Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: Hell House LLC (2015)

Hell House LLC was a bit of a surprise for me. I’ve noticed the cover and read the synopsis a few times over the years. I think I’ve even started watching it at one point, but never have made it more than five minutes in.

But this is really a found-footage gem. It really has all the things I hate in life: haunted houses (the paid attraction kind) and clowns. Throw in some blood and subtle imagery and you have me DEAD.

The film is a mockumentary in some ways – mixing footage with interviews, YouTube videos and still photos. The documentary aims to find out one thing: what happened in the Abaddon Hotel on October 8, 2009?

A group of young entrepreneurs, who own and run Hell House, travel together to a small town in New York state.

Together they aim to put together a haunted house to top anything they’ve done in previous years. Though the group soon realise that the Abaddon Hotel is maybe a bit more than it appears.

As they set up throughout the weeks, tensions run high, and more and more strange and horrible things begin to happen.

Ultimately, it’s revealed what happened on the night of October 8th, using the footage the Hell House group filmed themselves. It takes all the fun out of it to give anything more away.

Like most contemporary horror films, Hell House LLC fails to stick the landing. After so much build-up, the ending is a tiny bit lame. I think that may be mostly to the fact that nothing is very well explained. Just over the line of leaving too much unexplained. Viewers like the fear of the unknown, but it is helpful to have a little bit of context.

But beyond it’s cliched third act, Hell House LLC is one of the first films in a long time that actually manage to terrify me.

Like a good found footage movie, it draws the views in by being believable. The cast all look like people you know, and their terror feels real.

I know I didn’t sleep very well the night after watching this, and that is what I like in a horror film.

If you’re looking for a very Halloween movie to watch building up to the 31st, I recommend this highly. It has the right vibes and will (hopefully) scare all of those bejesuses out of you.

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Wicked Wednesday: Mausoleum (1983)

 

After all the bullshit that happened State-side these past few weeks, I really wanted to watch a horror film with a badass lady. So I put in a lot of research and did my readying. I had everything all picked out, but what did I do?

Abandon everything last minute because I couldn’t be bothered to pay £2 to watch the film.

Instead I watched Mausoleum. A film that lacks in mausoleum screentime, and is a serious mess.

The film revolves around Susan, a girl whose mother died when she was only 10. After the burial, Susan runs away from her Aunt Cora, and sees a mausoleum with a bit of dancing smoke in front of it. The young girl enters the building and becomes possessed as she approaches a coffin with the name “NOMAD” over it.

Twenty years later, Susan is a grown woman with a husband. She seemingly has a great life, but her aunt remains skeptical. Cora reaches out to a psychiatrist, Dr Simon (Norman Burton doing his best Dr Loomis). She gives him a family history that is contained in her father’s diary, then blabs about a demon. But Dr Simon insists that nothing is wrong with Susan, whom he has known her whole life.

But of course there is something wrong with Susan (note: this would be a much better title). She’s possessed by a demon. As the first born girl, she was destined to become a demon’s puppet.

To put things simply, Susan spends most of the movie getting her tits out then killing men by setting them on fire or blowing up their heads. There’s a super irrelevant series of scenes about some weird painting that she steals. She even tears poor Aunt Cora in half.

Susan’s husband Oliver is really stupid. He panics every time his wife does something. Oh my wife is sitting in a rocking chair! Let’s not talk to her – CALL THE DOCTOR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING NIGHT!

After being dragged into the mess, Dr Simon begins researching and reads up on the Nomad family history. He calls in a friend who insists that Susan is possessed. She somehow knows that the only way to break the curse is to put the “crown of thorns” onto Susan’s head.

He succeeds with little effort. Then drags Susan to the mausoleum to put the crown onto the demon’s head? Again? I don’t know. It didn’t really make any sense to me. I think there was even meant to be a twist ending. The gardener she killed is actually a man who is meant to look over the mausoleum? Fuck if I should know.

Mausoleum wasn’t the so-bad-it’s-good kind of fun I was hoping for. That acting is pretty terrible (that poor actress playing Susan). The plot doesn’t make much sense. It’s mostly an excuse to make an actress strip so she can kill people.

Either way, I think there is a lesson to be learned in this: if you put all the hard work into something, you should probably fucking follow through with it. When you take the easy (ie free) way out, you’re stuck watching this.

Wicked Wednesday: Night of the Eagle (1962)

Some films really stand the test of time. They’re story speaks years beyond its initial release due to great storytelling.

Then there are films like Night of the Eagle. Which, while not terrible in any way, just comes off as incredibly dated. And not in a fun, 80’s perm kind of way.

Norman Taylor is a successful psychology professor at a university. He is a critic of the mystical and superstitious. He lives his very nice, clean-cut life with his seemingly nice, clean-cut wife.

One night, after hosting a party for his co-workers, his wife Tansy begins to act strangely. He later finds two dead spiders in her drawer, which she claims is just a memento of their honeymoon in Jamaica.

But he later discovers a plethora of unusual objects after searching through Tansy’s things (!). After he argues with her, she admits she’s a practicing witch. She tells him that she only wants to protect him, and that there are plenty of bad forces after him. But he’s a man and she’s just a stupid, superstitious woman! So he then burns her things as she watches. So he really won’t be winning and Husband of the Year awards.

Norman burns the spiders last. And once he does, the phone rings and a woman’s voices comes through the other line. She speaks to him suggestively, but he hangs up on the unknown woman.

The next day, bad things begin to happen to Norman. He’s nearly hit by a bus, then later one of his students accuses him of rape (but later redacts her accusation).  When he gets home from his long-ass day, he sees that he has received a tape from one of his lectures. He begins to play it, but Tansy notices something is not right and turns it off.

That night, Tansy decides to kill herself in exchange for her husband’s safety (as she had seen a mother do that for her daughter in Jamaica). She leaves the house to go to the family’s cabin. Norman realises she’s gone in the morning and goes after her. He is eventually able to find her before she drowns herself in the sea.

But when he takes her home, she’s still in a strange trance. She attacks him with a knife, so he locks her in her room.

Norman eventually realises that something isn’t right and heads to the school where he discovers that it’s the school secretary, Flora, who is targeting him. Her motive is to simply get rid of the man in line for her husband’s promotion. She sets up a tarot card tower and sets it on fire, setting Norman’s actual house (with Tansy in her room) on fire.

She starts playing the tape again, which begins to cast its spell on Norman. He imagines one of the great stone eagles in the school grounds is attacking him. While he runs away, the tape is eventually turned off and the spell broken.

Norman eventually goes back to his burning home and finds Tansy safe, having escaped. Flora, meanwhile, gets crushed by a falling stone eagle.

Night of the Eagle had the makings of something great. I loved Tansy, and was really rooting for her. It was a shame she became absolutely useless in the third act of the film.

Ultimately, through a 2018 lens, this story is more frustrating than anything. Tansy finds her own powers and has to hide them from her husband. He’s the fool but still ultimately saves himself. For me, it felt like a waste of a plot line. If you give a woman magic, let her use it! I mean, heaven forbid a woman be able to be smarter (or even as intelligent as) than her husband.

It was both boring and frustrating watching a movie about two women who had the ability to do FUCKING MAGIC and only used it to get their idiotic, useless husbands a promotion.

Some films are good enough that their era ideals can be forgiven. This is not one of them.

Wicked Wednesday: The Spiral Staircase (1946)

My parents instilled a great love for classic movies in me. My dad Hitchcock, and my mom the classic musicals and dance numbers of Fred Astaire.

Somehow, in this post-world war film, we manage to merge both things.

The Spiral Staircase is a classic of gothic film. It’s beautiful in its dark candle-lit scenes and period costumes. But even more interesting is it’s fantastic imagery that verges on experimental.

The story is one done many times since: Helen, a selective-mute woman must defend herself in a threatening world. When a crazed serial killer goes after women with “afflictions”, she appears to be next.

Much of the film’s plot revolves around men telling her what to do. Leave the house, don’t leave the house. But many have their own motives. The elderly woman she cares for seems to know more information than she’s unwilling to share with Helen.

The story weaves in and out of dream sequences (including a beautiful dance number) and sinister visuals of close-ups of eyes and people lurking in shadows. It’s slightly jarring, but is a great way of seeing into Helen’s psyche: isolated, threatened, and yet dreaming of having a perfectly lovely life.

The mystery unfolds beautifully, and though slightly-predictable, is still thrilling to watch.

Wicked Wednesday: The Night Dracula Saved the World (1979)

I caved into Halloween mania early this year. I say ‘early’ but really, Halloween season always begins on August 1st. But around the Brits I have to pretend to be sensible when really my whole house is decked out.

It’s been a super manic week, so watching something like The Night That Dracula Saved the World was exactly what I needed.

The made-for TV short film originally aired on ABC as The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t. It’s a much-more apt name than the VHS title, but a name will sell anything these days, right?

The story is a strange mash-up of everything you’d find at a cheesy Halloween party and a lesson about the origins of the holiday. Dracula has called a conference at his castle in Transylvania with all the other monsters. Before they arrive, he and Igor watch the news together, in which a newscaster claims that Dracula wants to end Halloween.

Dracula is offended (“Halloween is my national holiday!”), but he allows the conference to go forward anyway. When all of the guests arrive, they learn that Dracula called them together to warn them that they are no longer scary to children.

The other guests seem pretty offended, but the Witch reveals she simply doesn’t give a crap. She announces to the group that she quits, and will be refusing to fly across the moon on Halloween night – the action that sets off Halloween (apparently). She tells the others that she’s tired of the ugly girl jokes, and she really just wanted to be the leader of the monsters.

Dracula refuses, and the witch flies off to her home. Dracula and the other monsters follow her the next night, and break in believing she doesn’t have any magic.

But she’s a witch, so of course the lady has magic. She sends the others running in circles before locking herself safely in her room. Dracula tries to reason with her, offering to agree to her conditions: her face will be on the monster posters, she’ll have shared leadership of the monsters, and to go disco dancing every night.

Dracula agrees, but the Witch immediately redacts her agreement to fly over the moon. But when a pair of local children arrive, they tug at her heartstrings, reminding her of the true meaning behind Halloween: candy and costumes.

The Witch agrees to the children’s pleas and flies over the moon to mark the start of Halloween. Afterwards, the monsters all have a disco. And why? Because this short is clearly insane.

The Night Dracula Saved the World is a really cute piece of nostalgia. The costumes are a bit hokey, as if they were bought from a costume shop, but it’s all really sweet, weirdly. It’s apparently a holiday staple for a lot of kids who watched it on the original ABC run and later on the Disney Channel during the 80s and early 90s. And I can see why, the random-ass disco in the end might be my favourite thing I’ve ever seen in a Halloween movie.

This is the perfect little 25-minute movie to put anyone in the Halloween spirit. Watch it, disco, and keep on thinkin’.

Wicked Wednesday: Dead of Night (1945)

I had heard a lot about Dead of Night before watching it. It is a much-loved British film that makes it on to many ‘best of horror’ lists. To be honest, I was pretty convinced I was going to love it. Tell me it’s an influence for Twilight Zone and I’m sold. But it’s the right era of film I like, and I do love a well-done anthology.

But with most things that are heavily hyped, it’s almost always a disappointment. Dead of Night is pretty entertaining in it’s separate parts, but doesn’t work completely as a whole.

The framing story revolves around a group of people at a farm a house belonging to a psychologist. An architect arrives, saying he already has seen the people and the house in his dreams. The man, Walter Craig, continues to unsettle the people by making predictions that come true.

Psychologist Elliot Foley doesn’t believe Craig, so the other guests share their own stories of the supernatural.

A race car driver tells his story of how a ‘dream’ of a man in a horse-drawn hearse saved him from getting on a bus that crashes. A young girl talks about seeing a ghost at Christmas.

There’s a story about a haunted mirror that possesses others, and one about a man who haunts his former-friend after they argue over a woman.

The last story is probably the most creepy just because it’s about a ventriloquist and his dummy. Everyone hates ventriloquist dummies, and this is probably a source of that all.

There’s a nice twist at the end, which makes watching the entire film worth it. I personally enjoyed the race car driver’s story the best. The hearse bit reminded me of Burnt Offerings, so it’s pretty easy to see how influential this film was.

The golf buddy story is pretty silly. It’s comedic tone doesn’t blend very well with the others. There is some very good atmosphere at times, but doesn’t carry through the entire movie.

It’s a classic for a reason, though. And I imagine it will impress and entertain most classic movie fans. For me, the biggest sin was failing to make me feel anything at all.

Wicked Wednesday: Down a Dark Hall (2018)

Give yourself four weeks of terrible movies, and eventually it pays off.

Down a Dark Hall is the latest attempt to adapt one of Lois Duncan’s thrillers into a film. And this is my far the most successful at capturing Duncan’s intended message and tone.

Young Kit is a “special” girl, who is probably more trouble than she’s worth. She gets into trouble, claims things no one else believes, and refuses to let her therapy work. As a last resort, her mother and step-father sent her to Blackwood Boarding School. She and four other girls (all trouble in their own ways) are introduced to a world of art, mathematics, literature and music.

Initially, they’re all as talented as most teenagers – not at all. They struggle through their complex work, but soon enough certain girls begin to show an affinity for certain subjects. Izzy suddenly becomes a math genius, despite admitting that she nearly failed algebra the previous year. Sierra takes to painting, and Ashley takes on the writing skills of Romantic poet. Kit herself becomes a bit of a piano protégé under the tutelage of the super-hottie Jules, the son of Blackwood’s headmistress Madame Duret.

Slowly the girls become obsessed with their work, but Kit senses something isn’t quite right. She begins losing large chunks of her memory, finding herself at the piano when she can’t remember how she got there.

One night, Ashley screams in her room, and when the girls find her, she’s panicking, saying “Elizabeth” wasn’t with her anymore, but a man. When going to Ashley’s aid, Kit sees a figure disappear into the shadows in a corner. She then admits to the girls that she had a vision of seeing her father on the night he died.

The girls, excluding the extra-dour Veronica, all admit to having similar paranormal experiences. And at that point, things at Blackwood only get worse.

Kit and Veronica eventually team up to research Duret’s past. They learn that the girls are being used as vessels so that long-dead artists and great-thinkers can use their bodies to continue their work.

But even when Kit confronts Madame Duret about it, some of the girls are okay with it, finding ‘fulfillment’ for the first time. Though those girls are hardly aware that their bodies and minds will be used up without their permission.

The conclusion is a bit silly (though I’ll leave that out), but I think the first three-quarters of the film are pretty great. I was still surprised by it, despite having read the book. The twist still stands up and remains a feminist allegory.

Down a Dark Hall is easily the best adaptation of a Lois Duncan novel (yes, perhaps even dethroning Summer of Fear). It manages to update Duncan’s 1974 novel without sacrificing anything the story was truly about. Yes there are ghostly things occurring here, but this is ultimately about a girl learning she deserves to have full autonomy over her body.

Yes it can be a bit silly (it does come off as Twilight-era at times). I certainly wouldn’t call it perfect, but it does work with it’s own magic. Director Rodrigo Cortés does a wonderful job of creating a gothic atmosphere inside Blackwood. Much of this can be attributed to the absolutely stunning piano numbers from Víctor Reyes. Like nearly all of these adaptations of Lois Duncan’s novels, It throws in a higher body count than its source material. But it does make every death have some sort of weight, and it actually works.

This might fall into the “guilty pleasures” category. That is, if I believed in such a thing as that.