Author: Krista Culbertson

Wicked Wednesday: Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel (2018)

My parents were visiting Britain these past couple weeks. The last of which they stayed with me in my tiny London flat. I love my parents, but it can be difficult to find things that all of us can enjoy. Throw my husband into the mix, and it’s even more complicated.

Usually any decision making is left to me. I’m very bad at making decisions. But it must be the Halloween spirit in the air because everyone actually encouraged me to pick out horror movies.

Both of my parents are a bit…prudish (conservative?), so it’s always a tricky affair. But when I saw Hell House LLC calling to me, I thought it was time for a rewatch. It scared me enough the first time around, surely it would creep everyone else out a tiny bit.

And it was interesting seeing this movie again with sets of fresh eyes in the room. I picked up on many of the same thing as the first time: it’s a subtle build up with a slightly-confusing pay-off in the end. My family, on the other hand, got to enjoy it for the first time. My mom had to physically leave the room and didn’t come back until the ending.

So inspired by the rewatch, I decided it was time to tackle the sequel: Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel. This 2018 movie has been on my to-watch list for a long time, but had purposefully avoided it due to the mostly-negative reviews of it.

The Abaddon Hotel picks up a few years after the original events of the film. Since the release of the documentary, the interest in the Abaddon Hotel grew. But of course, with all the idiots heading into the house for dares – none came back out alive.

Enter straight-laced “investigative journalist” Jessica Fox. For some reason, despite the number of people who have disappeared, she’s determined to get into the hotel and explore things for herself.

The others dragged into her horrible plan are her fellow staff members Molly and David, and original Hell House documentary maker Mitchell (not actually in the first movie). Mitchell was a part of Diane’s team. Diane had disappeared after her interview with “Sara”, and Mitchell is rather determined to solve the mystery. Also along with them is a medium and his camera man. But don’t even bother with them, they die right away.

Much of the movie switches between several different medias: the shaky footage of Jessica’s pals inside the hotel, an TV interview of three guests included Mitchell and an idiotic politician, and the different footage of all the missing boys.

It’s rather distracting, actually. As it’s difficult to understand why we care about any of these people. The initial scenes are about a man named Jackson who went missing after breaking into the hotel. We get to see an interview with his mother that’s actually very compelling. But…it just ends there. It doesn’t matter. And that sort of sucks.

The movie’s decision not to focus on one singular story makes for a very incoherent plot. It’s as shaky as most of the camera work. Glancing back at my notes, I stopped writing after the first 15 minutes or so after realising nothing I was watching actually mattered.

Unlike the original Hell House, much of its sequel has us watching people running around scared. Do you want people running around a haunted house? Great. Then you get it for at least 50% of this movie. The climax of Hell House LLC was great because it spend most of its time building up, and the pay off was (mostly) great because of it. Say what you will about the ending.

In The Abaddon Hotel, we’re immediately shown not-so-subtle images of the cloaked figures. It’s the same scared as the first movie, but they happen straight off the bat. I can see where the idea was to terrify right away, but mostly comes across as lazy and…boring.

Hell House LLC II fails to comply with the idea that less is more. We learn too much about Hell House, which makes it less scary in many ways. If there was a need to fill in the gaps, I think a prequel would have been more interesting. The creation of “the story” is better than over-explaining something in retrospect. Seeing the answers to the first movie was, well, rather disappointing (namely: the walls).

We also learn too much about Alex, the founder of Hell House. Where his story line went was just stupid. It actually takes away from what made the first movie good. Alex apparently signed some deal with Andrew Tully, the hotel owner and cult leader who had hung himself decades earlier. I liked Alex as a character in the first movie because he was just a no-nonsense asshole. Giving him a paranormal element took away from the realism of the first movie.

There’s something that many found-footage sequels have in common: they forget to make likeable characters the second time around. We like certain found footage movies because of the believable cast. Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield. You remember the people and they look like us, thus making the world feel rounder as a whole. Alex was totally ruined for me. The new batch of characters were not interesting. So when they died, it felt more like a shrug.

In this sequel, the acting is…bad. Pretty damn bad. Straight off the bat, the first scene with Molly and Jessica is wooden and cringe-y. It immediately takes you out of a “this is real” mindset and immediately reminds you that this is all fake. And in the world of found footage, that’s a pretty big crime to commit.

As they say, “lightning never strikes the same place twice.” And that, unfortunately, is very true for Hell House. There are many familiar scares here, but they just don’t work the second time around.

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Recommended reads for Halloween season

Autumn is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book. Mostly because it’s raining outside and it’s miserable stuff out there.

But it’s also a high-point in the publishing calendar year. We’re getting all sorts of spooky books this year as everything occult is becoming popular again. I say bring on the trend! All the more witches and demons for us. Weird thing is, I tend not to read very much horror in the autumn. I save all those up for the summer where I can stay up late and scare the shit out of myself. I love supernatural romance and mystery at this time of the year. Characters > plot.

I gathered a list of my favourite books to read at the Halloween season. Incidentally, not many of these are new releases. But that does mean you can find these at a good used price.

Who said being spooky had to be expensive?

Whether you enjoy listening to a book or having pictures, there’s plenty to enjoy. So let me know what you’re reading this year (send some recommendations!). I’ve got plenty of books on funeral homes and murderous mischief awaiting me. Let the season begin!

The Novels:

If you like a bit of gore with a side of sweetness, there are loads of supernatural-themed cozy mysteries to choose from. I’m pretty new to the genre, so I may be one of the worst people to get a recommendation from. But I can say Caught Dead Handed: A Witch City Mystery is a pretty fun place to start.

Lee Barrett has returned to Salem, Massachusettes to interview for a TV reporter job. Only she ends up landing a gig as a psychic on a late-night horror movie show. Thing is – the job is only vacant because of the murder of the previous host. When Lee begins to see visions, she reluctantly begins to solve the murder.

And speaking of psychics… Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan is a supernatural thriller about Sarah, a young girl who begins to have visions upon moving to a new town. After posing as a fortune-teller for a fair, Sarah realises she’s set off a frightening chain of events linked to the Salem Witch trials hundreds of years earlier.

The book was turned into a pretty good made-for-TV movie called I’ve Been Waiting For You. (Terrible title change.) So if you want to skip the book and head straight for the adaption, I’d definitely recommend it. Try finding it on YouTube before dishing out £100 for the dated DVD.

You can’t talk about good adaptions of witch books without mentioning Practical Magic. Alice Hoffman’s classic is a wonderful tale about sisterhood, horrible ex-boyfriends and magic. You probably already know the story from the iconic 1995 film of the same name. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up and welcome to the world.

I personally think the prequel, The Rules of Magic, has more autumnal ambience, but it’s not worth reading without reading Practical Magic first. It will make you laugh and it will certainly make you cry. But most of all: it will fill your room with spells and a certain magic of its own.

The last novel recommendation is the Night World series by L.J. Smith. This is a classic YA series from the 90s. And personally, I think it’s one of Smith’s bests (only bested by the Forbidden Game trilogy). Set in a world similar to our own, human children keep falling in love with supernatural creatures. Sad news for them, this is a major no-no.

You’ll probably be able to draw similarities between the summaries of Night World and Twilight. Only, bless Twilight, L.J. Smith is actually a good writer. She has a great knack for making memorable characters. Even though each novel in the series follows a different set of children, I could easily describe the main character in each book. They have flaws, they have strengths. Sometimes they’re weirdly into techno music in a big way. But none of us are perfect, are we?

You might have noticed I’ve recommended a lot of supernatural romance and YA here. I’m very (not) sorry. This was unintentional. Have you ever heard of Stephen King? Yeah. Give that guy a try or something…

The Graphic Novels:

With the release of Shudder’s Creepshow reboot, it’s time to celebrate by revisiting the original (as well as enjoying the new show, obviously). If you haven’t yet, try the comic book version of the film. There isn’t much new here if you’ve already seen the 1982 movie, but there is something very satisfying about seeing the movie on page in a EC Comics-style.

A short read full of ghoulish fun.

Now the next pick is particularly special to me (as evident by the fact that I recommend this series to literally everyone). I first heard about Locke & Key at a Q&A at an IDW comic con panel. Most of the men on the panel agreed that this Joe Hill-penned story was one of their favourites. After following their recommendations, it’s one of mine too.

Locke & Key follows the story of the Locke children after the brutal murder of their father. They along with their mother return to their father’s ancestral home, Keyhouse. While healing from their trauma, they children discover a series of keys that each holds a magical power. As they gain more knowledge of they keys, an evil entity looms around them, growing stronger.

There’s an adaption coming to Netflix in 2020. And the cast really looks like the cast we deserve. So now is the time to read the comics before the show is released.

And if you’re like me and occasionally like revisiting the realm of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there are loads of comics to choose from. Most of them are terrible. Some are more interesting than others. I personally enjoyed Tales of the Slayers, which is a selection of stories about various vampire slayers throughout history and the future (featuring Karl Moline’s gorgeous Fray).

If you’re not ready to commit to the long story-arches of the comic series aren’t sure where to start with Buffy comic material, this isn’t a bad place to start. It’s by no means earth-shattering content. But for a quick, fun vampire read – this is it.

The Audiobooks:

If you know anything about my reading habits, I’m obsessed with audiobooks. It’s the number one way that I consume books these days.

Horror and fantasy are great genres to listen to. Horror especially, as the right narrator really adds an ambience that only enhances a book. Not that being said…I haven’t read many horror books on audio. I typically read mystery and thrillers. That way I can’t look at the end of the book and spoil things for myself.

I’m the literal worst.

One such example of a great narrator bringing a story to life is Peter Bishop’s go at Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The Willows“. It’s only two hours, but there’s a lot of well-built suspense that has a great payoff. Plus it’s not a huge commitment. No summary here. Best to go into this one completely blind.

If you love haunted houses, look no further than anything by Darcy Coates. I listened to The Haunting of Blackwood House a couple of years back, but I still recall some great, thrilling scenes. It isn’t going to be the most original tale you ever read, but if you want some spooky doors with your blood and screams, I do recommend Coates.

At the point of writing this, I’ve not yet finished with Serpent & Dove, but I’m still going to throw it in these here recommendations. I’m an unabashed lover of YA fiction. I don’t care that I’m an adult. I haven’t been this obsessed with a story in ages.

Lou is a witch. Reid is a witch hunter. So it’s fairly inconvenient when they are forced into marriage to save their lives and reputations. As Lou continues her work to save her kind, she becomes more entangled in Reid’s world. It’s incredibly addictive. So it’s probably best to hold off until you have 15 hours to sit and listen to this baby.

Wicked Wednesday: Trick or Treats (1982)

Eegah! It’s already October! And here I was, all ready to suck in the loveliness of September. Turns out I just slept through the entire month because I can’t believe that it’s already time for Halloween!

Now, usually in October I just like to revel in everything Halloween-y, but that doesn’t mean I set out to watch anything specific during the month, bar the last week. (And that one time I watched The Day After Halloween which was…a choice.) But this year, I thought subtly be damned – let’s go all out!

And it’s not very surprising how many Halloween themed horror movies there are. Though I’d be curious to see which holiday has more movies from the genre dedicated to it, Halloween or Christmas.

Choosing the first movie for October was pretty easy. Upon opening Prime a couple weeks ago, Trick or Treats was the first recommended movie for me. And the lure of Halloween, pranks and Peter Jason was great.

Shame the movie didn’t live up to expectations…

Trick or Treats is one of the million copycats that arrived in the wake of John Carpenter’s original Halloween film and its sequel. But this one doesn’t even try to be subtle about where it gets its inspiration from:

A young actress, Linda, is called on Halloween night to babysit a child. But the family she’ll be working for have a secret. Years earlier, the husband, Malcolm, was thrown into a asylum because of his wife, Joan. And it just so happens that on Halloween night, Malcolm has made his escape.

Linda spends most of her night being harassed by the young boy, Christopher. He’s an aspiring magician who loves to play pranks. Does that sound like a fun movie to you? If so, you’re in luck! Large swathes of these 90 minutes are dedicated to stupid pranks.

Meanwhile, Malcolm is finally making his escape. Why was he put into the asylum to begin with? Well, there’s no reason other than a throw away line about him being “mad as a hatter”. So.

Malcolm assaults a nurse and takes her uniform and wig. With that, he makes his way out onto the city streets. He eventually sheds his nurse garb after being harassed by strange men. He steals the clothing from a homeless man. Oh and on the way he keeps making calls to his old home, wanting to threaten his ex-wife Joan. But silly boy somehow doesn’t realise that Joan and Linda don’t have similar voices.

So the whole night makes Linda frustrated. It gets significantly worse for her once Malcolm makes his way into the house.

And well, that’s it really. It’s really just is the plot of Halloween but with pranks to pad out those 90 minutes. I was surprised to see that the running time was so sort, especially since it felt like I was watching one of the longest movies of my life. There’s just some really strange choices when it comes to storyline.

Trick or Treats feels like a parody of a Halloween film. It’s incredibly farcical. The characters make completely silly choices and have the weirdest dialogue. So maybe that was the point? But I’m not convinced either way.

There’s a lot not to like about this movie. At least Peter Jason as Malcolm is a treat? Though it isn’t nearly enough to make this movie watchable. If you like kids playing stupid pranks for a couple hours, I guess this one was made for you.

Wicked Wednesday: Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

I have been in a BIG vampire mood as of late. Perhaps it’s because we can’t stop talking about Twilight at work for some reason. So when picking this week’s movie to watch, choosing one with a vampire theme was a no-brainer.

After reading through several lists, I landed on Vampire’s Kiss. It sounded great. 80s-era Nicolas Cage in a black comedy? Yes please!

Only I’ve been gravely misled.

Vampire’s Kiss is one of the most unsettling movies I’ve watched in a long time. Black comedy? Not really. Unless I’ve missed the punchline.

Cage plays Peter Loew. He’s a womaniser, an asshole, and a bit unwell. Peter spends his nights in bars and clubs, picking up women. One night he brings home a girl where they’re attacked by a bat.

At a therapy session, Peter describes that he felt somehow turned on by the experience. Not necessarily in a sexual way, but more of an awakening. Soon after, he takes another woman, Rachel, home. She seemingly bites his neck, turning him into a vampire.

As Peter believes Rachel continues visiting him for feeding, strange things begin to happen. He loses his memory and becomes increasingly more volatile. On the receiving end of this violence is Alva, a secretary at the literary agency he works at.

He continually hounds poor Alva for a old, missing contract. She’s tortured by his increasing obsession. But it’s clear that the obsession is not with the document, but torturing her.

One day Alva calls in sick. Peter stalks her by showing up at her address. He convinces her to go back into work by claiming he no longer cares about the contract. But when they return to the office, he forces her to continue the search until she finds it.

And Alva does find it. Peter, though, is less than pleased. He begins to chase her and later assaults her (and presumably rapes her).

Peter’s behaviour becomes even more erratic. He buys a pair of plastic fangs, which he uses to kill a girl at a club by “sucking her blood”. After killing the girl, he comes face-to-face with Rachel. Only Rachel isn’t a vampire. She’s very much a regular woman who has only met Peter once.

At this point, he begins to spiral even more. He begins seeing more hallucinations. He meets his dream girl, thanks to his therapist’s help (in his mind). But that soon disintegrates.

Meanwhile, Alva opens up to her brother about the assault. Rightly furious, Alva’s brother takes her into the city to take on Peter. The man, though, is very much gone. So when his death happens, it almost acts like it’s a blessing to him.

Vampire’s Kiss is incredibly heavy. In many ways, it reminds me of American Psycho. We can’t really be sure what is real and what isn’t. But we are certain by the end of the film that we cannot believe anything from Peter’s point of view.

I’m very confused by this movie. I wouldn’t recommend it. But I certainly want someone else to watch it just so I can vent.

Cage is very good here. Some people have complained that the character of Peter isn’t very sympathetic, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t want to sympathise with him. While he clearly has mental health issues, we don’t need to feel sorry for him. Peter comes off as fundamentally a terrible person, with or without any conditions. Also he’s a rapist. I’ll pass on wanting to sympathise.

If you’re interested in this one, I’d go into this one with an open mind. Certainly don’t go into it expecting a comedy. But who knows, maybe it is very funny. Though it’s much more likely it will make you feel very uncomfortable and uneasy. If that’s what you like in horror, you’ll definitely find that here.

On a different note… Can I please get the vampire movie I deserve?

Wicked Wednesday: The Clown at Midnight (1998)

Let it be known: I hate clowns. There are very few clown movies I can sit through. I don’t even like when there’s just a random clown in the shot. That creepy make-up and the stupid costumes send chills down my spine. The intro of Killer Klowns from Outer Space stresses me out massively.

So I’m living in a sort of mini-hell these days. It’s clown mania everywhere. People are flocking to see It: Chapter 2. The rest are obsessed with that Terrifier guy… you know the one.

NO. THANKS.

Which, of course explains why I watched a clown slasher movie this week, right?

But it’s a 90s Canadian slasher film, which is “safe” territory as far as clowns go. Thankfully “90s Canadian clown slasher movies” is a pretty niche subgenre, so here we are with The Clown at Midnight. This 1998 gem has a cast of “oh I know them from somewhere!”s and Christopher Plummer and Margot Kidder. And yes it’s as weird as it sounds.

Sometime in the past, a young opera singer is murdered by a man in a clown costume. Years later, her death is still a mystery. It’s presumed that a man named Osini is at fault after she resisted his advances. But the man apparently vanished to Europe after the murder.

Her daughter, Kate, learns that she was adopted. Her birth mother’s fate becomes known to her only after her adopted parents tell her the truth. She becomes plagued with nightmares of the theatre and her mother’s murder. She also sees a clown – presumably from her mother’s last opera, Pagliacci.

Which is why, of course, that she agrees to help clean up the theatre where ol’ Mom popped her clogs! She and a cast of colourful characters are brought together to help renovate the old theatre for their school’s theatre programme.

Each child is a walking stereotype on steroids. Their dialogue proves it as so:

“You’re such a psycho!” (In response to someone owning a snake…)
“I’d rather be a psycho than a prom queen!” (Take that!)

The kids soon meet the owner of the theatre, Mr Caruthers (Plummer). But don’t worry. He’s totally not suspicious! He’s definitely not the killer! Just look the other way. Ignore the heavily pointed dialogue about selling your soul to the devil… And it’s not weird that he wants to talk about the night Kate’s mother was murdered. In detail. Not at all!

Kate meanwhile is suffering. Go figure. She sees ghosts, has more nightmares, and gets generally freaked out. The other kids aren’t exactly helpful at making her more at ease. They go to the scene of the murder and find fresh blood under a carpet.

In the room, Kate discovers letters to her mother from Osini. It’s clear that he didn’t murder her mother, but was actually her mother’s lover…and Kate’s father. So gee – does that mean there’s a possibility that Osini wasn’t the murderer? If only the police had done a casual search of the room to find these letters!

And after enough plot, it’s time to kill everyone off. It’s a pretty hit-and-miss series of killings. Some are rather quick and forgettable. While others are actually really fun and inventive. Its when this movie uses its setting to its advantage that it really begins to shine.

After a few kids are killed off, including Kate’s best friend, the ultimate face-off happens against the killer. Really, you can guess where everything is headed from Caruthers’ first speech. But I don’t know, just pretend to be surprised.

The Clown at Midnight is truly, wonderfully cheesy. It’s a joy to watch. Maybe not for the reasons it intended, but I think that’s okay. It isn’t helped by the fact that it plays like a made-for-TV movie. Though that’s not really surprising considering it was partially produced by Hallmark.

The dialogue is truly diabolical. But that aspect is weirdly enjoyable. (Again…I think I’m enjoying this for the wrong reasons.) Throw some atrocious 90s fashions on top of it, and you’ve got a potential cult film in the making.

But this movie isn’t perfect. Even in its imperfections. It’s weird in the sense that it both expects too much of its audience and thinks its audience is a group of idiots. It assumes the audience knows what the hell Pagliacci is (maybe I’m the only one out of the loop here). Then the movie just reiterates the same information about the murders or Kate’s parentage nearly EVER. DAMN. SCENE.

It does become a bit tedious when the movie refuses to treat its audience like it has half-a-brain. But indulge anyway. It’s ridiculous and it made me laugh, which I guess is the whole point of clowns any way.

Wicked Wednesday: It was the year 2009…

I had a bit of an existential crisis last week. There was a moment when I had a horrible epiphany: It has been a decade since I first went to university.

A decade. Ten years.

TEN!

YEARS!

Sure, I knew my high school reunion was this summer. That was fine. High school was an absolute age ago, and I fully accept my own mortality. But for some reason, I never fully connected that fact to the fact that my university days followed right after. Unlike all four years of high school, moving away to college was actually a significant turning point in my life.

It was difficult to put myself into the mind-frame of 18-year-old me. But this is the universal truth: I was a baby. I mean, Baby Me basically boiled down to these things (and trust me, it was all she cared about):

Favourite bands: The Smiths, The Adicts, New Order
Favourite horror movies: Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Exorcist (1973)
Favourite novels: A Clockwork OrangeCatcher in the Rye

Sure. She was a bit basic and angst-y, but she was also a country girl meeting the “Big World” for the first time. So cut her some slack

Never fear! She was on her way up. This year was also one of the most formative for my love of horror. For one, this was still the height of zombie-mania. Zombieland was released. Seth Graham Smith published Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (thanks for that one, dude). My sister made my friends and I pose for zombie-related photos for her graphic arts project… (see low-res picture above).

One of the first things I did by myself at school was see Max Brooks speak. It was the first time I realised you could be a massive horror fan AND be articulate. Somehow, I had always been taught that the two couldn’t go hand-in-hand. Thanks, Mom!

For this week’s post, I had wanted to watch a horror movie made in 2009. You know, celebrate the culture! But to be completely honest, I watched the first 20 minutes of literally four different movies. Absolutely nothing was really interesting enough to carry on with. So…here we are?

It was a mixed bag for horror, 2009. For one, you had ALL the remakes: Black Christmas, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, Friday the 13th, My Blood Valentine 3D. Yes, kids. We’ve been putting up with this for over a decade…

There were countless sequels as well. Saw VIThe Final Destination, Cabin Fever 2, The Descent 2 (which I didn’t even know existed until three days ago…).

But there was a lot of originality sprouting up too. Both for better and for worse (I’m looking at you Human Centipede).

Personally, I look back fondly on this year because there were a lot of movies release that are still favourites. It was one of the first years that I could drive myself to the cinema with my friends and go to horror movies by ourselves. Absolute grown ups! I killed my car battery during a screening of Zombieland after I forgot to turn off the headlights. Then my friends and I got fried cheese curds.

I was particularly obsessed with some movie called Paranormal Activity. You could “demand” a screening in your state, and I was absolutely passionate that Wisconsin partake. I shared a link on Facebook and everything. The marketing was not quite Blair Witch Project-level, but the fact that makes me smile fondly counts for something.

Favourite 2009 horror movies:

  1. Paranormal Activity (US limited and wide release)
  2. The House of the Devil
  3. Zombieland 
  4. Drag Me to Hell
  5. Orphan

It’s kind of fun to look back, even if it is a bit scary to think about how long ago that all was now. I can barely remember what I was even like then. Probably really annoying, but then again – have things changes that much?

Moving to Milwaukee really forced me to grow up. And thankfully that gave me the confidence to be an out-and-out horror geek. The following year, I would discover this website called Netflix. You could order DVDs, and they’d send them to your house. And that was the straw that broke the camels back. I haven’t looked back since.

But there seems to be a lot of gaps in my 2009 movie knowledge. Think I’ve missed anything important? Want to berate me for my basic movie choice? Go ahead! I rarely approve comments anyway. And what were you doing in 2009? Hopefully it was a good one, and hopefully this one is too.

(Yeah the hair was a choice, but she still cute.)

Wicked Wednesday: The Woods (2006)

Boy I’ve been lucky with films lately. First a fantastic weekend at FrightFest, and now another new favourite.

Sometimes when you see a synopsis on paper, it sounds right up your alley, but doesn’t follow through when you get to watching the movie itself.

I had been meaning to watch The Woods for a few months now. It was originally on my schedule for May…but you know, better late than never? (This must be my new motto.) This Lucky McKee-directed film has many things I love: witches, boarding schools, a period setting, and Bruce Campbell. Little did I know this had all the Down a Dark Hall vibes I was hoping for.

In 1965, teenage delinquent Heather is sent to Falburn Academy by her parents. She’s offered financial aid after passing one of the “tests” that the headmistress, Ms Traverse, sets her. She’s allowed in, but under the condition that she must take extra lessons with Ms Traverse.

Heather immediately butt heads with resident mean girl Samantha. The girl constantly knocks over Heather’s milk or throws the milk at other students to taunt her. But Heather has a thick skin (clearly a contemporary attitude), and often fights back to her bully.

Despite being intimidating, Heather makes friends with the quiet and talents Marcy. She begins to settle in, though is wary of the school. She begins to dream of bloody girls running through the woods and a girl with an ax. She also sees ghostly visions in the woods while trying to run away one night. Though when she hears the legend of witches and murder at Falburn Academy, her dreams begin to seem more real.

Things begin to get stranger as she has her one-on-one meetings with Ms Traverse. It becomes clear that Heather has powers of some sort, a magic. Then a student, who had supposedly tried to kill herself, returns to the school. Ann is meek, and barely speaks to any of the other students.

But one night, Ann disappears from her bed, only to be replaced by a pile of Ann-shaped leaves. It becomes apparent that Marcy is the next target, followed by Heather herself.

After Marcy also disappears in a fashion similar to Ann, Samantha confronts Heather again. Only this time, she reveals she’s been protecting Heather all along. Protecting her from The Milk (capitalisation necessary). She also tells Heather she she called Heather’s parents to pick her up. Samantha’s body is found shortly after.

When Heather’s parents retrieve her, she’s seemingly safe. Only the family are in a strange car accident on their way home. Heather and her father are the only two to survive.

Heather is returned to Falburn Academy after a short recovery. And it’s only then that the dark magic begin to come to a head.

And… It’s a slightly disappointing ending, and it’s a bit unclear what or why things are happening. But it’s often difficult to stick a landing when a movie is this good at building its suspense.

The writing for Heather’s character is a bit distracting, if only because it is so clearly written with a modern girl in mind. Also, and I hate to say it, the addition of Campbell was also distracting. We didn’t really need his character, especially when Heather was written to be such a resourceful girl.

That being said, I adored The Woods. It’s loose on its mythology, sure, but that (for me) adds all the more mystery. It’s a terribly atmospheric movie, full of autumn leaves and beautiful shots (my fave). There are subtleties in the set design and costuming that I was rather fond of as well. Deliveries from the likes of Rachel Nichols and the great Patricia Clarkson help also sell the movie.

I always find it more difficult to discuss exactly why I like something. I really, really like The Woods, even for its faults. I’m surprised there aren’t more of us gushing about it. Perhaps it isn’t for everyone, but this was sure as hell a good one for me.