Thursday, October 30, 2014

Netflix streaming titles that have scared me lately

I've found a couple more Netflix titles disturbing of late. You know, in a good way.

I've learned that for horror films to be most effective for me, it helps if I watch in the dark without distractions, other than the nagging demands of my brain for sleep.

So propped on my pillow with my iPad recently, I screened In Fear and Mr. Jones, both 2013 releases.

Modestly budgeted, they made great use of suggested peril and creepy atmosphere to give me a shiver. The storylines are quite different. The buttons they push are similar.

In Fear, from Ireland and featuring Downton chauffeur Allen Leech, had the biggest impact. Ever get lost on a road trip? The film suggests one of the worst possible scenarios for what might happen when an Internet printout map fails you.

Of course there's no mobi coverage once Tom and Lucy (Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert) leave the main road and follow the signs toward the inn they're seeking. Soon they're driving in circles, and as darkness settles, they grow increasingly nervous while their situation seems to grow more and more bleak.

Occasional stops, to don parkas or make other car checks, begin to suggest someone might be lurking in the shadows.

The ambiguity, for me, produced a growing sense of unease mingled with flashes of real eeriness as a figure in a white mask lurked in the shadows, never quite fully defined.

Tom and Lucy aren't quite as interesting as characters as Leech's Max, who might be a savior or might be more sinister, and the tale may wind up in familiar territory for horror viewers, but the journey's dark and chilling enough to make the trip worthwhile.

The first hour or so of Mr. Jones also delivers some chills coupled with an intriguing premise tied to a Lovecraftian dreamscape.

Another young couple here, Scott and Penny (Jon Foster and Sarah Jones of Alcatraz), head to the wildness to work on a documentary. That sets up found footage possibilities with one twist. Scott's rigged his camera for a FaceTime-like view of the operator's face.

Shocked expressions mingle with what the camera's main lens sees. Just as Scott's plans and inspiration begin to crumble, he stumbles on odd nature sculptures by his neighbor, a shadowy and trench-coated figure who never quite comes into focus. Makes him scarier, just like the guy in white mask, though he prefers black.

Penny recognizes the sculptures as the work of Mr. Jones, an unknown artist who once shipped nine of his odd totems to various art dealers and others across America. Clearly she and Scott have stumbled on his studio.

Scott heads to New York to conduct interviews with Mr. Jones authorities including David Clennon who plays a gallery owner, recipient of one of the first sculptures. A more cynical recipient warns strange things transpire once a sculpture is received.

Meanwhile Penny's exploring Mr. Jones' studio and taking note of new work plus strange nooks and crannies. She gradually develops a theory that Mr. Jones sculptures may have a purpose.

When Scott returns, things begin to get more and more surreal. Whether it's because he's stopped taking medication or because something mystical is afoot, the final third of the film kind of explodes into an open-to-interpretation excursion.

Does the conclusion live up to the tantalizing possibilities the mysterious sculptures pose? Perhaps not. Maybe the last half hour's a little too overwhelming, but the building creepiness and the intriguing look of a scene created in Mr. Jones' underground lair kept me engaged for much of the film's length.

Above all, in spite of my jaded and desensitized perspective, a few ripples of fear crept through me. That made the films stand out.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Insidious Chapter 3 Trailer

The new Insidious Chapter 3 trailer raises lots of questions like "Can a prequel be Chapter 3?" and "Does Tucker really have a Mohawk?"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Witching and Bitching - Halloween Horror Insanity Streaming on Netfix

It's weird, offbeat and yet somehow, for me, the zany Witching and Bitching has a nice old school gothic feel that resonates and compensates for some narrative bloat. It's a different  Halloween-season excursion, and I ran across it because Netflix thought I might like it.

Originally titled Las brujas de Zugarramurdi, the Spanish film comes from Álex de la Iglesia, who's done such diverse flicks as Dance with the Devil, The Oxford Murders and The Last Circus.

It focuses on Jose (Hugo Silva) who, with young son in tow, stages a daring heist of a gold exchange in Madrid in order to pay back alimony.

Jose, dressed as a silver-coated mime version of Jesus, leads a band of misfits dressed as mascots, mimes or ad icons. The robbery nets a bag of wedding rings and garners a police tail as Jose and friends flee for the French border with a hostage cab driver.

The bitching comes in the form of commiserating over failed relationships, leading the cab driver to throw in with the gang for the long haul.

As heists-gone-awry so often do, this one leads the heroes into the lair of a family of witches, who are on the eve of a major conjuring, despite contention in their ranks. Jose's son seems to be their chosen one, so witchy festivities are in order.

Their spooky old house fronted by a roadside restaurant holds many dark corners and secrets including a man who lives under the restaurant toilet and an array of witches ranging from iconic crone to sexy, seductive young witch (Carolina Bang).

Escapes and misadventures unfold, all leading the gang into a nightmarish, over the top Heironymus Bosh-like vision with grotesque flourishes.

It's  not for all tastes and it clocks in just under two hours, but it's not something you've really seen before.

If you watch, keep the remote handy for pauses. The dialogue moves fast, so if you're reading subtitles, it can be challenging otherwise.

Here's a taste:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Halloween Reading: Night in the Lonesome October by Richard Laymon

I read some Richard Laymon including The Cellar while he seemed to be a well-kept secret in the horror community, more popular in Great Britain than the U.S.

Sadly he passed away too soon, at age 54, in the early aughts with several books still in the publishing pipeline.

I picked up some of his titles as they appeared in U.S. paperback editions, but someone I missed Night in the Lonesome October until Googling information on A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny as I prepared for my re-read.

The Laymon title's great Halloween season reading. It's almost like Haruki Murikami wrote a horror story. It's not quite as surreal as The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, but it's got a bit of that kind of flavoring, though there's no spaghetti-eating.

Night is narrated by Ed Logan, a college kid who's just been jilted by his girlfriend Holly who met a guy named Jay over the summer break and decided not to come back to school.

Despondent, Ed takes long walks in the little community of Wilmington near his school's campus. On a long hike through various neighborhoods on his way to the all-night Dandi Donuts, he's captivated by a girl who seems to be sneaking back into her house following a late-night assignation.

Hoping to learn more about the girl, Ed soon gets distracted by Eileen, Holly's sorority sister who thinks Holly treated him shabbily.

Soon things are steamy with Eileen, though Ed's not willing to give up on the wandering girl. Continuing searches connect him with a degenerate named Randy who's spotted Eileen and would like to have Ed lure her into his clutches.

When Ed escapes from Randy, his world gets progressively weirder. Is there something about October in Wilmington?

What's up with the homeless figures under the bridge? And what's up with the girl who Ed soon learns slips into different houses each night.

With some genuinely chilling horror scenes and a heart-pounding finale, Night is a fabulous, moody excursion with well-realized characters and a creepy town for them to exist within.

Not to be a prude, but my one quibble is that even for its strangeness, there's a bit at the end that leaves dreamlike and edges into male fantasy territory. So be it.

Overall the tale's rich, atmospheric, chilling and exciting.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Night in the Lonesome October Re-Read

It's hard to believe it's been almost 20 years since I picked up the paperback edition of A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. I just ran across it in a Barnes and Noble, or possibly a B Dalton, my curiosity piqued by the cover art -- Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and others all at a gathering.

It turned out to be a fun excursion, a  Lovecraftian tale told through the eyes of Snuff, a dog who happens to be Jack the Ripper's familiar. Jack is just one of many players in an ancient game that
revolves around opening gateways to let Old Ones back into the world.

Some want to open. Others want to keep things closed.
Avon Edition

As the cover art promised, Holmes and Watson and many other figures from Victorian literature and Victorian reality people the book. Some Universal Pictures horror figures show up too.

It's rather handily told in brief chapters, each corresponding to a date in October. Snuff struggles to find out who the players are and what their goals are and really has a lot resting on his shoulders as Oct. 31 approaches.

I'm doing a re-read this year, as I've been intending to do for a couple of years, mostly since reading this essay by Dr. Christopher S. Kovacs in the Lovecraftzine which notes:

A cult tradition has evolved to re-read the book each October, a chapter a day, and to attempt to deduce the identities of the tantalizingly familiar characters. For the book is rich with borrowed characters from real life and classics of literature and screen. Some are obvious, but others are not.

Kicking myself for letting my original paperback edition go, I tracked down a good used hardcover for less than a fortune. And finally this year, I remembered close enough to Oct. 1 to play the game.

It's been long enough since that initial reading, that it's new to me again, and it's a blast to step back into Zelazny's blend of the Gothic, Lovecraft, the Victorian and the Universal horror cannon. It's almost like one of those late entries in the Universal series such as House of Frankenstein, where all of the signature monsters were thrown in.

I've been told there were once plans to throw Basil Rathbone's Holmes into those mixes, so the book's a bit like a Universal film that never was.

I'm happy to take a few minutes each night to join the game. It's a perfect Halloween season venture.

I was also happy to discover a couple events serendipitous to my re-read. Chicago Review Press has brought out a new edition of the book, which had grown hard to find, and the Twitterverse has become involved in the re-read game.

There aren't a lot of tweets so far, but the hashtag #GoodDogSnuff has been deployed. Perhaps the cult will grow, and the universe is expanded in Issue #18 of the Lovecraftzine with new tales from many authors. Read the back issue free online here.

It's just Oct. 10, so there's time to join the game.

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