of Halloween imitators made (and still do) is the lack of any sympathetic central figures, which has become one of my biggest issues with most horror films in general. Why bother watching a bunch of people you just want to see killed off in the first five minutes? There’s no investment/involvement in their lives, which doesn’t equal any suspense, and as Hitchcock said, it’s not in the moment BUT in the build-up that’s the point!
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Two new films drop this week, both featuring relevant political subtext. Antebellum, the Deep South chiller starring Janelle Monáe, and Spiral, a psycho-thriller dealing with LGBTQ issues in ’90s America. Are both worthy of checking out? Read on and find out!
In Antebellum, Monáe stars as successful author Veronica Henley whose life seems perfect in every way. That is until one day she seemingly wakes up in the Antebellum South as a slave. Has Veronica slipped into a time vortex, or is it all some sort of elaborate dream she can’t wake up from?
I’m going to be very brief with my review of Antebellum: it’s a tricky film not to spoil. But I can say that as a film that delivers a political message it does so quite well, especially during the current political landscape. As a horror movie, it’s mostly effective. Of course, the movie is more in line with a psychological thriller, although its broad marketing tag, “From the makers of Get Out and Us,” is really pushing towards the horror fam community.
The screenplay, by directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, is clever and never totally predictable, and even builds some decent suspense during the climax. Monáe gives an intriguing performance in what is essentially dual roles, and Jenna Malone, as a mysterious woman who may hold the key to the puzzle, is deliciously nasty. American Horror Story regular Gabourey Sidibe is disappointingly wasted in a small role.
One of the cinematic victims of the COVID pandemic, Antebellum was originally to be released last April but is now getting a VOD release. It’s definitely worth checking out on one of these quiet, quarantine nights.
Queer horror Spiral offers up Roman Polanski-esque paranoia. Set in the mid-1990s, the film features same-sex couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) who move out of the city and into a quiet, suburban neighborhood in order to raise their annoying teen daughter, Kayla (Jennifer Laporte). Things seem serene at first, but after a series of cold brush-offs from the neighbors and a hate slur is spray-painted inside their house, Malik starts questioning their choice in destination. Are the locals conspiring against Malik and his family, or is it all paranoid fear drummed up from a violent hate crime from Malik’s past that left someone dead?
Written byColin Minihan (who wrote the fun cult fave Grave Encounters) and John Poliquin, Spiral gets points for trying to bring more to the table than just meat and potatoes. Its presentation of being true to yourself, sexual identity in ’90s America, and the strain such politics can have on the psyche is a refreshing change of pace, even if the approach at exploring such psychology is presented as rather ham-fisted.
Unfortunately, Spiral is way too scattered and unfocused to be an effective suspense mystery. Elements from everything from Rosemary’s Baby to Get Out overrun the already overly complicated plot, and by the time we get to the over-the-top ending the overall effect is rendered moot.
Antebellum is available to watch through Lions Gate VOD on September 18. Spiral is currently streaming on Shudder.